Be Submissive To One Another Out Of Reverence For Christ Subtitle: Mutual Submission vs Mono Submission
Ephesians Series Ephesians 5:18-33, Matthew 19:1-9, Mark 10:2-12
Standing before me are a bride and groom who were married here this past summer. I want you to know a bit about our bride and groom for today. Our groom is Bill Pooley, a young man who grew up here at Grace Lutheran Church. He is the son of Ed and Barb Pooley. Ed Pooley, our groom’s father, died prematurely a few years ago, but Ed was the Bible study leader of the Men’s Breakfast for twenty years, president of the church council, and leader of the long range planning committee. I was fortunate to perform the wedding of Bill’s two sisters, and his two nieces and nephews are still active in our youth program. Our bride today is Desiree Pooley who I came to know in my membership class. During her wedding, I was privileged to meet Desiree’s mother, and Desiree is a spitting image of her mom. Her father was filled with pride in his daughter and her siblings, proud that all his children turned out to well, and yet he couldn’t brag because his friends were having so many problems with their children. Desiree was the only person in my membership class who talked excitedly about crayfish. She is a recent graduate of Pacific Lutheran University in environmental biology and works in her field for the city of Tacoma.
Bill and Desiree, every person here in this room today wants the two of you to have a great marriage. This is true of everyone here. Whether a person has been married once or twice or three times; whether a person is rich or poor; whether a person is single or married; a common sentiment in this sanctuary today is that everyone here wants the two of you to have a great marriage. And so does God, and so do I.
What is a great marriage? In Ephesians 5, the text for today, we hear about God’s grand design for all great marriages, that the man and woman would become one, one spiritually, one sexually, one intellectually, one aesthetically, that the two of you would become one. When this happens, the Bible says that this is a mystery, a sacrament, one of the greatest miracles of life. Numerous couples have learned the mystery of Ephesians 5:21, husbands and wives, be servants of one another out of reverence for Christ; that is, be submissive each other out of reverence for God.
I would like to share with the two of you and the whole congregation some of the conversations that I had the past two days as I visited our shut-ins, and the people I walked with have all experienced great marriages. The first couple I am recalling is Claire and Agnes Tronson whom I visited this past Friday. Claire and Agnes have been married the longest in our parish; they have been married for sixty-five years and they are now both ninety years old. Agnes has had MS for many years now and she also easily looses her balance and falls, and Claire takes incredible care of his wife, like you wouldn’t believe. If you are in the room with the two of them, you see how deeply they love each other, how deeply they serve each other. These two people, the Tronsons, have learned this basic lesson about life and marriage, to truly love and serve each other through the years. They live out Ephesians 5:21. And immediately my mind jumps to Bill and Hulda Benson who also love and care for each other. Hulda has lived with Alzheimer’s disease now for many years, and Bill bathes her, dresses her, fixes her hair and Hulda looks super and immaculate when she comes to church with Bill Once again, like the Tronsons, the Bensons have discovered this miracle of mutual love and mutual service. I often think to myself, when I finally grow up and become a man, I hope to be as good as men as Tronson and Benson. The other person I visited on Friday was Opal Dye, who is the oldest person in our parish at the ripe old age of ninety-six. At ninety-six and now legally blind, she greeted me at her door of her duplex. As we shared stories, she laughed with glee as she recalled her husband and all the things they did together. There was a lilt, a glow, and radiant satisfaction as she told stories about how good her husband was to her, and she too, with her husband, had learned this basic lesson about life and marriage and mutual caring. The last person I want to recall to you about great marriages is Zella Dallas, now Zella Patton. Zella was married, and then single at age forty for another forty years, when at age eighty, she got married again to Rae Patton. All the ladies at the retirement home were jealous of her, that she “got” the man at her table to marry her. How I loved it when my wife Jan and I saw Zella and Rae downtown in Seattle, she with her red high heels and he shuffling along with his cane. How I love it when I recall my membership class that Zella and Rae took before their marriage, and how Rae told the class how he could hardly wait to get his hands on Zella when they got married. In their eighties, he knew that they would become one sexually, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. The two of them had a great marriage before Rae died.
