Ephesians 5:21, 22 and Christian liberty

Ephesians 5:21, 22 and Christian liberty

Christian Freedom on Women in Ministry blog by Cheryl Schatz

This post is the essence of the sermon Spirit-Filled Living part 1 by Pastor Darrell Johnson of First Baptist Church, Vancouver, BC, Canada.  If you would like to listen to the entire sermon, you can listen to the sermon here.

Spirit-Filled Living Part 1

The revolutionary and alternate understanding of human relationships in Ephesians 5 & 6 are contrary to deeply engrained patterns of behavior. Even after 2,000 years, the Church has yet to work out the implications.

In Ephesians 5:18 we find the imperative (command) to “be filled with the Spirit.” We are to be filled with the very life of God, and everything else flows out of that filling. Following that filling is a series of consequences or results. Notice that these results are all participles. They are not commands as some translation has made them out to be. They are participles – the result of the one command – “be filled.”

Ephesians 5:21 “be subject” is also not a command (imperative), but a participle in a series of participles. Ephesians 5:21 is also not a new sentence as many translations have it, nor is it a new paragraph, for “being subject” is a result of being filled.

There are a series of relationships in which this “being subject” is worked out. Wives and husbands, fathers and children, masters and servants.

Verse 21 sets up the subjection as reciprocal, “one to another,” so that all of the subjection in Ephesians 5 & 6 is governed by the reciprocal nature that flows from “being filled.” Wives are being subject to husbands and husbands being subject to wives; children being subject to fathers and fathers  (or parents) being subject to children; servants being subject to masters and masters being subject to servants.

Radical and revolutionary

“Being filled” goes to the root of relational dynamics and turns things upside down so that things can be right side up again. Because of sin, human relationships are twisted and distorted.  Jesus Christ comes into the world and through His Spirit, things become untwisted and untangled, and He restores those relationships to God’s original intention.

Household codes

In the first century, all of the society had codes of conduct. These household codes listed the three sets of relationships that Paul also listed in Ephesians 5:22, 6:1, 2, 4. In most cases, the husband, father, and master of the household codes turn out to be the same person.

In the first century, the home was often the place of work where all being lived under one roof. However, when the Holy Spirit comes and fills human beings with God’s life, the dynamics of these relationships change.  There is a new household code, and there has to be. Why? It is because women, children, and servants, were treated as mere objects to used by their masters for their own needs.  Some men did recognize the image of God in women, children and slaves, but the norm was that these three groups were mere pawns on a grand chessboard controlled by fathers, husbands, and masters.

Only one who was human

In the household codes, the husband/father/master/patriarch is the only one who is considered truly human.  Aristotle did not think women had the same rational capacity as men and therefore needed to be ruled by their men. He said that there were by nature, the classes of rulers and those ruled. The free rule the slave, the male rules the female and the man rules the child.

The Jews carried the same kind of household code. Jewish man every morning gave thanks that God had not made him a Gentile, slave or woman.  There were no legal rights for women.  The husband could do with her as he willed.

The code

In the human code, wives were subjugated to husbands; children were subjugated to fathers; servants were subjugated to masters.  Then Jesus Christ comes into the world; then the Spirit comes to fill the people in that world, and the Spirit turns everything upside down.

Christ’s way

Paul says that Christ’s way for us is to be filled with the Spirit, being subject to one another in the fear of Christ.  This is a participle, not a command. In fact, in verse 22 the participle is not even there in the original text. It is found in verse 21. To make verse 22 a command or a new sentence or a new paragraph is to distort what Paul is saying. This inadvertently communicates something that was never there in the text.

Being subject

The Spirit fills us with His life. We are to speak differently, speaking with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks to God in the name of Jesus.

Grumbling and complaining are to give way to gratitude because we realize that God is in all we face, in order to further shape us into the image of Jesus. We find ourselves changing in the way we relate to each other especially in the household where we live and work. This result is not a command, but a consequence and result of being filled. Without the filling, it is impossible for a human being to be subject to another human being. The Spirit comes and works this revolution in the human heart, and we live out a new household code.

Being subject in the fear of Christ

The fear of Christ is not to be afraid of Christ.  It is an awe or reverence or respect for Christ.

Being subject to one another out of a deep respect for Christ for who He is, for how He lives, for a very different way He has of being Lord.  Being subject means standing under. We are to stand under Jesus Christ and stand under one another.

Why is “standing under” so radical?

In Ephesians 5:21, 22, wives “standing under” husbands and husbands “standing under wives.” This is radical not the world’s way, and it is under not over.

