Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:21b “. . .one to another. . .”
Our obligation of submission is to all Christians. We are not isolated units. Submitting “one to another” is the opposite of an independent spirit. There must be a willingness to cooperate with other believers. To belong to the Church means one no longer views self as primarily an individual. One is now a member of Earth’s most important group, the body of Christ.
Submitting “one to another” means seeking the welfare of others before our own. Always be thinking, “What can I do to minister to others, to lift up my wife, my children, my employees?” “Outdo one another in showing honor” (RM 12:10 RSV). Never exercise the freedom to be thoughtless. Kindly and carefully choose every word. Orson Card well says, “Among my most prized possessions are words that I have never spoken.”
Eph. 5:21c “. . .in the fear of God.”
Mutual submission is beautiful and winsome, but irksome to our nature. Self-exaggeration is our bent. Since we tend to take refuge in our vanity, we need a strong motivation for submission. We are to reverence each other because we reverence God. We live under the eye of One we need to fear, and a proper fear of Him dethrones self with regard to man as well as God. We view one another not in light of jobs or socioeconomic level, but in light of Christ. The result is a sense of each person’s dignity, and a sense God will hold us accountable for our abuses of authority.
Eph. 5:22a “Wives,. . .”
Thank you, God, for “wives.” This is one of the most heartwarming words in the English language. It defines the role which made “Ruth” the most precious female name in my vocabulary. God Himself established the worth of wives. He recognized men had a deep, vast, void within and made for them a perfect counterpart, resulting in the verdict, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (PR 18:22).
“A good woman is the best jewel outside of heaven” (Powell). Woman is the ultimate creation of God, the apex, His crowning work, but oh! the saga of woman is among earth’s worst tragedies. The oppression of Jews, the enslavement of blacks, the displacement of the American Indians and the Kurds–woeful as these be–are not as sad as the story of woman.
When Paul penned this word, it held little importance in the world. Roman society trivialized women. Having no authority whatsoever in the home, women were limited to preparing food and bearing children–period. Men dominated every phase of home life and could do as they pleased. The Greeks granted wives a bit more authority over domestic affairs. Demosthenes said, “We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.” The Jews, possessing the Old Testament, should have highly esteemed women, but had embraced liberal divorce laws which left a wife totally at the mercy of a husband’s whims and fancies. Jewish men daily thanked God for not making them “a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”
In Paul’s world, a woman was either her husband’s private property, a slave, or a public plaything. A husband and wife united in loving fellowship was essentially unknown. Verrall, a classical scholar, claimed a chief disease of which ancient civilization died was a low view of women.
The Apostle has been vilified as being an enemy of women, but truth is, he insisted upon their equality with men. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ” (GL 3:28). The advance of women can be traced straight to Jesus, whose teachings were spread primarily through Paul. In a totally anti-woman world Paul went everywhere with Christ’s message, which demanded fidelity of men as well as women, and declared marriage vows were for life. Both these teachings were a great protection for women.
Unfortunately, the victimization of women continues. Worldwide, the future looks grim for women. Economic recession hurts women first and worst, as do political upheaval and war. Religious trends are oppressing women, particularly in regions dominated by Islam, Hinduism and other traditional religions. In non-Christian countries of the Middle East, women are subservient to men in all things. In Africa, a revival of traditional religions and Muslim fundamentalism has increased the incidence of female genital mutilation. More than 100 million women in Africa alone have suffered this crippling blow to their health and status. Worldwide, women are far more likely than men to be illiterate, the victims of violence, and to live in poverty. According to the International Labor Office, women do two-thirds of the world’s work and receive five percent of the world’s income.
On a happier note, where Christian women are numerous, the status of women is dramatically higher than in areas without Christian influence. Women are playing a critical role in advancing the gospel around the world. The house church movement in China has grown largely through efforts of uneducated women evangelists. The most successful church planters in Myanmar (Burma) are women evangelists. Of the 50,000 prayer cells in Paul Cho’s church in Korea, 47,000 are led by women (prior paragraph and this one are according to the Baptist World Alliance’s women’s department).
Vicki Covington, columnist for “The Birmingham News” (April 3, 1994, p. 3C), wonders why secular feminism has not claimed Jesus, who took the hand of prostitutes, rebuked men for lust, and chose women to be the first witnesses of his resurrection. Women loved Jesus. They had never known a man like Him. Having no uneasy male ego to defend, Jesus never patronized women, or treated them as second class citizens. He saw nothing wrong with a woman being a woman, for He created womanhood in the first place. Jesus lifted women higher than they had ever been. His teachings continue to be the basis for their rise.
Sadly, so-called Christianity has often contributed to the oppression of women. Scripture was abused to justify the Crusades and slavery, and many have misused it to subjugate women. Churches are founded and exist within cultures usually dominated by men. To retain power and control, men, including many within the Church, have perverted Scripture. Thus, women have taken a beating from skewed interpretations of Holy Writ.
The Bible unequivocally teaches the absolute equality of women with men. The struggle has been to convince “the powers that be” to adopt this teaching. Some radical feminists wrongly want us to cast off the Bible altogether. The correct thing to do is to hold fast the Word and let its pure teachings of female equality shine forth. We must break through crusts of tradition and culture, and present Scripture as it is. With no baggage attached, Bible teachings will result in liberation for women.
What the Bible does for women in particular, it does for the family in general. Scriptural teachings lift a family to its highest potential. Home is meant to be the nearest thing to heaven we can experience on earth.
In these sermons on the family, I will seek to stay by the true guide, the Word of God. Personal interpretations will at times be necessary, but the underlying premise through all is that the Bible alone is our authority. My intent is to make a statement about marriage and parenthood, not for the 1990s, but for the ages. I want us to be the best parents and children we can be, to enjoy marriage for forty, fifty plus years, till death do us part, to have not only good marriages, but the best marriages possible. Thus, we will base our thoughts on the Bible, God’s handbook on the family.