We cannot just read and deal with these verses as if they are floating in a vacuum. They sit in the middle of Colossians. And so they follow and are related to: “walk in a manner worthy of Christ” (1:10); we are “to be presented complete in Christ” (1:22-28); “to walk in the reality of what we have in Christ” (2:6); “ to be taken captive by Christ” (2:8); “because everything we need is in Christ” (2:10); “to seek the things above where we have been risen with Christ, since that is our true home” (3:1-2); “to be renewed in the image of Christ” (3:10); “so that Christ might be all and in all” (3:11); “because the peace of Christ is supposed to be presiding over our hearts as we deal with other people” (3:15). Colossians teaches the absolute sufficiency of Christ for all things, and the centrality of Christ in all things. So these verses in chapter 3 really boil down to the centrality of Christ in our homes. These tell us how we have families that exalt Christ.
Primarily, that means that God’s plan for the family is centered upon the Christlikeness of each individual member. That is really what these verses are about. They give us a short and sweet summary of how wives, husbands, children, parents should be Christlike in the home. Because God’s plan for the family is centered upon the Christlikeness of each individual member. That’s obvious because God’s plan for everything in all of our lives is centered upon the Christlikeness of each one of us. Because as we are conformed to the image of Christ He is exalted to the glory of God. That is our purpose for existence.
Col. 3:18-21 just puts Christlikeness in the family into a nutshell. It doesn’t give us a complete guide to marriage and family life. It doesn’t include everything the Bible says. It might even sound like an oversimplification. Yet it is amazing how we pursue all kinds of complex solutions for the struggles of marriage and parenting, while ignoring the basics. Before we pass off these as too simplistic, as old news, we do well to stop and examine whether we are really living these. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, in America broadly speaking, the problem isn’t that God’s plan doesn’t work. The problem is that we’ve forsaken it. American families provide a striking contrast to Colossians 3. Let’s turn on the television, that window into American culture, and see what we find: cocky, proud, selfish, often exhibitionists; crude, perverted, addicted men; angry and rebellious children; and harsh, provocative, sharp-tongued and often sharp-fisted parents. The exact opposite of what Colossians 3 calls for, and so our marriages are a disaster. And then we have the nerve to call God’s plan old-fashioned, out-dated, or oppressive!
So it should work like this. We start with the foundation: the glory of God in Christ. That is the point of our lives. To be conformed to the image of Christ for the glory of God. SO the foundation of everything related to the family is the personal pursuit of Christlikeness for each one of us. On top of that foundation, we put these principles in Colossians 3. These provide a very general explanation of what the pursuit of Christlikeness looks like in our varying roles in the home. Then from there we should take the rest of what the Bible says and fill in the details and complexities of marriage and family life. But too often we jump to that third level, while paying very little attention to levels 1 & 2. You can walk into any Christian bookstore and find a myriad of books to help you with level 3, or level 3.5 (how long should your child be allowed to have a binky, how to manage their sleeping schedule, who should be allowed to hold your child, etc. etc. etc.). So let’s focus on levels 1 & 2.
THE BASIC PRINCIPLE FOR A SUCCESSFUL FAMILY: PURSUE THE GLORY OF GOD IN YOUR OWN CHRISTLIKENESS
What does that look like? First of all, v.18 “wives be subject to your own husbands.” Listen to I Corinthians 11:3 – “I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. A wife’s submission to the leadership of her husband is Christlikeness because it reflects Christ’s submission to the leadership of the Father. There is submission even within the godhead. The Son follows the Father’s will and says “not my will but Thine be done.” The submission of a wife to her husband is no male chauvinism; it is not slavery; it is not condescension; it is Christlikeness. Of course this is a hot issue: in any discussion start with the fact that this is based upon submission in the godhead. This is Christlikeness.
