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. 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:17-25)
I want to read verse 17 again. Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “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.” In a sense, that is a sweeping, broad statement. It gives us direction for sure, it gives us a way to check all of our actions. Are we doing and saying what is honoring to our Lord’s name? We can ask ourselves that question any time of day, during any kind of circumstance. We are here to glorify God. How are we doing with that? This question goes beyond externally visible practices to invisible, sometimes private motives.
We can live for self, putting self on the throne of our lives, or we can live for Christ, exalting Him. Paul settles the right path for every believer, again, when he says, “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.”
After giving us this general direction for life, he addresses various people that fall into certain roles and gives specific instruction. He speaks to wives, husbands, children, fathers, bondservants, and masters. He begins with family roles and then moves to employee and employer roles, as we may say today. We will begin today to start with family roles and will do so in the order that Paul does. So today we will talk about wives, then next time, Lord willing, husbands, then children, then parents. Each of these roles are addressed very, very briefly, in most cases only giving one piece of instruction.
So if you are in one of these roles then you may say, “Good! I will only have one thing to follow, only one piece of instruction to follow, that shouldn’t be too hard, right?” It’s not like Paul spends page after page on instructions to a husband or wife; it’s only one thing to follow. He is not like the IRS that has volume after volume, thousands of pages of rules to try and follow. Nope, only one command here for each role in the family.
While his instruction is brief, it is at the same time vast. Though it is simple to understand, it is not simple in practice. In fact, you cannot do it on your own. This is for Christians who have the Holy Spirit in them for power. That is what we need to follow these instructions. We need the power of God in us to break down our selfishness in order that we can live as we have been called within the relationships that God has given us.
It is because sin has entered the world that we desperately need help with our relationships. Without Christ and without directions for living, without the Holy Spirit guiding our lives, we will always see other people as threats to our journey toward happiness. And those closest to us may seem like the greatest threat. We veer easily toward selfishness. Selfishness says, “I must take care of me, I must fight for what I enjoy, I must stop others from blocking my path to pleasure.” This type of thinking, whether we say it out loud or whether we subtly just live it out, it will always lead to relational conflict.
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2)
We talk often about Christianity being a very personal thing, it is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is true. But we see also that Christianity is a great deal about other relationships too. Our personal relationship with Christ should drive how we relate to other people – again, especially those closest to us, those in our family. And these relationships will have an effect on those outside our families.
One more thing I want to mention before we get to specifics. As desperately as we may all want to have peace in our homes and have joy-filled, happy homes, these cannot serve as the main motivation for living according to God’s Word in the home. We can, and I’m sure do too often, decide to live God’s way simply because we want to not be miserable. We can turn obedience into a selfish pursuit. We need to be careful. Our motivation for obedience should be a love for our Savior and desire to glorify Him with our lives. Our motivation should be to make Him known, to honor Him with our lives, to show love for Him and gratitude for His gracious work in us. These should motivate us first. We are here for His glory. Otherwise, we try to obey, and if peace and joy don’t follow, we give up, we have lost our reason to obey. We are not guaranteed a happy home, everyone happy and nice if we follow God’s way in our role. Just because you become the most submissive wife ever in your home, that does not mean your husband will automatically return your godly submission with godly, Christ-like love. But you are guaranteed that if you obey, then no matter what, God will be glorified and He will be pleased, and you can experience personal joy and peace in your service to Him. And sometimes this comes in a home where circumstances don’t really change, only your attitude and willful obedience changes.
Jesus said to His disciples after washing their feet, serving them in obedience to His father, He said in John 13:17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Another word for blessed there is happy, happy are you if you serve other people! And so as we look at God’s special commands let’s remember, they are for our good, for His glory, for our joy, and to give us an opportunity to say, “Yes, Lord, I love you and I trust you, I will do this for you.”
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)
This is an important command for the good of the household relationships and one that is not too popular in our modern day culture. It is often times misunderstood, but even if understood rightly it still does not win many hearts around us. We are mistaken if we think, as I have some in the past, that if everyone would just understand this then they will see its good, they will embrace it. Don’t think that way. Many of God’s ways are not popular, we don’t obey because everyone else thinks it’s a good idea, we obey because we belong to God and these are His words.
Why Paul chooses to speak only of submission here we don’t know. There are other commands in the Bible for wives, such as in Ephesians 5:33 to reverence their husbands, and Genesis 2:18 that describes wives’ important role of being a fitting helper for him. But here we see Paul address submission for wives toward their husbands.
Submission can be tough! You may say, “Well how would you know? You are a man.” Well, everyone is to submit to someone. And so everyone probably struggles with submission. The world, from the beginning, has struggled here. The struggle with submission started with Satan.
