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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

The Beautiful Word of Submission

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost


Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.


Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.


Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”


Eph. 5:21-31


“Wives, submit to your husbands as the Lord,” we read in today’s Epistle lesson. What I do with these verses determines whether or not I get out of here alive! :) These words have touched off a minor revolution in the church – a major revolution in some parts of the church! Submission is being confused with weakness, with surrender, with inferiority. It’s being confused with giving in without protest, and becoming passive, making the role of the wife little or nothing.


The word, “submit”, is to many people today liken a siren sound, an alert signal calling wives everywhere to rise up and assert themselves. “Stand up to your husbands! Be strong! Don’t be like a child! You’re his equal! Don’t knuckle under! And of all things, don’t submit yourself to your husband!” I think we’ve lifted that word “submit” out of context and made it a scary word. We’ve misinterpreted it to a point that the beautiful institution of marriage itself has one less quality to hold it together.


I don’t think that the world’s interpretation of this word “submit” should determine our reaction today. Nor do I think some of the abuses of this word should remove this word from our vocabulary. Just because we know someone who lives under the iron-fisted authority of a husband doesn’t mean they have a proper interpretation of the word, “submit”!


So let’s try to forget the extremes and the abuses and start fresh. Erase the hang-ups and let’s see what the word, “submit”, can mean in our marriages.


If you aren’t married yet, pay attention. Because this could be very important to you some day. And if you have a perfect marriage, or are no longer married, you might have a friend or relative to whom this message might apply. Some of us have been married for quite a long time now. And maybe your marriage just seems like it’s been a long time! :) Early in our marriage many of us were trying to find our roles, to adjust to one another. Often there was competition. More often there was misunderstanding of each other. Lack of communication and failure to work out little differences and disagreements can build high walls.


These things can still happen, of course, even to those of us who’ve been married a long time. But when we look at these differences we can see that they are all related to relationship! Where there’s a good relationship, problems are worked out. When the relationship is bad, all kinds of things go awry. This is why I believe the word, “submit”, must be used in the context of relationship – a relationship with Jesus Christ!


So let’s look at that sentence I quoted to begin this sermon – the one I used to get your attention – let’s look at it in its context: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”


All of the verses speak of submission. And do you call submission to the Lord unpleasant? Or a bad deal? Or something to be feared? If we understand the Lord, we know we aren’t submitting to a tyrant, or some mean person who will take advantage of us.


Now I know that some husbands are that way – and some wives, too – but that doesn’t change what it means to submit to the Lord! He is love. He’s our friend, our Savior. We don’t fear Him. We’re attracted to Him. He’s forgiving. He’s understanding. He knows our needs. He believes in us. He’s kind and patient, and is love itself. Who, I ask you, when they’ve received Jesus as Savior will object to submitting to Him as Lord? The secret is relationship! Related to Christ, we don’t mid submitting to Him.


Now, someone might say, “Wait a minute. There’s no comparison here. My husband is not like the Lord when it comes to being patient, and kind, and understanding, and loving. To submit myself to him would be ridiculous! I’d be his slave! No thanks!”


Here again we come back to relationships. When both husband and wife are related to Christ, the whole scene changes. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church! And how was that? He served and ministered to the church. He sacrificed Himself for the church. He had compassion and love and forgiveness for the church. He loved the church so much He died for it!


Now, someone might say, “I could never love my wife that way!” Okay. If you don’t want to start on the highest level, the Bible also commands us to love of one’s neighbor. Now, she’s the closest one you have. You have to eat with her, watch TV with her, sleep with her. You don’t have a neighbor closer than she is. As a matter of fact, in that very chapter Paul talks about her being so close to you that whatever you do for her, you do for yourself. That’s how close you are, and how much a part of each other you are in that relationship.


Now, someone might say, “I couldn’t lover her, even like my neighbor.” Okay. If you don’t want to start on that level, the Bible says, “Love your enemies!” :) There’s no way out!


You see, love is a thinking thing in the Bible. It’s under control. It can be cultivated, even in the face of an enemy! It’s not emotion first. Suppose you tried to obey the command to love your enemy and give him a cup of cold water when he thirsts, or give him something to eat when he’s hungry. And suppose it was only feeling that drove you to do so – or feeling first. By the time you worked up the feeling it would be too late for your enemy to benefit from the gifts. He’d die of thirst or hunger first if he’s standing around waiting for you to have the right kind of feeling before you act.


The Bible doesn’t say anything about feeling warmly toward him. It says if your enemy – usually a person toward whom you don’t feel very warmly, and they probably don’t feel very warmly towards you either – if your enemy hungers or thirsts, give! It doesn’t say, “feel” – it says, “give!”


And when it says in John 3;16 that “God so loved the world,” it doesn’t say that He felt warmly toward it. What the Bible does say is, “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.” (Romans 5:10) In Galatians 2:20 we read, “The Son of God… loved me and gave Himself for me.” It does not say, “He loved me and felt kindly toward me.” It’s not feeling first!


You’ll notice in each of these passages there is one word that reoccurs. It’s a determination to obey God by giving to that other party whatever is needed. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”


If your enemy hungers, give; if your enemy thirsts, give. Love is active! Love gives! Out of obedience to God to please Him, and to fulfill His will, one gives – whether he feels like it, or not!


And that’s a key phrase: “Whether he feels like it or not.” And when he gives and gives and gives and gives – the larger his investment is in the other person, the more his feelings toward that other person begin to change. You can’t change feelings directly, but you can change actions out of obedience to God directly. And indirectly your feelings at length will come into focus. But we sinners always put it backwards, the other way around. But when you do invest enough of yourself in another, your feelings do begin to change.


Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The heart there means more than emotions, but it certainly includes them. If you have a treasure that you have invested in another person, your feelings toward him will begin to change.


The trouble is that we give nickels and dimes toward the other person, and so we have all the wrong feelings. Invest a treasure and our feelings come into line.


Here again we have to come back to relationship. When both husband and wife are related to Christ the whole scene changes. The husband is to love his wife so much that he would die for her. And the wife is to submit to her husband so much that she will live for him. Now when the husband has a love like that, and the wife has a love like that, submission doesn’t mean weakness, or a loss of identity or personhood. It means love, a love which melts us and merges us into one. It’s the kind of love Paul wrote about in his letter to Corinth: A love that isn’t jealous or proud or unkind. A love that doesn’t seek its own way. It’s a love as unto the Lord. And that’s surely not something to dread!


It means giving your selves to each other. A giving of your personality, your interests, your needs, your weaknesses, your strengths, your enthusiasm, your body, your tears, your joy. It’s all anchored in relationship – relationship with Christ and with each other.


This kind of beautiful submission to one another doesn’t happen overnight – we grow into this. The Scriptures tell us to nourish each other – take care of each other’s needs. Nourish each other spiritually too. Pray together, read God’s Word together, go to church together. Keep growing in your own Christian commitment and you’ll nourish each other and heal each other.


Jesus can mold a marriage to be like His relationship with the church, where He loved it and gave Himself for it. If husband and wife submit to one another as unto the Lord, submission will be a beautiful word and a blessing to their marriage.


Amen

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