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)
This week we continue in Colossians 3 talking about relationships in the home. Last week we discussed how verse 17 relates to a wife’s role in the home as one who is to be submissive to her husband, submissive “as is fitting in the Lord.” I’ll not review that message except to say that submission is to be a key characteristic for Christian wives; that is not just from me, that is what God has communicated to us, it is what God desires for you, it is God’s revealed plan for order in the home, and the only exception is if a husband asks a wife to sin, and in that case the wife should hold God’s Word in higher esteem than that of her husband. God is the ultimate authority, He is always the ultimate authority.
Someone asked me last week after the message, “Is it hard to preach a message that is geared primarily to women?” I said, “Yes, it is.” I am generally more comfortable addressing men. I am in the same shoes with other men and I can relate to them better. But having thought through that this week I’ll have to say, this week will be much more difficult than last. More difficult for the same reason, which is that I am in the same shoes with all of you husbands. This verse for husbands is extremely convicting to me. And so I stand here this morning preaching primarily to myself. Maybe as I preach to myself, each of you will gain something from it as well.
After 31 years of marriage, I would have hoped to look back from this vantage point and be able to say, “Yes, I’ve got this one down.” I mean honestly, there aren’t that many verses in the Bible that are directed exclusively to husbands. So since there aren’t many, shouldn’t we as men be able to master the few that are out there? And the answer is we haven’t. And since we haven’t, we can even begin to feel hopeless. We can, with serious introspection, get to a place of feeling like, you know, I’ll go to my grave with a sense of regret and failure as a husband for I know I have not loved as I should have loved.
Now at this point some husbands may argue, “But wait, I have loved my wife!” And I would say sure, I’m sure you have on some level. I wouldn’t argue that you have never loved your wife in particular ways. But when we go to a companion passage to this one, in Ephesians 5:25, we see that loving in some particular way in our minds may not be exactly what we are called to. The standard for loving our wives, husbands, is Jesus Christ. He is the standard, He has set the example that we are to follow in our relationship with our wives. Here is what that verse says…
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25)
Remember that verse? Yeah, this is where it all comes down. This is where we are given a standard, an example to follow. We are not called to love in any old way, we are called to love as Christ has loved His church. Or you could say, if you are a believer – and this is for believers, Christians – we are to love as Jesus, men, has loved you. That is how we are to love, that is the example we have been given. Our example is the person of Jesus Christ.
And so with Jesus as our example, with that understanding, we may begin to feel a weight of responsibility on our shoulders, a feeling even of inadequacy, and even slip into despair if we are not careful. I don’t think, however, we have been called to this kind of love so that we can lament and despair over its difficulty. That is not the purpose, God does not intend to saddle us with what is impossible or with something that will simply crush our consciences. So I don’t want to leave you with that idea, but I instead want to leave you with great hope.
So while this may be rough, parts of this message, stay with me because there is tremendous news for each of us as husbands that we will get to, Lord willing, before we are done!
As we begin, I want to point out the historic and cultural significance of this command to husbands. This command seemed to be uniquely Christian and and came as a radical shift in many societies. When Paul first, in verse 18, speaks of wives submitting to husbands, that would not have been surprising for the day. That wives should submit to husbands was taught in Greek and Jewish circles and in most ancient cultures concerning marriage. But requiring husbands to love their wives in this way, this was different, it was new. The concern in societies and secular codes was usually effective household management. Households had been seen as building blocks of society, and so the focus had always been order and control. And so an emphasis of authority, order, management and such were present, had been present in ancient societies, and so to genuinely love one’s wife and act loving toward her, well, that had not been seen in ancient cultures as important nor mandatory.
And so Paul steps out in his writing here, and when he only gives two simple bits of instruction, they are that husbands first are to love their wives and second, which is really a part of the first, not to be harsh with them. Those two things being mentioned exclusively here, along with his discussion in Ephesians 5, these were eye opening truths, he was elevating love in the home to a place where they had not seen it before. Love was being lifted up, raised up in the home, and again, not just any love, but the kind of love that Jesus possessed and put on display.
