The Lord’s Day
July 30, 2006
Household Rules: Marriage and Family (1)”
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians 5. If you have the outline that was provided today for this
message, you’ll also notice the outline of Ephesians 5:18-21. We’re going to go
back today to verse 21, the last verse of the passage we studied together last
week, because it is a transition verse from the section that we’ve been studying
into this new section that deals with marriage and with family.
The Apostle Paul has given one negative command
and one positive command in Ephesians 5:18. You see them there in the outline as
Roman numerals I and II: “Do not get drunk” is the negative command; the
positive command, “Be filled with the Spirit.” That’s what he wants to focus
on as he talks to these Ephesian Christians. Being filled with the Spirit is not
something that only one special class of Christians experiences so that they’re
able to do things that we ordinary, normal Christians aren’t able to do. Being
filled with the Spirit is something that every Christian experiences, and
experiences it not just once–it is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit whereby He
matures and assures us in Jesus Christ, builds us up in grace; and the Apostle
Paul tells all the Ephesian Christians and all of us that we ought to be filled
with the Spirit.
What will that look like in us? Well, the
Apostle Paul uses five participles in verses 19-21 to describe four ways that
the filling of the Spirit will manifest itself in our lives.
The first thing you see there in verse 19. He
says those who are filled with the Spirit will speak to one another in songs and
hymns and spiritual songs, so we’ll want to encourage one another with our words
by speaking biblical truth to one another. Our truth will be seasoned with
grace, and we’ll be speaking the truth of God’s word in psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs to one another. We’ll want to bless one another in our
Secondly, and again in verse 19, “…singing and
making melody with your heart to the Lord;” so those who are filled with the
Spirit from the very depth of their being long to give God praise in the company
of the saints. They love to gather in worship with the people of God and
praise God from the very depths of their being. They don’t just go through the
motions, but from the very depth of their being they praise God. It’s exactly
what the choir just sang about: ‘Lord, grant that what we sing with our lips, we
really believe with our hearts, and those things that we say we really
believe with our hearts manifest themselves in our lives.’ That’s what the
Apostle Paul is talking about here. These are people that really want to with
the whole of themselves give praise to the living God. That’s what a
Spirit-filled Christian looks like.
Thirdly, in verse 20, what does a Spirit-filled
Christian look like? A person who is giving thanks for all things in the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father, and so this is a person
who is able to be thankful, to be grateful, to be appreciative to God and to
ascribe to Him thanks and gratitude in every circumstance all the time. This is
a person that knows that God is good all the time, no matter the circumstances
that he or she may be in. And so this person is a grateful person.
And then, finally, we saw just very briefly the
culminating participle, the final thing that Paul wants to say, and it’s the
final thing that he wants to say because it’s going to be a dominating thought
in everything that he has to say until Ephesians 6:9. It’s this: that a person
who is filled with the Spirit–notice what he says–is subject to one another in
the fear of Christ. To put it in its participial form, those who are filled
with the Spirit are subjecting themselves in the fear of Christ.
Now that’s what we need to camp on today and ask
what in the world does Paul mean by subjecting ourselves to one another?
What does mutual subjection mean? What does mutual submission
That’s really going to be the one point of the
message today, but I’m going to break it into three parts just so that we can
take it all in. I want us to look at the consequence of the filling
of the Spirit, and one of its main consequences is mutual subjection. So
we’ll first look at the consequence of the filling of the Spirit.
Then, again looking at verse 21, we will look at the
content of mutual subjection. What does it mean to submit ourselves, or
to subject ourselves, to one another? What does that mean biblically that we do?
How do we express what that means?
Thirdly, we will look at the context of
mutual subjection. How in the world does a Christian go about doing this?
Because we live in a fallen world, and the people that God calls us to subject
ourselves to are often people who have failed us in significant ways. Now how
does one possibly screw up the energy to submit yourself to somebody who has
failed you? Well, the Apostle Paul tells you in this passage.
Now let’s look to God’s word, and before we do,
let’s look to Him in prayer to ask His help and blessing.
