Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:20d “. . .unto God and the Father. . .”
“God and the Father” is a title which designates the receiver of our thanks as one who is “God,” thus powerful enough to meet our needs, and at the same time “Father,” thus loving enough to want to meet our needs.
By directing our thoughts toward God the Father, Paul helps us see a way we can, however difficult the test, always be working toward an attitude of gratitude. A good place to begin consciously moving in the direction of thanks is by realizing that even in the midst of the darkest difficulties, we can be thankful for God’s power and the Father’s love when we find it hard to verbalize thanks for the trial itself. Begin with what you can say you are thankful for: God’s help and His fatherly presence.
A proper spirit of thanksgiving always has to begin with being ever mindful of God. He must be as real to us as life itself. See Him in all things. We are often guilty of a practical atheism which denies the First Cause and deifies second causes. It is a cold heart indeed which requires a miracle before it will recognize a mercy. Look around, in every direction you will see multitudes of things for which we ought to thank God.
Spurgeon relates an old Jewish tradition. When God created the world, He told angels to behold it and asked what they thought of it. One replied it was so vast, beautiful, and perfect that God should create a clear, loud, melodious voice which would fill all parts of the world with a sweet sound of thanksgiving to the Creator. We should feel similarly, wishing we could, whatever our circumstance, voice a ceaseless song of thanks to God.
He is worthy of our thanks. He deserves it. Thus, a lack of it is no minor matter. It affronts God’s love and kindness, robbing Him of His due.
Eph. 5:20e “. . .in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;”
Paul here gives another way we can, even in hard times, always be moving in the direction of gratitude. We can ever be grateful if we are contemplating the grace of God in not sparing His Son. Jesus is “our crowning subject for thanksgiving” (Bruce).
We thank God in Jesus’ “name,” thereby acknowledging Christ is the One who has earned all our blessings for us. Blessed is the saint who understands Jesus is the reason for every good thing we have. Pride kills gratitude. Egotism makes us feel repugnant at the thought of being dependent. True thanksgiving requires humility. Realizing we deserve nothing causes us to be thankful for even the smallest things.
Eph. 5:21a “Submitting yourselves. . .”
The humble spirit which is the essence of thanksgiving brings Paul to the fifth present participle dependent on, and governed by, being filled with the Spirit (5:18). Spirit-fullness expresses itself in speaking, singing, making melody, giving thanks, and submitting. Being filled with the Spirit gives us such joy that we are contented to be in a lowly position of subjection–whatever, whenever, wherever, and to whomever Christ chooses for us.
“Submitting yourselves” is a military term meaning to marshal troops in battle array. It denotes soldiers lining up in ranks under a military commander. In our text, Paul is challenging believers to do voluntarily what a soldier does under constraint, to subordinate one’s self.
“Submitting yourselves” forbids a dictatorial spirit, and is all-inclusive. Each and every Christian is in some sense the servant of all other Christians. This injunction is especially needed by pastors. Having position and leadership in our churches, we are exposed to dangerous temptations regarding the abuse of power. Peter admonished pastors to lead “neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock” (1 P 5:3).
Pastors are not the only believers in need of Paul’s command. It is the key to all that follows with regard to family and labor matters. For a believer, submission is never to be one-sided only. We often speak about submission of wives to husbands, children to parents, and servants (employees) to masters (employers). Sometimes the opposite ought to happen, husbands should submit to wives, parents to children, and masters to servants.
One might ask, does this not cause confusion? Any society or group functions and survives based on the twin pillars of authority and submission. Members of the group have to know and respect the role of each person within the society. Inevitably, some have to be leaders and others have to be followers. Some have to decide, and others have to yield.
A well defined process for making final decisions is needed not only in secular groups, but also in churches, plus Christian families and businesses. The difference is, in Christian settings, authority should be asserted only as a last resort. In Christian circles, at church, home, or work, when decisions are needed or solutions are sought, we begin with submission to one another. Mutual respect must be shown from the outset. Two or more believers should begin by working together toward a mutually acceptable solution. If two or more wills cannot be reconciled, then and only then, one in authority must decide, the other must submit. This management style can succeed remarkably, but only in settings where every member of the group yields to the proposition of submission first, and of authority second.
Husbands, parents, and employers, hear Paul, “With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (PH 2:3 NASB). Every leader lacks things which even the lowest and meekest followers have. A Christian is to approach every relationship knowing, to this person I have something to contribute, from this person I have something to receive. We are each superior in ways and inferior in ways to all other believers. The former truth gives us self-worth, the latter humility.
Mutual submission negates perverse egotism. If we think we are “the” leader or “the” authority, we feel insulted when anyone questions our position. Such people resent criticism and are impatient with the views of others. This is a totally unchristian attitude. “There must be a willingness in Christian fellowship to serve any, to learn from any, to be corrected by any, regardless of age, sex, class or any other division” (Foulkes).
No believer, whether husband, parent, or employer, has a monopoly on truth. Be always ready to listen and learn. Don’t cut others off. Give them a fair hearing. Do not automatically reject ideas or be judgmental. Let your time and ideas be submitted at least momentarily to others.
Jim Henry, President of our Southern Baptist Convention, practices our text as pastor of a very large church. Rather than rule dictatorially, he meets every Friday morning with seventeen men from his church for prayer and counsel. He seeks their advice in all his decisions. Five of our deacons here at East Side have formed an accountability group for personal godliness and witnessing. In a former pastorate, I had almost absolute authority to govern at will, but have accepted and am coming to appreciate East Side’s shared pastor-staff-committee-congregation structure of leadership.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” at church, at home, and at work. Parents, listen patiently to your children. Receive their input as best you can. Husbands, go as far as you can in heeding the counsel of your wife. Employers, negotiate. Seek agreement with your laborers. In all these situations, stay in the submissive mood as long as you can. Seek to delay action until concord is reached. Finally, decide. Use authority only as the last resort. Granted, at some point, a decision must be made. Make sure you traveled as far as you could on the submission highway to get there.