Love by Submission
Ephesians 5:21 poses a conundrum: Paul commends Spirit-filled Christians for “submitting to one another.” Isolate the verse from its context, and it almost sounds as if the Apostle teaches a kind of mutual, universal submission, without regard to any structured leadership, hierarchy, or chain of command—as if he means to declare all authority void.
But in the very next verse, Paul expressly commands wives to be subject to their husbands (v. 22). Half a chapter later, he commands children to obey their parents (6:1) and slaves to obey their masters (6:5). Those injunctions aren’t followed by calls for reciprocal submission. Instead, husbands are commanded to love their wives, fathers are forbidden to provoke their children, and masters are urged to treat their slaves with Christlike generosity, goodwill, and respect. In other words, Ephesians 5:21 introduces a long passage that is all about how people under authority should respond to those in authority and vice versa. The Apostle Paul, plainly, was no egalitarian.