Speaking of Satan we read in Isaiah 14:1, “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north.’” Satan was not content submitting to God, so he chose a path of trying to defeat God, of becoming a god. He wanted to go his own way, not God’s way. This is our biggest problem with submission as well.
Rebellion against submission continued in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:6 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
This rebellion and failure to submit moved to all of mankind…
10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
A desire to rebel instead of submit will even intensify in the last days…
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
The point is, submission is not just an issue for wives. It is a mankind issue. This is really good for husbands to remember. We may be critical of our wives at times, like, “Why doesn’t she submit?” This may aggravate you as a husband. But though we should encourage submission, we can do so from an understanding heart, not a critical one, because if we are honest we can relate to her struggle as we consider ways we fail to obey God, to whom we are to submit. Or how we struggle with the government to whom we are to submit, or to our bosses to whom we are to submit. We have much in common with our wives here, we should be sympathetic in this area, not high minded and arrogant.
Submission is commanded by God for wives in every marriage. It is needed for order. It is not commanded because a husband is more capable or superior to his wife. Submission is not commanded because the husband is necessarily more intelligent or more organized. In fact it may be just the opposite. Men, husbands, you may not be as capable in many areas as your wife, and yet God says she should submit to you.
One way we know that a command to submit does not necessarily equate to intelligence or worth is because Jesus was to submit to the Father. There is no deficiency in Christ, there is no lack of inteligence in Christ, and yet He submitted to the Father.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:5-9)
In the human realm, if we are in a position in the home, at work, in the church, where people or a person is to submit to us, we should embrace that role with great humility knowing that we are not there necessarily because we are more capable. Maybe we are there so a more capable person will learn to rely on God even more as they submit to you or me who is less qualified to lead.
And by the way, this happens all the time. The more capable being asked to submit to one who is less capable. Wow, what an opportunity for both to lean on God and trust Him! So wives, you are not inferior, your husband is not infallible…as if I need me to tell you that!
So what exactly is submission? Biblically it is a plan for function and order. The word comes from a military term that means to “voluntarily arrange yourself in rank under another.” For the soldier, when he or she signs up they are voluntarily doing so, at least in our country, voluntarily putting themselves in a position of submission to their leaders.
In marriage, wives, when you get married, walk the aisle, say “I do,” you are agreeing voluntarily to live in a position of submission to your husband. Believe me, in pre-marriage counseling here we go over that again and again. It’s like I ask the bride to be, “You know you are volunteering, if you go through with marriage, to put yourself in a position of submission to this guy.” And I point to the husband to be. “Are you sure you want to do that? Are you sure? Do you trust him, can you do this?” And then when we do post-marriage sessions, six months or a year later, and there are normal problems that we discuss, I often come back to that previous discussion. Like, “You signed up for this!” But that does not mean it is easy.
Submission, wives, is primarily an attitude toward God. Paul reminds us of this in Romans 13…
1 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)
For the wife it is a picture, a beautiful picture of Christ and the church. It is the church, all of us, who are to submit to Christ. In marriage the bride, the wife represents the church, and it is in her submission to her husband where we see a physical example of how we are all to submit to our Lord in everything.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
Submission is even a way to be truly beautiful, wives.
3 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:1-6)
In God’s eyes submission is beautiful, it is holy, it is right, and it represents the picture of redemption, of the church as it relates to and loves Christ. It is not a man made rule, it is God’s way in marriage.
When speaking about biblical submission, I always want to mention that in the human realm, God never gives all power to any individual. Yes, wives are to submit to their husbands, but this does not mean that a husband has full rights or authority over his wife. Only God has such rights. So submission ends when a husband is asking his wife to sin, to live contrary to God’s Word. In this case she is to obey God, not her husband. Now ladies, this must be clear. In order to not submit and please God at the same time, it must be clearly a sin, clearly laid out in God’s Word, not just a case of preference. In fact, if you feel like you must refuse to submit, it may even be wise to seek counsel to be sure you are understanding what he is asking and what God’s Word clearly says. But God’s Word always trumps authority over us, whether in marriage, in government, in the workplace, or in the church.
As a Christian, aren’t you glad that Christ submitted to the Father? His submission made salvation possible for you. As a wife you can model Christ by submitting to your husband as unto the Lord.
People may ask, “Why do you do that? Why do you submit to your husband? Isn’t that old fashioned?” You may be asked that as those in the world observe your behavior, and when they do, what a great opportunity to share with them what the Bible says, what God has done through Christ, and why you have chosen to lovingly follow Him in this way!
God gives strength to His children, strength to obey. Wives, you can do this as His child, you can model Christ, you can live for Him, submitting to your husband. If you struggle here – and you will – go to Him for strength, ask for counsel, meditate on His perfections, and trust Him with outcomes.
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)
What is one way to do this?
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)