Marriage Made Simple
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 3:18-19
You don’t have to follow the news very much to see that our society is breaking down at an alarming rate. Many people are lazy and entitled, and we are an increasingly rude and angry culture. And sadly this breakdown is especially evident in our children. Many kids are undisciplined. Others have no idea how to manage conflict or disappointment, so they throw terrible fits when they don’t get their way. Others struggle with severe depression and destructive patterns. And others are violent and sexually perverse. It’s no wonder that school violence is such a problem.
Everyone wants to know what happened and how to fix it. Certainly there are many factors that have contributed to the breakdown, but from a purely human standpoint, no factor has hurt our children more than the disappearance of the biblical model for the home. The evidence is overwhelming that kids do better when they grow up in a stable home with a father and a mother who love each other, love them, and follow God’s design.
But our society despises the biblical model. They see it as homophobic, anti-women, and patriarchal. And it’s easy to be intimidated by their claims. But God is the Lord, he knows what he is talking about, and it is clearly evident in our children. And so over the next two Sundays we want to give our attention to what God says about marriage and family in Colossians 3:18–21 (read).
These verses come at an important transition point in Colossians 3. Verses 5–11 commanded us to put off sin and put on righteousness because we are new people through the gospel. And then vv. 12–17 challenged us regarding how the new man should shape our life in the church. As v. 15 says, the “peace of Christ (must) rule in our hearts individually and as a church, because v. 11 teaches that the gospel has destroyed the barriers that normally divide society.
But Paul anticipated that some would conclude from v. 11 that the gospel has also destroyed normal household structures so that wives, children, and slaves can just ignore authority. As a result in 3:18–4:1 provide a household code (slaves were considered part of the household) that is intended to direct Christians regarding how they should honor the household structure in keeping with God’s design and their new life in Christ. It’s clear that the gospel does not obliterate order; it honors order. With this in mind, today we want to begin with what vv. 18–19 say regarding God’s design for marriage. Verse 18 teaches that…
I. Wives must submit to their husbands (v. 18).
This verse begins with a very significant command.
The Command: It’s not a popular command in our day, and it’s certainly not an easy one to obey in a fallen world with fallen husbands, but it is the only command God gives to wives, so it’s important and demands attention.
You can see that the context of the command is clearly marriage. Wives are to submit to their “own husbands.” That’s worth emphasizing because some Christian groups believe that in some respects all women should submit to all men. But there is no biblical justification for that idea. God has certainly made men to lead, but the only contexts where the Bible requires male leadership is in marriage and the church.
And this verse is clear about submission in marriage. God commands wives, “Submit to your own husbands,” because Ephesians 5:23 states, “The husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church.”
Paul uses a verb that can refer to many different kinds of submission, but this verb typically refers to voluntary submission. In contrast, v. 20 uses a different, more forceful verb when it commands children to obey their parents because kids have no say in their obligation.
But wives have some say, yet God commands them to voluntarily submit to their husband’s authority. Paul also drives home this picture by using what is called the middle voice, which pictures taking an action on myself. God literally says here, “submit yourself.”
Ladies, don’t put your husband in the awkward position of needing to demand your submission. You should willingly and voluntarily embrace his authority. And you can’t just do it when you agree with him. The command is in the present tense, so it pictures an ongoing way of life.
Of course there are some exceptions to this command, which we will get to, but God says that generally speaking a wife’s responsibility is to embrace her role under her husband. I know that’s hard at times because sometimes you disagree, and sometimes we husbands are poor leaders. But God says that rather than constantly resisting your husband’s leadership, you must support him and help him be the best leader he can possibly be.
Wives, does your husband know that you have his back? Does he know that you believe in his ability to lead? Or are you constantly undercutting his authority by just doing what you want, by taking charge in areas where he ought to lead, or by belittling his decisions to his face or to your kids? I’m not saying that you can’t share opinions or push back on a decision or that you should act like his slave because that’s not how the Bible pictures your role. But at the end of the day, God has placed your husband over you, and you must trust God’s design, and commit to supporting your husband.
This is because v. 18b goes on to emphasize that this is how God made it.
