I. Introduction – Relationships
We get to dive right into one of the most divisive verses of the bible, Paul’s admonishment to wives to submit to their husbands. Seems straightforward. Yet nobody likes it. I hope that by the time we get to the end of today’s lesson that we have a better understanding and appreciation for how to interpret this verse and many of the following verses beginning in Colossians 3:18.
A lesson that begins with wives are to submit to their husbands. I know, I know, you’re already getting ready to be angry for the way I’m about to interpret this verse. People are far, far too judgmental these days. I can tell just by looking at them.
The last few weeks, Randy and Chris have been teaching spiritual truths from Colossians, but today, Paul’s words are more practical. He begins with the interactions between husbands and wives, then moves on to the rest of the instructions of the characteristics of a spiritually healthy family. Then he addresses the relationship between slaves and masters which has practical application today for workers and bosses. Then he wraps up by discussing how we should all interact with everybody.
First of all, that’s my entire outline, so if you’re in a hurry, just write those points down and you’re done taking notes for today. What in the world do all these interactions have to do with each other? Well, each of them mirror our relationship to Christ, and Christ demonstrates how this should work in His relationship to the Father.
So before we dig into the details, let’s open our bibles – and by “open” I mean either open a book or open an app – and turn to Colossians 3:18 and we’ll read through Colossians 4:1 –
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not become bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not antagonize your children, so that they will not become discouraged.
Slaves, obey those who are your human masters in everything, not with eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people, knowing that it is from the Lord that you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For the one who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
Masters, grant your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Sometimes I have to read some verses several times before I see a common thread, but Paul lays it out clearly. In 9 verses, Paul mention the Lord 7 times –
- Wives submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)
- Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)
- Bondservants obey in everything… fearing the Lord. (Colossians 3:22)
- Work heartily as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23)
- From the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward (Colossians 3:24)
- You are serving the Lord (Colossians 3:24)
- Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master (Lord) in heaven (Colossians 4:1)
I’m starting to detect a theme.
The foundation of our lives is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Before we can understand any commandments about how our relationships with each other are supposed to work, we must first understand how our relationship with Christ Jesus works. Christ is the ultimate authority in our lives. The one in human authority over another should mirror how Christ treats us. The one in human submission should mirror how we are to treat Christ.
I’m going to begin with the relationship between husbands and wives, but I know not everybody’s married, but pay attention to the way relationships are supposed to work in a Christian environment, because the lesson today will teach us how to relate to everybody that is in our lives.
So let’s tackle the hardest verse first because, of course, it’s the least controversial. Colossians 3:18,
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Some translations say “be subject to” and others say “submit to”. This verse is specific to wives and how they relate to their husbands, and it has nothing to do with other men. Wives are to be subject only to their husbands. Also, a brief discussion on what submission is not –
- Submission is not inferiority.
- Submission is not suppressing your opinions.
- Submission does not mean that you are the only one responsible for everything at home.
- Submission does not mean that you should avoid difficult conversations.
- Submission should never promote fear.
So let’s talk about what submission is.
As an aside, some of you know that my wife I and I go to different churches. She goes to a local bible church near our home where’s she’s fed the unadulterated Word of God. My ministry – and I understand if you don’t believe me – is to teach the Word of God, and the best place for me to apply my ministry is and has been for 15 years to teach here. I usually rush out at noon because her church gets out at 12:30 and we have lunch together.
Some days I lament we don’t go to church together. Today is not one of those days. Teaching my wife her role is to submit to her husband seems like an uncomfortable thing to do.
Got a little story for you.
A police officer calls dispatch over the radio and says, “I have an interesting case here. A lady shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.”
Dispatch says, “Have you arrested the woman?”
The police office says, “Not yet. The floor’s still wet.”
Jokes are often funny when they illustrate a truth. In many marriages, women rule and men let them. And you may be surprised that this began all the way back in Genesis 3:16, when the Lord said to Eve after she had eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree,
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.
How is this a curse? That a woman should desire her husband?
I wish I spoke Hebrew because the nuance is in the Hebrew word for desire, which is “תְּשׁוּקָה” (tesh-oo-kaw’) which is translated –
- desire, longing, craving
- of man for woman
- of woman for man
- of beast to devour
The woman’s desire for her husband is the same word chosen when a lion desires to eat a deer. Let’s look at the next Genesis chapter for a moment. Cain and Abel have brought their offerings to the Lord, and the Lord was pleased with Abel and Cain got angry. The Lord said to Cain in Genesis 4:7,
“If you do well, will your face not be cheerful? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
The same word for desire, tesh-oo-kaw’, is used here. Eve desires Adam like a lion desires a deer and like sin desires Cain. The nuance to the curse of Eve is understanding the double meaning.