Lord, this passage is not that hard to
understand. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what Paul is
telling us here, but I’m not sure I know of a passage that is harder to live
than this one, and for that reason we need Your help today; because it’s not
understanding what Paul is saying here that’s hard. It’s doing what Paul is
saying here that’s hard. And it’s not just hard: apart from Your Holy Spirit,
apart from Your grace, it’s impossible. So we need Your help. Grant us that help
in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“…And be subject to one another
in the fear of Christ.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
There is no better index of a life under the
influence of the Holy Spirit, there is no better index of a life being guided by
the Holy Spirit, there is no better index of a life being filled up by the Holy
Spirit, matured by the Holy Spirit, than what the Apostle Paul calls mutual
subjection. It is the key to Christian living in marriage, in
family, and in the sphere of our labor. It is absolutely fundamental to Paul’s
call to us to be different from the world. You understand in this whole section
from Ephesians 4 to Ephesians 6, it has been the Apostle Paul’s concern to call
us to be different from the world, to live differently from the world, and
though it may be easy for us to be different from the world when we are at
church on Sunday or at other times, it is much harder to be different from the
world when we are out there during the week, but there is no place where it is
harder to be different from the world than at home.
It is in some ways the easiest place, but in some
ways the hardest place, to live out the Christian life because though we love
those who are part of our families and homes more than anyone else, they are the
ones who can hurt us more than anyone else, and thus it is the place where it is
hardest to live out consistently the call to be different from the world. And
the Apostle Paul knows that, and that’s why in I Timothy when he’s telling you
how to choose a man who is going to be your shepherd, your elder, your pastor,
he says choose a man who lives out the Christian life–where?–yes, he does talk
about how he lives the Christian life in the world, but he especially
concentrates on–what? How is he as a husband; how is he as a daddy; how does he
give spiritual leadership to his home?
Why does Paul do that? Because Paul knows that a man
who can live out the Christian life in his home is a man who’s ready to shepherd
the church, the family of God, in the context of the congregation, because it is
the hardest place to do it with consistency, and so we’re beginning an adventure
in that whole area in this passage, and it’s timely, isn’t it? Because we live
in a culture that is utterly confused about these things. Our culture cannot
even figure out who’s supposed to get married! We can’t figure out parenting. I
prayed in the prayer about poor Gary Johnson and David Bergmark and all our
missionaries over there in Sweden, that now has a law on the books that says if
you physically punish your children, you are participating in child abuse that’s
a jailable offense! Now don’t laugh, friends. In twenty years we’ll be seeing
that. Twenty years. Just give it twenty years; it will be here. In fact, in
Sweden, they’re not even sure whether parents have the right to discipline their
children in any way at all, much less physically. We live in an enormously
confused culture with regard to marital roles and family roles and what life
ought to look like, and the Apostle Paul is coming to these Ephesian Christians
and he’s saying ‘Here’s how we’re going to live distinctly as Christians,’ and
it is just as timely (if not more so) today than it was when Paul first wrote
it. But the key for everything that Paul will say from 5:22-6:9 will be his
principle of Christians subjecting themselves to one another. It will pervade
everything that he says.
So I want you to see three things today: I
want you see the consequence of being filled with the Spirit, in our
mutual subjection; I want you to see the content of mutual subjection…
what it means; and then, I want you to see the context of mutual
subjection. How in the world can you do this? Paul tells you.
I. The consequence of being
filled with the Spirit.
Let’s start with the consequence of being filled
with the Spirit. Paul says in verse 18 and in verse 21 that being filled
with the Holy Spirit results in our being subject to one another. Notice the
flow of argument: (verse 18) — “Be filled with the Spirit”; (verse 21) — “and be
subject to one another.” In other words, Paul is saying that being filled with
the Spirit involves Christians subjecting themselves to one another.
