Wednesday Word: Preaching the Text, Without Preaching the Text

I heard another sermon on Ephesians 5:21-33 this past weekend. Once again, the pastor preaching the sermon did a wonderful job of avoiding the text wholeheartedly. Like many others, he started with a passage about biblical marriage, and talked about all kinds of things that make a good marriage, that are not found in the text itself.

He talked about unity, saying that in a good marriage, there must be unity. This is true. But the text says nothing about unity. Ephesians 4:1-6 deals with unity. Preach that text if you want to preach about unity.

He also talked about humility. Humility is necessary for a great marriage. This is also true. But the passage isn’t dealing with humility. Philippians 2:1-11 deals with humility. Preach that text if you want to preach about humility.

He also preached about pride. The text isn’t dealing with pride. Camp out in Proverbs if you want to preach on pride.

I admit that all three of these things are necessary for a good marriage, and are worth mentioning in a sermon about marriage. But again, by preaching about these things, the pastor avoided what the text actually says. What is really sad is that no one, as far as I could tell, noticed.

My goal in this post is that my readers will understand how easy it is to not preach the Bible, and to understand what to look for in a good sermon. Let’s look at the key verse to understanding the entire passage it applies to: Ephesians 5:21.

“Submitting (subjecting) to one another in the fear of God.”

This is the verse that sets the tone for 5:21 through 6:9. It is dealing with the hierarchy God has given us in the household, and how we are to submit to one another within that hierarchy. So far, I’ve mentioned two words that the pastor above didn’t mention. First, he used the word “subject” because that is what the NIV translators used, thereby avoiding the more accurate translation: “submit.” The translators assume that no one likes the word “submit.” They think it sounds too overbearing.

When translators do such things, they are letting their fear of man dictate their translation instead of the text. The dirty little secret is, those of us who are true believers want the text translated as closely to the full meaning of the Greek and Hebrew as possible. We want the truth, as hard as it may be, as confrontational as it is with our culture, and more importantly, with our sinful flesh. We don’t want it watered down, or softened for our delicate sensibilities because we know that the most loving thing that can happen in the life of a believer, and the church, is to hear the full counsel of God. It is God’s way of feeding us spiritually, correcting us, rebuking us, and loving us.

But men… fearing men… shy away from the truth, which is the reason for this post. I’m trying to show what it looks like when men who occupy Christ’s pulpits fear men more than they fear Him.

Second, the pastor avoided using the word “hierarchy,” even though the moment he used the word “subject,” instead of “submit,” he still implied hierarchy. You can’t remove either concept from the text. Submission, which is what the Greek word means in the original, implies that there is a hierarchy being dealt with, and within that hierarchy, one person has to align themselves under the headship of another. The term is actually a military term and was used for those entering into the ranks, who had to “submit” or align themselves under those of higher rank. Those of higher rank were their “heads.”

When the Apostle Paul, by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses the term, he doesn’t leave it alone in verse 21. He explains what he means within the hierarchy of the household and tells us how we are to submit to “one another” in that hierarchy.

And THIS is what this pastor, and thousands like him, don’t want to touch, preach, mention or imply. They will use jokes, half-thought out illustrations, moral imperatives  and weak analogies to avoid speaking about what the text is actually saying because they believe that the women in their congregations don’t want to hear what it means to “submit to your own husbands, as to the LORD.” 

The sad truth is that there are plenty of godly women who want to hear what it means. They want to be affirmed in their understanding of the text. They want the reminder of knowing that when they are submitting to their husbands, they are doing so, “as to the LORD,” the LORD whom they love and want to faithfully serve every day.

By God’s grace, there are pastors who faithfully preach the text, but not many. Those who do, do so because they love the LORD and fear Him above all else. They also love what God’s word actually says. And, not least of all, they love their flock, and want to feed them on the truth so that they become conformed more to the image of Christ, and less like the world.

Back to Sunday’s sermon.

Most pastors like the one I heard this past weekend, if they say anything at all about submission, will say something like this: “the text says to submit to one another, so men, you should be submitting to your wives as well.”

No, it doesn’t. Paul is very clear about what he means. “Wives submit to your husband, as to the LORD (5:22). Children, obey your parents in the LORD, for this is right (6:1). Bondservants (slaves), be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ (6:5).”

Notice what Paul doesn’t say: husbands, submit to your wives. Parents, submit to your children. Masters, submit to your slaves. It’s remarkable that when you put verse 21 in context with the rest of what Paul is saying about submitting to one another, how absurd it is to assume husbands are to submit to their wives. Paul eliminates this possibility when he gives the reason wives are to submit to their husbands: for the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

The head doesn’t submit to the body. The body submits to the head. Paul backs his argument by using Christ as an example. Christ is the head of the church. We submit to Christ. Christ doesn’t, hasn’t and will not submit to the church. That is not His place. His place is leading, shepherding, saving, and sanctifying the church while He submits to the Father’s will in all things.

I know that there are some who say that Christ submitted to the church when He was placed on trial and died on the cross. This is not true. He submitted to the authorities, rulers, powers and principalities of darkness, of which members of the church may have belonged to at the time. But He didn’t submit to the body. He died for His body, in order to redeemed His bride. But He doesn’t submit to her.

Christ being the head of the body (see Colossians), and the husband being the head of the wife, is called headship. See also 1 Corinthians 11:1-12, Numbers 30.

All of what I’m saying here are things the pastor should have been dealing with. He should have dealt with submission, and what it means for us and our marriages. He should have spent time expanding on this so that women would have understood what their duties are in marriage.

Please note: I’m purposefully not using the word “roles” for men and women in marriage. We have duties given to us by God in the Garden of Eden and expanded upon throughout the rest of Scripture. A role is something someone can step into or out of. A duty is something placed upon us that remains until the One who placed it there, removes that duty from us. (Heads up: He doesn’t remove it from us).

The pastor should have dealt with headship, and worked to show us that it is biblical, and men are to take on the duty they have been given by God, and lead their wives and families. He should have answered the hard questions of what it means to be submissive. But he didn’t. He gave a sappy sermon on love and romance instead.

I’m sure he would say that he was preaching the “application” of the text. This excuse is often used to avoid the text. Another dirty little secret: if you preach the text faithfully, there is immediate application. You don’t have to manipulate the text to make it applicable. It’s God’s word. By preaching the text faithfully, and getting out of the way, God uses it immediately, although imperceptibly, in the lives of those who hear it. That is how God’s word works. We don’t have to jump through hoops to make it applicable for today’s society. God’s word is always applicable.

I hope you can see the real point here: far too many are preaching subjects that can be derived from the text, but not preach the text itself. Hopefully, your pastor doesn’t do the same.

Categories: TheologyTags: , , , ,


  1. Great points. So many pastors are afraid to speak the truth.

    “Notice what Paul doesn’t say: husbands, submit to your wives. Parents, submit to your children. Masters, submit to your slaves.”

    Exactly. I like to say, “Be an egalitarian! Because Ephesians 5 says Jesus and the church are mutually submissive or something . . .”


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