Authority and submission are crucial for a properly functioning society. This same word “be subject” is used in Eph. 5:21 “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” So submission is necessary in general. The same word is used in Romans 13 for our relationship to government – we are to submit ourselves to it. The same word is used in I Peter 5:5 for the submission of younger people to older people. The same word is used in Luke 2 for Jesus’ relationship with His parents – He submitted himself to them. But even those examples show clearly that authority does not imply superiority. A husband’s authority / wife’s submission to that authority exists for the purpose of order and complementation, not on the basis of any innate superiority of males. A wife is not intellectually, morally, spiritually, or functionally inferior to man, but she is unique from him. Her role is to defer to his leadership, protection, and care, and be ‘a helper suitable to him.’ In other words, a husband does not have innate, intrinsic authority. He has delegated authority from God. In any area where God sets up authority, we say “if this is the way God says it works; if this is God’s best; is this is how He wants to glorify himself in the world, great.” We have a voluntary and joyous response to God’s perfect will. And it should be like that for a Christian wife as well.
It is no surprise that “Satan continues to mastermind the blurring and even total undermining of legitimate, God-ordained authority in every realm of human activity.” (MacArthur) Satan has managed to create in America a hatred toward authority. We love to say: “No one is going to tell me what to do.” We hate authority because it wounds our ego, it hurts our pride. It makes us feel less important than someone else, and that is the one thing that cannot be allowed. The one great sin that America agrees about is the sin of feeling less important than someone else. But the Christian wife knows that this has nothing to do with feeling less important, and everything to do with the wisdom and love of God, the exaltation of Christ, and the glory of God.
Sadly, abuse of authority has been rampant throughout history. Whether in government or in the family, authoritarians have dominated the lives of others, and at times women have been suppressed and forced into servitude. This is true today, even in American homes. This should drive us back to the Bible, and a correct view of authority. But instead the mistreatment of women has often given rise to feminist ideology. Rather than going back to the Bible’s way, we reject it in favor of Satan’s way. In other words, we go from one of Satan’s plans to another.
Wives, your glad submission and eagerness to be a helper and companion as you follow to the leadership of your husband is Christlikeness in action, it is glorifying God and advancing His kingdom. Wives, pursue Christlikeness in your response to your husband.
Now, husbands. Verse 19: “love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” Complement that with Ephesians 5:25 “husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” This is blatant Christlikeness. He came and gave himself for the church, all the way to death. In the mundane everyday details and in the great trauma of death, he sacrificed and served the church. So, men, love your wife like that. This does not mean just saying: “I would die for her.” It means dying to your comfort and your desires every day for her.
Col. 3:19 says “do not be embittered against them.” Do not be frustrated by her flaws. She has flaws. You have flaws. Christ loves you despite all of yours. You love her despite all of hers. The way to not be embittered against your wife is to pursue Christlikeness. Christlike love is committed, and it loves despite flaws and weaknesses and irritations.
A man’s lack of Christlikeness has a polluting effect across the board in the marriage and family. His Christlikeness has a corresponding power. Usually, though not always, the problems in a family can be traced back to a lack of Christlikeness in the husband/father.
How many Christian wives are crushed in spirit, live in pain and mistrust, and are even disillusioned about God and the faith because of a supposedly Christian husband who will not live as a Christ-like man. Husbands, pursue Christlikeness in the way you treat your wife.
Verse 20: “Children be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” I am going to skip this, since we don’t have the children here, except to note that this, too, is Christlikeness. The obedience of your children is the reflection of Christ’s obedience to His Father. John 4:34 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” God calls children to obey not just because it is necessary for an orderly society and the proper development of our children, but because it reflects the submission of our great Christ and exalts Him.
Verse 21 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” This word “fathers” is sometimes used to refer to both parents, and it is reasonable that it might mean that here. Husbands, wives, children, and now parents, don’t exasperate your children. Don’t provoke them. God is such a perfect Father, and He never provokes His children. He sometimes tests us, but always it is for our best. He sometimes disciplines us, but always from perfect love, never rash anger. In our pursuit of Christlikeness as parents, we went to treat our children like that. MacArthur (What the Bible Says About Parenting) suggests 9 ways to exasperate your children:
1. Overprotection: smothering, not trusting them.
4. Unrealistic goals
5. Constant criticism
7. Condescension: refusing to allow them to grow up
8. Withdrawing love based on behavior or achievement
9. Excessive discipline
THE BASIC PRINCIPLE FOR A SUCCESSFUL FAMILY: PURSUE THE GLORY OF GOD IN YOUR OWN CHRISTLIKENESS. Being wise in the details of marriage and parenting is important. But those details really won’t matter until we are each pursuing our own Christlikeness. That is really the foundation, and the key to a family that glorifies God.