Submission and Sacrifice
May 25, 2003
A while back, my seven-year-old daughter was getting a ride home from a member of our church. And when you have young kids, you are always shuttling your kids from one event to the next—a very complex situation. And this lady, who is a member of our church, was driving her car and my seven-year-old was in the back seat, when out the blue, my daughter said to this lady, “My daddy cusses.” And so she is traveling along and she goes, “Yes?” And my daughter said, “Yes, he calls our dog the ‘s’ word and the ‘d’ word.” And she keeps driving, and she says, “Nicole what do you mean by that?” And Nicole says: “He calls our dog dumb and stupid.” Those are the “s” words and “d” words for my daughter.
This morning we’re going to talk about the “s” word. And we’re going to see today that if you don’t really understand what the “s” word is all about, then you really don’t understand what it means to have a relationship with God. And there is no way you’re going to figure out marriage. Open your bibles to Ephesians Chapter 5.
As you know, we are in a series called Marriage Map: The Road to Happily Ever After. Our first week, we saw that this road to “happily ever after” is a road that is sacrificial, a road that calls us to persevere and to endure. And it is also a road of holiness. Week by week, I’ve been saying that marriage is a life-long commitment to unconditionally love an imperfect person. The second week we looked at how to rescue your marriage. If you have been in a collision or if your marriage is stuck in the ditch or you’re in the mud, how do you get out of that situation? Last week, we talked about sex. We talked about how to continue to have the flames, the fire of sexual passion, continue in your marriage.
And this morning, let’s look at Ephesians Chapter 5. We’re going to talk about the “s” word. Here it is. Ephesians Chapter 5, Verse 21 [and following]: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The “s” word that I am talking about is the word, submission. And there is a lot of confusion about what that word means today and how we apply that to the context to marriage.
When I was a little kid, I used to enjoy watching Saturday morning wrestling. And the wrestlers were very colorful characters then. And wrestling was probably rated PG—where now it’s rated R—with Monday night Nitro and all the other kinds of glitz and bull that they have added into the pure sport of professional wrestling. And one of the things that we liked about wrestling—my brother, my best friends, and I—were the different submission holds. There was one from the Briscoe Brothers, I think Jack Briscoe from Florida, and he would get different wrestlers in a figure four leg lock. It was a submission hold, because if he continued to apply the pressure, theoretically, he could break that person’s leg. So when he would get them in the figure four, they would go, “Uncle,” and give up; they would submit.
There are other submission holds. One was the iron brain claw, I believe, perfected by Blackjack Mulligan and The Great Kabuki. And they would get the claw on someone’s temples and just squeeze them there into submission. Some of you know because you watch wrestling. I’m trying to think of other submission holds. Oh yeah, one of my favorite ones was the sleeper hold. Remember the sleeper? You’d get somebody in a headlock, and you’d cut off the oxygen to their brain, and they would fall asleep. That was a submission hold. Now, what you’re trying to do, basically, is kind of like when you’re kids, when you’re trying to get the other person to say, “Uncle,” by bending their wrist back into their elbow. That’s what a submission hold is all about.
So many times when people see the word submit in the context of marriage or anything, that’s their picture of submission: “It’s just someone grinding over me. Someone has me in this hold,” and it’s a bad thing. It’s a negative thing. Listen, that is not what biblical submission is all about. That is a false picture. So what is submission? What does real submission look like? Where do we see submission?
First of all, we see submission in the Godhead. If you’re not taking notes, I’m going to encourage you to take a few notes right now. We see submission in the Godhead. God has revealed himself to us as the great triune God. God is one in essence and three in persons. As we look at the way God has revealed himself to us, we see that he has revealed himself as a unity (God is one), as a diversity (three persons), and as equality (God the Father is God; God the Son is God; God the Holy Spirit is God—they are co-equal and co-eternal). So as we look at the very nature of God, we see a beautiful picture of mutual submission.
They cooperate with one another and depend on one another to accomplish the purposes that they set out to accomplish. So at the very heart of the universe, when you ask the question: What was in the beginning of the beginning? The answer is the Trinity—unity, diversity, equality. What is in the beginning of the beginning? You have perfect submission, perfect harmony, perfect community, and perfect sacrifice all happening within the mysterious relationship and the very nature of who God is. We first see submission beautifully portrayed, though mysteriously and beyond our grasp in many ways, in the very nature of who God is—the great triune God.