Bill and Desiree, that’s what everyone here wants for the two of you, to experience a great marriage, to learn the lesson that these older retired people have learned and that so many people sitting out there in the congregation have already learned. These people have all learned about mutually caring and serving each other, so that you become one. You need to learn the lesson of mutually serving each other’s needs.
Today, I would like to talk with the two of you and the congregation about Ephesians 5. This is the classic passage about marriage, and it is read at almost all weddings. I would like to teach you about this chapter. The rest of this sermon will be more like a teaching sermon than a wedding sermon.
A lot of people enjoy our congregation for many reasons. Some like the quality of music. Others the variety of worship services, classes, and ministries offered here. Still others are attracted to the quality of youth programs and still others like the preaching. But most people who join this congregation also enjoy or like the theology, the doctrine, the interpretations of the Bible that are offered here. If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t have joined this congregation.
Now, there are several different groups each of which has legitimate interpretations of the Bible. There are different denominations such as Presbyterians, Methodist, Catholic or Baptist. There are different large independent churches like the Christian Faith Centers down the street, in Tacoma, Portland or Eugene. There are different ministries that offer their interpretations of the Bible such as Campus Crusade, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bible Study Fellowship, or Promise Keepers. What I would like to suggest to you is that each group has their own interpretations of the Bible, and people have joined this congregation for our particular doctrines, theology and interpretations.
The first point of today’s sermon is this: not once in the book of Ephesians does the Apostle Paul everask a woman to obey the man. Not once! (The bride, in her beaming smile, spontaneously said “good” and everyone laughed.) Nor does this congregation or denomination ever ask for a woman to obey her husband. Desiree, you are not asked to obey Bill. Bill, you are not to expect Desiree to obey you. That’s what the Bible teaches. That is what our church teachers.
Let me explain. It was in October of 1979 that I was preaching a series of sermons on the book of Ephesians and I was reading a commentary on Ephesians by Marcus Barth, the son of Karl Barth, perhaps the most famous theologian in America. Barth said that in all the writings of the Apostle Paul, not once did Paul ask for a woman to obey her husband. I couldn’t believe it, so I looked up all the letters of Paul, and sure enough, Barth was right. Paul didn’t ask for obedience from women even once. As I read my old sermon from 1979, I asked many people what they thought about Paul and the obedience of women. I asked Ella Gran, the church secretary in those years, and she said Paul taught obedience for women. I asked the intern, Dave Engen, and he said Paul taught obedience for women. I asked Cheryl Biegert, our youth worker, and she said Paul taught obedience for women. I telephoned my pastor friends, and to a person, they said that Paul taught obedience for women. I asked many of you in the congregation, and you said that Paul taught obedience for women. And you were all wrong. Every last one of you was wrong, and so was I. Not once in the book of Ephesians or in any other letter does the Apostle Paul ask women to obey their husbands.
O yes, the Apostle Paul knows how use the word, obedience. Paul talks about the ethical consequences of our Christian life and he applies his ethical standards to three groups of people in each letter: husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters. The Apostle Paul is consistent: children are to obey their parents; slaves are to obey their masters, but not once does Paul ask wives to obey their husbands. Paul knows how to use the word, obey, but he doesn’t apply it to women.
That is what the Bible teaches. That is what this church teaches.