Paul is working out the consequences of Jesus’ teaching given in Mark 10:42-45.

Mark 10:42–45 (NASB)
42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.
43 “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;
44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.
45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus said that the worldly rulers, the worldly way, is to lord it over. This is not Christ’s way. It is “not so among you.”  The human way is over.  This is the instinct of non-kingdomized humanity – to rule over others. Non-spirit-filled humanity has overlords. If one wants to see this instinct in action, go and see the move “The Help.” It is always over others.

Not so in my kingdom

The kingdom that Jesus brings in is “not so,” not like the world’s way, for whoever wishes to be great…shall be your servant. To be first is to be the slave of all.  In His Kingdom and among you, it is not over but under, not ruler, but servant.

The reality of the old man is over, climbing over others because they are without the Spirit.

The new humanity with the new man is all about standing under one another.  It is only with the power of the Holy Spirit that one can purpose to stand under another human.

We cannot fully understand another human being until we stand under them. We cannot fully understand Jesus Christ until we stand under Him.

Even the Son of Man

Mark 10:45 (NASB)
45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus said “even the Son of Man.”  The Son of Man is the term Jesus took for Himself, and it is the Messianic term from the book of Daniel, a term for the ultimate ruler. Jesus said that not even the ultimate ruler came to be served but to serve.

When the Spirit of the Son of Man comes and fills us, we find ourselves moved from over to under.

Spirit-filled wives will be moved to standing under their husbands, and Spirit-filled husbands will find themselves moved to standing under their wives. Spirit-filled children will find themselves moved to standing under their fathers (parents), and Spirit-filled fathers (parents) will be moved to standing under their children. Spirit-filled slaves will find themselves moved to standing under their masters, and Spirit-filled masters will find themselves moved to standing under their slaves.

In the kingdom of God, when the Spirit of the King comes, the revolution takes place, and we live in mutual submission. We all have equal dignity, equal value, all equal before Christ, in submission to Christ and to each other.

Jesus’ example

The night before Jesus goes to the cross and He is gathered with His disciples in the upper room, Jesus rises from the table, lays aside His outer garments and grabs a basin and a towel and goes down on his knees and begins to wash their feet.  When He has washed their feet, He puts His garments back on and He takes His place at the table and asks them if they understand what He has done.

John 13:13–14 (NASB)
13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.
14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Instead of Jesus saying that He has washed their feet, so they should wash His feet, He states that they should wash one another’s feet. Washing each other’s feet is washing Jesus’ feet. This subverts and replaces all normal patterns of authority. The disciples are to be servants of one another. This is not about rights. This is a different kind of egalitarianism which is based on the fact that the only one who is truly Master has proved Himself to be slave to all equally. He has laid aside His life for us.

The debt that we owe to Jesus is to be discharged by our subjection to our neighbor in loving service. Our neighbor is the appointed agent to receive what we owe to the Master. That is what Paul is getting at in the text.

Wives, your husband is the appointed agent authorized to receive the love you want to pour on Jesus.  Husbands, your wives are the appointed agent to receive the love you want to pour on Jesus.

This is why we need the filling of the Holy Spirit. The alternate reading of reality is so revolutionary that only the Spirit of Jesus, the true servant Lord, can make it happen.

5 thoughts on “Ephesians 5:21, 22 and Christian liberty

  1. Hello Cheryl. It’s been some time since I last visited your website. Hope you and your family had an enjoyable Christmas, and I pray God’s blessing on your ministry in the coming year. As for this sermon on Eph. 5:21-6:5 by Pastor Johnson, it certainly is one of the more biblically and theologically sound ones I’ve read in a long time. May more ministers see this truth, proclaim it, pray and work for it to be fully realized in the life of their congregations. Amen!

  2. What a blessing this was! How often we leave out the truth of this entire book. Yes! It is about being filled with the spirit and when one is, they do not want power or position over another.

  3. Frank,
    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.

    I also find the message so uplifting that it blessed my socks off and I wanted to share it.

    I always like to go back further when I see a “therefore” as I teach in my bible study. We need to know what “therefore” is there for.

  4. Following that filling is a series of consequences or results. Notice that these results are all participles. They are not commands as some translation have made them out to be. They are participles – the result of the one command – “be filled”.

    Ephesians 5:21 “be subject” is also not a command (imperative), but a participle in a series of participles.

    This is my favorite part. I’ve never thought or believed that wives being told to submit was a “command.”
    A command, for example would be the first or second greatest commandments. Those are actual commands.

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