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(Part 8)

April 2023 GPS

The responsibility we will look at this month is that we are to submit to one another. It is very closely related to that of serving one another, which was the responsibility we looked at last month. The passage which states that obligation is in Ephesians 5: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV) This phrase is a small part of a larger sentence, and it comes at the end of that sentence. The whole sentence reads: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18–21, ESV) There are two commands in this sentence. The first is negative: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” The second is positive and is presented in contrast to the first: “be filled with the Spirit.” Three things should be noted about this instruction. In this article I would like to look at all three of them. The first two items come from the immediate context and the third comes from the way the word, “submit,” is used throughout the New Testament. (Before I get into the meat of this study I think it would be wise to note that this admonition, like the one we looked at in March, is very pertinent to our day, because freedom to do whatever one wants is often seen as the chief goal for all of life. “No one is going to tell me what to do” is the motto of many people in our society today. Every one of us is told that we are the most important people around and that satisfying our own desires is our first responsibility.)  

Now, let’s take a closer look at the instruction for this month. First, from the immediate context, the command to be filled with the Spirit is followed by five participles (in bold type above) which give examples of actions that are results that flow out of being filled with the Spirit. All of these activities are results of a person’s being filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit. The first three have to do with music. The fourth has to do with giving thanks always. The fifth is the one we are studying: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”. We will look below at the meaning of this phrase, but now I would like to consider the relationship between the five participles and the command that governs them. Our behavior is not to be controlled by [something like] alcohol. It is to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. The verb “be filled” is in the present tense (here indicating an action that is continuous). In other words, this “filling” or control is to be the continual experience of believers. Furthermore, the verb is in the passive voice (indicating that the subject is receiving the action). It is not an action accomplished by us but by someone else, in this case, the Holy Spirit. Since He is the one performing the action, our responsibility is to make sure we do not obstruct Him in His work but rather cooperate with Him. That is consistent with admonitions we see elsewhere such as: “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, ESV) “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, ESV) “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, ESV) In other words, the life of one who is continuously seeking to submit to the control of the Holy Spirit will include actions like the ones enumerated in those verses.  

Second, also from the immediate context, the submission is to be done “out of reverence for (or fear of) Christ.” The NASB gives a very literal translation: “in the fear of Christ.” The preposition “in” in Greek (translated “out of” in ESV) that begins the phrase in Greek is extremely broad in its meanings. Here I take the reference to be something like the sphere in which the submission is to be rendered. In other words, we are to submit to one another “because of,” “in a way that is governed by” or “that reflects the character of” or “reverence for” Christ. The primary motivation for this submission is not to be found in the one we are submitting to or the consequences that will come if we are not submissive. The primary motivation is to be to honor, please, or imitate the Lord. (Obviously, that would eliminate any submission that would violate His precepts as in Acts 5:29.)   

Third, the way the word “submit” is used throughout the New Testament is also significant. It is used 38 times in 31 verses in the New Testament, and each time it reflects submission to a God constituted authority or God designed situation. Examples are wives to husbands, children to parents, slaves to masters, citizens to governmental authorities, church members to their leaders, and everything and everyone to God. It does not indicate anything about intelligence or ability. The idea is to fit in with the plans of another in a way that is helpful, assuming that those plans do not violate Biblical guidelines. It means that we follow the leadership of those whom God has placed in authority over us rather than demanding to get our own way. The greatest example of this was the behavior of our Lord toward Mary and Joseph: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51, ESV) If He could be in submission to them, can we not be in submission to other humans?