kindness02I received the following question:

Do you believe that Ephesians 5:21 defines what comes after, and indicates that there should be mutual submission between husbands and wives, parents and children, and slaves and masters? Or does what follows define Ephesians 5:21, and indicate that these three, specific instances are where God wants us to submit?

The whole passage is, indeed, introduced by verse 21, which encourages believers, as such, to submit to one another.

21. submitting to one another in the fear of God.

This erases the God-given hierarchy that you had in the Acts period, for now there are no “appointed leaders,” but all are to view themselves as submitted to each other.

This verse is the great introduction to this portion. Then, Paul goes on to elaborate on certain situations where submission is particularly appropriate. He is not erasing all authority structures. He specifies that in the case of wives to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters, it is particularly important for them to submit. These are relationships where voluntary submission is particularly appropriate. This does not make the husband the boss, or the master, or even the parents. Yet the one in submission should make that person the boss through voluntary yieldedness. These situations demand submission on the part of one who is interested in pleasing God. Note, though, that these commands are to believers. No infant or toddler is a believer, or is able to read these commands and obey them. Yet if they are old enough to be believers and hear the Word, they are old enough to understand that it is their duty to voluntarily submit.

The passage does not demand that husbands submit to wives, parents to children, or masters to slaves. Yet there is a response given that is appropriate in these cases. As submissive themselves to God, those listed need to respond in accordance with God’s demands. As such, husbands are to love their wives. This may not be exactly the same as submission, but it is a laying down of his life for his wife, just in a slightly different way. Parents are to respect their children enough to not frustrate them by their actions. This again may not be submission to them, but it is acknowledging them as people deserving of respect as children of the Lord as well. Masters are to treat their slaves well. This may not be the same as submitting to them, but there is a similarity in that they are caring for their welfare.

I am not saying that total, equal, mutual submission is required in these cases. The general rule is submission to one another as believers, but these specific cases demand particularly submission on the part of one of the parties to the other. Yet in these cases, we might say these exceptions, the one put in the authoritative position is to always respond as submitted to God, and thus display the response suggested in Ephesians 5 and 6 and not misuse the place given by the one who is voluntarily submissive.

I do not believe that verse 21 is defined by what follows. That is basically negating verse 21. Yet neither do I believe that verse 21 negates the following verses. There are situations where one of two parties in a relationship is expected to submit to the other. The wife is to submit to the husband, the child to the parent, and the slave to the master. Yet this is to always be done in the fear of the Lord, it is a voluntary submission, and there is an appropriate response carefully given to be done by the one being submitted to.

That is not to say that in some of these cases there isn’t more than just a voluntary submission. A child could be old enough to know the Lord, and yet young enough to have no choice about submitting to his parents. Yet one can submit voluntarily at the same time that he has to submit involuntarily. Involuntary submission has to be forced. One who submits voluntarily would make sure that he never HAS to be forced to submit.