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Apr 03, 2011

The Equality of Submission

Passage: Ephesians 5:21-33

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Ephesians 4-6: Invading Enemy Territory

Category: Ephesians

Keywords: marriage, leadership, headship, submission, protection, provision, church


Marriage is to be the human illustration of the divine marriage between Christ and His Bride, the Church. As such, it involves both leadership and submission, love and respect. This message focuses on what men and women both need to experience in marriage, in the church and in their spiritual family relationships with each other when it comes to leading and submission.


The Equality of Submission

Ephesians 5:21-33

Series:  Invading Enemy Territory—Ephesians

April 3, 2011


According to a TIME/Pew research poll released last year, 40 percent of Americans believe that marriage is becoming obsolete, up from just 28 percent in 1978.  Yet, only 1 in 4 unmarried Americans say they do not want to get married. And among currently married men and women, 80% say their marriage is as close as or closer than their parents' marriage. 

      Marriage as a voluntary relationship based on love and commitment is held in higher regard than ever in America, with more people saying that love is essential to marriage (In 1967, 2/3rds of college women said they'd consider marrying a man they didn't love if he met other criteria, such as offering respectability and financial security.)

Though more people may be marrying “for love”, how many do you think are marrying for “love of SUBMISSION”? J

I’m thinking that percentage is plummeting!

      But submission, for the follower of Jesus, is not just a part of life…it’s a BIG part of life.  Thinking biblically, we are called to a host of relationships that call for submissive hearts and minds. 

      Just to set the record straight, we’re not talking about an unquestioning obedience to an institution or person that requires you to do anything degrading or sinful.  Submission is not the same as obedience. 

      The Greek word hypotasso is a compound word (hypo meaning “under” and tasso meaning “to arrange”).  It’s often used as a military term talking about rank but it also carries the idea of subordination that is both required or voluntary.  It’s translated a lot of related ways such as “to submit,” “to put under,” “to subject” someone to something, “to place under.”  It’s used some 38 times in the N.T.

So WHAT or WHO is called upon or seen to be engaging in this in the New Testament?

  • Jesus was “submitted/subject” to his parents—Luke 5:16
  • Demons were “submitted/subject” to Jesus’ disciples—Lk. 10:17…because they are subject to Jesus, I Pt. 3:22 (angels & authorities).
  • Our sinful minds/flesh is not submitted to the law of God, Romans 8:7
  • We are called to be submitted to the governmental authorities over us, Romans 13:1, 5; Titus 3:1…to laws, I Pt. 2:13
  • Women in the church are to express their submission to God and husbands by not arguing or interrupting in the church, I Cor. 14:34.
  • God submits “all things” to Jesus (death, dominions, authorities, powers), I Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:22; Phil 3:21; Heb. 2:8.
  • Jesus, in turn, makes himself subject to God the Father, I Cor. 15:28
  • Believers in Corinth were to submit to other believers like Stephanas who devoted themselves to the service of the saints, I Cor. 16:16.
  • All believers are to submit to each other in the church, according to today’s text in Ephesians 5:21; I Pt. 5:5.
  • Wives are to submit to husbands, Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; I Pt. 3:1, 5
  • The church is to be submitted to Christ, Eph. 5:24
  • Servants are to submit to masters, Titus 2:9; I Pt. 2:18
  • Followers of Jesus are to submit to God:  Heb. 12:9; James 4:7—submit to God and resist the devil.
  • Younger men are, in the church, to be subject/submissive to older men, I Pt. 5:5

Is there anybody in God’s family who is NOT called to learn and practice submission in multiple relationships?  NO! 

Well today we’re in a passage that has a whole lot to say about submission, about love and about leadership.  It’s a passage that, at first brush, seems to be all about marriage.  But in reality it’s a passage that has more to say to every single follower of Jesus and to the church as the Bride of Christ. 

So to get us started today, I want us to group up into discussion groups of men only and women only.  (We’re imitating the Quakers and our Puritan Pilgrim fathers today.)  I have one question I’d like men to deal with and a different question I want women to deal with.

In relationships of marriage, family, the church, work or other…


  1. What is leadership?  “Leadership is….”
  2. What challenges, fears or difficulties do you face being a leader, particularly when called to lead women?


