Monday, July 3, 2017

The Christian Family: Wives and Husbands (Colossians 3:18-19)

Marriage has been described in a great variety of ways. E.J. Graff once said, “Marriage is when you agree to spend the rest of your life sleeping in a room that's too warm, beside someone who's sleeping in a room that's too cold.” Helen Rowland once said that, “Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning cartwheels, or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.”

Well, this morning we’re going to consider Paul’s words to married folks in Colossians 3:18-19 and a message titled “The Christian Family: Wives and Husbands.” To get us thinking about the topic, let me share a brief story…
Winston Churchill once attended a formal banquet in London, where the dignitaries were asked the question, “If you could not be who you are, who would you like to be?” Naturally, everyone was curious as to what Churchill, who was seated next to his beloved wife Clemmie, would say. After all, Churchill could not be expected to say Julius Caesar or Napoleon. Well, when it finally came Churchill’s turn, the old man, the last respondent to the question, rose and gave his answer. “If I could not be who I am, I would most like to be” — and here he paused to take his wife’s hand —“I would like to be Lady Churchill’s second husband.” Well, the old boy made some points that night. But he also said it for everyone who has a good marriage.
Well, as Christians we want not just GOOD marriages, but GREAT, God-honoring, and Christ-exalting marriages! So let’s consider together some scripture regarding wives and husbands and let us resolve to live in Christlike marriages all the days of our lives.

1. Christian Marriage is a Radical Call for Wives and Husbands

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:18-19).

The first thing I want us to notice is that these brief scriptures addressed to Christian husbands and wives are radically elevating. To appreciate how radical, we must consider something of the plight of women in the ancient world. In the ancient world, women were like possessions who had very, very few rights and husbands correspondingly had very few obligations to honor them. So what a change Christianity brought to the practice of marriage! 
My friends, the domestic rules given here in Colossians 3 were vastly different from those of the day in which this letter was written. First, wives here were addressed equally with their husbands. Secondly, note that both husbands and wives have duties prescribed for them—not just the wives. Wives are told to submit to their husbands, and husbands are told to love their wives and not be harsh with them. And Paul describes this radical call on men and women as “fitting in the Lord.” Back in Colossians 3:17, we’re told “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I hope you see what Paul is saying here. What he is reminding us of is that once Christ comes into our lives, everything gets transformed. In fact, the only reason we can even talk about things like sacrificial love by husbands and faithful submission by wives is because, for Christian marriages, there is a new, transforming presence in the home: the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, Christ’s presence brings a new power. Christ is there, and His Spirit provides the power to make our families what they ought to be. And by Christ being in the Christian home, your marriage has a new purpose: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus(3:17). Finally, because of that new purpose, our Christian faith introduces a new pattern for the home: submission and sacrificial love. Why is that the new pattern? Because the new pattern is Christ. He is the model for us to follow.
2. Christian Marriage is a Radical Call Upon Women
Paul begins his instruction to wives in verse 18: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Now, this, of course, in our own day and age is a controversial command. There are many people today who would like to get rid of this word “submit.” But, let me say that Paul's word is based on broad-based biblical teaching. Paul roots his teaching in creation, in the fall (but as a direct biblical command) and, also, in the very nature of things. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, he says that the order of creation, the headship of husbands in the home, is based on the way God created and on the results of the fall. Here, and also in Ephesians chapter 5:23, he gives a direct biblical mandate that wives are to be submissive to their husbands, and that husbands are to be the head of their homes. And in 1 Corinthians 11:14, he says that nature itself teaches that men are to have headship in the home.

Now, just to be clear about what Paul is saying, the phrase “submit to” is from the Greek word hupotassō, which means “to subject oneself.” It has the concept of putting oneself under another’s authority, not by compulsion, but willingly. The term is used in Luke 2:51 to refer to Jesus’ subjection to His parents, and in Luke 10:17-20 to describe demons being subject to the disciples. In Romans 8:7, Paul employs the word to speak of being submissive to the commands of God’s law. In fact, Paul uses it in Romans 13:1-5 regarding the necessary submission of every person to governing authority, which is established by God. In both 1 Corinthians 15:27–28 and Ephesians 1:22, this same word in verb form looks to the time when all things in the universe will be made subject to Christ and God in eternal glory.

Now, of course, the parallel exhortation in Ephesians expands this simple command we have here in Colossians. Paul writes: “Wives be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church. . . But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their own husbands in everything(Eph. 5:22–24)

Friends, I know this idea of submission is controversial. Some years back now, a very prominent national women's organization attacked the Promise Keepers movement because it was fostering the idea of male headship in the Christian home. But let me say that Paul's call to submission is not a call to servile or childish submission. In fact, it is helpful to note several misconceptions about submission which people make. First, submission here does not imply inferiority. Galatians 3:28 clearly affirms that spiritually there is no difference between male and female. Jesus submitted to the Father during His life on earth, yet He was in no way inferior to Him. Second, submission is not absolute. There may be times when a wife must refuse to submit to her husband’s desires (particularly if they violate God’s Word). Finally, the husband’s authority is not to be exercised in an authoritative, overbearing manner. The wife’s submission takes place in the context of a loving relationship.

