Please turn in your Bibles to Colossians 3:18-19. .
Last week we learned from the apostle Paul that we are to ‘put on Christ’; that is, we are to put on the character of Christ if we belong to Christ by faith. His character was described for us with words like compassion, meekness, love, and forgiveness.
That passage ended with this summary statement in verse 17: Whatever you do, in word or deed, to everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. That is, do everything that you do as a representative of Jesus Christ. Put on the character of Christ so people will see what Christ is like and so honor him who is worthy of our devotion and our imitation. And we are to do that out of thankfulness to God for the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Now we’re going to see what putting on Christ looks like in human relationships. Beginning with our passage today and running through chapter 4 verse 1, Paul tells us how husbands and wives are to relate to each other, how children and parents are to relate to each other, and how employees and employers are to relate to each other. Most if not everyone in this room is in one or more of those basic relationships of life right now. So this passage speaks to us where we live. The good news about Jesus is to make a difference every day in our dealings with others.
Today we deal with the relationship between a husband and his wife in verses 18-19, which is the first and fundamental human relationship God created, as well as the most intimate. So let’s read verses 18-19, and then I’ll pray for the Lord to bless the preaching and hearing of his word.
READ COLOSSIANS 3:18-19 / PRAY
I have had the privilege of performing numerous weddings and one of my favorite wedding blessings is called the Puritan Wedding Prayer. Here is an excerpt from that reading, and I think it serves as an excellent introduction to our topic this morning.
"Oh, God of love, you have established marriage for the welfare and happiness of mankind. Yours was the plan and only with You can we work it out with joy. You have said that ‘it is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helpmate for him.’ Now our joys are doubled since the happiness of one is the happiness of the other…Teach them that marriage is not living merely for each other, it is two uniting and joining hands to serve You. Give them a great spiritual purpose in life. May they seek the kingdom of God and Your righteousness and the other things shall certainly be added unto them. Loving You best they shall love each other the more and faithful unto You, faithful unto each other they will be.”
That goal of marriage is well said. Marriage is a gift from God for the welfare and happiness of mankind, and its ultimate purpose is to serve and honor the Lord.
Our text today shows the way to that welfare and happiness in marriage, and shows us how marriage is to honor the Lord. It shows us what it looks like to do [marriage] in the name of the Lord Jesus. So we’re going to find out how to do that this morning.
For those here who are not married and hope to be so someday, this message is preparatory, to help you approach it with the right expectations. For those who are married, it will show us how to have an even better marriage. For everyone else, it will give you something to pray for and to support in the marriages you see around you.
And I can’t preach with integrity on this topic without acknowledging and thanking God for my wife Janette. I’ve received the undeserved mercy of God of having been loved by her for 26 years now as of 21 August. If there is anything useful in this message, particularly as it relates to the role of the wife, it’s because I’ve seen it in her.
There are two main commands in the text. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. We’ll examine those two commands in turn. Then we’ll end with the question: Why are these commands in the Bible? Why do husbands and wives need to be told these things in particular and not something else?
So let’s begin with the first command.
1. Wives submit to your husbands.
In our culture, the idea of a wife submitting to her husband is not popular to say the least. Probably the quickest way to draw the scorn of the general public would be to appear on a secular talk show and recommend that a wife submit to her husband.
I watched a clip of pastor Mark Driscoll responding to questions on CNN in which he used the word “serve” in talking about a wife’s role, and that drew surprise and laughter from the host and the audience. I can only guess what would have been the reaction if he had used the word “submit.”
In our day, that word is often seen as a leftover rule from a male-dominated, women-suppressing society; a term that speaks of inferiority, or of a requirement to do what the man says no matter what it is, a license for men to be harsh and do what they want and expect the wife to raise no objections.
Unfortunately that is how many men have seen it, and there have been and no doubt will continue to be painful examples of that kind of thing. But that is not what the Lord means by submit. Biblical submission is a healthy thing, something good for the wife and good for the husband, because God’s will is always good and acceptable and perfect according to Romans 12:2.
So what does it mean for wives to submit? Well in Colossians and other New Testament letters the word is used to describe voluntary yielding to someone else, particularly to someone who has God-given authority. Wives submit to husbands, children submit to parents, believers submit to elders of the church, employees submit to employers, and citizens submit to governing authorities of the state. It is an intelligent choice to follow someone else’s lead, particularly when God has given them the authority to lead.
