“Wives, submit to your husbands…”

We continue along in our study of Colossians, by taking a look at verse 18:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. – Colossians 3:18 (ESV)

For many of us, this verse is offensive and, therefore, is totally disregarded.  Many of us will look at verses such as this and say this is evidence that the Bible is outdated.  For some, this is certainly evidence that mankind has bypassed and outgrown the Scriptures.

Given the state of our culture and our own presuppositions, it’s hard for many to overcome their objections to this verse.  As a culture, we are affected by our godless society and the political correctness of our age.  But these things do not negate the truth of God’s word and, as believers, we should not carve this passage and others like it out of the Bible, but, instead, should embrace these passages and have our faith deepened.  To do that, let’s try to see what God thinks about this verse instead of what we presuppose.

To do this, let’s first look at the immediate context of the passage.  In the preceding verse, Paul writes,

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

The Apostle Paul is reminding us that whatever we do, whether it’s done by a spoken word or  by an action, everything should be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  He’s saying that whatever we do should be done to glorify God.  Paul then gives some practical examples of how this plays out.  In verses 18 through 22, he gives instructions to husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and yes, even wives.  But the context remains, in all of these different facets of life (plus others not mentioned), our purpose is to live in a way that gives God all of the glory He is due.

That should be how verse 18 is viewed:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. – Colossians 3:18 (ESV)

In fact, this command isn’t so much about family organizational structure as it’s about honoring God and obeying His commands.  As our Sovereign Lord, He has the right and the power to command us to obey any instruction.  For wives, this includes “submit[ting] to your husbands.”

However, we also do need to look at this command within the context of how God has organized and instituted family life.  In general (I say this because I haven’t done an exhaustive search), when God gives commands to the wife, He also gives corresponding commands to the husband (and vice versa).  For example, in Ephesians 5, we read:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)

Which is followed by…

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)

We read here that instructions are given to both husbands and wives.  And arguably, the husband is given the much more difficult role.  He has to follow the role of Christ and love His wife as Christ loved the church.  The wife, meanwhile, like in Colossians, is commanded to submit to her husband.  There isn’t a one-sided command given to unequally burden the wife,  No, there are commands given for the specific roles of wives and husbands.

To properly understand the idea of “submitting,” I think it’s important to understand what this doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean that the woman is less of a person than the man.  It isn’t saying the woman is not as smart or isn’t as good of a leader as the man.  It isn’t saying the woman is less aggressive than the man.  This isn’t installing a glass ceiling in the corporate world.  This doesn’t say the woman shouldn’t vote and isn’t saying anything about equality of her person-hood.  This isn’t saying the woman can’t be president.

But this is saying, within the context of the family, there is a role of submissiveness that the wife must follow.

Again, to be clear, let’s mention a few things this doesn’t mean.  This doesn’t mean the husband gets to do whatever he wants.  It doesn’t mean that the husband runs rough shod over his wife.  This isn’t an excuse for a husband to abuse his wife.  This isn’t a free pass for committing adultery.  This doesn’t give the husband permission to sexual abuse.  This doesn’t mean there is no discussion relating to decisions.

But this does mean, within the context of marriage, that the wife has a role of submission that she must embrace.

Distinct But Equal
God created men and women (of all different races) equal, but they are not interchangeable replicas of each other.  No, men were created in a separate and distinct way as were women.  Though we are equal before God (and that isn’t always a good thing), men and women were created with different roles and functions.  The roles and functions that men have aren’t necessarily better than those of women (and vice versa); it’s just how we were made.  Generally speaking, men are stronger than women.  Men and women have different roles in the reproductive process.  Women are able to feed their young.  You get the idea.  Men and women are distinctly different, but equal in God’s eyes.

Designed for Christian Marriage
Men and women in Christian marriage are both asked to follow the example of Christ.  That’s the bottom line.  This involves humbling one’s self and looking out for the interests of the other party.  When you see marriages that truly work – whether Christian marriages or not, you will usually see evidence of this.

But we often see the concept of this passage misapplied.  When the husband and wife don’t correctly understand their Biblically defined roles in marriage, we will often see one spouse dominate the other and, ultimately, see a very bad example of Christian marriage.

Additionally, when we see people influenced by Christianity, but not truly changed by Christ, we will often see these Biblical concepts misapplied.  I believe we’ve seen this in the United States.  As part of God’s common grace, Christianity has influenced our culture in many good ways.  But, often, those influenced by the culture try to apply things that they really don’t understand.  And that often works out very wrong.  If I culture simply thinks that a wife is supposed to submit to her husband – and that this is a Christian thing – then the culture will miss the idea of the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the church and marriages will suffer as a result.

Women Must Bend Their Knee
At the end of the day, no matter what is said or written, many women will simply refute this Scripture.  Many different reasons will be given, but ultimately, failure to obey this command simply comes down to pride.  For a man or woman, pride is our way of saying, “No, Jesus, I will not bend my knees and bow down to You.”  Pride is our way of getting God out of the way.  This never works out well.

All followers of Christ will struggle with this at some point.  (And sometimes we don’t even know that we are doing it.)  Many wives in Christian marriages are, without a doubt, faced with a very tough command when God says to submit.  But God doesn’t have to give reasons why and He isn’t obligated to explain.  Our job is to walk by faith and obey.

At the same time, though, God is a good God and He’s full of patience and steadfast love.  He cares for us.  He has a plan for us.  So when He asks us to do something, we know that it will glorify Him and it will build our faith.


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