Ladies, let me give you three reasons you should really embrace this call from God’s word: 
First of all, Paul calls you to a practical recognition of the divinely given order of the household. Now, when His order is reversed, when these roles are reversed, just like with Adam and Eve in the Fall, it always results not only in the destruction of the man, but in the self-destruction of the wife as well. This is a God-honoring design.
Secondly, in his call for submission, he is asking for practical recognition of the husband's authority under God; a recognition that the man bears certain responsibilities before the living God, for which one day he will give an accounting at the throne of God, and which, if ignored, Peter says, can hinder the man's prayers from being heard. Do you want to ensure that God’s design for your home is met, then ladies be submissive to your husbands and expect them to take the spiritual leadership of your home, which God expects them to do. Men, this means we need to step up!
And finally ladies, Paul's call for submission entails your sacrifice, your self-giving loyalty be to your husband. He calls upon you to show the type of sacrificial loyalty which Christ himself shows to His people. This is what is involved in the submission that Paul calls for on the part of wives. 
Dear friends, in the end, submission is what it means for a married woman to express her belief that Christ is Lord. Ladies, let me admit that this directive from scripture really goes against the grain of our culture. I realize that. But let me also suggest that when this admonition from God’s word is ignored, it does not make life better for your home, it actually makes life worse. And I would argue that many of the stresses and strains on family life today are precisely due to disagreeing or ignoring this particular biblical directive. OK, let’s turn our attention to husbands…
3. Christian Marriage is a Radical Call Upon Men
Verse 19 gives us the counterpart injunction for men: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” Here the commandment to men is just as radical as that to women. The command was not to erotic love (as some would expect) or to friendship love, but to agape love, which involves unceasing care and loving service for the wife’s entire well-being. You see, it is as if Paul turns to husbands and says, “Love your wives. Do it. You must sacrificially love your wives. It's not an option. It's not something peripheral to your obligations. It is your job. You must love you wives.” He is not hesitant to command husbands to do this.

Notice that the wife's submission and the husband's love form reciprocal duties within the marital relationship. There are mutual obligations and responsibilities beautifully meeting. You see, Paul calls on BOTH husbands and wives to fulfill these reciprocal responsibilities: ‘Wives, be submissive and loyal,’ ‘Husbands, love.’ Notice again that the apostle calls on men to show not just a romantic love, and not just a familial love to his wife, but to show that agape love, that self-giving love which Christ has shown to the church, that love which looks out for the other's best interest, that love which puts one's own position and one's own resources and one's own privileges at the disposal of the one that you service. That sort of love that desires to up build the person who is being loved. This is the type of love Paul calls on husbands to show their wives.

In Ephesians 5:25, Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church.” Obviously, in spite of the failings of the church, Christ has continually loved the church with grace and forgiving mercy and thus has never become bitter because of the church’s many sins. Here in Colossians Paul uses the present tense of the Greek imperative agapate (“love”) which indicates continuous action. The verb itself seems best understood in the New Testament to express a willing love, not the love of passion or emotion, but the love of choice—a covenant kind of love. It could be translated, “keep on loving.” In other words, the love that existed from the start of the marriage is to continue throughout the marriage; it must not give way to bitterness. Paul has in mind here a covenant love which is active with self-sacrifice. Men, this is a deep affection that views your wife as a sister in the Lord and the object of a promise to be kept. The love that Paul commands sees the wife as a weaker vessel to be cared for while at the same time a fellow heir to grace, a best friend, and life-partner.

The nature of this love is beautifully expressed in Ephesians 5:22–28:

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also 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, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself.”

My dear brothers in Christ, do you see the pattern here? God designed that your wife’s submission will operate within a context of your sacrificial love. In that way she is protected because if you are a man who truly loves your wife you will never force her to submit to something humiliating, degrading, or that violates her conscience. The godly husband loves his wife like Christ loves the church. 

Perhaps you are here this morning, and you’re thinking, ‘Yes, that’s all well and good Matthew, but you don't know how unsupportive my wife is, how frustrating she is to me sometimes.’ Well, my dear brother, Paul is waiting for your objection at the end of verse 19, when he says, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Do not be harsh towards them.” Paul is saying, ‘Husbands, love your wife in this way, do not be harsh. Love her with your lips and your heart, even if she has broken your heart.’ Of course, I realize that bitterness easily creeps into human relationships, and then it justifies itself and so it becomes more deeply entrenched. A wife can disappoint a man's hopes and ambitions. And such feelings of disappointment can quickly find expression in harshness, in bitterness, in hard words. But the apostle Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.”

Martin Luther once said, “The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.” Men, this is not something that Paul leaves up in the air, Paul commands this type of love from husbands to wives.

Dr. Robert Seltzer, in his book Mortal Lessons: Notes in the Art of Surgery, tells of performing surgery to remove a tumor in which it was necessary to sever a woman’s facial nerve, leaving the young woman’s mouth permanently twisted in palsy. In Dr. Seizer’s own words:
Her young husband was in the room. He stood on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seemed to dwell in the evening lamp light, isolated from me. “Who are they, I ask myself, he and this woman now with wry-mouth that I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, so greedily? The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” And as he says it, all at once I know who he is. I understand his love now. Unmindful, the young husband bends to kiss his wife’s crooked mouth, and I, so close, can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss will still work.

A simple, yet beautiful portrait, of sacrificial love. Dear friends, we have seen two radical calls this morning. One call is to wives: submission. The other is to husbands: to love as Christ loves. My friends, these cannot be read in isolation; they go together. These brief words from Paul give us the pattern for fullness in Christian marriage—full love, full commitment, full exchange, full blessing. Dear friends, whether we are just beginning or are far along, let us have no other goal than having the best marriages possible.