What does Ephesians 5:21 mean?
ESV: submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
NIV: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
NASB: and subject yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ.
CSB: submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
NLT: And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
KJV: Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
NKJV: submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Verse Commentary:
Verses 19 and 20 gave several practical ways in which Christians can express being filled with the Spirit. Here, Paul brings out another, which is mutual submission. Submission in the context of a Christian relationship includes the idea of putting someone else, and their needs, above ourselves. This is not for personal benefit, but rather out of "reverence for Christ." When we serve others, we serve the Lord (Matthew 25:35–40).

This approach stands in stark contrast with worldly wisdom. In business, the principle is often taught to either put ourselves first, or to help others so that you can benefit. Yet Paul offers a better and higher way, noting that our service to others is service to the Lord. This is an important principle in the church, in the workplace, and, as the following verses will show, in the context of marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33). This is an important part of following the example of Christ, who submitted to the will of the Father and gave Himself as a sacrifice for us.
Verse Context:
Ephesians 5:1–21 continues Paul's invaluable instructions on how Christians should live out their faith. Rather than imitating the world, or being controlled by worldly things, Christians are to be filled with the Spirit. Specific flaws such as sexual immorality, crude speech, and wasting of time are discouraged. Instead, believers ought to submit to one another out of respect for Christ, providing a powerful witness to the world.
Chapter Summary:
Chapter 5 begins with an admonition to imitate Christ. In order to do so, Christians must avoid sexual immorality, vulgar language, foolishness, and other inappropriate attitudes. Paul warns that those who persist in these behaviors are not part of the kingdom of God. The passage then transitions to an explanation of mutual submission, including that between husbands and wives. Wives are to submit to their husbands, and respect them. Husbands are to love their wives in a Christ-like, sacrificial, and humble way.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 5 continues the very practical second half of the book of Ephesians. Chapter 4 encouraged Christians not to live as unbelievers do, but worthy of the gift we have been given. Chapter 5 gives even more direct application of these principles. Paul details impure attitudes and habits which Christians ought to put aside. He then details the proper approach to marriage, rooted in a Christian understanding of the gospel. This style of advice will continue through chapter 6. Paul's advice will culminate in a famous analogy about applying Christian principles to all of life, using the symbolism of a suit of armor.
Book Summary:
Ephesians follows a theme common in Paul's writings: connecting theory with practice. In this book, however, he goes into greater depth before making the transition. As a letter meant to be read by more than just the believers at Ephesus, this is an important look at how Christian belief should translate into Christian action. The first three chapters lay out spiritual ideas, the last three chapters show how these truths should be applied in the life of a mature believer. Paul focuses heavily on love, the unity of the Christian church, and the incredible value of our salvation through Christ.
Accessed 5/26/2024 5:25:06 PM
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