My anniversary is tomorrow (Nov.5), and it causes me to celebrate the godly marriage I have with my wife, and the grace and mercy God has given us both, as individuals, and as a couple, growing together in that grace of God. Also, in the next few weeks, I will be officiating three different weddings. All three are under different circumstances, different ages, different abilities, different personalities, but all Christian weddings. And all have some different expectations, but all have the same desire and expectation for a good, strong, healthy, Christian marriage.
In order for this to happen we need to be grounded in what the Word of God says about husband and wife relationships. The truth of the Bible applies to any and all marriages. In looking at these verses in Colossians, we see that God address both sides of the coin, both husband and wife, with real, practical, timeless truth, and godly wisdom. I want to give some introductory remarks before we launch into the verses specifically.
Like all couples I counsel, some are starting out strong and have the capacity and potential to have a powerhouse marriage, and others need a lot of work, but the truth is any and every marriage needs a lot of work. It isn’t some start at the top experience; it is a long climb up, together. Some couples have the look of a team that will be a real winner, but I always tell them all, you cannot bank on potential, you must try and fill the capacity. You must be more than willing you must be intentional. It is not about “doing stuff” or going somewhere but being willing to learn together and trusting each other. That is a building process.
A good marriage is a building process, not a finished product. That is the main problem, obstacle, and failure I see within marriages of all sorts; they thought they would get by on love alone, but they didn’t understand what married love is. Married love must grow, from a “we are so in love with each other, we will always work together, and we never fight, so it will always be this way”, to a more mature, growing in grace with God union that sails through the incidental and inevitable rough seas of married life.
God allows couples to go through trials to show them, if they are willing and intentional, how strong the marriage bond can be. Steady in the midst of the storm, just like He does with all Christians as individuals in their relationship with Him (Matthew 7:24-27). This is the way of God, to show you He is there with you even when it seems like you are surrounded by opposing forces, and even death, and indeed you are. The truth is that you will be experiencing things that are unexpected because they will be unique to you as a couple, and we cannot give you a cookie cutter answer considering the dynamic, etc. However, we can teach you with the Word of God.
The devil is so into destroying marriage relationships because the marriage union is a picture of the love that God has in Himself, between the persons of the Trinity. And so when you enter a marriage covenant, you are entering into a spiritual war zone, and if you do not intend to grow spiritually, you will suffer massive loss, and perhaps even a marriage casualty. True godliness, as we will see in these verses, this is the key to a lasting, wholesome, growing, successful, spiritual, happy marriage. One that not only lasts but also becomes more and more lovely as the years go by. If you are already married, listen up, if you are still together it isn’t too late to use the wisdom of God from these verses.
A good marriage is not one without struggles; God’s plan is for there to be struggles. God wants you to struggle, because He wants you to grow, and that takes growing pains. You can’t be knit together without having to be twisted and turned and united. Your marriage will go one of two ways. You will struggle as a team together, against some difficulty, and grow closer and stronger because of it, or you will struggle against each other and those other things will become “issues”, etc. Ask any married couple worth their salt, and they will confirm what I say is true.
You could have an individual life that is like a beautiful quilt, but if you are not being woven together then each of you will just be different cloth, and eventually one cloth will be jealous of the other, and the split will happen because their was no common fabric in the first place.
This wisdom from God is good, not only for couples about to be married, or those already married, but also for those who may some day want to be married, which would be almost all of us. Even those who have gone through the pain of a divorce should take heed to these verses, and become the godly man or woman that Christ would have us to be. We must make ourselves ready to be what God calls us to be, we must be ready to have a godly marriage by being submitted to godly principles before we can be ready, and if we are, we will be okay even if we don’t get married. These verses contain principles that apply to all Christians.
Now we must realize that this passage doesn’t contain all we need to have a wonderful marriage, there is much more in the Word of God concerning relationships of all kinds that would apply as well. However, the things we see here in Colossians and the parallel passage in Ephesians are some of the most important, over arching concepts that if we don’t have down, our marriage is going down in flames, perhaps slowly but most surely.