Second, we see submission in the Gospel. We see submission in the Godhead, and we see submission in the Gospel. We saw this as we studied the life of Jesus, toward his very last days. We know that he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Remember? He was praying about the cup. He said, “Lord, let this cup pass. Father, let the cup pass, but not my will but thy will be done.” Jesus Christ drank that cup. What was in the cup? It was the very wrath of God—the judgment of God on your sin and my sin. Christ took that for us. He willingly submitted to the leadership of the Father. And he laid down his life for us.
You see, that is what biblical submission is all about. Biblical submission means to willingly follow the leadership of another. It means laying down your rights for another person. That is what Jesus Christ has done for us in the Gospel. He submitted to the leadership of the Father and willingly laid down his life and experienced the separation and the punishment and the wrath that you and I deserve, so that we can turn around and receive forgiveness and his very righteousness. So to first understand submission, we have to get our eyes off of ourselves and look up to God and the Trinity. We must look outside of ourselves, to the Gospel and what God has done for us in Christ.
Now, with that strong theological foundation girding us, let’s look and see how submission applies to the context of relationships, especially to the context of marriage. First of all, we see it in our passage this morning. Verse 21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then in verse 24 it says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
First of all, all of us—husbands, wives, singles, children—must submit our lives to Jesus Christ. Second Corinthians Chapter 5, Verse 17 and following tells us the results of submitting our lives to Christ. Listen to this. This is great news. It says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All of this is because you are so great and you are so holy and perfect…” No, that’s not what it says! “All this is from God.” It’s from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. As we sang about earlier, God chased after us in Jesus Christ and gave us a ministry of reconciliation.
So when we submit our lives to Christ, we enter into a relationship with him. How can we enter into a relationship with this Holy God? Well, Christ comes in and he forgives us, cleanses us, and he gives us his righteousness. So now, we are accepted by God the Father. He places his Spirit inside of us. And when we come to Jesus Christ, we are saying, “Jesus Christ, I want you to rescue me, I want you to save me, and I want you to be my Lord.” And we’re saying, “I am now under the authority and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I am willingly laying down my life. I am willingly learning to lay down my rights, to follow him.”
So, first of all, we all must learn how to submit to Christ. And when we look at the context of marriage and we talk about different problems that people are having in their marriages, whether you are talking about money, sex, communication, forgiveness, you can trace all of that back (most of the time) to an unwillingness from one mate or the other to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to fully appropriate his Lordship and his grace in his or her life. The first thing we must do is to submit to Christ.
Second of all, Verse 21 says, “We must submit to one another.” We submit our lives to Christ: “Christ you are my God. You are my Lord. I desire to follow you, and the Holy Spirit empowers me to live this out; I can’t do it by myself.” And now we willingly choose to submit to one another. What does that mean to submit to one another? It means we decide to lay down our life for someone else. Christ gave his life away for us, and we are to give our lives away for others.
You see, marriage is wonderful, mysterious thing—a gift from God. You have two people who fall madly in love. Many times they are opposites, and opposites do attract. And we will find in a few Sunday mornings that opposites also attack. But you have these two people falling love, and if they are both following God and following Christ, they are equally yoked. And it’s a beautiful union. That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at marriage is that you have two sinners. I get asked this question a lot: “Hey, Ben, what are you preaching on this week?” And my answer is usually the same thing: “I’m preaching on sin and why I like it so much.” And it always throws them back. So this week a friend of mine that is not a part of this church said, “Hey, what are you preaching on?” I said, “Sin and why I like it.” And then I said, “You know why I like sin?” And this guy who is not a Christian said, “No.” I said, “It’s because I’m a sinner.”
And so when you get married, you have two sinners. Yes, they may be justified and righteous and accepted by God, but they are still two sinners, two very self-centered people. So when you have two self-centered people becoming one, what do you have? Follow me now…a lot of self-centeredness and a lot of selfishness. So when we say we are submitting to one another out of the fear of Christ, what we are saying is, “I am choosing day by day to learn how to put myself and my desires on the shelf,” okay?
For those of you who like Dr. Seuss and like rhymes, you can sum up the sermon like that: It is putting yourself on the shelf, green eggs and ham. Okay? That’s what we’re to do, and marriage is the process by which we learn how to do that. At the altar, we say, “I do…I will…let’s go…I’m making a commitment to do that!” And the rest of our life, the rest of our marriage, is learning how to work out what we vow to do at our wedding ceremony. The same is true in your relationship with Christ. When you come to know Christ and submit your life to him, you’re saying: “Lord, I vow to follow you.” Then the rest of your life is working out everything you said to Christ in that vow, in that public confession of faith.