Isn’t this fascinating? We are filled with the Holy
Spirit individually as Christians, but we express it corporately. In fact, I can
say it even more strikingly than that: Though we are filled with the Holy Spirit
individually as Christians, we cannot manifest the filling of the Holy Spirit
individualistically. It can only be manifested — how? — in the context of
fellowship, in the context of our relationship with one another. It’s in our
relationship with one another that we manifest the work of the Holy Spirit in us
to assure us and mature us, to build us up in Jesus Christ, and so the Apostle
Paul is saying to us here that mutual service, mutual submission, mutual
servitude, mutual subjection of Christians is the result of the work of the Holy
Sprit’s filling. This focus on submission is an essential mark of being filled
with God’s Spirit. Believers whose lives have been filled by God’s Spirit will
be marked by submission within divine, orderly relationships.
Now let me say one quick thing about this. Mutual
submission does not mean that there are no longer any orders or divinely
appointed hierarchies in human relationships; quite the opposite. In this
passage God does not ask, for instance, parents to submit or subject themselves
to their children in the same way their children are to subject themselves to
their parents, but He does ask parents to subject themselves to their children
in certain ways. So this call for mutual subjection does not wipe out role
relationships. It doesn’t establish some sort of a flat equality in which there
are no distinctions in any human role relationships between men and women,
between parents and children, between masters and servants, or employers and
employees. No, far from it. It assumes and even establishes those particular
structures and divinely provided orders, but it says within that context all of
us are to be in the business of serving one another. Each of us has different
ways in which we are to serve one another, to submit ourselves to one another,
to subject ourselves to one another, but all of us are to serve one another.
That’s good news, wives! Because the verb that we’re
going to talk about next week when we talk about
— submission — is borrowed
from this verse. Now here’s the good news. The good news, wives, is the Apostle
Paul has already asked all Christians to do what he’s going to ask you to do in
relation to your husbands. The bad news is that word submission is kind
of a wimpy word compared to the word that Paul uses here. The word that Paul
used is be subject to. It literally means to arrange yourself under.
It’s a very powerful word. We’re going to talk about that word today.
But I want you to see that as far as Paul is
concerned, this is the result of the Holy Spirit working in us, and though the
Spirit works in us individually, we cannot express that individualistically; we
have to express it in the context of fellowship with one another. It’s in our
relationships with one another that we show the Spirit.
II. The content of mutual
Secondly, and this is what I really want to park
on today, you’ll see in verse 21 that Paul begins to help us understand what
he’s asking us to do. What does being subject to one another mean?
Well, here’s the word: Be subject to one another, or, literally,
subjecting yourselves in fear of Christ. The Apostle Paul is talking about
self-denying, other-centered, mutual submission. He’s talking about committing
ourselves to the service of others. He’s talking about the Christian duty of
Now this is really important to Paul. He talks about
it in his letters more than he talks about justification by faith. Do you think
justification by faith was important to Paul? You bet your bottom dollar it was!
He talks about this more than he talks about justification by faith. Thirty-two
times in his letters he comes back to the principle of Christians subjecting
themselves to one another. Think it’s important? You better believe it. And
remember, these aren’t just Paul’s words. These are God’s words for believers.
What does he mean? Well, those 32 times, if you go
study those passages, you’ll have a very full picture of what he means. Let me
give you the shorthand. This is, by the way, not something that Paul came up
with on his own. He had learned this from somebody else: Jesus. Remember Jesus
in Matthew 18:1-4 talking to His disciples about what somebody who was a citizen
of His kingdom was like? Remember what He said? ‘A citizen of My kingdom is
like…’ what? ‘…a little child.’ Humble like a little child. You remember
what Derek reminded us? He reminded us that little children are not necessarily
humble! So Jesus’ point is not that little children are more humble than the
rest of us, it is that we perceive them to be lower, to be less. We used to say
‘That child is to be seen and not heard.’ They’re lowest on the totem pole.
They’re small in the eyes of the world. And Jesus says to His disciples ‘That’s
what one of My followers is like. That’s what a citizen of My kingdom is like.
They are lowly in the eyes of their brothers and sisters.’ Jesus Himself would
say in Matthew 20:28, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.”
