Books of the Bible- Ephesians
Be Submissive to one another
out of reverence for Christ
Submission vs Mono Submission
Ephesians 5:18-33, Matthew 19:1-9
Standing before me
are a bride and groom who were married here this past summer. I want
you to know a bit about our bride and groom for today. Our groom is
Bill Pooley, a young man who grew up here at Grace Lutheran Church.
He is the son of Ed and Barb Pooley.
Ed Pooley, our groom’s father, died prematurely a few years
ago, but Ed was the Bible study leader of the Men’s Breakfast for
twenty years, president of the church council, and leader of the
long range planning committee.
I was fortunate to perform the wedding of Bill’s two
sisters, and his two nieces and nephews are still active in our
youth program. Our bride today is Desiree Pooley who I came to know in my
membership class. During
her wedding, I was privileged to meet Desiree’s mother, and
Desiree is a spitting image of her mom.
Her father was filled with pride in his daughter and her
siblings, proud that all his children turned out to well, and yet he
couldn’t brag because his friends were having so many problems
with their children. Desiree
was the only person in my membership class who talked excitedly
about crayfish. She is
a recent graduate of Pacific Lutheran University in environmental
biology and works in her field for the city of Tacoma.
Bill and Desiree,
every person here in this room today wants the two of you to have a
great marriage. This is
true of everyone here. Whether a person has been married once or
twice or three times; whether a person is rich or poor; whether a
person is single or married; a common sentiment in this sanctuary
today is that everyone here wants the two of you to have a great
marriage. And so does
God, and so do I.
What is a great
marriage? In Ephesians
5, the text for today, we hear about God’s grand design for all
great marriages, that the man and woman would become one, one
spiritually, one sexually, one intellectually, one aesthetically,
that the two of you would become one.
When this happens, the Bible says that this is a mystery, a
sacrament, one of the greatest miracles of life. Numerous couples
have learned the mystery of Ephesians 5:21, husbands and wives, be
servants of one another out of reverence for Christ; that is,
be submissive each other out of reverence for God.
I would like to
share with the two of you and the whole congregation some of the
conversations that I had the past two days as I visited our
shut-ins, and the people I walked with have all experienced great
marriages. The first
couple I am recalling is Claire and Agnes Tronson whom I visited
this past Friday. Claire
and Agnes have been married the longest in our parish; they have
been married for sixty-five years and they are now both ninety years
old. Agnes has had MS
for many years now and she also easily looses her balance and falls,
and Claire takes incredible care of his wife, like you wouldn’t
believe. If you are in
the room with the two of them, you see how deeply they love each
other, how deeply they serve each other.
These two people, the Tronsons, have learned this basic
lesson about life and marriage, to truly love and serve each other
through the years. They
live out Ephesians 5:21. And
immediately my mind jumps to Bill and Hulda Benson who also love and
care for each other. Hulda
has lived with Alzheimer’s disease now for many years, and Bill
bathes her, dresses her, fixes her hair and Hulda looks super and
immaculate when she comes to church with Bill
Once again, like the Tronsons, the Bensons have discovered
this miracle of mutual love and mutual service.
I often think to myself, when I finally grow up and become a
man, I hope to be as good as men as Tronson and Benson.
The other person I visited on Friday was Opal Dye, who is the
oldest person in our parish at the ripe old age of ninety-six.
At ninety-six and now legally blind, she greeted me at her
door of her duplex. As
we shared stories, she laughed with glee as she recalled her husband
and all the things they did together.
There was a lilt, a glow, and radiant satisfaction as she
told stories about how good her husband was to her, and she too,
with her husband, had learned this basic lesson about life and
marriage and mutual caring. The
last person I want to recall to you about great marriages is Zella
Dallas, now Zella Patton. Zella
was married, and then single at age forty for another forty years,
when at age eighty, she got married again to Rae Patton.
All the ladies at the retirement home were jealous of her,
that she “got” the man at her table to marry her.
How I loved it when my wife Jan and I saw Zella and Rae
downtown in Seattle, she with her red high heels and he shuffling
along with his cane. How I love it when I recall my membership class that Zella
and Rae took before their marriage, and how Rae told the class how
he could hardly wait to get his hands on Zella when they got
married. In their eighties, he knew that they would become one
sexually, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually.