  1. What is submission?  “Submission is….”
  2. What do you find challenging, difficult, troubling or fearful about submitting to the leadership of men?  

[Take 10 min. for discussion, 5 for debrief.]



  • Headship/leadership is the divine calling of a man to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection, and provision in the church or home.
  • Submission is the divine calling of a woman to honor and affirm a man’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.

Headship is tied to male leadership in the Bible in at least TWO SPECIFIC AREAS:  marriage and church leadership.  I don’t have time, unfortunately, to lay out all the information supporting that claim in both those areas.  But I’d be glad to lay that out my understanding about headship and leadership being specifically made the responsibility of men in the church and in marriage any time with anyone.  They are both abundantly clear.  In fact, it’s interesting how much God ties effective leadership on the home front to eligibility for leadership on the church front (see I Tim. 2-3). 

      Remember, both men and women, that headship and submission do not in any way debase or exalt the nature or character of either men or women. 

      Since the Godhead practices headship and submission and since none of that diminishes either the nature or character of any member of the Trinity, it is clear that the same is true for mankind.  BOTH men and women are “created in the image of God.”  BOTH of them have equality of nature, of value and of worth.  They sometimes have overlapping qualities, characteristics and responsibilities.  BUT they definitely have differing roles and responsibilities when it comes to marriage and the church. 

Men, before you leave here today, I want you to understand what your leadership of your wife/women should focus on.

Women, before you leave here today, I want you to understand what your submission to your husband/male leadership should involve.  

Both are critical for finding God’s will for our lives and enjoying the life God has destined us to have.

Men, this time, you’re first!

Male headship/leadership is the divine calling of a man to take primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision of someone else.  Let’s look at…


      In verses 25-27, Paul shows the husband how to love his wife—that is, how to exercise the kind of servant leadership that Christ did: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

In the words “gave himself up for her,” we hear the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When Christ gave himself up for us, he took our place. He bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24) and became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) and died for us (Romans 5:8).

      If there ever was an example of leadership that took the initiative to protect his bride, this is it. So when Paul calls a husband to be the head of his wife by loving like Christ when he leads, whatever else he means, he means: Protect her at all costs!

NOTE:  By the way, I think this was Adam’s first failure and sin in the Garden—he failed to protect Eve from the attack of the Serpent.  He failed to love her enough to protect her.  Having failed to protect her from deception, he next failed to exercise the power, freedom and ability he had to do what Christ did for the church, namely, laid down his life for His bride! 

The only time in history that could have been done, Adam chose not to love her that way.  For whatever reasons, he chose sin.  He was not deceived according to I Tim. 2:13 as Eve was; he chose sin rather than protection.

Men, protection is paramount in our relationships with women.  That’s why violence against women in any form is such a travesty of our God-given role.  Not only must we never do anything that endangers the women in our lives; we must be ready to actually lay down our lives to protect them IF we claim to follow Christ and his heart of protecting his Bride. 

What should that look like, men?  (I’ve got a whole message on this that I gave to Dad’s Bootcamp last year.  If you want a good movie about a dad who gets it a little late but does a great job of at least trying to protect his daughter, watch Taken…if you can handle the action and violence.)

The physical dangers we must protect the women in our lives from are obvious, or at least more so. Men are designed to be protectors.  Every woman who is in touch with herself and her God-given femininity knows that she wants to be around a man who is not only safe to be with but will keep her safe. 

But there are SPIRITUAL dangers that men are to protect the home and church from as well.  They are innumerable and subtle. We need valiant warriors like never before, not with spears and shields, but with biblical discernment and courage.

1.)    First, men, PRAY for your family every day, “Lead them not into temptation but deliver them from evil.” Fight for them in prayer against the devil and the world and the flesh. Pray the prayers of the Bible for them. Don’t grow weary. God hears and answers prayer for our wives and children and siblings and fellow saints.

2.)    Secondly, pray WITH them.  Make sure your family hears you praying over them even if it is just at meals or as they go to bed of as you send them out the door in the morning. 