Submission is necessary to have any kind of order in society. If no one followed anyone else’s lead, we would have chaos. So God has graciously provided that order; he has laid out for us who should lead and who should follow in different relationships.
And this has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. The reason the word submit has a negative reputation in our culture is because we generally think that if we submit to someone else and follow their lead and direction, that they must be better than us, that we have to follow them because we’re inferior.
But that’s not the case. Submission is something that equals do; it’s something the Son of God does with God the Father. Let me read 1 Corinthians 15:27-28, where the word “subjection” is used, but it’s the same Greek word for submit.
For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." [Meaning Christ’s feet.] But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Now what that’s saying is that God the Father has decreed that ‘all things’, all of creation will submit to the Son, Jesus Christ. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord on the final day. But God the Father is excepted, that is he is not part of the ‘all things’ that are in subjection to Christ. In fact, the Son himself will be subjected to—or submit to—God the Father. The Son of God will eternally submit to God the Father.
Does that mean God the Son is inferior to God the Father? No. God is one God in three persons and they are all equally God. The Son is not inferior to the Father. And yet the Son submits to the Father.
Submission is a voluntary yielding to someone who has God-given authority. It says nothing about the relative importance of the person submitting or the person being submitted to. And in a marriage, submission is the intelligent, voluntary yielding of a woman to her husband’s God given authority to lead.
Here are some ways that plays out in a marriage.
Submission involves following the husband in his decision-making. Suppose a big decision needs to be made—buying a house, or moving to another state or attending a new church. The husband and wife will talk about it and weigh the options together. He isn’t to run off and decide by himself. But if a decision needs to be made and the choice is still not clear, the wife will trust the husband to make the decision and then support it.
Submission also includes not undermining the husband’s leadership by speaking badly of him to the kids or to others. He may be hard to live with, he may have many temptations and tendencies to sin (as I do), but she desires to honor the role that God has given him in her life and not gossip or slander him.
Submission to a husband also looks like helping him succeed in his leadership and become more and more a man of God. Proverbs 31:11-12 says the heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She takes care of him and the home. She makes it possible for him to focus on leading and providing for the family.
And of course more could be said. The bottom line is that for the wife to submit to her husband is part of God’s good and perfect will. It’s part of God’s created order, and everything he has created is good and for our good.
But what do we say then about the hard situations? What does submission look like when the husband is difficult and not leading her well, which happens on a weekly basis in my house, and probably to varying degrees in many houses? Or what does submission look like when the wife is a believer and the husband is not a believer?
Well, if you are a woman who is in a situation like that, then be assured that God knows that, and know that he is for you, and he has left you with specific counsel for your situation.
Two things need to be said. First of all, a wife’s submission is not absolute. It is qualified.
Verse 18 says wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. It’s fitting for the wife to follow the lead of her husband, but it is fitting in the Lord. The Lord Jesus is the one who determines what is fitting. We do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, including submit. Your submission has to be what represents Christ well, what’s consistent with having been saved by his grace and consistent with his will.
So a wife isn’t to follow her husband into sin. If he is cheating on his taxes and wants her to sign off on the IRS form saying that it’s accurate and she knows it isn’t, she isn’t to submit to that. If he wants her to join him in viewing pornography, she isn’t to submit to that. If he wants to do anything that is directly against God’s revealed will in the Scriptures, she is not to submit to that, because her ultimate submission is to the Lord.
But it is still possible to demonstrate submission even in those situations by the attitude with which she says no. John Piper describes it this way:
“Even where a Christian wife may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission – a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.”
So submission doesn’t involve following a husband into sin, though even that refusal should be done in a spirit of submission. That’s the first thing the Lord would say to the wife of a difficult or non-believing husband.
Here’s the second thing. A wife’s submission is influential. What I mean is that in God’s way of things, it is submitting to your husband rather than asserting your own will which could change him or even result in his salvation. We know that from 1 Peter 3:1-2.