Now you can belong to and listen to groups that teach that women are to obey their husbands. For example, my wife and I vacationed this past year in Ashland, Oregon and attended the great Shakespearean Festival. What a vacation!!! The best play this year was Taming of the Shrew, written in 1595 by Shakespeare, and in 1595, Shakespeare wanted to teach the Shrew, Katherine, obedience. The whole play is about getting Kateto obey, and in her last speech, she finally acquiesces and gives a long soliloquy about obedience to her husband who is her master, her lord, her king, in order to finally be at peace with him. And the actress didn’t wink in jest as she gave her final speech. …..At the same time as Shakespeare in merry Old England, the King James Bible of the Anglican Church was being written and it was published in 1611. The King James Version of the Bible and Taming of the Shrew were being produced at the same time in England, and the Anglican Church through its Bible pushed for obedience of women. The way it is translated and structured, the Kind James Bible pushes for obedience on the part of the woman, just as Shakespeare did as he wrote at the same time.
I had an incident at a wedding a number years ago. A woman walked briskly out of a wedding when I read the Living Bible’s translation of Ephesians 5, that a women was to be “willingly obedient in all things to her husband.” This lady stood up and walked out. This translation or paraphrase of the Bible was dead wrong when it translated that a woman was to be willingly obedient in all things. She was right to protest, and when we talked about it afterwards, I hadn’t realized how biased against women was the author of the Living Bible.
What I am suggesting to you, Bill and Desiree, is that some groups do push women to obey their husbands, but the Bible and the Apostle Paul do not, nor does this church to which you belong. Doctrine is important. Women are not taught obedience in Paul and Jesus or this congregation.
So, if the Bible and Ephesians do not teach that a woman is to obey her husband, what does Ephesians 5 and the Apostle Paul teach? That man and woman are to be mutually submissive, mutually servants, mutually loving and caring for each other, like the Tronsons, like the Bensons, like to many great marriages who have discovered this secret.
For a many and woman to be mutually submissive to one another is a radical statement for the Apostle Paul. It is revolutionary, transforming as can be. It is almost as radical as when Jesus taught that men couldn’t divorce their wives anymore. What a shocker that was for men, who simply got rid of unwanted property by saying to their wives three times: “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you,” and the woman was gone. Jesus transformed culture, history, and the status of women when he stopped men from simply and easily divorcing their wives. And Paul was just as revolutionary as Jesus when Paul taught that both men and women were to be mutually submissive to one another. Who had ever heard of such a thing: that both men and women were to be mutually submissive to each other, mutually servants to one another.
The King James Version of the Bible couldn’t handle it. Let me explain. Please turn to your bulletin insert of Ephesians 5:18-33, which I had printed in the King James Version of the Bible for you today. Read it carefully with me. All wedding passages begin with the phrase, “Wives submit yourselves to your husband.” This happened for centuries. It was mono-submission, only the woman was to be submissive. … But the Greek word for “submit”” isn’t even present in Ephesians 5:2, in the sentence, “wives submit yourselves to your husband.” The word, submit, isn’t even in that sentence. Instead, the phrase, “women, be submissive” is connected to the previous phrase, “Be submissive to one other out of reverence or fear for God.” The Greek word for submissive is there in that phase, “Be submissive to one another out of reverence for God.” In other word, Bill and Desiree, the Bible in Ephesians 5:21 importantly teaches mutual submission. Bill is to be submissive to Desiree, Desiree is to be submissive to Bill. This is mutual submission. The Bible does not teach mono-submission, only the wives are to be submissive. The Greek word for submissive doesn’t even occur in the key sentence of telling wives to submit to their husbands. … Do you get it Bill? Do you get it, Desiree? Do you get the truth, the miracle, the mystery of both you learning to mutually serve each other? Like the Tronsons? And the Bensons? And everybody else who has learned about mutual submission and mutuallyserving each other? This is radical stuff when the Apostle Paul first taught it, and it is still radical today.