So we submit to one another in the fear of Christ. I love what Mike Mason said: “Marriage at its best is a sort of contest in what might be called one-downmanship, a backwards tug-of-war between two wills each equally determined not to win.” That is really the only attitude that works in marriage because that is the way the Lord designed it. He planned it especially as a way for men and women to enter whole-heartedly, with full consent and consequent peace and joy, into the inevitable process of their own diminishment, which is God’s worship and glorification. That’s what it means to mutually submit to one another. It’s a mutual commitment in this reverse tug-of-war not to win, to lay down our lives, and to put self on the shelf. That’s what marriage is all about.
Now, we submit to Christ, number one. We submit to one another—a mutual submission. And number three: Verse 22 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” So number three applies to women. It applies to those who are married. How do you submit to your husband’s? How do you submit to your husband’s? First of all, you have to look outside of yourself to Christ to do that. It’s based upon your submission to Christ. Then it works itself out in your relationship with your husband.
Now, here’s where the feminists miss it. And years ago, when the Promise Keepers were a big thing, and the men were getting together, and the encouragement was, “Men, love your wives like Christ loved the church” (of course, that’s a real negative thing; we don’t want that to happen in our society today)…they were preaching this stuff, and they were confused about the whole concept of submission. Listen, a difference in function does not indicate inferiority in nature, okay? Let’s go back to the Trinity: the Son willingly submitted to the Father while he was on earth, but his submitting to the Father in the role of the Son does not indicate an inferiority of deity of Jesus Christ. Because there are different roles in marriage, it doesn’t mean that the man is ontologically and in his being superior to a woman. No. We are co-equal and co-heirs in Christ.
But God has established a way for this to work itself out within the context of marriage. So, so many times we miss it. We mistake this concept of roles and responsibility with that of someone’s nature, and it has nothing to do with that. Now, I know a lot of ladies here today are saying, “Well, that’s easy for you to say; you’re a guy. What do you know about what it’s like to be a woman?” You know what, I don’t (though I am married to a woman and have two beautiful daughters). So, I thought I would briefly ask my wife to come up here and talk a little bit more about submission. So, Sweetheart, come on up. Can you welcome my wife, Elliott Young?
We celebrated our 12th anniversary this past week, didn’t we, Sweetheart? Yeah, so it’s great. Sweetheart, talk to us about submission. I’m hitting on it a little bit. Why are people confused about that in our culture?
Elliott – Well, you may not all be married to someone that is so easy to submit to like I am, but I’m teasing.
Ben – You are? (Laughter)
Elliott – But I do want to share that I became a Christian when I was 16, and I remember these verses from Ephesians Chapter 5…learning about them. And I loved Ephesians Chapter 5, Verse 21. Let’s really focus on that “submit to one another.” You know, bend over backwards loving one another (said sarcastically). But it wasn’t until I began maturing in the Lord that I really understood the next verse. I’m still learning, of course, and still understanding about wives submitting to their husbands as to the Lord. And, it’s such a joy, ladies, because here’s the benefit: the bulk of the responsibility lies with the male in leadership of the family. And so it’s so wonderful if you look at it that way; it’s God’s order. Just as Ben said, it’s not a difference in equality but a difference in a way of authority and leadership.
And there are so many things that we are going to have to answer to God on when we get to heaven. And I just think, “I’m thankful because Ben’s the one that’s going to have to answer to God on the leadership of our family.” And I’ve got plenty to answer to the Lord. In fact, I’m with our girls most of the day, and so I have authority over them, and I’m just thankful. And I just want to encourage you also to think of it this way: that God has a perfect order in this, and when we get out from under our husbands’ umbrella, so to speak, then we’re not in perfect submission to God. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, he’s an imperfect person.” Exactly, but you can still be in the perfect will of God by submitting to that imperfect person. So there is so much joy in it, and it’s a blessing.
Ben – Two things. What would you say to someone who says, “Well, that’s easy for you to say because your husband’s a Christian. You see, my husband’s not a Christian,” or, “my husband says he follows Christ, but he really doesn’t. What about me?”
Elliott – It kind of goes back to: two wrongs don’t make a right in submitting to the Lord. Your husband is certainly not going to come to Christ based on your bad behavior of not submitting to him. And so, does that answer the question sort of?