And then in John 13, He would say to His disciples,
‘This is how I want you to treat one another.’ And then what did He do? He took
upon Himself the position, the status, the role, of a slave…the lowest
slave…the slave who had the nasty job of washing the feet of guests who
visited the house. And He said to them, “Love one another in the way that I have
loved you.” And so this kind of service that the Apostle Paul is calling us to
in this word mutual subjection is something that he learned from Jesus.
Paul himself will tell us in Romans 12:10 that we are to prefer others ahead of
ourselves, and in Philippians 2 he will tell us that we are to do nothing from
selfish ambition, but in humility we are to consider others ahead of ourselves;
and then he’ll give Jesus as the great example of it.
So what does mutual submission mean?
It means willing to be the least, it means being willing to wash the disciples’
feet, it means being ready to prefer others ahead of ourselves, it means doing
nothing from selfish ambition, but from humility. It means not being
self-assertive and insisting on getting our own way, but placing ourselves at
others’ disposal and living so that our forbearance becomes a matter of public
knowledge, and serving one another.
It’s not a weak thing. It’s actually a very powerful
thing. You think about it, my friends. There are a lot of ways people seek for
power in this world: money; their ambition often fuels and expresses their
power; status, roles, positions enable them to express power and display power;
and all of those ways that power can be expressed can be taken away from any
But the one power that cannot be taken away from you
is service. There is no one that can take away service, and the power that comes
with it, from you. We always have the power to serve. That’s exactly the
situation that Jesus was in. Having left the halls of glory, having divested
Himself of all the prerogatives that He could have rightly claimed, He expressed
a power far beyond anything that we could have conceived in His servitude, and
redeemed by His servitude a multitude that no man can number, and no man can
take that power from Him. So this is not a weak thing. Humble service is a very,
very powerful thing. It’s just a different kind of power than the world
I’ve told you before about my friend, C. J. Mahaney,
Reformed Charismatic pastor in Gaithersburg, Maryland. [Now, don’t ask me what a
Reformed Charismatic is, that’s another discussion for another day!] I can’t get
through a conversation with C. J. without him saying, “Lig, how may I serve
you?” and he’s dead serious about it. You meet his people, and they are all
about serving one another, and they’re all about serving you. It is not a
charade, because they believe as good old charismatics that if they’re going to
have a claim to being filled with the Holy Spirit, then they had better manifest
— what? — humble service to one another. And they’re serious about it, and it’s
a great blessing to me just to see their fellowship in Christ and the way they
seek to serve one another.
So what’s our motto going to be if we embrace
mutual servitude of one another? [Now let me just apologize right now. I’m
no doubt going to offend someone by what I’m about to say. You’re going to
think, ‘Oh, you’re being classist, and you’re looking down on people that have
certain jobs.’ Don’t miss my point here.] Here’s our motto. If we really
understand what it means to embrace this idea of mutual subjection so that we
take on a status that is lowly in order to serve others, then our motto has to
be something like this: “Will you have fries with that?” Or, “Hi. I’m Ligon.
Welcome to WalMart.” You see what I’m getting at. Those are the jobs that you
dread having to do.
A dear friend of mine, a highly trained
professional, very intelligent, competent in his work, lost his job and couldn’t
get a job in that particular area, and I remember him talking with me and with
others, and sharing an email about his fear that the only thing he was going to
be able to do was flip burgers at McDonald’s or welcome people at WalMart,
because he was only qualified to work in his field and he wasn’t qualified to go
out and get some other high-paying glorious job. And he said, “I’ll be flipping
burgers at McDonald’s or welcoming people at WalMart.”
Now, folks, if you’re working flipping burgers at
McDonald’s or welcoming people at WalMart, do it to the glory of God. Let me
just tell you something. My granddad pumped gas at a service station, and I’m
proud of him. So this is not about running somebody down in another job. It’s
about a job that is perceived to be less prestigious than another, and the
willingness of a Christian to take it for the welfare of other Christians.
That’s our motto. Our job is to say, “Would you like fries with that?…Welcome
to WalMart…can I help you?” This is the kind of subjection that God is calling
us to manifest to one another.
