Back when my daughter was young, she would sometimes hang around the kitchen and watch until she was inspired. Cracking eggs, mixing dough, icing things, and melting goo of every kind struck her as intriguing. “I want to do something,” she’d finally say. “Okay, wash these couple of dishes,” my wife would tell her. “I don’t want to do that!” she’d say back.
These exchanges occur every day between believers and Christ. We read of adventures in foreign places, watch impressive religious works that get featured in movies, listen to missionary presentations at churches. We hear sermons about things God has done through others.
The inevitable question is What am I supposed to do? What fascinating adventure am I supposed to undertake? We have hearts of gold. We want to go to the Amazon River area. We want to start shelters for the homeless. Dig water wells in Africa. Fight the sex slave trade. Travel and conference. Write books. Teach. Preach.
But good works and their attendant glory don’t start with wilderness adventures. They begin in much less glamorous locations—at home and at work—places that usually don’t get celebrity billing.
Few people ever come and give a testimony to breathless, packed churches about how they make their Christian life work around loud kids and a tired spouse. That kind of “dish washing” isn’t so interesting to activist-oriented faith. It’s too plain.
Yet this is where it all starts.
In both Ephesians and Colossians, Paul begins with a profound, incredibly transcendent theology of Christ. No doubt under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the apostle expected that revelation to trickle down, entering our concepts, affecting the way we think of God and His salvation.
From that point it was to further seep into our daily living, where we would experience and apply it. Then at last it was supposed to come out the far end of the pipe in our new home and work life.
The passage under consideration, Col. 3:18-4:1 (which contains no tee-shirt verses), gives the Apostle Paul’s description of what Christ looks like when released into our most personal life settings. It doesn’t get any more real than this: Christ at home with the spouse and kids. Christ at work with coworkers and bosses.
Nobody makes a big deal about these scenarios, yet this is exactly where some of the largest failures, glories, challenges, and temptations take place. Pay attention to these settings first. Don’t be the fool who wants to ride every ministry in the Park, but attaches no importance to the people he sees every day.
For instance, let’s slide marriage, the most intense ethical relationship, under the magnifier. Paul writes, “Wives submit to your husbands.” That is, stop the power struggles and the single-minded quest to get your way.
Immediately this will spark outcries of sexism and patriarchal oppression. Our minds travel to the worst cases imaginable—of bad personal experiences, of people we’ve known, and movies we’ve seen. There could be no redeeming reason for a woman to submit to her husband except to continue an archaic family structure.
And yet for all the dislike this command generates, it models the Christ who submitted to imperfect people all during His earthly life—authorities like Herod and Pontius Pilate and hostile Jewish rulers. He could have destroyed them all with armies of angels, yet quietly endured under their rule. He also submitted to His Father. Scripture suggests He had his own will, but “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:6). Though being spiritual, wise, and equal both to God and man, the life of Jesus was not marked with strife and contentions concerning His personal rank.
We wonder why Jesus continues to enthrall one generation after another. Much of it has to do with this demonstration of power deferred, of status willingly shelved. It is an odd thing indeed for a generation with boundless appetites for personal status to admire One who put it all aside. We venerate Him, but ironically don’t want His example for ourselves.
Although scripture reminds all believers to submit to one another in the general setting of the church, it specifies the wife in the family unit to model this. “Well isn’t this convenient for a man,” counters the modern mindset, “A woman with no opinion, drive, passion, or intelligence!” And yet the verse forbids none of those things. Nor does it discourage the process of debate or even argument. In fact, submission might only emerge after all protests and requests have been made and all discussion completed. Only the weakest sort of man wouldn’t welcome such help.
Submission doesn’t follow on the coattails of lower intelligence or a dearth of common sense. It is a work of grace that says, “I don’t have to control the circumstances in order to be happy. Even when things don’t go my way, Christ is still on the throne, and He knows my name!”
But what happens when a husband is oppressive? Suppose he is overbearing, and condescending, not to mention selfish and possibly abusive? What is a wife to do? Does it mean such a man gets a free pass?
For situations involving a Christian woman married to a non-Christian man, circumstances become more complex and difficult, perhaps needing a study of 1 Peter. But in Colossians it seems Paul expected that the husband and wife to which he wrote were both Christians. So, should a Christian husband get a free pass if he is a jerk? Not if he has any fidelity of his own toward God.
Paul says, “Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh.” That is, be affectionate. Be warm and kind. Furthermore, don’t be harsh. Harshness obviously means physical hurt of any kind, like hitting, slapping, etc. It also includes verbal abuse, name-calling, and threatening.
A man should use his strength to serve and protect, not hurt his wife. Sometimes his strength comes in handy when he endures occasional domestic tirades or when he absorbs criticism. Never is a man stronger and more Christ-like than when he overcomes the need to respond to negativity with explosions of his own. Other reactions may well be called for. Firmness, yes. Honesty, sure. Volume, maybe. Childish rants, no.
Love without harshness models the self-sacrifice and kindness of the Son of God who loved us to the point that He died on the cross. We killed Him and yet He did not retaliate. He had created the universe with a word and could have destroyed it the same way. But past the point of our rejecting Him in the most extreme sort of way, the planet is still here. It’s a good thing He had the long view. Many of us needed a while to understand the error of our ways and repent.
The Bible tells all believers in the church to love each other (and their neighbors generally), but specifies husbands do so within the family unit. Apparently love is the easiest thing for a man to forget or lose.
The word “love” has unfortunately come to mean little more than feelings of romantic excitement—of butterflies, and window serenades. This definition alone has probably wrecked more marriages than any other idea.
I recently saw a post on social media that said a person must do whatever is good for himself or herself, no matter what it does to other people. Pour the fertilizer of this advice onto a marriage and you will grow a divorce.
When a man becomes preoccupied with his own sense of romantic stimulation and whether or not he is “happy,” real love vanishes. Only commitment to his own self will increase.
But when that man’s excitement is derived from the greatness of Jesus Christ, and his happiness from his relationship with God, neither his wife nor his life circumstances need to be perfect.
Always value the plain brown wrapper more than the magazine covers.