When my wife, Michelle, and I were dating, we found a book in the in the library titled Husbands Who Won’t Lead And Wives Who Won’t Follow. The book had a lot of good material in it, but the title alone illustrates that marriage relationships might not work out so smoothly all the time. This week on the blog, I hope we can make some progress discussing that topic and more.
Turn to Colossians 3:18-21. After teaching that we should do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, Paul illustrates this by describing how Christians should live as members of the community of peaceful love in the places where you live, work, study and serve. As I worked on this sermon, initially intending to cover Colossians 3:18-4:1, the sermon got longer and longer and longer. The passage is only nine verses and some of them are really short, but Paul is typical Paul, packing a lot into a small space. So I decided to split this in two. This week on the blog, we’ll study part one, all about marriage and family, and next week will be part two about work. For those of you who are students or retirees, next week will be for you too, because the principles Paul teaches apply to everyone. So today, we’re just covering Colossians 3:18-21, focusing on marriage and family. Go ahead and read those verses and then return to blog post.
Paul dives right in, as he writes in verse 18, “Wives, you all be subject [or submit] to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” This is one of those Bible verses that just sounds antiquated to our contemporary Western ears doesn’t it? Wives submit?
I have heard many times that this is not so antiquated or misogynistic as it might seem, IF the husbands do what Paul writes in verse 19, love their wives. I’ve heard that if the husbands are loving as they are supposed to, then it will be easy for the wives to submit. Almost as if wives who feel loved will be begging to submit.
I don’t know about that.
The word that Paul uses, “submit” or “be subject to,” is defined as “to submit to the orders or directives of someone.” (Louw & Nida) Sounds like a military term, doesn’t it? Paul was describing a situation where husbands had some kind of leadership role over their wives, and the wives were to obey, to submit. Years ago, traditional wedding vows actually had the wife committing to obey her husband! If the husband made a decision, the wife was to follow it. Furthermore, Paul said this arrangement is fitting in the Lord. This gives us the impression that it was God’s will for these marriage roles.
How do you feel about that? Husbands, do you like it? Wives, how do you feel about it? What should a wife do if a husband is about to make what she thinks is an obviously poor decision that will affect her negatively, and it might affect their kids negatively? Just go with it and deal with the pain? Or should she disobey Paul’s teaching when her husband is going to make a poor or hurtful decision?
Christians through the ages have had major disagreements about this, and we still do today. My guess is that there are a variety of viewpoints about this among those who read this blog. So this week we’re going to try to understand what this passage means and how we can apply it to our lives.
First of all, we need to remember that Paul was not originally writing to us. As you have heard me say many times, though originally written to that group of Christians in the first century Roman town of Colosse, we read a letter like this as written to us by extension. What do I mean, “by extension?” I mean that Paul was writing principles that can be applied by extension to all Christians. Therefore, we first need to understand that original situation that motivated Paul to write, to make sure that we understand the principles correctly. Then and only then can we apply the principles to us.
Second, let’s try to first understand how the very first readers of this letter would have understood Paul’s teaching. To do that we need to understand something about the world of the First Century Greco-Roman world. That culture was highly patriarchal, meaning it was a man’s world. It was super rare for a woman to have a position of authority, to own property, or to be seen as equal to a man. Men ruled. In society and in families. When Paul writes, “Wives submit to your husbands,” he was saying what was the commonly held viewpoint of that culture. Basically, he is saying, “Wives, go with the flow.” He also said this was fitting to the Lord that Christian wives and Christian husbands were to follow societal standards for marriage relationships in their culture.
But how does that relate to us? Check back in to the next post, as we’ll continue seeking to understand what Paul meant.