The two of them had a great marriage before Rae died.
Bill and Desiree,
that’s what everyone here wants for the two of you, to experience
a great marriage, to learn the lesson that these older retired
people have learned and that
so many people sitting out there in the congregation have already
learned. These people have all learned about mutually caring and
serving each other, so that you become one. You need to learn the
lesson of mutually serving each other’s needs.
Today, I would like
to talk with the two of you and the congregation about Ephesians 5.
This is the classic passage about marriage, and it is read at
almost all weddings. I would like to teach you about this chapter.
The rest of this sermon will be more like a teaching sermon
than a wedding sermon.
A lot of people
enjoy our congregation for many reasons.
Some like the quality of music.
Others the variety of worship services, classes, and
ministries offered here. Still others are attracted to the quality of youth programs
and still others like the preaching.
But most people who join this congregation also enjoy or like
the theology, the doctrine, the interpretations of the Bible that
are offered here. If
they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t have joined this
Now, there are
several different groups each of which has legitimate
interpretations of the Bible. There
are different denominations such as Presbyterians, Methodist,
Catholic or Baptist. There
are different large independent churches like the Christian Faith
Centers down the street, in Tacoma, Portland or Eugene.
There are different ministries that offer their
interpretations of the Bible such as Campus Crusade, Fellowship of
Christian Athletes, Bible Study Fellowship, or Promise Keepers.
What I would like to suggest to you is that each group has
their own interpretations of the Bible, and people have joined this
congregation for our particular doctrines, theology and
The first point of
today’s sermon is this: not
once in the book of Ephesians does the Apostle Paul ever ask a woman
to obey the man. Not
once! (The bride, in
her beaming smile, spontaneously said “good” and everyone
laughed.) Nor does this
congregation or denomination ever ask for a woman to obey her
husband. Desiree, you
are not asked to obey Bill. Bill,
you are not to expect Desiree to obey you.
That’s what the Bible teaches.
That is what our church teachers.
Let me explain.
It was in October of 1979 that I was preaching a series of
sermons on the book of Ephesians and I was reading a commentary on
Ephesians by Marcus Barth, the son of Karl Barth, perhaps the most
famous theologian in America. Barth
said that in all the writings of the Apostle Paul, not once did Paul
ask for a woman to obey her husband.
I couldn’t believe it, so I looked up all the letters of
Paul, and sure enough, Barth was right.
Paul didn’t ask for obedience from women even once.
As I read my old sermon from 1979, I asked many people what
they thought about Paul and the obedience of women.
I asked Ella Gran, the church secretary in those years, and
she said Paul taught obedience for women. I asked the intern, Dave
Engen, and he said Paul taught obedience for women.
I asked Cheryl Biegert, our youth worker, and she said Paul
taught obedience for women. I
telephoned my pastor friends, and to a person, they said that Paul
taught obedience for women. I
asked many of you in the congregation, and you said that Paul taught
obedience for women. And
you were all wrong. Every
last one of you was wrong, and so was I.
Not once in the book of Ephesians or in any other letter does
the Apostle Paul ask women to obey their husbands.
O yes, the Apostle
Paul knows how use the word, obedience.
Paul talks about the ethical consequences of our Christian
life and he applies his ethical standards to three groups of people
in each letter: husbands
and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters. The Apostle
Paul is consistent: children
are to obey their parents; slaves are to obey their masters, but not
once does Paul ask wives to obey their husbands. Paul knows how to
use the word, obey, but he doesn’t apply it to women.
That is what the
Bible teaches. That is what this church teaches.
Now you can belong
to and listen to groups that teach that women are to obey their
husbands. For example,
my wife and I vacationed this past year in Ashland, Oregon and
attended the great Shakespearean Festival.
What a vacation!!! The
best play this year was Taming of the Shrew, written in 1595 by
Shakespeare, and in 1595, Shakespeare wanted to teach the Shrew,
Katherine, obedience. The
whole play is about getting Kate to obey, and in her last speech,
she finally acquiesces and gives a long soliloquy about obedience to
her husband who is her master, her lord, her king, in order to
finally be at peace with him. And
the actress didn’t wink in jest as she gave her final speech.