There are two basic principles we see here, one, that wives must submit to their husbands, being both willing and intentional in that. Two, that husbands must be wiling and intentional to give their own lives for their wives. Not just defending them if attacked by someone, but giving up their lives daily, considering her needs as more important that your own. Looking to provide what is best, growing in the knowledge and grace of Our Lord to be able to do that, to actually know what is best, so that what is wanted can be denied unless it is what is best in that moment, which you must be willing to give no matter the cost to you.
This is the pattern of Christ, submission and love. He showed us perfectly with His life on earth, and it is the pattern for marriage that He instructs us to live in. We submit ourselves to God and to one another by submitting to our God given roles (Ephesians 5:21ff.). It takes a man full of wisdom and grace to be able to give his whole life in service to his wife, and also to be able at the same time to say no, and to say it lovingly, and to say it with accuracy, and to know when to say it, when it is right to do so. It takes a woman full of mercy and grace to be able to submit even when their husband doesn’t have it all right yet.
For the woman the question isn’t, “Is he worthy?” the question is “Are you willing?” Not, “Is he right?” but “Are you ready?” For the man the question isn’t “Is she asking?” it is “Am I intentional?” Not, “Is she submitted?” but “Am I serving?” The man must serve his wife even when she isn’t submitted, and the wife must submit to the man even when he isn’t serving.
The opposite of this is when both man and woman are both just looking to say no to each other. She isn’t willing and he isn’t intentional. She is looking for excuses not to submit, and he is looking to avoid giving himself completely to her service. They don’t respect each other, they don’t respect their God given roles, and they don’t actually respect God’s Word. That isn’t a marriage where Christ is the center and you are a couple at war with the devil; that is a miserable existence where Christ is only a figurehead and you at war with each other.
It takes a marriage full of the Spirit of God to have a man and a woman submitting to one another within their God given roles. The man full of the Spirit is able to listen to his wife and cherish her and trust her and allow her input and realize when she is right and do what is right. The woman full of the Spirit is able to allow her husband to make mistakes, to not struggle to rule over her husband, to not try and get her way when he has said otherwise, to cherish him, and trust him, and trust God that Christ will make her husband right more often than not, and that she will abide nonetheless.
It isn’t just about leading it is about listening, about learning, and about loving. To put these principles in practice will glorify God, and enable the communication element, which is so vital to a marriage or any relationship, it will allow it to develop and to become more clear, and the other issues to become centered in a godly relationship built on trust, trust in each other, trust in God’s Word, and trust in God Himself. So now let’s look a little closer and see what God has to tell us here in these verses, and also looking at other verses that teach us these same truths.
Vs.18 – The family unit has roles that were designed by God. If we don’t submit to God’s design, we don’t submit to God, and the devil will not be resisted (James 4:7). It’s not about ability it’s about authority. That authority is established upon the priority of God in our lives. It isn’t about talent it’s about team. It isn’t about intelligence it’s about order. If everyone is out of order, all your energy goes to getting everyone in line first, and the leader cannot even see if the decisions are right, he is just trying to get things in order first. Conversely, when everyone is in line and things go wrong, then he can see what needs to be changed.
Submission is not about inferiority, or about always keeping our mouth shut. It is about glorifying God. This submission is to the husband, not all men in general. We need to recognize that submission recognizes levels of authority; so that a wife renders submission to her husband in ways that she will not do for any other. God does not command that men have exclusive authority in the areas of politics, business, education, and so on. 1 Peter 3:1-9 could be subtitled “the mission of submission”.
As is fitting in the Lord: how we may look at this phrase gives us an idea of how people view submission in false ways. We see this as either, “yeah that’s right woman, God wants you to submit”, or we see it as, “yeah man, God says we submit only when you are fit”. The first view: as if we are as fit as the Lord, as would befit submitting to the Lord. The second view: only if we are as fit as the Lord, we teach them the standard of the Lord’s fitness by withholding submission until they get it right.
