On Hinges and Mutual Submission

mjzJ5NALike some sort of debated piece of territory, Ephesians 5:21 has been fought-over theological ground for generations.

Here’s how the verse reads, in the NLT: “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Some translators put Ephesians 5:21 at the end of the passage above it, where it serves as a final, summary statement to Paul’s thinking about how life should work in the overall faith community. For instance, the NKJV, NASB and ESV put verse 21 above the translator’s paragraph break.

On the other hand, some translators put the verse on the front end of the passage below it, where it serves as an introductory remark about how husbands and wives ought to live out their marriages. For example, the NLT, NIV and RSV put it below the break.

So which is it?

Or…what if it’s both?

Yesterday morning, our church marked a leadership transition. After two years of serving as co-lead pastors, our founding pastor willingly and joyfully laid down authority and passed off leadership to his apprentice. For me it was a holy moment. After all, you don’t see leadership transitions go well all that often. So, could it possible for leadership transitions to be healthy and even worshipful?

It is if Ephesians 5:21 is a guiding text.

In expositing the passage yesterday, our pastors described Ephesians 5:21 as a “hinge” text, meaning that it serves as both a summary of Paul’s thoughts in 5:1-20 and a governing principle for 5:22-33. It’s as if Paul is saying:

“In sum, as you live out your corporate mission in the world, be the kind of community that seeks to submit to one another. Hey, come to think of it, your marriages should be marked by the same thing. If you practice lives of mutual submission, if you basically try to outdo each other in serving, you will see fruit in your relationships and through you in ministry.”

Sounds pretty good, yes?

When it comes to living out our mission as an intra-gender community, Ephesians 5:21 directly challenges our attitudes. That is, if we’re going to create a world where male privilege is a thing of the past, where power-grabbing and resource-hording is no more, we will need attitudes marked by humble and mutual submission.

Here’s how theologian Walter Liefeld puts it, in his exposition of Ephesians 5:21:

“Certainly not every Christian is inferior to every other, but in humility one can esteem all others higher than oneself. Likewise it is possible on one occasion to defer to another, submitting to that person’s will, with the situation being reversed at another time. There is nothing illogical about mutual submission. Whether in the context of verses 18-20 or of verses 22-33, the idea of submitting is not on the surface as appealing as being joyful, but the result of this attitude can have a wonderful effect in the life of believers together. It has practical as well as spiritual benefits.”

May it be so, in greater measure, both in our churches and in our marriages.

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