3.)    Thirdly, SET STANDARDS for your wife and children that YOU model holiness in. Work them through with your wife and kids and church. Wives are usually eager to help here. But what frustrates them is when we don’t take any initiative and they are left to try to determine and enforce the standards alone. Take the initiative in thinking through what will be allowed on TV. What movies you and the children will go to. What music will be listened to in your house and your car.

      Dads, you play a vital role in how the women in your home feel about themselves.  If you’re giving the right kind of attention, of words, of physical affection and of spiritual direction, you should be speaking into issues like how low your daughter’s necklines will be and what she is saying to young men about herself by the way she dresses. Yes, mom is a key player here too in helping a young woman learn the meaning of modesty and beauty. But dad’s role for both of them is indispensable both in celebrating what they look like and telling them when the way they dress means what they don’t think it means.  Men, what we need here is courage. Don’t be afraid to create a little tension. This is your wife and your daughter, and they must hear from you what she is saying to men with her clothes.  That’s protecting!


I’ll join John Piper in contending that “[leadership/]headship is the divine calling of a [man] to take primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision.”

      Is there really evidence in this text that a man’s/husband’s leadership should take primary responsibility for the provision for his wife and family? Yes. If anything, this is even more explicit. Consider verses 28-29:

28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church….”

      The words “feeds and cares for” are significant. The word feeds (ektrephei) is most often used in the Bible for raising children and providing them with what they need, but the part of that meaning that applies here is not that the husband is a parent but that he is a caring provider.

      Similarly, the other word in verse 29 points in the same direction but even more tenderly. The husband “cares for (thalpei) it [his body, his wife], just as Christ does the church.” This word for “cares for” is used by Paul one other time, namely, to refer to his tender love for the church in Thessalonica. He compares himself to a mother caring for her infant. 1 Thessalonians 2:7: “But we were gentle among you, like a [nursing] mother caring for her children.” Paul was not belittling the church; the point was to emphasize his tender care and that he would do anything he could for them the way a mother does her child.

APP:   How about PROVISION, men?

1.)    Physically:  we need to be taking primary responsibility for the financial welfare of our families and churches.  It is our privilege.  That doesn’t mean women can’t work.  The Bible is full of “working women”, most notably the virtuous woman of Prov. 31.  She was a retailer, a tailor, a real estate agent, a small business owner and more.  But a woman should never feel the full weight of financial responsibility on their shoulders. 

2.)    Emotionally:  men, we play a very unique role in “providing” emotionally for our wives and daughters.  They are THE most important women we will ever have in our lives…and we hold the greatest power to build their sense of self worth, value, specialness and beauty that any many will ever have.  We can never speak of their value and beauty to us too much. 

3.)    Spiritually:  To provide spiritual food for the family or church, you must know spiritual food. This means that a man must go hard after God. You can only lead spiritually if you are growing in your own knowledge of God and love for God. If you are feeding your soul with the word of God, you will be drawn to feed your wife and your children.

      Let me be very practical.  Men, how well would you be eating if your wife put the same amount of energy into the meals at home that you put into nurturing them spiritually?  It hit me this week that I’ve been falling down on my responsibility to nurture the spiritual food my family consumes every day.  Is spiritual guidance of our families and churches less important than physical food?  Not according to Jesus.  He skipped meals to minister to women needing spiritual food (Jn. 4, The Woman at the Well in Samaria).  It’s time we gave half the attention women give to making our meals to making spiritual food for our wives and children. 

      Men, gather your wife and children for family devotions everyday—call it whatever you want: family prayers, family worship, family Bible time. Take the initiative to gather them. If you don’t know what to do, ask some brothers what they do. Or ask your wife what she would like to do. You don’t have to be a loner here. What women rightly long for is spiritual and moral initiative, from a man, not spiritual and moral domination.

      And remember there is no necessary connection between being an effective leader and being more intellectual or more competent than your wife. Leadership does not assume it is superior. It assumes it should take initiative. See that the family prays and reads the Bible and goes to church and discusses spiritual and moral issues, and learns to use the means of grace and grows in knowledge, and watches your example in all these things.