…..At the same time as Shakespeare in merry Old England,
the King James Bible of the Anglican Church was being written and it
was published in 1611. The
King James Version of the Bible and Taming of the Shrew were being
produced at the same time in England, and the Anglican Church
through its Bible pushed for obedience of women. The way it is
translated and structured, the Kind James Bible pushes for obedience
on the part of the woman, just as Shakespeare did as he wrote at the
I had an incident
at a wedding a number years ago. A woman walked briskly out of a
wedding when I read the Living Bible’s translation of Ephesians 5,
that a women was to be “willingly obedient in all things to her
husband.” This lady
stood up and walked out. This translation or paraphrase of the Bible
was dead wrong when it translated that a woman was to be willingly
obedient in all things. She was right to protest, and when we talked
about it afterwards, I hadn’t realized how biased against women
was the author of the Living Bible.
What I am
suggesting to you, Bill and Desiree, is that some groups do push
women to obey their husbands, but the Bible and the Apostle Paul do
not, nor does this church to which you belong.
Doctrine is important. Women are not taught obedience in Paul
and Jesus or this congregation.
So, if the Bible
and Ephesians do not teach that a woman is to obey her husband, what
does Ephesians 5 and the Apostle Paul teach?
That man and woman are to be mutually submissive, mutually
servants, mutually loving and caring for each other, like the
Tronsons, like the Bensons, like to many great marriages who have
discovered this secret.
For a many and
woman to be mutually submissive to one another is a radical
statement for the Apostle Paul. It is revolutionary, transforming as can be.
It is almost as radical as when Jesus taught that men
couldn’t divorce their wives anymore.
What a shocker that was for men, who simply got rid of
unwanted property by saying to their wives three times:
“I divorce you. I
divorce you. I divorce
you,” and the woman was gone.
Jesus transformed culture, history, and the status of women
when he stopped men from simply and easily divorcing their wives.
And Paul was just as revolutionary as Jesus when Paul taught
that both men and women were to be mutually submissive to one
another. Who had ever
heard of such a thing: that
both men and women were to be mutually submissive to each other,
mutually servants to one another.
The King James
Version of the Bible couldn’t handle it.
Let me explain. Please turn to your bulletin insert of Ephesians 5:18-33,
which I had printed in the King James Version of the Bible for you
today. Read it
carefully with me. All
wedding passages begin with the phrase, “Wives submit yourselves
to your husband.” This
happened for centuries. It
was mono-submission, only the woman was to be submissive.
… But the Greek word for “submit”” isn’t even
present in Ephesians 5:2, in the sentence, “wives submit
yourselves to your husband.” The word, submit, isn’t even in
that sentence. Instead,
the phrase, “women, be submissive” is connected to the previous
phrase, “Be submissive to one other out of reverence or fear for
God.” The Greek word
for submissive is there in that phase, “Be submissive to one
another out of reverence for God.” In other word, Bill and
Desiree, the Bible in Ephesians 5:21 importantly teaches mutual
submission. Bill is to
be submissive to Desiree, Desiree
is to be submissive to Bill. This
is mutual submission. The
Bible does not teach mono-submission, only the wives are to be
submissive. The Greek
word for submissive doesn’t even occur in the key sentence of
telling wives to submit to their husbands.
… Do you get it Bill?
Do you get it, Desiree?
Do you get the truth, the miracle, the mystery of both you
learning to mutually serve each other?
Like the Tronsons? And
the Bensons? And everybody else who has learned about mutual submission
and mutually serving each other?
This is radical stuff when the Apostle Paul first taught it,
and it is still radical today.
Look at the next
phrase, the “husband is head of the wife.”
The same churches that push obedience of women also push that
the husband is head of the wife.
The husband is head of the wife.
That phrase appears to be Biblical and is also taught by
Socrates, Plato, Homer and a host of others.
The husband is head of the wife, but that isn’t what the
Bible teaches. The
Bible doesn’t stop there, with the husband being head of the wife.