Ben – Yeah.
Elliott – You still want to be in the will of God, and it’s a witness to your husband when you submit to him even when he’s not a Christian. And Ben and I do go head-to-head sometimes, believe it or not, but honestly (and I say this, and it will probably happen this week), there has never been something huge in our marriage—a decision—that we did not agree on. There have been times when we have both had to go to the Lord about something big, and there was mutuality in the decision, and it’s been wonderful. He hasn’t had to crack the whip on me yet (sarcastic), but on a daily basis we do clash heads on little things. I mean, “Those shoes are too edgy, Honey. You can’t buy them” (I’m saying him saying that to me). No, I’m kidding.
Ben – Exactly. Thank you.
Elliott – But every person, after they’ve been married a few months or maybe a day, feels like they are married to their opposite in some ways. You are going to clash heads. But in the big decisions, he is more accountable. So we (as women) can rejoice in that.
Ben – All right. Thanks, Sweetheart. That was great. That would be a great sermon in and of itself, Sweetheart…that whole thing about women and shoes. I could do a whole message on that. (Kidding)
That’s a little bit about submission.
Let’s look at number four. It says that husbands are to sacrifice our all for our wives. Look at verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Now, how does Christ nurture us as the Body of Christ? He feeds us, he teaches us through his Holy Spirit, he encourages us, he provides us with the security that God is our Father and has adopted us into His very family, doesn’t he? No one is going to take us out of the hands of the Father. Husbands, it’s our responsibility under God to sacrificially lay down our lives for our spouse. We are to nourish our wives, we are to feed them, we are to encourage them, we are to build them up, and we are to provide security for them.
Guys, if you’re wondering: “I just can’t figure out what women want”… women want security. Ladies…“I just can’t figure out guys”…again, I told you that guys are very simple: work and sports.
But guys primarily want respect and to be honored. Guys, our responsibility before the Lord is to sacrificially, day by day, lay down our lives for our spouses. We are the servant leaders in the marriage relationship.
If you think about it, the whole wedding ceremony is designed that way. Going back to our sex talk from last week, we didn’t have time to get into the gender differences. God has designed men, physiologically speaking, to be initiators. The wedding ceremony shows us that. The man is the first to enter into the sanctuary during the wedding. He is the first to say, “I do” or “I will.” He is the first to put the ring on her finger. He is the first to lead out. That is showing that God has designed the man to be the initiator, the sacrificial lover in the marriage relationship. So God has called us to do that. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh…when he was on this planet some two thousand years ago, what did He do to his disciples—the people that he had a real close and intimate relationship with? Did he say, “Submit to me. The Bible says submit. I’m King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Submit. Ephesians Chapter 5—hadn’t been written yet, but it will be, trust me. Submit”? That’s not what Jesus did.
What did Jesus do? He picked up a towel and got some water and washed the stinky, smelly, muddy, toe cheese infested feet of those weak-faithed disciples. That’s what he did. He was a servant leader. He laid down his life. He washed their feet. And, guys, if you want a homework assignment for this week, I challenge you to do that very thing. Literally and figuratively, sometime this week, you get with your wife and you get alone with her and you get a bucket of water and you get down with a towel and you literally wash your wife’s feet, showing her that you love her and that you desire, by this symbolic act, to lay down your life for her. I challenge you to do that this very week.
As I was preparing for this message and working it out, something dawned on me. As you look through these four steps of submission, look at what happens. Check the screens out. First of all, at the bottom of this pyramid, don’t panic, there can be good out of pyramids. At the bottom of the pyramid (not Maslow’s or the New Age), you have to submit to Christ. We submit to Christ—that is the foundation of our lives. We were designed for God, and only until we are connected to God will we have any meaning, any purpose, and any power in our lives. Submission to Christ. The next step, number two, is that we then submit to one another. We put self on the shelf. Third thing, what do we do? “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” And then, number four: Husbands (this is the top), sacrificially lay down your life for your mate. And when you do that, as you go up this pyramid or this triangle, at the top we end up giving glory to God.
You see, that’s what marriage is all about. Our marriages ultimately are a sign—a symbol of the love and the commitment that God, in Christ, has to the church and a symbol of the submission and “followership” that the church has in following him. Our marriages reflect that, so that when we submit to Christ and submit to one another and submit to our husbands and, husbands, we lay down our lives, we—I love this, isn’t this great?—we give glory to God. We give glory to God. And that is what the “s” word is all about.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]