The divine pattern


God makes provision for satisfying relations through the filling (control) of the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

When we're continually filled with the Spirit and genuinely worshipping God, we submit to one another. (Ephesians 5:21) Conflicts arise when people want their own way and fight for the upper hand. Spirit-filled believers are content to submit to each other. (James 4:1; 1 Corinthians 16:16; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 Peter 2:13; 5:5; Hebrews 13:17)

Submission, militarily speaking, means to "rank under or beneath someone else." It is the attitude of wanting to please another, avoiding disputes, contentions, or divisions. Paul's emphasis is on mutual submission in Ephesians 5:21 and Ephesians 6:9. He uses the family as an illustration of how God designed submission to work in practice.

Wives are to submit to husbands (Ephesians 5:22, 1 Corinthians 7:3,4) but a husband is also to submit to his wife (Ephesians 5:25); not by giving up his responsibility of leadership, but by supporting her in bearing her burdens, sacrificing his own desires to fulfil her needs. (1 Corinthians 7:3)

Children are to submit in obedience to their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3) and parents are to submit to their children - by not provoking them to wrath: "bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord". (Ephesians 6:4)

Servants (employees) are to submit to masters (bosses) (Ephesians 6:5-9) but masters should also submit to servants by never doing wrong to them. (Ephesians 6:9)

The principles of authority and mutual submission compared:

  • All believers are equal in the sight of God. (Galatians 3:28) This does not exclude the concept of God-given authority in our relationships with one another.
  • In the Godhead, Jesus is, in essence, equal with the Father. (John 1:1, John 14:9, John 10:30) In function, the Father is the "head of Christ". (1 Corinthians 11:3; John 4:34)
  • Before God, husbands and wives are equal as spiritual beings and in their human essence. The man has the responsibility of leadership in marriage, taking the brunt of difficult circumstances. The wife's tenderness and gentleness are to support and balance the husband's strength.