Marriage and the Church Hang on Protection and Provision

The reason they stand out is that they are so basic. Without protection and provision, life itself is threatened. So the reason these two rise to the surface so quickly is that if a man fails in his leadership here, there may not be any other place to exercise it. The life of the family and the church hangs on protection and provision. Life itself must be protected and nourished, or it ceases to exist.  [The preceding page of material was taken from a message by John Piper found at www.desiringgod.org.]

Now WOMEN, your turn! 

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”  And the section ends in vs. 33, “…and the wife must respect her husband.”

Submission is the divine calling of a woman to honor and affirm a man’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.

What does it mean to HONOR a man’s leadership in the home or church?  Honor is first an attitude of the heart.  It certainly involves respect.  It involves affirmation of his role and his attempts, no matter how small or seemingly weak, to lead.  How different the outcome in the Garden would have been if Eve had practiced submission instead of usurpation of Adam’s headship.

NOTE:  this is, I think, THE chief challenge confronting women in relationship to men…just as abdication of leadership is THE chief challenge confronting men when it comes to marriage, family and the church. 

      What should Eve’s submission have looked like in that encounter in the Garden with the serpent?  It’s probably what a wife’s should look like in a marriage.

  • Including Adam in the conversation.  Women, you honor and show respect for your husbands when you invite their leadership.  When you ask them what they think.  When you ask for their opinion before stating yours.  Once you state yours, the lines are drawn and most men will simply choose to let you have it your way rather than decide to face another battle in his day.
  • Give Adam TIME to think it through.  Women, most of you think so much faster on your feet than we do as men that you’ve already jumped into a problem and are barking orders about how to fix it before we’ve even recognized there is a problem.  You don’t have to answer the instant something comes into your head.  WAIT.  Give us time to get up to speed.  Let us deal with a problem with you and sometimes before you. 
  • Women, HOW you relate and submit to your husbands (and sometimes male church leaders) says a whole lot about really how you are relating/submitting to Christ.  Now, husbands aren’t Christ.  We’re not perfect or all-wise or never selfish.  BUT, submission is not about perfection; it’s about trust, it’s about respect and it’s about attitude.  IF the church related to Christ as you relate to your husband, what kind of church would it be?  We’re not to demand things of Christ; we’re to submit our will to his.  We’re not to lay down the law with Christ; we’re to live in submission to His law of love. 

We live in a culture that has completely jettisoned God-given relational roles in the home and church.  Every individual is now a law unto themselves.  It has somehow become demeaning for a woman to live respectfully and humbly with a man, honoring and affirming his leadership.  As a result, much of the intended joy and freedom and just plain enjoyment has gone out of marriages.  Women, you are the biggest losers when you fail to listen to what God is trying to say through your husbands.  But when you come to that place where you can actually see Christ operating in and behind the leadership of your husband, things will change dramatically.    

Submission is the divine calling of a woman to honor and affirm a man’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.

Women, that is not a foreign idea to any man of God in your life.  That is what we long to experience in our own relationship with Christ—to honor and affirm His leadership and help carry it out in this world according to the gifts he has given us.  We are trying to live out submission to Christ in just the same way you are called to live it out with us. 


So as we come to communion, it is a reminder that…

1.)    We are ALL flawed sinners.  Men, women, husbands, wives…we’ve all failed at our roles and need a Savior.

2.)    We have the best imaginable Husband of our souls, Jesus Christ, who did lay down his life for us.  Rather than holding onto his glorious position in heaven, he set all that glory aside and took on the humiliation of humanness.  And if that were not enough, He took upon himself ALL our sin so that we might become His holy and spotless bride for all eternity.  This is truly a “mystery”! 

3.)    Men, how about we ask God to help us see the women under our care as Jesus Christ sees His Church?  And women, how about you ask God to help you see the men in leadership in your life as the Church is to see Christ?   


1.)  Call to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is the most important act of submission any human being can engage in.

2.) Has God spoken to you about submitting to someone in your life? Do you need to develop a new attitude towards that person, that relationship, that role?  Towards submission itself?

3.) Is God calling you to lead in some relationship through greater attention to provision or protection?  Is there some way in which God is asking you to step up to the leadership call he has given you?