For the past several weeks, our church has been walking through a sermon series in the book of Colossians. In the latter part of Chapter 3, the Apostle Paul turns his attention to the topic of relationships. Two weeks ago we attempted to unpack Colossians 3:18-19:
These are two brief but power-packed verses about the relationship between husbands and wives. After 40 minutes of preaching, I only managed to cover point number one in my outline, but figured I better bring things to a close. Since then, several of you have asked me if I’m going to preach a part two, or if I’ll share the other points I had intended to address. In lieu of preaching another sermon, I’m going to share my other two points in blog form below.
But before diving into points two and three, let me briefly recap point one. If you’d like to go back and listen to the sermon, you can do so here. In fact, I’d encourage you to do so if you haven’t already listened to it. Much of the message addresses misunderstanding and confusion, both outside and inside the church, regarding what Scripture teaches concerning men and women and their roles in the family. Caveats and clarifications are needed when it comes to the language of “submission” and “headship”, and they are offered in the sermon. For brevity’s sake, I’m not going to repeat everything I’ve already said in that message. What follows is a very brief outline of the basic idea of my first point, and then points two and three will follow.
POINT NUMBER 1: THE PATTERN OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
When it comes to the marriage relationship, what the Bible shows us is that there is a pattern, established by God, for how He intends the marriage relationship to work. The pattern is male and female fulfilling interdependent roles as husband and wife.
This pattern is revealed in the different verbs assigned to wives and husbands regarding their relationship with one another. Each has a role to play in the marriage, but it looks a little bit different for each party. This differentiation goes all the way back to creation (Genesis 1-2), and it can be traced throughout the Scriptures.
To the wife, the particular action Paul conveys in Colossians 3:18 is “submit”. To the husband, the particular action Paul conveys in Colossians 3:19 is “love”. God has designed marriage to flourish when the husband is leading the way by expressing Christ-like love to his wife, and then the wife in turn, is voluntarily yielding herself to her husband’s lead (submitting to her husband).
The pattern he intends is that men lead their families in such a way that they are leveraging their lives to tenderly love and care for those under their watchcare, and wives are voluntarily yielding to their husband’s lead and coming alongside of them as a co-pilot. Each partner lives for the sake of the other; each is serving the other.
Again, there’s so much to be unpacked and said here, which I attempted to do in my sermon. If you have questions, concerns, objections, clarifications, go and listen to my sermon and see if it addresses it.
POINT NUMBER 2: THE PECULIARITY OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
One of the things I alluded to in my sermon is that Paul’s instructions for husbands and wives were radical for its place and time. On the surface, exhorting a wife to submit to her husband may not sound very radical for an extremely patriarchal first century society, but if you look a little closer, you’ll find that it actually is.
Consider the fact that Paul directly addressed the wives (not the husbands) and exhorted them to submit to their husbands. Paul’s direct address to the women in Colossae reveals their equality with men, and that in the Christian home (unlike many other households in the Roman world), submission is not a forced act. Husbands aren’t to demand or enforce submission; rather, wives are to do it voluntarily. This reflects a high view of women, much higher than the culture at the time.
According to scripture, women (wives) are equal in dignity to men. When it comes to one’s acceptance and status with God, there is no difference between sexes (Gal. 3:27), again, this was a radical idea in the first century. The distinction between men and women (husbands and wives) in the Bible is never one of inherent value, only one of order and roles. Thus, submission is not an issue of inferiority, merely one of economy in the home. Paul exhorts Christian women to voluntarily yield to the leadership of their own husband (and only their own husband; not to any other man) according to God’s design for the marriage relationship. But in doing so, he establishes their status as an equal partner.
The strangeness of Paul’s command is even more obvious in what he expresses to husbands. They are to agapao (covenantally love) their wives. According to Douglass Moo, no other household code that has been discovered from the ancient world requires husbands to love their wives. The command that husbands love their wives introduces a somewhat revolutionary idea that is a hallmark of Christianity.
In the time and place in which Paul was writing, the command for husbands to sacrificially love their wives would’ve been rather scandalous. Many men at that time believed that they had the freedom to leave their wife and divorce her for any reason whatsoever. For a husband to devote himself to serving and loving his wife was an extreme idea. And it’s still weird today. While most men bemoan their “ball-and-chain” and fantasize about “hall pass” weekends in Vegas, a man who remains committed, faithful, and devoted to caring for his wife is increasingly peculiar.
It would’ve been strange in the first century to see Christian wives being treated as equal partners in the home. It would’ve been strange to see them, nonetheless, willfully submit to their husband’s leadership. It would’ve been strange to see husbands sacrificially loving their wives, leveraging their leadership in the name of serving someone other than themselves. This peculiarity is by design. God has always intended for His covenant people to be distinct from the world.
This was His desire for Israel:
Israel was called to keep the covenant stipulations God laid out for them, which were designed to make them different from all other peoples so that they would function as a kingdom of priests unto the nations. They were to be a holy nation – a people group devoted to Yahweh and distinct from all others, that they might show the world God’s character and covenant faithfulness.
And this is His desire for us as well:
God desires for us, His covenant people, is to be different than the world. And one way that He intends for us to be distinct is through our marriages. The Christian marriage relationship ought to look distinctively different than secular marriage. Christian men serving and loving their wives, and Christian woman respectfully supporting and encouraging their husbands is how God intends that to happen. It was radically counter-cultural in the first century, and it’s still peculiar today.
But God doesn’t want us to be different, simply to be different. Our peculiarity has a purpose.
POINT NUMBER THREE: THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
God intends for the noticeable difference in Christian marriages to be attractive to a watching world. Unlike the culture’s idea of relationships, which take a me-centered approach, God’s idea for marriage is that it is other-centered. Seeing a wife gladly yield to her husband’s lead, and a husband leveraging his leadership to love and serve his wife is beautiful.
And that is because Christian marriage is not an end in itself; it is also, by design, a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. God intends for every Christian marriage to echo the story of the gospel.
Consider Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.” –Ephesians 5:22-32 (CSB)
Understand what Paul is saying in this passage. He is not saying that the relationship between Christ and the church is a good example for husbands and wives to follow. That is certainly true, but that’s not what Paul is saying. He is saying that Christian marriage is a living portrayal of the relationship between Christ and the church.
And this is why our roles in marriage matter, and why fulfilling our calling as husbands and wives is critical. To the extent that Christian husbands daily lay down their lives for their wives, they portray and echo Jesus’ sacrificial love for the church. To the extent that Christian wives gladly submit to their husbands, they demonstrate how worthy Jesus is of our trust and devotion.
Christian marriage is a stage to daily re-enact the gospel. And Lord willing, as husbands love their wives and wives support their husbands, the peculiarity of that other-centered humility and sacrifice will be noticed. It will prompt questions and opportunities to then testify of Jesus’ sacrificial love, and His faithful headship. The purpose of Christian marriage, ultimately is to testify of the glory of the gospel.
Andy Adkison / Pastor of Preaching & Vision