We’ve come to a point in Paul’s letter to the Colossians where his focus turns to some practical instruction—and if you’re anything like me, this is one of the most exciting parts! It’s the moment where you finally transition from understanding what someone is saying to knowing what to do with the things that have been said.
For Paul, he wants to make one thing clear: committing your life to Christ doesn’t just affect who we are—it affects every area of our lives. So, he takes time in Colossians 3:18-4:1 to specify what Christ-like living looks like in the major relationships that the Colossians found themselves in each day. Stop and take some time to read through the passage!
Paul addresses the relationship between (1) wives and husbands, (2) children and parents, and (3) slaves and masters. I want to break down a few of the things Paul says about these relationships, but we’ve got to take a step back first to put Paul’s instructions in the right perspective. Paul’s giving us a lot of instructions—but what’s his motivation?
Verse 23 will give you a good hint: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Paul wants us to see that the reason we follow these instructions isn’t just about conforming our lives and relationships to some biblical expectation—we should see the actions and the attitudes that Paul challenges us to have as being displayed for the Lord. When we take Paul’s instructions, we’re really acting this way toward God! And that should change the way that you read them—it’s not just about you and the other person, whether it be children and parents or husband and wife. God is in the mix.
Let’s check out the first relationship listed today—wives and husbands, in verses 18-19:
“18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”
I think this passage gets a bad rap because we misunderstand a lot of what Paul’s instructions for wives are talking about—and the word submit becomes an especially difficult word that we may be hung up on.
We don’t make enough of a distinction in English between the words “submit” and “obey.” But, Paul is making a very clear distinction between the two here in this passage. He uses the word “obey” when talking about children and parents, and about slaves and masters, but when it comes to wives and husbands he uses a word that is unique—children and slaves are instructed to obey; the wife is not. She is to submit. It’s a word that is used throughout the New Testament to describe a specific type of action:
· It describes church members submitting to one another.
· It describes believers submitting to the Holy Spirit in their exercise of spiritual gifts.
· Most notably, it describes Christ submitting himself to God.
It’s this idea of voluntary submission that resembles Christian humility—humility is the focus of the word. And I really like how Paul uses this word to make a connection to Christ’s relationship with God, because it puts this command into perspective.
Are Jesus and the Father equal? Yes! Does Jesus submitting himself to the Father’s direction mean that he isn’t equal to the Father? No! Christ voluntarily humbles himself to the point of death on the cross not because the Father makes him, but because it’s the role needed in order to reconcile our relationship with him.
Submission is voluntarily assuming a particular role that’s needed in order for a relationship to reflect God—and so, the wife voluntarily puts on an attitude of humility, not because of her husband, but because it’s fitting for her to be humble before the Lord. Paul’s command has nothing to do with equality or inferiority or personal worth or value—he’s describing a functional situation where the relationship between a husband and wife can reflect God’s plan for relationships here on this earth.
The different roles of the husband and wife here accomplish specific functions that make their relationship patterned after those in God—the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit who each have different roles and functions but are all equal and necessary. And that’s what makes the husband’s role—the counterpart to the wife’s responsibility so important as well, because if he doesn’t perform his function and role, the relationship falls short of God all the same.
The simple command for the husband is to love your wife—and more specifically, to not be harsh with them. The type of love described here is the same love that describes Christ’s love for us—it’s a self-sacrificing love. Just as Chris sacrificed himself on the cross to meet our relational needs with God, the husband should be sacrificing of himself to meet the wife’s relational needs.
When this is happening—when the wife is not only submitting to the husband, but the husband is loving the wife—you can see how the relationship is set up for growth and success! The wife is humbling herself, looking not only to her own needs, but to the needs of her husband and considering them more important than her own. And the husband is sacrificing of himself—doing whatever he can to meet the needs of his wife, to promote her personal well-being and satisfaction.
Ultimately, this comes down to a difference in expectations about the relationship. Both people go from being self-focused to being other-focused. You’re not expecting everything to be about you and having your needs met—wives are looking to meet their husbands’ needs before their own, and husbands are sacrificing their own needs to meet their wives’. And at the end of the day, everybody’s needs are being met! Ultimately, you’re both feeling supported without the missed expectations that come with prioritizing yourself first in the relationship. You build trust, because you know that your counterpart is there to help you and support you, and you grow closer together in a way that reflects the type of intimate and vulnerable relationship that God wants to have with us.
When you commit your life to Christ, it changes the way we see the relationships around us. Spend some time in prayer asking God to reorient your perspective and help you pursue a relationship of humility that reflects Christ.
Interim Student Ministries Pastor