The Design: Some believe this clause describes how wives are to submit. They are to submit only when is fitting to the Lord, or only when their husband is honoring God. But the better interpretation is that this phrase is giving a reason why wives should submit. This is because v. 20 says children should obey because it pleases the Lord, and vv. 22–24 say that slaves should obey because it honors the Lord.
Therefore, God is saying that wives must submit because it “is fitting (i.e., appropriate) in the Lord.” In other word, this is how God designed marriage to function. Folks all the way back in Genesis 2 before there was any sin, God made Adam first, and he created Eve to be Adam’s “helper” (Gen 2:18).
This doesn’t mean she is less valuable because Genesis 1:27 says very specifically that they both bear the image of God. Rather, it means that God built an authority structure into the fabric of his perfect design. Therefore, submission in marriage is not a product of sin, and Paul isn’t giving this command as a concession to a less enlightened Greek culture. No, God declared submission in marriage to be “very good.”
This is because God made Adam with certain gifts and abilities, and he made Eve to perfectly complete him so that when they came together in marriage it was a beautiful match. And not only that, the NT declares that it pictures Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:23–24).
We need to hear this so badly, because our culture says that submission is bad and oppressive. It holds women down and keeps them from doing important things, as if a job is more significant than family. They also belittle women who see their role primarily in the home, and they push women to find fulfillment in career and in doing what they want. And then they claim there is so much more happiness in rejecting God’s design.
But we must trust that God’s design is good and right. And you don’t have to look far to see that it’s true. The happiest woman I know are not the ones with the big career working 60 hours a week. Most of them are depressed and cranky. No, the happiest women I know are the ones who have embraced God’s design, and they are doing what God made them to do.
Younger ladies, don’t be deceived by the façade of happiness that our culture is selling. There’s no ultimate joy in resisting God’s design, and so embrace it and celebrate it. And to the married women, embrace your role, and trust the Lord that he is good. But maybe the whole time I’ve been talking about this, your mind just keeps going back to all of the husbands who are bad leaders or who use their authority to abuse. These things are real, so let’s talk about…
The Corruption of God’s Design: Again, God made marriage to be a beautiful, perfect relationship, but then Genesis 3 says that very quickly sin corrupted men and women and the very nature of marriage itself. Notice what God said would happen to marriage as a result of sin (Gen 3:16). God says that women will struggle under the authority of their husbands.
Because of sin, all men are flawed leaders, and sometimes deeply flawed. And it’s hard to follow a bad leader. And because of sin, women will also be naturally prone to resist their husband’s authority and to do things their way. And all of us who are married can affirm that God was right in this verse.
And because of how sin has corrupted marriage, there are a couple of exceptions to Colossians 3:18. First, husbands don’t always obey Scripture in how they lead. Therefore, if a woman has to choose between obeying God’s clear command and obeying her husband, she should always choose God.
Second, husbands don’t always treat their wives and children appropriately. As I said on Father’s Day, God values life; therefore, if a husband is abusive toward his wife or children, and a woman is obligated to protect herself and her kids. Submission does not mean letting herself and her kids be abused. And so there are exceptions to the command, but Paul doesn’t dwell on exceptions because they are fairly rare. Most wives simply need to obey what God has said. So let me make 3 concluding applications for wives.
Trust God’s design and his providential direction. First, if you are married, you don’t need to wonder if you married the right person, that’s settled. God’s will is for you to stay faithful and to love and submit. And second, trust God’s will regarding his design for marriage and for your life.
It might be that submitting to your husband is really hard and that marriage in general is not what you thought it would be. You’re tempted to think that you could be so much happier by taking matters into your hand or even by walking away. You have to decide who will be your Lord. Will you serve God or yourself? Will you live for your pleasure or his glory? But beyond that, who do you trust more with your life? Do you trust yourself to solve your problems, or do you trust God? God is good and faithful, so trust him, obey him, and leave the rest to him. And because you trust the Lord…
Trust your husband and follow his lead. You are the one who said, “I do,” but the traditional wedding liturgy is right when it says, “what God has joined together.” God gave you your husband, so trust him and follow him, because he may not be as much of a loser as you sometimes like to think that he is.
