The Sermon for Sunday, August 22nd, 2021, the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

The Lessons: Psalm 16; Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25; Ephesians 5:15-33

The Text: Ephesians 5:15-33

The Topic: The Doctrines of Love and Submission in Marriage


Our Epistle Lesson today begins with the imperative to take special care how we live our lives, not as fools, but as wise people. St. Paul is speaking of the wisdom of God governing our behavior, rather than the foolishness of this world (Ephesians 5:15). Because it is an evil age in which we live, Christians should use the time given to them on earth wisely and well. This is really what is meant by “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:16a, KJV). Instead of being unwise, St. Paul continues, we must understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:17).

In the next verse, there is a prohibition of drunkenness because it leads to sin. Instead, God’s command is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and the way to being filled with the Spirit is by speaking to ourselves, or among ourselves, in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19). Together with this goes thanksgiving for everything to our God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Now the main imperative verb in these verses is “be filled” (v. 18b), and the present participles following depend on it: “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” and “giving thanks.” The very next participle is “being subject to,” or “submitting yourselves to,” depending on whether you interpret the Greek present participle “hypotassomenoi” as passive or middle voice. This verse is translated in the King James Version, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21, KJV). Quite correctly, I believe, the King James Version translates this present participle as if were in the Greek middle voice, expressing an action one does for oneself for one’s own benefit or the benefit of others. In this way, the thought is conveyed that submission in the Christian community is not meant to be imposed on one by others who have higher authority, but rather a virtue that one exercises voluntarily out of reverence for Christ, and as part of a life characterizing those who are filled by the Holy Spirit. It is necessary that we understand how the doctrine of voluntarily submitting oneself to others in the Christian community flows from the wisdom of God, the love of God, and is part of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Although submission is not necessarily always the same as obedience, it involves putting oneself under the authority of one’s leaders for the benefit of all. This verse commanding that we submit ourselves to one another in the fear of the Lord, is crucial to our understanding of submission in marriage. It is not a matter of a husband demanding submission from his wife, but of a wife submitting herself to her husband as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). Her submission of herself to her husband bears some similarities to the submission of believers to one another, but here the idea is clearly expressed that as she submits herself to the Lord Jesus Christ, so she should submit herself to her husband as the spiritual leader of the home, as part of her obedience to the Lord. This is because God has appointed the husband to be the wife’s spiritual head in the home. Some wives may earn more income than their husbands or hold positions with more responsibility at work, but in the home, the spiritual order that God has established should be followed. The submission of wife to husband is like the Church’s submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and its Savior (Eph. 5:23).

The doctrine of submission in marriage may be hard for some people to accept, but God has established this for the stability of church and society. Wives, St. Paul concludes his teaching on submission in marriage, must be subject to their own husbands in everything (Eph. 5:24). Important matters leading to decisions that will affect their lives, must be discussed by husband and wife, and each should listen to the other, but the wife must respect the husband’s final decision. Now in society these days, some husbands or wives think that if they want to, they can simply opt out of their marriage. Just as the Church never opts out of its covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ in search of some other destiny, so husbands and wives should continue faithful in their marriage covenant with each other to the end of their earthly lives.


Here is a story about a bridegroom promising more love to his bride than he had bargained for:

During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the preacher with an unusual offer: “I’ll give you $100 if you’ll just change the wedding vows slightly. When you reach the part where I’m supposed to ‘forsake all others’ I’d like you to leave that part out.”

The groom tucked the cash into the preacher’s Bible and walked away satisfied. But the next day at the wedding, the preacher looked the young man in the eye and said, “Will you promise to love and cherish your lovely bride, to serve her breakfast in bed every morning, and promise that you will not even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?”

The groom gulped as all eyes in the sanctuary awaited his response.

“Yes,” he mumbled.

Later, at the reception, the groom cornered the preacher. “I thought we had a deal!” he whispered through clenched teeth.

The preacher put the $100 back in the groom’s hand and said, “Your wife made me a much better offer.”[1]

Whereas some husbands might think that their love for their wives entails simply providing home and board, the Lord directs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it (Eph. 5:25). This is the husband’s due to his wife. This kind of love looks to the Lord for his purpose in sanctifying wives as well as husbands. A husband’s love must include the eternal perspective, as well as the provision of the necessities for daily life. For example, a Christian husband must take care that his wife reads the Bible and applies it to her life, that she prays, and that she trusts the Lord with all her cares. So a husband must nourish and cherish his wife spiritually as well as physically, with a view to her spiritual perfection by the Lord on the Last Day. The love of the Lord Jesus Christ for the Church must be reflected in a husband’s love for his wife.


Without a wife’s submitting herself to her husband and showing respect for him, a marriage cannot stand. Equally, without a husband’s love for his wife, a marriage cannot stand, for marriage is meant to be a sacrament, a sign and means of grace showing Christ’s love for the Church, and the Church’s submission of itself to Christ in the New Covenant. Such a marriage between one man and one woman is a cornerstone of church and society. We cannot expect a healthy church and a healthy society without healthy, godly marriages.

But what if you are not married? How does all this apply to you? St. Paul, who remained celibate all his life, in writing of marriage, he said, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, KJV). St. Paul calls marriage a “mystery”: in the Vulgate, or Latin Bible, the word for “mysterion” here is “sacramentum,” from which we derive our English word “sacrament.” The unmarried person does not share the outward and visible sign of the sacrament of marriage, but, as one of the faithful of the Church, he shares in the inner, spiritual grace of marriage, including the New Covenant between the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church, in which he is both a recipient of Christ’s love, and one who submits to the lordship of Christ, who is the Head of the Church.

Will you faithfully submit yourself to the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ in all things?



[1] p. 314, The Big Book of Church Jokes, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

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