This may seem ridiculous when we look at it in detail, but these two views are indeed what Christian people think oftentimes. The first view is trying to extend the concept of submission, while the second is trying to limit it. However, what Paul is actually telling us with this phrase “as is fitting in the Lord” is that God has designed a role for men and women. When a wife doesn’t submit to her husband she is failing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, not just as a wife. Submission is about honoring Christ, not a husband’s talent, intellect, or decision-making skills.
In the first place, women should be very careful about who they choose as a husband. Instead of looking for an attractive, wealthy, or romantic man as first priority, you should be looking for a godly man as first priority. He should have learned to love Jesus before he learned to love you. If he is a truly godly man, he will be one who is worth submitting to.
Women are required to submit to their husbands, not just in spiritual things, but entirely. That doesn’t mean the man is to rule as a tyrant, or that she has no say. No, it is more like the husband has the final say in contested matters. Husbands and wives should listen to each other and be a team. Think of it like this, the legislative branch works together to craft laws, but the President has veto power. He doesn’t use it often, but sometimes he must. The man and the woman should be consulting one another on most everything, but in case of a tie, the man bears the responsibility and accountability for the final decision. This frees the woman; it doesn’t constrain her like a shackle.
A woman is not required to submit if her husband asks her to sin. Now this is not simply your definition of it, but a clear biblical case, if it violates the woman’s conscience she should speak up while still submitting, “I’m not so sure this is right, and I want to make sure I say that to you, but I will abide by your decision”. Of course a woman is not required to submit to one who is insane, or when they are being violently abusive, or when they are drunk or drugged up (not just because they got drunk one time, but when they are drunk and would be making an irrational decision, like, “give me the keys”). A woman is not to submit to her husband being in an adulterous relationship.
One can still be in submission to one’s authority without always blindly obeying every command. In other words, one can submissively disobey. Daniel and his friends demonstrate submissive disobedience for us. They would not submit to idolatry, but would submit for the penalty of disobeying the king. Daniel submitted to the authorities over him in Babylon, while at the same time he maintained his submission to God.
Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 faced difficulty. She was obliged to submit to God, to her husband, and to David, who had been indicated as Israel’s future king. David and her husband were acting foolishly, and yet she wisely demonstrated submission to both. She spared her husband’s life in spite of his foolishness, and she spared David from acting in a way that would be detrimental to his reign as Israel’s king. In both cases, she turned both men from their intended course of action in a way that did not violate the principle of submission to either of them or to God.
You might say, “Well what about this, or what about that?” If we are submitted then we won’t have to cover every scenario. Just to be looking for instances where you don’t have to be submissive means you are looking for a way out of being submitted. In general, if we are like that we don’t really trust God. If we really don’t want to obey but only comply to the degree that we must, we are not submissive. In such a case, lots of rules must be set down to cover every conceivable situation. However, if we are submissive, you only need a few guiding principles.
Submission is a fundamental ingredient of the believer’s spiritual life. True submission is undermined by Christians who practice stereotypical submission, a submission defined by very precise rules and practices rather than a matter of the heart. To do that is to resist God, having the form of godliness, but denying the power in your life. Instead of trying to fit your submission into the form of your personality, rather let grace abound unto you by submitting to the fitting of yourself into the form of Christ. Now we’ll look at the other side of the coin, the men.
Vs.19 – I how the KJV renders it, “and be not bitter against them.” We always talk of women not resenting the role that God has given them, and to be submissive to her husband. However, men must also practice what we preach, it is the man’s responsibility to find out what makes the woman tick, and to cherish her so much that he will make the adjustments necessary for her emotional well being. She is to submit, but he is to serve. This love is in the “present active imperative”, it’s not the general, “I love her”. It’s an ongoing, active command to keep on loving her, and loving means learning. He is not allowed to become embittered to this fact.