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
The context here is women married to men who do not obey the word of God. These men may be believers or unbelievers. But in both cases the way for the wife to respond is the same and the hope is the same. These disobedient husbands may be won; they may be changed without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
When a husband is in sin, when he is not leading well, when he is irritable or lazy or irresponsible or cold, the immediate temptation would be to take matters into your own hands and work around him, or to have it out with him in an argument, or to simply withdraw from him. But Scripture shows us a different way, one that may seem counter-intuitive. What may make your husband less irritable, more responsible, or even what may result in his salvation is your respectful and pure conduct.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for loving words of correction or making requests of him to change. Certainly that can and should be done. But it does mean you continue to yield to him in everything that does not force you to sin, and trust God to bring him conviction and change him. And God holds out the possibility that he will be won over.
Much more could be said, but we need to move on to the husband. The second command is this…
2. Husbands, love your wives.
Now, it’s necessary to define what love means, because it’s not simply a strong emotional or physical attraction to someone else. Love is more than that, and I’ll give a definition. But among believing husbands who have even a passing familiarity with the Scriptures, we have some idea of what love is.
I’m going describe what loving our wives looks like, but I doubt that any husband here is going to think to himself, “I never knew I should do things like that. I had no concept of how to love my wife until this morning. Thank you for unraveling this mystery!”
I doubt that’s going to happen. We generally know what to do; it’s the doing of it where we sometimes fail. So I’m going to spend less time on defining love than I did on defining submission and spend more time on application, fleshing out what biblical husband-love looks like in a marriage and hopefully providing grace-filled motivation to do what we know we’re called do.
So here is my simple definition for love, which I mentioned last week. Love is self-giving so that others can experience the grace and goodness of God. And in a marriage it is giving of yourself—your time, your attention, your possessions, your heart—so that your wife can experience the grace and goodness of God.
Jesus said in John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Jesus laid down his life taking the punishment for our sins so that we could receive eternal life with him. That defines biblical love. Whatever else may be called love, it isn’t biblical agape love if it is not self-giving for the purpose of bringing people into deeper relationship with Christ who is our life as we read in Colossians chapter 1.
So that’s what husbands will do for their wives in this command, husbands, love your wives. We are called to give our wives a real-life taste and reminder of the love that Jesus has for us in laying down his life for his friends. We want her to encounter the grace and goodness of God through Jesus Christ.
So, what does that involve? Well, much could be said but I’ll focus on two main things that spring from the text.
First, love by leading. If wives are submitting to us, yielding to our direction, it implies that we are taking them somewhere, that we are leading. So are we leading them anywhere? Are we being intentional about maximizing her joy in the Lord or are we just taking our wives for granted and content to be served all the time?
That is one area of marriage that for many years I wasn’t thinking much about. When we got married, I was thinking about how much fun it was to be married, and how great it was to eat something besides hot dogs, microwave burritos and potatoes every week (which was about all I could manage as a single). I was excited about the companionship and the marriage bed of course.
But that was mostly selfish. My motives for showing Janette love were more about having a good relationship between us than they were about a concern for her relationship with the Lord. And yet to love her as Jesus loved us, that needs to be my first concern, because life is in Christ not in me.
We love by leading our wives to experiences of the grace and goodness of God. Here are some ways we can do that.
• We do that by assuring she is part of the local church where God’s word is preached and lived out. Wives are often the ones who lead their husbands in wanting to go to church but it’s the husbands who are called to make that a priority.
• We are to lead by making sure she has time alone with the Lord. Especially if there are a lot of kids in the house, she has way more to do than the husband does, she is serving all day long, and the husband has to make sure she has both daily time alone and some occasional longer breaks alone with the Lord. One of the things Janette has appreciated and I think really benefitted from in the last couple years are weekly blocks of a couple hours alone and about every quarter a whole day away just to be with the Lord. I highly recommend you provide that for your wife if that isn’t part of your routine.
• We also lead by being aware of our wife’s spiritual condition and encouraging and counseling her with God’s word where needed. And that requires two things. 1) It requires that we are paying attention to how she is doing spiritually. Do you know what your wife is struggling with? Do you know what she is putting her hope in? Do you know what books she is reading for encouragement and whether they are biblically sound or not? And that of course leads to the second requirement to leading our wives spiritually: 2) It requires that we husbands are feeding ourselves on the word of God. We can’t encourage and counsel our wives with the word if we don’t know it ourselves. Let the word of Christ dwell in [us husbands richly], and then we’ll be in a position to lead our wives to the hope that is in Christ.
• And of course we lead our wives in practical ways as well. Planning date nights and special times that communicate our love and affection for her. Looking over the calendar and making sure the events on that calendar will serve her and not run her ragged.