Help your husband thrive. I’ve seen wives get so frustrated that their husbands don’t lead, but at every turn they push themselves into authority. Or when you have a conversation, the husband can’t get in a word because she won’t stop talking. And when the husband does try to lead, she cuts him down. She’s always talking about the things she wants, and her husband feels like he has failed to provide. And when he tries to show love, he didn’t get the right gift or he didn’t buy the right cake. And then she wonders why he’s hesitant to lead, or he just makes decisions without talking to her. If you want your husband to do a good job leading, then do everything you can to help him succeed and then submit to his lead as God commands, trusting his good purpose. That’s all I have for the wives; now it’s time to go after the men. Verse 19 shifts the attention to husbands, and God says that…
II. Husbands must love their wives (v. 19).
Actually, there are both a positive command and a negative command in this verse, though the first one is obviously primary. Let’s begin there with…
The Positive Command: This is a pretty simple command to understand. God commands husbands to love their wives. But in light of all of the nonsense in our culture about love, we probably struggle more than we realize to understand what God is saying.
This is because from the time we are little, it is engrained into our minds that marital love basically follows the plot of Cinderella. Someday, you are going to meet Prince Charming or a stunningly beautiful and perfectly virtuous woman and be swept off your feet with insatiable love. And when you find that perfect person, love will be easy and irresistible, and you will live happily ever after.
But I can guarantee that Paul was not thinking of Cinderella when he gave this command because most marriages in his culture were arranged based on legal and financial concerns, not romantic one. I’m sure that some of the couples in Colossae would have never chosen each other. They weren’t naturally attracted to each other, and they would have failed every compatibility test known to man. But God still commanded husbands to love their wives. If he’s not talking about Cinderella, what is he describing? I’d like to highlight 4 characteristics of marital love that are taught in Scripture.
Sacrificial (Eph 5:25, 28–29): This is probably the primary idea that Paul has in mind because Colossians and Ephesians are close parallels. And in this fuller section on marriage, God lays out a pretty high standard for husbands. We are to love our wives with the same sacrificial love that Christ has for the church. And since marriage is a “one flesh” relationship, we are to be as naturally concerned for our wife as we are for our own bodies.
Husbands, and really everyone, just ponder for a second what kind of standard that is. Jesus loved us when we were entirely unlovable. He loved us through all of our faults, all of our failures, and all the times we have resisted his love. He loved us not for what we had to offer him but out of sheer mercy and grace. And he gave everything for us. And if your natural response to the command in v. 19 is, “Well you don’t know my wife and what kind of jerk she is,” then think about who you are before the Lord. I guarantee that she has not offended you like you have offended Christ.
Men, we could probably cure 90% of the problems in our marriages if we simply embraced the sacrificial spirit of Christ. I’ve never heard someone struggling with his or her spouse gripe about how he can’t serve his wife enough. No, it’s always about how my needs aren’t being met and how I’m not happy. They are looking at marriage through a selfish lens based on what’s in it for me.
And frankly there is no joy in that perspective. Selfish people are always cranky people because the heart of man is never satisfied. But beyond that, what does it say about a Christian when God has commanded me to love my wife like Christ loved me and gave himself for me, and I put no effort into extending that kind of love to my wife?
Husbands, take your eyes off yourself, and fix them on Christ. Consider how he sacrificed for you, and then commit by the grace of God to love your wife like that. You will honor Christ, you will display the gospel to your children, you will have more joy, and I can about guarantee that your will respond to your lead far better. The second characteristic of marital love is…
Faithful: Everything we see about the character of God in Scripture and about his love for his people demonstrates that God’s love is faithful. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). If your response to your spouse changes as much as the weather, that’s a problem. He or she needs to know that you love them, that you will always love them, and that they can depend on that love every single day. Third…
Exclusive (Prov 5:18–20): We live in a day where this idea really needs emphasis. A lot of men in particular have the mentality that just because I already made my purchase doesn’t mean I can’t keep window shopping. And that mentality is very acceptable among men. I don’t know how many married men I’ve heard in various workplaces or even in public settings talk openly about their lust after another woman. But Proverbs 5 is very clear about the exclusivity of marital love. We are to be so focused on loving our spouse that it drives away every competing passion. Husbands, as well as wives, don’t tolerate a divided heart. Love her and her alone. Fourth…
Passionate: I said earlier that most of the marriages at Colossae were probably arranged based on very practical concerns. I also said that marital love is fundamentally sacrificial and giving. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t passionate or romantic. You see this so clearly in Proverbs 5. God wants a husband and wife to enjoy each other and be satisfied in each other.