God had created Adam and Eve with mutually interdependent relationships in the Garden of Eden, but now sin is wreaking havoc on this relationship. Now it’s a battle of the sexes for control. Both man and woman seek the upper hand of control in the marriage. The man, who was to lovingly care and nurture his wife would now seek to rule her, and the wife’s desire is to take that control for herself. Conflict has arrived to the sacred marriage.
So Paul says to the wife in Colossians 3:18 that wives should submit to their husbands, and in Ephesians 5:22 Paul chooses a slightly different wording,
Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Wives, just as you willingly submit to Christ, you are to willingly submit to your husband. Christ doesn’t force submission upon you, your walk with Christ in willing submission to your Savior should be reflected in your willing submission to your husband.
So I’ve been talking to the wives only, so now I’m going to switch to the husband. The submission of your wife unto you is not your battle. Your command never says you should make your wife submit or obey. Never. Your command is much simpler.
Colossians 3:19 says,
Husbands, love your wives and do not become bitter against them.
And she is going to struggle and fail in that battle to rely on your strength. Her sinful nature is that she will desire to take control of the relationship. And when she does, let her. Do not become bitter that she doesn’t always succeed. She is going to tell you what to do. It is her own nature that she is trying to control, and not your responsibility to make her succeed. You are not a 5 star general giving commands in your own home.
Husbands, you need to recognize that submission is your wife’s battle, not yours. Colossians 3:18 didn’t say, “husbands, make your wives submit.” Colossians 3:18 has nothing to do with you. You get verse 19 that says love your wife and don’t become bitter. When she tells you what to do, how do you feel? You don’t feel good, do you? You bristle, you get irritated, you get mad, you get bitter just like scripture tells you not to do.
Every relationship has to learn how to handle this conflict, and no two relationships are the same. I know when my wife fails in her submission, I immediately fail in this instruction not to get bitter. She and I both have sin natures.
We men are never 100% correct, there’s always something in our words or actions that can be a stumbling block to our wives. Let’s go back to Ephesians 5 again and look at verses 25-27 for the instructions to the husband.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
Christ cleansed the church through His Word. Your job as a husband is to make sure your wife is right. While your wife is to submit as unto the Lord, your job as a husband is to love your wife as Christ loved the church. And how much did Christ love the church? Christ died for the church.
And He didn’t die for you and me because we were flawless. He didn’t die for you and me because we are such great men. He didn’t die for you and me because we’re such great breadwinners or we can sing or we helped a little old lady across the street when we were boy scouts. He died for you and me while we were still yet sinners.
So how do you love your wife? Die to yourself. You make sure she has everything she needs to succeed in her walk with Christ. Colossians says you should not become bitter toward her. Can bitterness ever encourage another into a closer walk with Christ?
I’ll go one step further in this discussion of submission, because Ephesians 5:21 says we all are to submit to one another in the fear of Christ. That’s right, husbands, we all submit to one another, and you submit to your wife and make sure she is right.
The word Paul uses for “submit yourselves” is the Greek word “hypotassō” which means “to arrange under, to subordinate.” I thought about the “arrange under” phrase and pictured a Jenga tower, all of the blocks arranged in God’s plan. In our sinful nature, we keep pulling the blocks out in our selfishness or pridefulness or our bitterness. The tower falls if it’s not supported.
I heard a pastor say that Christian counseling for married couples shouldn’t even have to exist because it should be unnecessary. Being married is easy. Just put your spouse’s needs above your own. That’s it. Conflict has been resolved. Just make sure your wife is right.
Then in Colossians we move on to the topic of children, verses 20-21, which I’m going to summarize by saying if you’re a child, go to your room, we’ve had enough of your insolence.
My wife and I have a new phrase that we’d like to have children one day, but just that one day.
Seriously, verses 20-21 says,
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not antagonize your children, so that they will not become discouraged.
The parallel I want to draw here is that our relationship with our offspring should mirror our relationship with God. Let me reword this scripture to demonstrate this point –
As a Child of God, obey your Father in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Your Father in heaven does not discourage His children.
I think I’ll come back to this illustration in a moment, but let’s continue on to the next verse, Colossians 3:22.
Verse 22 says,
Slaves, obey those who are your human masters in everything, not with eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.