And we could name many other things. But guys, I think we get the picture. We love our wives by leading our wives. Make it a pleasure for her to submit by leading in these ways, rather than making it a burden by our laziness or selfishness. Here is the second way the text tells us to love our wives.
Love by putting away harshness. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. The Greek is more literally “do not become embittered against them.” Do not let your heart become calloused against your wife, which leads to harsh words and behaviors.
This looks like venting anger, self-righteous criticism, coldness, or even avoidance. It could be a pattern of life, or it could be just what a husband might do on the proverbial ‘bad day’ when things aren’t going the way he wants.
• It’s coming home from work and being annoyed that supper isn’t ready or that the house isn’t clean instead of recognizing the sacrifice your wife has been making all day to serve you.
• It’s getting upset when she asks you to fix the plumbing or take a child to piano practice because you had other plans. And it’s a hundred other things like that.
But this is something husbands must put away. Do not be harsh with them. It’s never OK. It’s never justified. And it’s always the result of the sin in our own hearts, not in hers. We sin because we choose to, not because we have to, and being harsh is sin.
So what do we do to put away harshness? Well, an embittered heart against a wife is most likely the product of dwelling on her imperfections and sins instead of being more aware of our own imperfections and sins. So the godly alternative is to be intentional about thanking God for our wives and for the many ways in which we have been helped by them. Dwell on evidences of God’s grace in their lives instead of on their faults.
And as we’re doing that, then it’s going to be easier to follow the commands of last week: put on compassion, kindness, patience and all the rest of Christ’s attributes toward them.
We love our wives by putting away harshness toward them. And we love them by leading them into greater and greater experiences of the grace and goodness of God. That’s the Lord’s will for husbands.
Now, we’ve looked at the commands to husbands and wives. Wives submit and husbands love. But let’s end by answering one question.
3. Why are these commands in the Bible?
Why does Paul single out submission for the wife and love for the husband? Why not tell them something else?
Well, for two reasons. The first one is this: Jesus is restoring what was lost in marriage at the fall.
You may remember the curse that God gave to Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree that was off-limits for them. Part of the curse was how the husband and wife would now act toward each other as a result of sin. Here’s what the Lord said to the woman in Genesis 3:16.
Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
The best way to understand what desire and rule mean is to compare it with an almost identical verse in Genesis 4:7. There, God is speaking to Cain and he says to him,
…if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
The desire that sin has for Cain is a desire to gain control over him. It’s the opposite of submit. And the kind of rule that Cain is to have over sin is to rule by force or by oppression. It’s the opposite of love.
And that’s what desire and rule meant for Adam and Eve and for us. The curse of sin resulted in the wife’s tendency to want control over her husband and not submit to him, and the husband’s tendency would be to lead her with a domineering or harsh aspect.
And that’s exactly what Colossians 3:18-19 addresses. Wives, submit to your husbands… Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Jesus is restoring what was lost in marriage at the fall. He’s making it good again, just like the original marriage was created good, and for the happiness of the husband and wife. The new life we have in Christ undoes the effects of the curse.
Submission and love in marriage will bring about the best possible happiness in marriage. It’s how marriage was intended to be. That’s the first reason for the commands to submit and to love.
Here’s the second reason, and we’ll close with this. It’s to draw attention to the gospel.
Love and submission in marriage point to something greater than the marriage itself, they point to a different marriage where submission and love are perfectly displayed forever.
Let me read from Ephesians chapter 5, which describes that marriage, beginning in verse 22. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
According to this text, why does the Lord command wives to submit to their husbands? So they can show the willing and joyful submission of the church to Christ her Savior.
And why does the Lord command husbands to love their wives? So they can show the love that Christ has for his bride the church. He gave himself up for her. He did everything required for her to experience the grace and goodness of God. He set her apart, cleansed her of her sin, made her pure and holy in God’s sight, and he is going to present her to himself forever.
Wives and husbands have the opportunity to draw attention to this good news of salvation in Jesus Christ by her submission and his love. Marriage is about drawing attention to the gospel. It’s not just about us. It’s about showing the glory of Christ.
That’s what we are to aspire to in our marriages. That’s how we do [marriage] in the name of the Lord Jesus, representing him and his love for us through his cross of sacrifice.
May the Lord work that in all present and future marriages here at WGD.