Love Submits


This is a hard word—not for the denotation or definition, but for the ways it is so often used.

I’ve noticed that the most common instruction or advice that is given with this word is most always something someone else should do. Governmental authorities insist that people should submit to their positions of oversight. Pastors remind the people they lead of their responsibility to submit to their authority. Men remind their wives of the direct instruction of Scripture to submit to their husbands. Parents demand that their children submit to their authority over their lives.

This word has often throughout history been used to keep the grip of captors over their slaves. It’s a dangerous tool, this word, especially when it applied to someone else.

But is that how it is meant to be used—in a biblical sense?

Time and again the text of Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 have been used in this way. We’ve been told that wives must be submissive in every way to their husbands and that children must be utterly subject to their parents and that slaves must be resigned to the lordship of their masters.

I noticed some time back as I was studying the whole letter of Ephesians that I had missed something very important. With our super-imposed divisions of chapters and verses, we can easily overlook context clues that frame passages of text in a particular light. This whole discourse about submission in Ephesians 5 and 6 is one of those places.

In the flow of this letter, Paul (writing, of course, under the guidance of the Spirit) is describing what it looks like to live as children of light, walking carefully in a dark world, using time wisely, avoiding the excesses of our appetites, encouraging and uplifting one another, living always out of gratitude. It’s a beautiful description, but then we come to a simple phrase that is tagged as verse 21.

“Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Ephesians 5.21

It looks to me as though the wise apostle is describing for us one of the most crucial pieces of living a godly life. It is by submitting to one another. It is motivated by our reverence—our great esteem and regard for Jesus.

It is so important to the life we’ve been called to live that Paul takes the next 4 paragraphs or so to unpack that one phrase (5.22-6.9). He brings that principle into marriage by reminding us that we practice submitting to one another by taking the responsibilities we’ve been given—the wife to be a faithful partner with her husband in genuine respect and the husband to live out a truly self-sacrificing kind of love for his wife.

He urges parents to live out this mutual submission by being good teachers of our children and for children to live in honor of their parents as they grow in understanding and experience. He instructs us to bring this mutual submission idea into our workplace and other social situations through servant leadership and faithfully working as for Christ Himself.

And this is not the only passage with this kind of instruction. In Philippians 2 Paul reminds the believers to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In Colossians 3 we see a similar description that comes out of this urging to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In Romans 12 Paul again urges us to “outdo one another in showing honor” and to “live in harmony with one another.” These things describe that very spirit of mutual submission that we see in Ephesians. 

It is true that wives are to submit to their husbands but it is also true that husbands ought to submit to their wives out of reverence for Christ. Men, if your reflex is to argue with that, would you be honest enough to ask why? Wives and husbands have different responsibilities in a marriage, but the picture is much more of a partnership than many of us have been taught.

If you’re uncomfortable with this idea that love submits, I completely understand. I remember a summer night some 25 or so years ago that I was called on to humble myself and wash the feet of one that all would recognize as the least of these. Through the flow of my own tears of submission, I came to see what I believe Paul was teaching in Ephesians 5.21. This brother and I both stepped out of our comfort to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Love does a lot of things. But don’t miss this truth—love submits.

One response to “Love Submits”

  1. […] to the forefront in that Love Listens. We wrestled with the challenging biblical reality that Love Submits to one […]


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