Slavery existed in Romans times, but it was unlike the slavery that existed in more modern times like America in the 17 and 1800’s. Slaves, or bondservants, in Roman times, generally served seven years, collected his wages, and was freed. And to be clear, the bible never condones slavery. In fact, a major theme throughout the bible, from Exodus through the sacrifice of Christ, is that God hears the cries of His people in bondage to either the Egyptians or to sin, and frees them.
The instruction here are applicable to us if we either work for somebody or somebody works for us. For many of us, we spend nearly as much time at work as we do at home. And most of our home time, we’re asleep, unconscious to the world.
The people we work with become almost like a second family to us. And Paul’s word reminds us that our home life and our work life are both parts of our lives, and we should make Jesus known in all aspects of our lives.
Employees work with integrity, knowing that God is their ultimate boss. Whatever we do, we do it with excellence. Not for promotion, the thank yous, or the recognition, or even the money, but because we demonstrate Christ in us through our work. Everything a believers does can become worship. When we work hard, it’s not so that our boss sees us; we work hard because God sees us.
Today, big construction projects move fast. I found a timelapse video in China where they build skyscrapers 3 floors a day. They build a 57-story skyscraper in under 3 weeks.
The Empire State Building, the world’s first 100 story building, was complete in 1931 and took one year and 45 days to build.
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris started construction in 1163, and it took 182 years to build. Most people who worked on Notre Dame saw little progress on the Cathedral in their lifetime. They just worked.
But every day, they got up, they worked, and they built something bigger than themselves. That’s the attitude God wants from us. When we go to work, we are not just making a product or balancing a checkbook; we are building a kingdom. This is true if you’re the worker bee.
But it’s also true if you’re the boss. Paul says in Colossians 4:1,
Masters, grant your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
If you are in management over your bondservants working for their wages, treat them with dignity and fairness and justice. If you have the privilege of having employees under your leadership and care, then the Bible is clear that you should do everything in your power to make sure that they are treated with fairness. And it doesn’t matter if they’re the CEO or the janitor. Every person working is working for the Lord, whether they know it or not. As their boss, it’s your job to make them succeed.
VI. Everybody Else
I skipped over a couple of verses, let’s go back to Colossians 3:23-24 –
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people, knowing that it is from the Lord that you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
I think one way to incorporate Paul’s words of wisdom is always to remember who you are in Christ. You are God’s creation, living in a way to demonstrate Christ within you.
Something amazing about the bible is that the New Testament is all about other people. How to love your enemy, how to love your neighbor. But there are no instructions in the bible for your enemy or for your neighbor. All of the instructions are for you.
As I get older, the more wisdom I see in the simple phrase, WWJD. When I was a teen, WWJD bracelets were all the rage. I wasn’t a born-again Christian then and the phrase was nearly meaningless to me then, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last year. WWJD?
If you’re a wife, and your husband just walked on the wet floor, what would Jesus do? Probably not shoot him and wait for the cops. If Jesus had just mopped the floor and somebody then walked on it, what would Jesus do?
If you’re a husband, and your wife is giving you instructions for work around the house and in the yard, what would Jesus do? Probably not yell, “I’m going to play golf!” If your wife is giving Jesus instructions to work in the yard on a day He wanted to play golf, what would Jesus do?
We grow in Christ when we let Christ dwell inside us, and we listen to His voice to guide our words and actions. Our lesson today explored that through the verses of Colossians if we are in the role of a wife or a husband or a parent or a child or a boss or a worker, but it holds true no matter what role we are in. What would Jesus do in this place, at this time?
The bible instructions are for you, never for others. You are created to be God’s handiwork, and biblical instructions tell you how to be a better creation. Those rules often revolve how you are to treat others, not how you are supposed to tell others how to live.
Paul has been in prison throughout these last several weeks of study, writing to the Philippians and Colossians while imprisoned in Rome. Besides sitting in a jail cell, Paul essentially asks himself, what would Jesus do?
The answer is to sing songs of praise to his creator, to explain the gospel to the jailor, to write letters to strengthen the faith of the brethren in other churches. In other words, Paul is not concerned with politics of Rome, the quality of the food in the jail, or whether somebody has come to visit him. Paul is being the best prisoner her can be, just like Jesus would.
We started today in Colossians 3:18, but our conclusion can be found in the verses immediately before it. Colossians 3:12-17,
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ, to which you were indeed called in one body, rule in your hearts; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Wives, that’s how you treat your husbands. Husbands, that’s how to treat your wives. This is how you treat everyone, whether they are friend or foe or boss or worker because the spirit of God dwells within you. You are God’s creation; live your life as a beautiful demonstration of God’s work within you.
All glory to God through Christ alone. Amen.