I’m tired. I was away for three days at a pastor’s conference. I came back Wednesday night at 1:30am. I got up and went right to work again the next day from 8a-8:45pm. So…I was super excited to get home Thursday evening.
I figured I’d get home and relax on the couch.
I’d turn an episode of Arrow.
I’d have some delicious hot food waiting for me to eat.
But when I got home…that wasn’t there.
No room on the couch.
No HGTV on the TV.
No food…could I go out and get some?
In other words –
Julianna felt the same way I did.
She was tired.
She wanted to relax.
She was hoping I could help her relax as I was hoping she could help me.
What happens next is something that I imagine goes down in homes across America.
We both get a bit annoyed.
Today we will apply a Biblical teaching to teach us the importance of putting others first in our households…even when our own selfishness wants us to make others put ourselves first. Before we examine Scripture, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
1. Who’s Number One?
The lesson for this morning comes from the book of Ephesians 5. Ephesians is a letter written by Pastor Paul to the Christians that were living in Ephesus. That’s important. This is a letter written to Christians that means it is a letter written to people who knew about Jesus’ undeserved love, understood his selfless sacrifice on the cross, and embraced his ‘others first’ teachings. They must have been putting it into practice, because the church has grown since Paul started it.
They must have been selflessly sharing Jesus’ message of grace in the community.
They must have been selflessly sharing Jesus’ love in the work place.
They must have been selflessly sharing their belongings in their church family.
And that’s a good thing.
But if you read the letter to the Ephesians, there’s a change in tone midway through. From the exciting reminders of God’s grace in the beginning of the letter to succinct and direct commands in chapter 5. He tells them to stop living like the world and stop living like people who love God.
Because while they were doing a good job of living for Jesus in church on Sunday, they were forgetting about being selfless in one key area of life.
Ephesians 5 deals almost exclusively with direction and guidance for Christians in their household and with their family. There are words about lying. Words about sexuality faithfulness. Words for husbands and wives, moms, dads, sons and daughters.
But in all of the direction, it finds its heart in 5:21. Almost like it’s the center of the Christian family and the beating heart of the Christian household.
Is it love? Not this time.
Kind words? No.
Good food? Not quite.
Ready for it.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Does that seem like a strange word to use here? Submit? In the English language, it is a term that’s used (1) in wrestling. “I just put you in the Figure Four leglock. Submit!” or (2) with dogs. “You need to maintain status of alpha dog and make that dog submit,” or (3) in regards to the angry rule of a dictator: “Submit to me or else.”
Is that the kind of submit we are talking about here?
Not at all.
This part of the Bible was originally written in Greek. In the Greek language, there are three types of voices that you can place any verb into.
First, there’s the Active Voice. It means that the subject is doing the action. (“I eat the Doritos.”)
Second, there’s the Passive Voice. It means that the subject is being acted upon. (“The Doritos are eaten by me.”)
Finally, there’s something in Greek called the Middle Voice. It means that the subject is acting upon itself. (“The Doritos are making themselves delicious.”)
It’s that middle voice that is being used in Ephesians 5. It means “submit yourself.” You do the action and you place yourself below another. You place your desires, needs and wants below theirs.
It means the word submit has three important parts to it that we need to remember:
1. It’s Unforced
NOTE: It does not say “Make others submit to you,” or “force others to submit to you.”
It’s amazing how we forget that in our families.
“I wanted to watch the football game. How dare you put on The Voice! Change the channel and submit or I’m gonna complain loudly so you can’t hear.”
“I want to go to McDonalds. How dare you suggest Taco Bell! Change the direction of this car and submit or I will spill the Big Mac all over the interior.”
“I want to spend our money on this; you want to spend money on that. Submit to me or I will scream and pout and call you names and force you to submit to me.”
That’s not how God wants submission to work.
He doesn’t tell us to force others to submit to us.
2. It's Willing
Which is the exact opposite of being forced. This word is calling us to put our own desires, needs and wants underneath the desires, needs and wants of our families….and to do so willingly.
3. It’s Unearned
Again. Note it does not say:
“Submit yourself…as long as they’ve done their share of cleaning up the bathroom.”
“Submit yourself…as long as they have cleaned up all of their LEGOS.”
“Submit yourself…as long as your spouse is looking pretty hot.”
It says submit.
Submit yourself when they are a jerk.
Submit yourself when they are rude.
Submit yourself when they aren’t even nice.
By the way – this is what we say in marriage. “I promise to be faithful to you…in sickness and in health, for better or worse, in rich and poor.” No matter the situation I promise to put your wants and needs before mine.
This is hard.
So very hard.
So very hard for selfish humans to be selfless.
How do we do it?
Submit yourself out of reverence for Christ.
At Jesus’ time, everybody wore sandals. They weren’t such things as closed-toed shoes like we have today. Everybody wore sandals and out in the dusty desert that mean that their feet became filthy.
Plus, it was hot! That means the leather was constantly rubbing against the flesh of their feet at temperatures upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Leather and sweat? It doesn’t smell very pleasant.
Not to mention – the majority speedy travel at the time was by horse or donkey or oxen. And guess what? Those animals needed to stop and do what animals sometimes need to stop and do…in the middle of the road. There wasn’t a very good street sweeper system. People just kind of left it…and walked over it…and got it on their feet.
Dirty toe nails.
