Redeeming Submission - Charlie Riel


Freedom. It has been the cry of God’s people for a long, long time. Only in the revelation of Jesus would mankind begin to understand what true freedom would look like. No longer would it look like emancipation from the evil produced by foreign invaders, but it would be the emancipation from evil altogether. The following passage is an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians exploring how we can begin to participate in this new freedom. Let’s explore some of those thoughts.

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, So also the wives ought to be their husbands in everything.” For some reason I cannot help but cringe when I read these words. The focal point of my discomfort is on the word “subject,” other versions use “submit”. For centuries this verse has been used to strip humans of their freedom, and their will, only to have another’s will forced onto them. Maybe, just maybe, there might be a different way to understand what this scripture is saying. One that is empowering, one that suggests that submission leads ONLY to greater freedoms and NEVER the removal of them and NEVER to take advantage of other humans.

First, we need an aerial view of Ephesians. After all it is one letter with one coherent thought. We are told by the author that, in light of the Gospel and according to the riches of God’s love, mercy, and Grace, we are beckoned to explore the wide open spaces of being truly human. In fact, in Ephesians 4 Paul tells us to remove this old humanity and to wear the new humanity. Furthermore, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus this new way of living now has weight to it. God’s will for his creation is to partake in this new humanity. This new humanity on an individual basis is not the end of God’s will. We are then implored to form communities with others and how we should interact with them, and the rest of the world is laid out for us in this letter to the Ephesians.

In the latter half of Ephesians 4, Paul lays out very explicit examples of what it looks like to stay within the confines of our new humanity and turn away from sub-human impulses. Instead of lying, just tell the truth. When anger erupts from your heart, end anger with peace. Smother gossip, only providing encouragement for those around you. With these examples, to choose the old humanity is to dwell in the lying, anger, and gossip. To thrive within the new humanity is to live in truth, peace, and encouragement. Unfortunately, the things Paul outlines are not always as clear as they should be. Often, we are quite blind to the choices we make and the way it affects our hearts and those on the other end of our decisions. Therefore, Paul adds the next section in chapter 5.

Chapter 5 begins with Paul illuminating the very heart of God delighting in our exploration of what it means to be within our new humanity. This is followed by three practical ways to actively participate in this new existence. In other words, these three things should directly influence the way we reflect God in our day to day lives.

Listening to the hearts around us, submitting to them, is NOT the removal of Freedom. Instead, it is a humble invitation to continue to choose to participate in the new humanity of Jesus.

The first influence is Wisdom, which is this brilliant idea that we take all of our talents, gifts, and experiences and we optimize our current circumstances. Wisdom is one of the first building blocks of True Freedom, it is where our unique, individual will interweaves with that of God’s, within every aspect of life. The only limitations are the borders between our new humanity and our old humanity, of which some examples are listed in Ephesians 4:25-32. Notice that these are never a specific road map for any person’s life, they are just simply how to interact with other humans.

The second influence is oddly specific, or at least it seems so. What Paul does here is compare the influence of alcohol, which, when too much is consumed, literally reduces humans to an animalistic state. Instead, he offers that being under the influence of the spirit allows us to more appropriately choose to act in accordance with our new humanity.

The third and final influence Paul lists is the church. There are two sides of the coin, which will later be exemplified in three different familial examples (marriage, parents/kids, and Slaves/masters). First, as the church, when we see others struggle to stay with the confines of this new humanity, we should humbly show them the evidence of the freedom we have in Christ in any circumstance. Paul suggests a prayer book that is filled to the brim with stories of failure and success, heartbreaks and boundless joy, and of fear and faith (Hint: the book is Psalms). The other side of that coin is simply to receive. To receive their words and choose to return from the old humanity. To receive their words is to trust that the people around us just might have a better perspective of how our actions are damaging ourselves and bleeding out into the lives of others. Listening to the hearts around us, submitting to them, is NOT the removal of Freedom. Instead, it is a humble invitation to continue to choose to participate in the new humanity of Jesus. Once Paul establishes this final influence, he then uses very deep, intimate relationships where we can practice this new type of submission.

This is about trusting that the important people around us love us and have our best interest at heart. Each perspective in these examples is asked to trust that the other is only seeking to restore us and to simultaneously be restored themselves. Within this context, we can begin to bury our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh, we can begin to heal the hearts around us, we can begin to restore the heart of our community, and finally we can begin to infect our world with the Glory of Freedom shared in Christ Jesus.