Ephesians 5:23-33 – By listening to the Father, Jesus Christ was instructed as to how best to care for His Bride, and we as husbands, if we are truly listening to Christ, will be instructed as to how best to care for our wives, and give our lives for them. This doesn’t mean doing everything they want, Jesus didn’t do that for us, but it does mean being so in tune with God that we will always be thinking of what is best, regardless of what it costs us. It is a high calling, indeed, and can only be accomplished by grace. No wonder the world cannot stand for this type of “role playing” because they cannot stand up to the standard of Christ. With God’s help we can learn to serve our wives as Christ served the church.
Don’t resent the fact that this learning will be a process; you don’t just decide you want to and try to do it you have to learn it. We don’t automatically know all there is to know about how to do this, because each person is different, and each situation is different, and your personal chemistry between each other in each situation is different, and your shared experience will also be different. It is not simply a cookie cutter thing, you will get some basic ideas but you will have to keep developing the skill. You must want it and realize it is worth because it doesn’t happen automatically just because you want it to.
Now it will go much better if you do want it to, but even then you will take missteps and make mistakes because she doesn’t know what she wants in a particular situation either, she may have not experienced this before and you two together may not have been there before. You cannot be harsh with them, you cannot grow bitter against them, you cannot just say, “well what is it that you want, what will make you happy” in some loud voice because the likely answer may be a loud “I don’t know”. Men it is your job to help her find out, and the Bible teaches that you aren’t to resent your role.
Think about Jesus and how His bride often acts: not even as nice as your wife. His bride doesn’t want to cooperate all that well and He doesn’t yell at her and say, “Well what is it that you want?” He is patient, kind, peaceful, and ready to find out and to give what it takes provided it is in our best interest, and He is so close to the Father He knows exactly what that is. So men you job is to get close to God so you don’t foul this thing up too bad, and to not be bitter that you have to learn what makes your bride bloom in every situation.
Guys, still think you are doing all you can and that it is all her fault? Still think we men have the good part and have it easy, ladies? Well I know many men don’t do these things and they just rely on a false concept of submission and let it go, but they will be losing out on a better marriage and may wind up with a bitter marriage. They will also be losing rewards in heaven for it, and ladies, if you put up with it you will be earning them. Why not both man and wife know their role and relish the opportunity to love one another in the power and grace of God?
There is no universal secret of being content in marriage, beyond the principles we have seen here in the Bible; love Jesus first and then love as Jesus loves. We must take these to heart, and then apply them in our lives as situations appear. In other words, we have to take what the Bible says and then learn it, which means we learn to live it. To learn something means more than saying, “Yeah, I see that, I know what it says, I believe it.” To learn means to make choices, to practice over and over. If you are to know in experience you must undergo the learning process.
You don’t just decide on it, or claim it, or speak it out, or meditate on it, or repeat the verse over and over on your refrigerator. Without concrete action attached to that, it is like using the cookie cutter without putting the cookies in the oven, without really engaging your heart. That isn’t renewing your mind that is just wasting your time. You cannot use a cookie cutter like that because those cookies grow stale; only fresh baked cookies from the warm oven of your heart will satisfy your partners inner desires. It is all about discovery and development. You must be willing, but then you must also be intentional.
1 Peter 3:7 – if you don’t live with you wife in an understanding way, all you prayers for her to “get better” won’t mean a thing, and it hinders everything else in your prayer life. Obviously this role development and learning process is very important, and we cannot allow ourselves to become bitter about it. To become like Jesus in His role as husband to the bride, we must be learning to love Jesus and learning to love our wives, increasingly, no matter how good we are currently doing, the standard of Christ is higher. By grace you can be doing it. It isn’t a matter of getting there it is a matter of going there. We submit ourselves to God and to one another by submitting to our God given roles. Do you want a better marriage or a bitter marriage? Is Christ the figurehead for you union or the life of it? Repent, and know Him today as a couple, not simply a couple of individuals, but a union in Christ, with Jesus as the power in your marriage.
“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©
Labels: Colossians, Marriage, Sermon