“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Let’s do a quick review of Paul’s message in Ephesians. Based on who we are in Christ and the incredible blessings we have received (chapters 1-3), Paul instructs us to “walk in a way worthy of the calling to which we have been called” (4.1). He uses the verb “walk” to refer to how live and work every day. More specifically, he tells us to walk in love (5:2), walk in light (5:8), walk in wisdom (5:15), and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit (5:18).
Paul now turns to the key relationships of life. He addresses the relationships of marriage, parenting, and the workplace. The relationship section begins with the command “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In other words, there are two attitudes of mind that a Christian should bring to every relationship: an attitude of giving toward others and an attitude of reverence for Jesus.
“Reverence for Christ” means that your relationship with others is to be guided by your deep appreciation for what Jesus has done for you. That you love others because God loves you. That you forgive others because Christ has forgiven you.
It’s important to see the context here: The prerequisite for effective relationships is walking in love, light, wisdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the quality of your relationships with people is directed by the quality of your relationship with the Lord. In order to fulfill God’s will for your life, Jesus must be Lord of the way you relate to and interact with people.
“Submit to one another” is a very interesting command. The word for “submit” is the Greek hupotasso, which was a military term meaning “to arrange yourself under.” It carried the notion of being humble, as well as understanding what is required of you in whatever role you are in. Simply put, it means know your role and do the job that is assigned to you.
The meaning for Christians is this: In all of your key relationships, make sure you know what is required of you and do the work. Be humble and don’t be self-centered. Have a servant’s heart. What do you need to give to the relationship? How can you serve and support? What is required of you in the relationship? What responsibilities do you need to fulfill?
It is worth noting that Paul delivers this command to everyone, even to Christians who are in positions of authority. Are you a CEO? Know what is required of you, have a servant’s heart, and do the work. Fulfill your responsibilities.
Are you a general manager or supervisor? Or a coach? Or a pastor? Know what is required of you, have a servant’s heart, and do the work. Fulfill your responsibilities.
Are you a husband or wife? Mom or Dad? Know what is required of you, have a servant’s heart, and do the work. Fulfill your responsibilities.
Paul is not saying to stop wielding authority. He is saying that the ultimate authority in relationships is earned through how you serve and support, not through how you command and direct. I have long believed (and observed) that leadership is not authority based on a position you have been given. Real leadership is influence based on trust you have earned.
Trust is not granted by your position; it is earned through your behavior.
If you are in a position of leadership, then you also have authority, and you should wield the authority wisely and effectively. But if you exercise authority without a foundation of trust, then you will create resentment and resistance.
Paul’s message is this: Make sure the way you lead is guided by truth, love, and the power of the Spirit. Humility doesn’t mean giving up your position of authority; it means fulfilling your position of authority with Spirit-directed motives and methods.
One last point. You cannot fulfill this command if you are operating from your old nature. In every key relationship in your life, make sure you are operating from your new nature in Christ. Put off your old nature. It is corrupted by deceitful impulses, and it will ruin your relationships. Put on the new nature which is created after God’s image. It will build great relationships.