Colossians 3:18-4:1 — Dueling Verses, Part 2
(This is Part 2 of a series on Colossians 3:18-4:1. Click here for Part 1.)
One of the most memorable weddings I attended was when the Pastor turned to the bride during his sermon and said, “You need to submit to your husband.” There was an audible gasp from those attending.
How do you respond when someone tells you what you are supposed to do?
My reaction is to hold up my hand and say, “Wait a minute!”
Furthermore, in our culture today, phrases which read “wives submit, and slaves obey” evoke an immediate repulsion. These kinds of verses have indeed been misused and misapplied to excuse ungodly behavior. And that’s often why many dismiss the Bible as old-fashioned at best, and, at worst, repressive.
Yet as a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus, I feel compelled to not dismiss His Word. I also don’t want to twist these words into something more palatable. Preachers and theologians often look like the cartoon character Gumby when we wrestle with them.
Submit—Obey—Love. All action words. All are words that we, as humans, must actively live into—not just at the surface level, but at the heart level.
Let me unpack what I mean.
Someone can read to you. The words are literally hitting your eardrum. Yet in your heart you are not receiving them. Someone, if they have enough power, can order you do something. On the surface, you are complying, but your heart is filled with quite the opposite of obedience.
Yet when we willingly submit, obey, and love—out heart is leading us.
In the words we have been reading, my sense is that many of us quickly react and oppose them because we know we have RIGHTS—rights not to be oppressed.
And we do! (At least those who live in countries with such laws have rights.) Yet this letter is not about our rights—it is about our responsibilities—our responsibilities to love God and love one another.
For followers of Jesus who are married, I would encourage you to study the biblical image of man and woman united in marriage. It begins in Genesis, and the role of the woman as she relates to the man is often translated as “helper”. We all hear that word through our filters, don’t we? Some hear it as pejorative and condescending. Before you jump down my throat, can I tell you – the Hebrew word for helper is Ezer. It is used over and over to describe God. God as a strength and power. God as our helper. Same word. (For those interested in going deeper, check this out.)
Man, united to woman in marriage, has a strength and power he would not have otherwise. And just like it is wrong to use God (as my strength and power and help) for my own purposes—it is equally wrong to use my wife. It is about relationship.
People, in wrestling with these verses, have long explanations—and then they take those long explanations and assign a label to them—then that label gets used and pulled in all sorts of directions.
I find it better to simply talk about it in a few sentences. Here goes. In Genesis 1 we read God saying, “Let us make humankind in our image…He made them male and female”—men and women are equal (sentence #1). I believe we confuse the word equal with same; men and women, while equal, are not the same (sentence #2). I believe God has created us as equal partners, using our differences, so that we together might live into the roles God has given us, in mutual love—so that God may be glorified (Sentence #3)
What are those roles? We have to sort them out. As we sort them out, are we sitting before God asking for his guidance? Are we sitting with His Word open before us? Are we saying, “Lord, I want to live responsibly for you”? Or, are we demanding our rights?
My wife and I recently attended a conference where Aimee Byrd spoke. She is terrific on this subject. (This was not the talk we heard, but it’s an excellent post from her. Here’s another.) I won’t put a label on her views – better to listen to her.
The best part, and it was a little uncomfortable, was afterward, talking to my wife of 25+ years about several of the points. Can I tell you I learned that my wife was looking for me to be grow a bit more in certain areas (areas that surprised me)? The point – rather than try and find the perfect theological answer to publish in a blog post, perhaps God blesses people, when they sit with His Word open before them, and ask, “How do we process these verses? How are we doing? Where do you see me living into them? How can our marriage bring glory to God?”