The Bible continues that the husband is head of the wife … “as
Christ is head of the church.”
And how is Christ the head of the church?
That is the key question.
In the rest of the Bible, there is no mention of Christ as
the boss, the dictator, the patriarch of the church.
Instead, Christ serves the church, loves the church, and dies
for the church. And if that is what is meant by being head of the
church, that is what every woman wants.
Every woman wants to be served, loved and died for.
Who wouldn’t want that?
And Claire Tronson has discovered this as he cares for his
wife with MS. Bill
Benson has discovered this as he cares for his wife with
have discovered what it means to be head of the wife, which means to
serve her, love her, and die for her.
When I taught the
Bethel Bible Series years ago, people seemed to agree with one
particular quotation. Eve
was created out of the rib of Adam.
She was not created from a bone in his foot so that she would
be under man. She was
not created from a bone in Adam’s head so she would be above man.
But Eve was created from a bone in Adam’s side, his rib
bone, so that she would be at the side of man and be called a
helpmate. And so it is
that Adam and Eve stand side by side in a mutual partnership of love
A lot of men
haven’t learned this lesson.
Have you noticed this in the Bible, Bill and Desiree?
There are five lines in Ephesians 5 dedicated for teaching
women and twelve lines dedicated to teaching men.
What does that mean to me? I think that it takes two and a
half more times and effort to teach Bill (and other men) the lessons
about mutual serving and loving and caring for another than women.
Let me explain.
lesson about marriage, this Biblical message about “mutual
submission” and “mutually serving one another in love” is
counter-cultural in our society.
That is, in our culture today, men are taught be absorbed by
their work, absorbed by their success, absorbed by their athletics.
Men are implicitly taught to marry wives who will be like
their mothers and pick up after them in all their messes.
So many men secretly want their wives to look after them and
serve them like their mothers. And women?
Our culture teaches them to be liberated, independent, to be
able to do with their bodies and their lives pretty much as they
please. And so this message from the Bible is revolutionary, radical,
transforming, to both sides in our culture when God says in
Ephesians 5: Be
mutually submissive, be servants of one another out of reverence for
Christ. Can you learn
it, Bill? Can you learn
it, Desiree? Can you
learn this mystery of God in which you can find true happiness? A
mutual bending? A
mutual serving? A mutual caring for each other?
One last story.
This is my favorite marriage story and involves Irving,
Jennie and Clara, all of whom have passed away.
Irving and Jennie were married and retired when I visited
them in their home. Jennie
was blind, and when I sat at their kitchen table for cookies and
coffee and Holy Communion, Jennie would say to me in the spring:
“Pastor, aren’t the rhododendrons beautiful today?”
Irving always took Jennie out for long walks and you would
often see them strolling the back streets of our town.
Eventually, Jennie died and I remember that I preached a
sermon for her funeral on blindness and stated that Jennie was not
blind. Time passed. One day, I heard that Irving of all people, was going to get
married again. I
couldn’t believe it. To
blind Jennie’s sister, Clara.
What a miracle, it was.
And so the family gathered in a back yard two years later for
the wedding, but what I didn’t know and the family didn’t know,
was that Irving was dying of prostate cancer and only Clara knew.
Clara wanted to marry Irving because she loved him, but she
also wanted to marry him to move in with him to care for him as he
slowly died of prostate cancer, as Irving has so lovingly cared for
her blind sister for all those years.
Bill, do you get
it? Desiree, do you get
it? Do you begin to
understand what it means for a man and women to be mutually
submissive to each other, to mutually love and to care for each
other? That is God’s
miracle, God’s mystery. And
that is what the Bible teaches about marriage and what this church
teaches about marriage as well.
congregation rise as the bride and groom recesses before you.
SERMON: My wife
joined us, and I had the children guess how many years we had been
married. I finally told
the children we had been married for thirty-eight years, and my wife
gently corrected me, that we had been married thirty-seven years.
I asked the children what was alike on both my wife and I.
Our shoes? Our
clothing? Finally, the children saw the rings that we both wore and the
rings were the same. Wedding
couples wear rings to symbolize that God’s love never ends, it
goes round and round forever, and that God’s love in marriage is
like a ring that never ends.