Look at the next phrase, the “husband is head of the wife.” The same churches that push obedience of women also push that the husband is head of the wife. The husband is head of the wife. That phrase appears to be Biblical and is also taught by Socrates, Plato, Homer and a host of others. The husband is head of the wife, but that isn’t what the Bible teaches. The Bible doesn’t stop there, with the husband being head of the wife. The Bible continues that the husband is head of the wife … “as Christ is head of the church.” And how is Christ the head of the church? That is the key question. In the rest of the Bible, there is no mention of Christ as the boss, the dictator, the patriarch of the church. Instead, Christ serves the church, loves the church, and dies for the church. And if that is what is meant by being head of the church, that is what every woman wants. Every woman wants to be served, loved and died for. Who wouldn’t want that? And Claire Tronson has discovered this as he cares for his wife with MS. Bill Benson has discovered this as he cares for his wife with Alzheimer’s. They have discovered what it means to be head of the wife, which means to serve her, love her, and die for her.
When I taught the Bethel Bible Series years ago, people seemed to agree with one particular quotation. Eve was created out of the rib of Adam. She was not created from a bone in his foot so that she would be under man. She was not created from a bone in Adam’s head so she would be above man. But Eve was created from a bone in Adam’s side, his rib bone, so that she would be at the side of man and be called a helpmate. And so it is that Adam and Eve stand side by side in a mutual partnership of love and serving.
A lot of men haven’t learned this lesson. Have you noticed this in the Bible, Bill and Desiree? There are five lines in Ephesians 5 dedicated for teaching women and twelve lines dedicated to teaching men. What does that mean to me? I think that it takes two and a half more times and effort to teach Bill (and other men) the lessons about mutual serving and loving and caring for another than women. Let me explain.
This Biblical lesson about marriage, this Biblical message about “mutual submission” and “mutually serving one another in love” is counter-cultural in our society. That is, in our culture today, men are taught be absorbed by their work, absorbed by their success, absorbed by their athletics. Men are implicitly taught to marry wives who will be like their mothers and pick up after them in all their messes. So many men secretly want their wives to look after them and serve them like their mothers. And women? Our culture teaches them to be liberated, independent, to be able to do with their bodies and their lives pretty much as they please. And so this message from the Bible is revolutionary, radical, transforming, to both sides in our culture when God says in Ephesians 5: Be mutually submissive, be servants of one another out of reverence for Christ. Can you learn it, Bill? Can you learn it, Desiree? Can you learn this mystery of God in which you can find true happiness? A mutual bending? A mutual serving? A mutual caring for each other?
One last story. This is my favorite marriage story and involves Irving, Jennie and Clara, all of whom have passed away. Irving and Jennie were married and retired when I visited them in their home. Jennie was blind, and when I sat at their kitchen table for cookies and coffee and Holy Communion, Jennie would say to me in the spring: “Pastor, aren’t the rhododendrons beautiful today?” Irving always took Jennie out for long walks and you would often see them strolling the back streets of our town. Eventually, Jennie died and I remember that I preached a sermon for her funeral on blindness and stated that Jennie was not blind. Time passed. One day, I heard that Irving of all people, was going to get married again. I couldn’t believe it. To blind Jennie’s sister, Clara. What a miracle, it was. And so the family gathered in a back yard two years later for the wedding, but what I didn’t know and the family didn’t know, was that Irving was dying of prostate cancer and only Clara knew. Clara wanted to marry Irving because she loved him, but she also wanted to marry him to move in with him to care for him as he slowly died of prostate cancer, as Irving has so lovingly cared for her blind sister for all those years.
Bill, do you get it? Desiree, do you get it? Do you begin to understand what it means for a man and women to be mutually submissive to each other, to mutually love and to care for each other? That is God’s miracle, God’s mystery. And that is what the Bible teaches about marriage and what this church teaches about marriage as well. Amen.
Let the congregation rise as the bride and groom recesses before you.
CHILDREN’S SERMON: My wife joined us, and I had the children guess how many years we had been married. I finally told the children we had been married for thirty-eight years, and my wife gently corrected me, that we had been married thirty-seven years. I asked the children what was alike on both my wife and I. Our shoes? Our clothing? Finally, the children saw the rings that we both wore and the rings were the same. Wedding couples wear rings to symbolize that God’s love never ends, it goes round and round forever, and that God’s love in marriage is like a ring that never ends.
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