I’ve told you the story of our friend, Archbishop
Emanuel Kolini, Archbishop of Rwanda, when the American conservative
Episcopalians going to him to ask for help in America. He showed them the
devastation of the civil war, the genocide in Rwanda, and then he brought them
into his office and he said, ‘Now you need to understand that when the millions
of my people were being killed, we sent word to the western nations and no help
came. And we sent word to America, and no help came. And we sent word to the
American Christians, and no help came. And we sent word to the Episcopal Church
in America, and no help came. And now you’re asking me to come and help you in
your time of need.” And then Archbishop Kolini said to them, “Go back and tell
your people we will help you.” That, my friends, is mutual subjection. Or,
Michael Oh, our dear friend (Korean) serving God’s people in Japan. Now most of
you have no idea of the significance of that. I’m not sure I can even illustrate
that to you. Tremendous tensions between the Japanese and the Korean people, and
he as a Korean Christian is saying, “I want to spend my life serving the
Japanese.” It’s a picture of servitude.
Or maybe it’s more mundane. You’ve got a friend, and
you’ve seen some issues with one of his children, or one of her children, and
you feel like — ‘I need to share this with my friend. I would want to know
this.’ You don’t go into it : “You know, I’ve been using this latest Christian
parenting technique, and you know, my wife and I, we really are among the best
parents in this congregation! And there are a few things that this brother and
sister need to learn from us about parenting. You know, they wouldn’t be having
this problem if they were only following our latest parenting….” No! You don’t
approach it that way. That’s a lordly, condescending, ungodly way to approach a
brother and sister in life. Nor do you say, “You know, if I raise this my friend
is very likely to be royally cheesed with me. In fact, my friend may hate my
guts if I raise this! In fact, there may be some consequences taken out on my
kids if I do this. I’m just not going to get into this. I’m just not going to
say anything.” That’s not serving your brother and sister.
But, no, you and your wife sit down and you say,
“You know, this is going to be really, really hard to do. But we’ve checked our
hearts, we don’t think we’re people that give out advice all the time; we’re
dear friends with these people; we’ve had a longstanding relationship; we would
want to know this ourselves. We’ve got to say this, even if they’re angry. We’ve
got to say it in such a way that protects their dignity, shows our esteem and
our honor for them, indicates that we have only their best interests in mind,
but we have got to do this because it is our job to serve them.”
Or maybe there’s a ruptured relationship, and you
realize, “I’ve got to figure out how to serve that person, even in this ruptured
relationship, because I didn’t see any qualifications on Paul’s words here: ‘Be
subject to one another, if you want to.’”
Nope. That’s not in the text. ‘Be subject to one
another on occasion. Be subject to one another if things are all right. Be
subject to one another from time to time.’ No. It’s just “Be subject to one
another. Subject yourselves to one another. Serve one another.”
Friends, if we had an attitude of genuinely desiring
to serve one another, it is frightening to think what would happen for the glory
of God in this congregation, for your good in your lives, and for our witness in
the community. And that’s what the Apostle Paul is calling us to here. He is
calling us to take on that posture with one another: “Will you have fries with
that?…Welcome to WalMart…May I help you?…I am your server.” Do you
remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians? That he wanted them to
consider the apostles — what? “Your slaves for Christ’s sake.”
It’s astonishing, and it utterly changes the
dynamics of everything else he’s going to say. And in a few moments, when he
asks wives to subject themselves to their own husbands, scant words later he
will tell husbands, ‘Now, here’s how you’re going to love your wife. You’re
going to love her like Christ loved His people.’ And if any husband is paying
attention, at that point he is on the floor on his face–face down,
prostrate–saying, “Lord God! The abasement, the humiliation, the death that
Christ offered up for His bride…I can’t match that!” The Apostle Paul’s
saying, ‘Right. That’s, husbands, how I’m asking you to love your wives.’
Do you realize the dynamic change that comes there
when a wife realizes that she’s called to subject herself to a man who has
been called to die for her? And who is in some measure living that out?
It changes the dynamics in everything.
So there’s the content. This is a radical
message! You won’t find many things more radical than this in the New Testament.
It changes everything.