And it’s worth emphasizing that passion is not primarily about finding the perfect person; it’s about how you approach marriage. God has blessed me with a beautiful wife, and she has always been beautiful. But I can honestly say that I am far more attracted to her today than I was 13 years ago. Marital passion is about setting good patterns and disciplining yourself to follow them. Husbands, do the hard work to love your wife and to cultivate a healthy marriage. And notice the negative command in v. 19.
The Negative Command: Despite the fact that Paul was not married, he hits the nail on the head here with a fundamental problem for husbands. Paul uses a verb that means “to make bitter.” It can describe a spirit of bitterness toward another individual. But very often the term is also used of harsh words or actions that arise from a bitter spirit. That’s why some translations say, “do not be harsh with them.”
As I said, Paul hits a line drive here because both are common problems for husbands. So many men are full of a quiet anger and resentment that constantly simmers under the surface. And men tend to be pretty comfortable with having some tension in the air. We can be pretty blunt and harsh with each other and not think a second thought. Many times a little tension brings out the best in us. When I coached basketball, a lot of my boys played far better when they were angry.
But women are different. I was talking with the girls’ coach at Inter-City one time, and he said that if girls feel good, they play good. They respond to harshness very differently than we do. And yet many men go home every night with anger and bitterness in their hearts. Their families live on pins and needles because they know that the volcano could erupt at any moment. And when it does harsh language explodes doing incredible damage. And it does terrible damage to the spirit of the entire family. It is terribly unsettling for children, and it deeply hurts women.
Therefore, husbands, we have got to work hard to drive anger and bitterness out of our hearts because they are a deadly poison. And then we must also work to treat our wives and our children with grace, gentleness, and compassion. Your wife is not one of the guys at work, so don’t treat her like one. Show her the honor that is due a lady. If you wouldn’t have said it that way when you were trying to gain her love, then you certainly shouldn’t say it that way after she has pledged you her love. Love your wives men, and treat them accordingly. With this in mind, I’d like to close with 4 conclusions.
Marriage is a wonderful gift. If you have a strong marriage, you should praise God for that gift because it’s a great blessing. And how awesome is it that you can show the world how Christ loves his church by loving your wife or by honoring your husband. And if your marriage is struggling, I hope you will not be jaded in your view of marriage. Marriage is good, and if you have an awful spouse, believe that God can change him or her, and in the meantime give thanks that you can be a testimony for Christ in how to love the unlovable.
Depend on the grace of God. Marriage is not easy, and the reality is that nothing exposes the deep sinfulness of our hearts quite like marriage. I distinctly remember the unsettled feeling I had the first time Heidi recognized I was mad when I didn’t want her to know that I was mad. But you can be a good spouse and have a great marriage by God’s grace. Walk in the Spirit every day, and grow the fruit of the Spirit. And if two people are manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, I guarantee they will get along and enjoy each other.
Use your marriage to build a godly heritage. Parents, you are leaving a heritage for your kids by how you conduct your marriage, and it will affect them the rest of their lives. Do they see the gospel in how you live with each other? Are you attracting them to Christ? And are you setting them up to have healthy families someday, or are you setting them up for failure. And not only are you setting a pattern for your own kids, there are lots of other eyes watching you in this church, and some of them don’t have a good example at home. Can they look at your home and see a shining example of a godly marriage. Let’s together build a heritage of godliness that will last for generations.
Singles, desire marriage and be satisfied in Christ. There are many people in this room who are not married. Some of you are widows or widowers, some are divorced, and others would love to be married, but it just hasn’t happened. And still others are just too young to be married yet. Whatever your circumstance, understand that marriage is a wonderful gift. Pray for those who are married, and pray for God’s will. For those who are younger, don’t buy the world’s lie that the single life is the fun life. Marriage is awesome. But our ultimate joy is only in the Lord. Getting married will never do for you what only Christ can do. And that’s a good note on which to close for married couples also. Don’t look to your spouse to do for you what only God can do. Find your joy in him and him alone.