Colossians 3:19: Marriage Lessons, for Husbands

March 5, 2015

As we anticipate our 40th wedding anniversary in June, Andy and I recall one story we would just as soon forget. But because it holds a good lesson, we share it:

About three years into our marriage, Andy and I decided to take our first backpack trip together. It was a trail to Stanford Lakes in the Sierra Nevada. It must have been in the 8,000 to 9,000 ft. elevation range. What I remember is how out-of-breath I was and so tired I could not make it up this one hill. Andy, up ahead, was getting frustrated that my pace wasn’t faster. And when I insisted, in tears, that I was having a really hard time and needed to rest, he thought I was giving up (not an option) and giving in to something less than the mettle required as a backpacker. It was not a good day.

After one or two other experiences like this one, again at high altitude, and again through bouts of frustration on both our parts, I decided that the sport was not fun, not safe (for me), and I did not want to go anymore. Yes, I was “embittered” (to use Paul’s word in Colossians 3:19), enough that my hiatus from backpacking lasted about ten years. During that time, Andy went with buddies on some terrific and challenging trips. But he missed having me along.

My beloved later realized that in those early days he had not acted out of compassion, kindness, meekness, and humility (remember Paul’s list from Colossians 3:12-15). He also realized that it had been unfair to expect high performance in high altitude without enough training, and that it was no fun for me to be left behind.

Out of all this came Andy’s First Rule for hiking with your wife: your wife goes first. And his Second Rule: If you want to go ahead anyway, remember the first rule. Ever since then, even after I became fit and more experienced, he has hiked behind me on the trail instead of in front of me. He has adapted to my pace. Since it was slower than his normal pace, he took up bird watching. [Another Naegeli Law: If you can’t fix it, feature it!] He knows that I will never climb Mt. Whitney, but it is still okay. He is bearing with me and my limitations. All in all, Andy has found ways to love his wife and not make her bitter.

I share this story, with Andy’s permission, because it seems to capture the essence of what Paul was describing about husbands in relation to their wives:

19Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.”

The Hebrew here for “treat them harshly” is pikros, “to make bitter.”

Husbands, love your wives—agape them. Love them unconditionally for their sakes. Love them, bear with them, forgive them (from the previous paragraph in Colossians); in other words, do not exploit them, treat them as objects, apply unattainable standards to them, nor be unfair or unjust.

The parallel from Ephesians 5 puts it this way:

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her, . . .

In order for a husband to love his wife, he is called upon to “give himself up” for her. What would that look like? Meekness, kindness, compassion, humility, taking up the rear rather than forging on ahead. Does this sound familiar?

My take on the marriage issue is that both husband and wife are called to put the other first, to align their lives with the other, to submit together to the Lordship of Christ, to love each other despite faults and failings, to give themselves up for each other. Whether these actions come out of wifely submission or husbandly headship (a rationale not used in Colossians but in the Ephesians parallel) does not really matter. It ends up that two people are instructed to show mutual respect, tenderness, obedience, and cooperation in all aspects of life. In Christ, wife and husband are called to the same standard of behavior and attitude toward one another.

Any woman who has been told (by Paul) that now, in Christ, it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, you have equal standing before God (Galatians 3:28), is going to expect to be treated like a full-fledged human being. The balance of power between husband and wife is based on common humanity and the imago Dei. When power becomes unbalanced (which happens sometimes even without a couple realizing it), conscious mutual submission to the power of Jesus Christ is sought, and followed. One may not dominate or control the other (and believe me, in today’s world this applies both ways). One may not hide behind the authority/power/wishes of another nor assert authority/power/wishes merely on any assumption of superiority or priority. Two people come together not to blame or shame or demand, but to help each other live into the grace and mercy of God. They do that by appreciating the gifts the other brings, by solving problems together or deferring to the one with more expertise/knowledge or more at stake.

For twenty years, before I came down with lung cancer, Andy and I—with kids and friends usually—had many redeeming, wonderful backpack trips together. But the lessons learned in the late 1970s are needed once again, due to my new post-cancer limitations (missing a lung lobe and dealing with pronounced asthma). And to be honest—remember, this is mutual submission we are talking about—Andy has his own issues that come with creaky knees. So we have the opportunity to practice patience with each other and find new ways to enjoy this good earth and God’s creation. And we are still married!







One Response to “Colossians 3:19: Marriage Lessons, for Husbands”

  1. Jodie Gallo Says:

    That’s coming a long ways since the days of IVCF and Campus Crusade.

    I like your husband’s rules for hiking. It’s in the same vein of my own secret to staying married. It’s just two words: “Yes, dear”. Spoken with conviction.

    Truth is, I got it from Paul. But don’t tell anybody.

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