Colossians 3:18: Marriage Lessons, for Wives

March 3, 2015

As we come to the Apostle Paul’s very brief instruction on marriage, there is one point to be made in general. Whatever Paul has been teaching up to this point has direct application at home as well as the church. In one sense, the household is a mini-church, a community of believers centered on Jesus Christ. I picture this centeredness with the following analogy:

Imagine a Chinese acrobat who spins a plate on the tip of a pole. Imagine that pole extending all the way through the plate to become the axis around which it spins. Think about your plate—your life and all its various relationships and activities—as spinning around the center axis, which is Jesus Christ. All analogies have their limitations, and this one does, too. But the idea is that as long as Jesus is at the center, everything else holds together around it by centripetal force.

As long as all other relationships and activities revolve around Jesus, they find order and balance. Marriage is one of those relationships, that, when ordered around Jesus Christ at the center, holds together in a God-honoring way.

Here in Colossians, from verse 12 on, Paul has been giving a positive exhortation to the church on how to be with one another in Christian community. In similar passages, like Ephesians 5, Paul uses the same pattern:

21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,
22wives, to your husbands as you are to the Lord.
23For the husband is the head of the wife
just as Christ is the head of the church,
the body of which he is the Savior.
24Just as the church is subject to Christ,
so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her, . . .

He exhorts the church community to live in mutual submission to one another, under the authority of Jesus Christ. [In the Colossians context, this is described in terms of compassion, kindness, love, meekness, humility, faithfulness, and forgiveness.] With this as a backdrop, wives are to submit to their husbands as they are submitted to Christ. Their husbands are not Jesus Christ, for they, too are to be subject to him out of reverence for his Lordship. So when, in Colossians 3, Paul writes: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” he is applying specifically to the household what is required of the whole Christian community.

This teaching speaks to reality with a biblical understanding of human nature and the stresses possible within a marriage, since Adam and Eve in the Garden. Remember, after their sin against God, God described the kind of life they were going to have together: [to the woman]

“ . . . yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b)

The word translated “desire” in this context means “fixation,” or “longing,” or even “with an eye to devouring.” The idea is that wife Eve is likely to find ways to manipulate husband Adam in order to get what she really wants. I know I am treading on sketchy ground here with my sisters in the faith, as if we are not aware of how we do this. But people who, by station or rank, do not have imputed power nevertheless attempt to gain power over another by manipulating situations to land in their favor. It’s called “reverse psychology,” and we even use it with our two-year-olds who are in their self-defining period. Given a choice, they will not do what Mom wants, but anything else just to assert their independence, right? It is a smart mother who can use this fact of life to best advantage. Yep, I did it myself. And wives are capable of doing this to their husbands as well.

But Paul says, no, in Christ there is a better way that is based on mutual submission. Do not be afraid to fully invest yourself in aligning your life with your husband’s! With Christ at the center of your life (and, we hope, in the life of your spouse), keep an eye on the Lord Jesus and act unselfconsciously and generously toward your husband.

Some of you are protesting, because your husband is abusive, absent, or adulterous. Are you to submit even to him? No, of course not. Paul conditions his instruction with “as is fitting in the Lord,” and I think that covers a lot of this ground. Unlike some of the early teachers of hierarchy, who used top-down dominance to subjugate and control women, the Apostle Paul—in the Spirit of Christ, I am sure—is not requiring women to be victimized by their husbands in order to show biblical submission. If it’s not mutual, it’s not biblical or “fitting in the Lord.” This will become more clear when our discussion extends to Paul’s instruction to husbands.

 

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5 Responses to “Colossians 3:18: Marriage Lessons, for Wives”

  1. Thomas L Fultz, Ruling Elder Says:

    Thank you for the coherent and direct statement of interpretation of a passage so many have gotten off-track or have ignored. This lesson series has been most helpful for the days we are in!

  2. houstonhodges Says:

    Good try, but you neglect to say that Paul was wrong here. And now I am stuck out on a limb with Marcion and Thomas Jefferson with a partial Bible containing what I think ought to be in it,

  3. Jodie Gallo Says:

    The next verses are interesting as well, as Paul uses the same approach to address slavery and the relationship between slaves and slave masters.

    I doubt Paul was defining slavery or even endorsing slavery.

    In my opinion, Slavery, like Marriage, most likely does not exist in the Resurrection. And we have come to the point in human existence where we affirm that slavery is evil and has been abolished as an institution. Others might argue that we have, under Capitalism, re-defined and re-imagined slavery, morphing it into the employer-employee relationship. Paul’s exhortation to slaves and slave masters applies very nicely to the employer-employee relationship, after all.

    So I wonder about the ongoing re-imagining of the marriage relationship. And by that I don’t mean only the recent discussion of whether same gender relationships can fall under the changing definition of marriage, but the entire shift that some say began with Romanticism. Women are no longer property. Marriage is not arranged, but is based on a mutual loving relationship between equals. Divorce on the basis of falling out of love is acceptable. And so on.

    I would even say that the understanding of who is the “husband” and who is the “wife” in his exhortation is fluid and not tied to the gender of each, or even to the day of the week, if in Christ there is no male or female. It is fundamentally an egalitarian exhortation. When two become one, they are both “husband” and “wife”, “master” and “slave”, both and neither: In Christ a new creation, which today perhaps we see only dimly “as in a glass, darkly”.

    Whether the relationship between Christ and the Church is an analogy, or a metaphor, or blue print for marriage, whether it was marriage in the Middle East Two Thousand years ago, or whether it encompasses the changing views on marriage across the times and cultures between us, one thing still holds: The “two” become “one”.

    Curious to see where >you< are going to take this. And wondering if you would ever allow yourself to consider that since the definition of marriage is and has been changing for centuries, would you be willing to entertain some rendition of marriage that expands to include same gender marriage.

    But looking past the hot button left versus right polemic, this is really the question: Holding all we know about Christ, and the Resurrection, and the Egalitarian nature of the Gospel, and the definition of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and the language of becoming One, reminiscent even of the Trinity and Christ's pastoral prayer in the Garden, what, exactly, IS "marriage"?

  4. emd5542 Says:

    The more I read this, the more I love it: And that’s how this child of the covenant receives this Word from God though Mary, our cyber preacher and teacher. I’m grateful that God speaks into your ear and you share that truth. Yippee!

  5. emd5542 Says:

    Our seminarian was offered this interpretation from his polity teacher at Union Seminary in Richmond. If the courts and legislatures take us down the same-gender marriage road, such marriage “it belongs in the courthouse, not in the church.” I don’t agree with same-gender marriage at all as it conflicts with the Old Testament and New Testament teachings but I could hold my nose for civil unions or domestic partnership to achieve fair treatment.

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