III. The context of mutual
Now how do you do this? We live in a fallen
world! We’re not called to be subject to perfect beings. You know, if it were
being subject to Jesus, that would be one thing, but we’re called to be subject
to one another, and we’re sinners, and we hurt one another! We’ve let one
another down, we’ve disappointed one another. Well, the Apostle Paul is waiting
for us. How do you go about being subject?–well, he gives you the key–“In the
fear of Christ.”
The first thing I want to tell you about that
is….That’s, by the way, a glorious testimony to Jesus’ deity. In the Old
Testament, how did the Old Testament writers sum up religion? In the phrase
the fear of God. So when Paul says that you’re to live in the fear of
Christ, he is doing nothing other but giving a testimony that Jesus Christ
is divine. He is the Son of the living God; He is fully God and fully man. (He’s
done it over and over in this passage, by the way. In Ephesians 5:5, for
instance, he’s talked about — what? “The kingdom of Christ and of God.”)
In the Old Testament, when the prophets wanted to
talk about the rule of God in this world, what phrase did they use? The
kingdom of God. Now here’s Paul talking about “the kingdom of Christ and of
God.” It’s just his way of saying the divine Christ that we’re serving, the Lord
Jesus Christ, is the Son of the living God. The Apostle Paul has said in
Ephesians 5:1, 17, that we’re to do everything to please the Lord and to do the
will of the Lord.
Well, in the Old Testament, who were you supposed to
Whose will were you supposed to do? God’s.
Paul’s a good Jew. He knows that you don’t try and
please anybody who’s not God; you don’t try and do the will of anybody who’s not
God. So he says…what are we supposed to do? Please the Lord Jesus Christ; do
the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 5:19 he said we’re to do — what? We’re
to sing praises, we’re to give worship to — who? To the Lord, the Lord Jesus
So in this passage Paul is pressing us with the
truth of Jesus’ deity, but here’s what he’s really wanting us to get to: He’s
wanting us to understand three things…that we are to serve one another, be
subject to one another, subject ourselves to one another, in light of three
First, the reality that Jesus is Lord. We’re
to subject ourselves to one another in the fear of Christ because Jesus is Lord.
We are to have a conscious regard for His lordship, that He is the One in whom
all things are held together, that He rules everything by the word of His power
— that He is Lord. You remember what Jesus told the priests that upset them so,
in the midst of His mock trial? “You will see me coming on clouds in glory.” And
what did they do? They tore their garments! Why did they tear their garments?
Because in the Old Testament when God wanted to talk about the fact that He was
coming as Judge, how did He talk about it? “I’m coming on clouds in glory.” And
here’s Jesus saying ‘Right now I’m here as the Savior; next time you see Me, I
will be here as Judge.’ That’s why, my friends, you need to get to know the
Judge by faith now, before He comes.
So here’s Paul saying to Christians ‘Subject
yourselves to one another. I know it’s hard, but remember Jesus is the Lord. And
not only that, but He is coming in judgment. We are to…’ just like he said
back earlier in Ephesians 5, ‘We are to live in anticipation of His coming
judgment.’ We are to live in awe, respect, esteem, and reverence of the greatest
Servant, Jesus Christ, who, when He comes, will judge the world according to His
And of course we are to live in conscious
emulation of His example. Now Jesus Himself is not asking you to do anything
that He has not done Himself. And you say to me, ‘But…you don’t understand.
That person has wronged me. I can’t serve him…I can’t serve her…I can’t be
subject to him.’ The Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life while, the Apostle
Paul says, “While we were yet sinners, He died for the ungodly.”
You put Him there. You rebelled against His love and
lordship, and He laid down His life. The Lord Jesus Christ isn’t asking you to
do anything that He hasn’t already done for you Himself. And so what do we do
but say, ‘Lord, we don’t have the wherewithal to do this. Only by Your Spirit,
only by Your grace, only with the filling of the Spirit can we live in this
way.’ But if we did, oh, friends, the blessing that would break forth, the
witness that would be borne, is incalculable!
Easy to say…hard to do, O Lord. Give us the
desire, and by Your Spirit and Your grace, give us the ability. In Jesus’ name.
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