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Monday, March 15, 2010

Family and Work, Part 1: The Wife

Family and Work, Part 1: The Wife

Colossians 3:18-25, 4:1

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

What do you think?

What do you know about the new internet-based social media sites like Facebook or Myspace or Twitter? What has been your experience, good or bad?

Paul makes a transition from the general to the specific, from discussing the group of people called the Church, to four distinct relationships:

  • Wife
  • Husband
  • Children
  • Slaves
  • Masters

Every person in the world can identify with one or more of these social links. We will see that we are children long past adolescence, and we all are slaves in several imporant respects. We do not commonly use the terms "slaves" and "masters", except in reference to past usage. But these relationships are actually universal and foundational in modern, everyday life.

This entire passage flows out of the umbrella statement found in verse 17:

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)

Paul has argued that a Christian's spiritual relationship with our Creator is actually a new life. We've been changed from dead flesh to living spirit, alive in Christ, our "all in all".

An earthly result of this spiritual change can be seen in our relationships in family and work. We begin with a woman's role as wife.

The Wife

What do you think?

Are you tired of hearing repeated sermons about women submitting to their husbands? What is a common objection to this biblical doctrine?

Wives, from the Greek word, gyne, means a woman, specially a wife. The word is used in gynecology, the study of female health and medicine.

Paul begins here by encouraging women to express their new life in Christ by submitting to their husbands.

"Submit" in the Greek is hypotasso, to obey or "under-arrange".

All social relationships, not just marriage, depend upon the arrangement of expectations and responsibilities to one another. Different people groups create different ways to express the social arrangements, but at their core they are either faithful to godly principles, or they pervert them.

Jesus submitted to His parents:

He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. (Luke 2:51 ESV)

"Submissive" here is the same word that Paul used in his reference to women. In this instance, Jesus was only twelve years old but He spent three days alone in Jerusalem, discussing spiritual truth with teachers in the temple. Despite His wisdom and skill, He placed Himself under the authority of His earthly parents.

We will see later that Jesus at twelve years of age had wisdom and skill independent of his earthly parents, making Him technically no longer a child. Yet His submission to them honored them, a goal equally important as gaining knowledge.

Another important instance of this word for submission is seen in Paul's letter to the Romans:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2 ESV)

There is no authority on earth or in heaven that is not instituted by God. Resistance against authority is resistance against God, resulting in judgement.

And here we have a difficulty: How should we respond to authority which is wicked or wrong? How should we respond to a ruler who demands service that is sinful? How should a woman respond to a husband who hurts or offends? How far does Christian submission go?

Look back at Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 13. His exhortation to obey the authorities depends upon that authority's righteousness:

  • Rulers are not a terror to good conduct (verse 3)
  • Do what is good, and you will receive his approval (verse 3)
  • He is God's servant for your good (verse 4)
  • If you do wrong, be afraid (verse 4)
  • One must be in subjection...for the sake of conscience (verse 5)

In support of this, Paul adds the phrase, "as is fitting in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18). A woman's submission (obedience) to her husband is based upon what is fitting (proper, "up-arrive") in the Lord.

"That which is fitting" refers to that which is required or commanded:

Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you. (Philemon 1:8-9 ESV)

"Required" is the same word in the Greek as "fitting". Paul had Christ's authority (in Christ's name) to command Philemon to do the right thing, that which is fitting, but he prefered to appeal to him through the sake of love.

Authority that demands submission is to be based upon doing the right thing, acting in the name of Christ. That is the reason for Paul's appeal to our sense of conscience in obeying authority. That which springs from Christ is that which our conscience presses us to follow and obey.

The Word of God is an important element of obedience to authority:

Train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:4-5 ESV)

Only that which is taught by the word of God is that which we can submit to, whether commanded by king, president, master, or husband. We are to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil (James 4:7). The devil works through authority through lies, lust, and malice. God works through authority by truth, self-control, and love. We submit to righteousness, but resist evil.

There is an important distinction, however, between authority that is wicked and the demands made by wicked authority. A wicked authority may make righteous demands, to which God's Spirit still exhorts us to submit.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:18-23 ESV)

Peter reminds us of the suffering that Christ endured at the hands of wicked authority.

Christ obeyed "unjust masters" only to the extent that it did not require Him to sin. "Unjust" means warped or perverse, from a word meaning parched or lean. It refers to crookedness or wickedness.

The suffering of Jesus is an example of how we are to respond to wicked authorities and abusive husbands. Jesus suffered physically from abusive, wicked authorities because He refused to sin, even while submitting to that authority. He refused to deny the truth of God's word. He refused to honor man more above God. He refused to stop acting out of love. And in all this refusal He maintained subjection to the wicked authority by committing no sin or deceit against that wicked authority. He resisted the devilish lies demanded by a wicked authority, but He submitted to the righteous requirement to honor that authority by refusing to sin against or deceive that authority.

What do you think?

What does healthy submission look like? Especially in reference to a woman submitting to her husband, what practical things show evidence of a healthy attitude of godly submission?

"Obey" means "act in love", even toward our enemies, even toward wicked rulers, even toward abusive husbands.

A woman might choose to leave her abusive husband, yet still act in love by refusing to spread lies about him, continuing to pray for him, and continuing to speak the truth of God's Word to him.

A woman might choose to pray and worship God, despite her husband's scorn or anger. A woman might choose to teach her children the truth in God's Word despite her husband's atheism or antagonism. Yet in all this, she can continue to submit (obey) to her wicked husband by doing what God would have all Christians do for all people, good or bad: act in love and truth as is fitting in Christ.

We cannot minimize the suffering that a woman might experience in obeying God while submitting to a wicked husband. Acting in love does not guarantee that wickedness will repent. Look at Christ's example. God's grace is most powerfully seen when we do good yet suffer for it. Jesus was reviled and beaten for His love for God and others. He did not revile in return, nor did he threaten, but He continued to entrust Himself to God. (1 Peter 2:20-23)

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV)

It could very well be that you or I will be called by God to suffer for the sake of righteousness. We could very well be called to be martyrs for our faith in Christ. This could be in a distant country, among pagan tribes, or an inner-city gang-ruled housing project, or a middle-class suburban neighborhood in a typical American marriage.

At some point we may find ourselves ruled by a wicked authority. Perhaps the government of a country in which we are ministering, or a gang-leader in the inner city projects neighborhood in which we pastor. Or perhaps a husband.

The bottom line: trust God and flee a dangerous situation, relying upon Him to provide for what you need. Remaining in a dangerous relationship out of fear of leaving is not faith.

If not a dangerous situation, remain and shine like a bright light, always prepared to "Honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (1 Peter 3:15-16)

What do you think?

Closely related to the issue of submission and suffering is the religious concept that "those who please God will experience earthly comfort, wealth, and health." Does a Christian deserve comfort? Does a Christian have the right to expect God to provide earthly wealth and health?