Reverence and Submission

By Mark D. Roberts

November 11, 2019

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)


I suppose there are some people who find it easy to submit to others, but many of us struggle with the imperative to “submit to one another.” We want to be in charge. We want to call the shots. We want to be the leader, not the follower. So, what will help us do what Ephesians 5:21 commends? What will help us to submit to each other as members of the body of Christ?

sunlight on a dirt pathWe can always answer a question like this by saying, “Obedience to Scripture.” The Bible is God’s Word, the rightful authority for our faith and living. If Scripture says “Submit to one another,” then we ought to do so. That’s true. But, as is often the case, the Bible doesn’t simply give us commands to follow. Rather, it provides explanations and motivations. It answers the “why” and “how” questions as well as the “what” question.

Ephesians 5:21 tell us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” There you have it: the rationale, the motivation. Out of reverence for Christ. What helps us to submit when we don’t want to? Reverence for Christ. What forms our hearts so that following the leadership of others might come easier to us? Reverence for Christ.

If you were to read Ephesians 5:21 in the King James Version, you’d find, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Indeed, the word translated in the NIV as “reverence” is phobos in Greek, the basic word for “fear.” Yet almost all contemporary translations prefer “reverence” to “fear” (NIV, NLT, ESV, NRSV, REB). “Reverence” captures the subtlety of phobos; it conveys utter respect and awe while rightly avoiding the sense of scariness.

We might paraphrase phobos as “awestruck reverence and deep respect” for Christ. The more we are overwhelmed by the grandeur of Christ, the more we will submit ourselves fully to him as his servants. This act of reverent submission to Christ will prime our souls to submit to each other. When we are on our knees together before our Lord, we’ll find it easier to remain on our knees in submission and service to one another. Our humility before our Lord will carry over into humility before each other.

Something to Think About:

Do you feel “awestruck reverence and deep respect” for Christ?

What helps you to feel this way?

How does your reverence for Christ actually make a difference in your relationships in your family? At work? In your community? Among members of your church?

Something to Do:

Talk with your small group or a wise Christian friend about your experience of reverence—what it feels like to you; how you express it; what helps you to be reverent; how it impacts your relationships, etc.


Lord Jesus Christ, do I have “awestruck reverence and deep respect” for you? Sometimes I do, when I gaze upon the vast summer sky and realize you created it, when the reality of your sacrifice floods my soul as if I heard about it for the first time, when I gather with your people on Easter morning to celebrate that fact that you are risen, indeed . . . then I do have awestruck reverence and deep respect for you.

Yet Lord, as you know, there are other times, times when I let my familiarity with you overcome reverence, when I choose to sin even though I know it displeases you, when I let the truth that you are my friend obscure the fact that you are also my Lord and Master, when I’m simply too busy to remember you. Forgive me, I pray, for my lack of reverence, for my presumption, for my inattention.

May my reverence for you increase, Lord. As it does, may it also motivate my living, my dreams, my choices, my relationships. In particular, may reverence for you help me to offer myself in submission to others, following their leadership and serving them with humble love. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
Our Work and Our Character (Audio)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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