So…when you enter a home, you want to clean up a bit. It was common practice for a servant to stand at the door with a bowl of water and a rag – ready to wash.
But one evening, the disciples gather for a party. They gather to into a home.
They enter through the door and there is not a servant.
And each disciple walks in.
And each disciple notices the bowl of water by the door.
And each disciple notices the lack of a servant.
And each disciple thinks; “I’m not gonna wash anybody’s feet. Because if I do, suddenly I’m that guy. The feet washing guy.”
And they all sit down. And they try to ignore the stench. And they look disapprovingly at one another: “You should have done this.”
He enters with a towel around his waist and a bowl of water in his hands.
And he begins…washing their feet.
He submits himself to their needs.
The Lord of heaven gets on the dirty ground.
The God to whom all bow – gets on his knees to help his friends.
The Holy One himself in whom nothing is unclean – reaches down and rubs the dirty excrement from between the disciples’ toes.
He submits himself to even their most primal and basic needs.
And it’s not even the most incredible example of Jesus submitting for us.
Because the whole reason Jesus was on earth was for his disciples.
The whole reasons Jesus was on earth was for you.
He submitted himself willingly to the painful death of the cross in order to save himself.
His miracles proved that he wasn’t being forced – he could have sent thousands of angels to save himself at any time.
And he did this when we didn’t deserve it.
When all he saw was sin.
When all he saw was people being awful to one another.
When all he saw was us being awful to him.
But Jesus submitted himself to our needs.
He submitted himself to death in order to serve our greatest need of all.
Now He, who gave his entire life to us, calls us to submit to one another. For His sake.
2. Godly Examples of this in Action
When everyone in the family puts this submission principle into practice, it leads to a pleasant family life. Ephesians notes this by highlighting two particular family relationships that tend to put people at odds. Take a look:
1. Husband and wife.
The reality is that men and women are different. In fact, the Bible teaches right here something called the roles of husband and wife in marriage. To be honest – it makes a lot of sense.
Because what happens if you have two head chefs at a restaurant? One wants to serve Italian and the other wants to serve sushi. The result? They both want to lead. They argue and fight. They end up with a dish called “Spaghetti and Sushi Meatballs.” And…no one wins.
To avoid that, God has husband wife assumed different roles in a marriage. The husband is the leader and the wife is the helper. One is not better than the other. They are completely the same in God’s eyes. They simply have different roles in the marriage.
This means they share the same guiding principle: Submit yourselves out of reverence for Christ with slightly different applications.
For wives it says this: Submit yourself to your husband for the husband is the head (or leader) of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. This is interesting because we have the exact same word for “submit” simply applied in a different scenario. The same things we said about submit earlier, we would say about submit now.
Submission is unforced. (meaning husbands don’t point to this passage and shout: “See! Submit. I’m in charge.”) No. Just…No.
Submission is unearned. (Meaning you are conceding the leadership to your husband even when he’s doing a terrible job of it.)
Submission is willing. (Meaning this is something you do. Out of love. Out of trust.)
Again…hard. It’s trusting that the man you marry will lead with your very best in mind.
Which, oddly enough, is exactly how God tells husbands to lead.
And then some.
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Guys. Do you see it? God tells you not just to submit your desires to your wife’s needs.
Not just your daily activities.
Not just your wallet.
Not just the TV remote (which we aren’t even that good at giving up).
But your life.
Just like Christ gave up his life for us – we are willing to give up our lives for our wives.
That’s a huge responsibility. But it’s also a responsibility motivated by Jesus. He gave up his life for us. He died for us. We already have everything we need for eternal life!
Why not serve our wives with all of our lives?
So now think about the two. When this is practiced the way Jesus says it is to be practiced, this relationship is beautiful.
The wife submits herself to her husband’s leadership.
The husband submits his leadership to his wife’s needs.
2. Parent and child.
A second example is the relationship between parents and child. Again, when done well it’s mutually beneficial.
First Paul writes, “Children obey your parents for this pleases the LORD.” (6:1) He writes this reminder because kids (did you know this?) don’t always listen. And not listening to your mom and dad is hurtful.
I remember my mother once made a peach cobbler dish. She spent hours making and baking and kneading the dough. She did it because she loved us. Then, when it was time to eat it – I put a dollop of Cool Whip on. She said, “That’s enough.” I put another dollop on. She said, “No more.” I put my spoon in the Cool whip and she said, “If you add one more then you’ll have to leave the table.”
I had to leave the table.
How rude. Not listening to my mom and the nice things she was trying to do for me. I put my own desires first rather than hers. Jesus says reverse that.
Because your parents will be putting YOU first.
“Father’s, train up your children in the instruction of the Lord.” I love that reminder of how we are to train – “in instruction of the Lord.” It’s not like we train kids to be our slaves – like Santa Claus and his elves. Nor do we need to worry so much about training them to be the next Lebron James or Arianna Grande.
Train in the Lord.
Train in the message of Jesus.
Train in the faith that leads to heaven.
And we submit ourselves to that need.
When tired, we bring them to church anyways.
When watching the game, we get up from the couch and discipline.
When shopping on Facebook marketplace, we put down the phone to go share a devotion with them.
When this relationship is done the way God says it should, again – it works wonderfully.
Be imitators of God’s love. (5:1)
Love – like God.
Submit – like God.
Obey – like Jesus.
Train – like the Father.