The word love here is agape, it is the highest love of self-giving and sacrifice. It describes a person who is willing to give all, willing to care for another in ways that show great personal sacrifice. It is a willingness to do without so another can have. A willingness to be uncomfortable for another’s comfort. It is going two miles instead of one for her. It is thinking of her first, not ourselves. Husbands, it is giving to her what you have to give because it pleases God. Giving of resources when you can – time, affection, tenderness, counsel – it is giving of your energy for her good, walking with her through trials, fears, anxieties. It is caring for her spiritually and emotionally. This is not a weekend job or an evening job, this is 24×7 for life. This is giving in sickness and in health, whether rich or poor, it is giving when you would rather not give and when you find joy in it.
This does not mean she is your world; Christ is to be that, to live is Christ. He is the pearl of greatest price, so it doesn’t mean that. This does not mean you only care for her, but you care for her first; this does not mean you give to her sinfully what is not good for her, but you give when you know it is pleasing to your Lord.
Husbands, we give when she is not giving back. We give when she is sinfully angry with us. We give when she is withholding respect. We give in love when she does not want intimacy. We care for her, the point is we continue to be kind to her with agape love no matter what kind of state she is in emotionally or spiritually, or frankly how she feels about you at any given time.
We live out 1 Corinthians 13 in our relationship with our wives no matter what else is going on in life, at any given time – that is the point. We need to, men, get to a settled place in our minds and hearts with this. Our failure is, or maybe I shouldn’t include you, my failure is at times that my love is way too dependent on the circumstances of the day rather than dependent on this command that has been given to me by my Lord.
The second half of the verse goes with the first and helps explain the first – “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” If we are loving our wives as we should with agape love, then we will not be harsh with them. Your Bible may say embittered, don’t be embittered against them. Embittered is an attitude that leads to harshness, they go hand in hand, those two English words.
I met with a friend many years ago, he called wanting to get together. We sat down for lunch and he began to unload on me regarding his marriage. He began by naming all the things he did for his wife in the home. He did things like all the grocery shopping, cooked all the meals, cleaned the kitchen and the rest of the house, did all the yard work, shuttled the kids around where they needed to be, and held a full-time job! I’m eating my lunch listening to my friend and thinking, “Man! What do you want from me? We need to trade places, you need to help me.” I mean I am feeling about an inch tall at this point, thinking, “I am like the laziest husband on the planet, how do you do all that?!” The conversation then took a turn to all that his wife was not doing for him. He turned to complaining, things he wanted from her that he was not getting. As he spoke you could see the bitterness in his face, a harshness in his voice. He was really bitter with her. He had performed for her, did some good things for sure, but his goal was to get what he wanted from her; in his mind she owed him and she wasn’t paying up. He was keeping score and she was, in his mind, losing terribly.
As I have thought about that conversation and many others like it, and even in examining my own heart, I think about Jesus Christ and me. Jesus is our model, right men? Think of this. Jesus chose you to be His bride, a part of His church. He chose to be in a special relationship of love with you. We know this from places like Romans 1:6. I’ll read beginning in verse 5, this is speaking of Jesus: “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
Jesus called us to be in a relationship with Him, and in this relationship that we have with him, we are pretty rotten. I mean, aren’t we? He is perfect and we are sinners, He is loving us daily, providing for us, protecting us always, doing good for us and we are, on our side of the relationship, we are often sinning against Him. He chose us and we are too often ungrateful sinners. But does He stop doing all these kind things for us? No! Jesus refuses to be bitter against us. He is not thrown off by our behavior; He remains our loving Savior.
Husbands, you chose your wife, and we are never to be bitter toward her, not even a hint of harshness. Our call, our duty, and our delight should be to love her, as we have been and are being loved by Christ. When we are tempted to be harsh, tempted to bitterness, we must think of Christ and how he chooses to relate to us. This is our call.
Husbands, have you thought about this? Have you thought about the fact that if we are called to model Christ, model His love in our relationship with our wives, that as we are reading the Bible and we come to narrative accounts of things that Jesus did or other New Testament accounts that describe things He did, things He thought, we can take those things and use them as guidelines for how we interact with our wives? Some of Jesus’ acts and words and even thoughts give us special instruction as husbands.
I’m not saying that we read of a miracle that Jesus did and we do that for our wives! Like we aren’t going to turn water to wine! But we can look at miracles such as that one and we can discern what was behind them. For instance, when Jesus went to the wedding feast and turned the water to wine, what was He doing? He was showing compassion to the host and the guest, He was meeting an immediate need at the gathering. He gave His best, right? The best wine is what He gave, He used His strength and power and energy to give to others. These kinds of things can help us as husbands. Are we doing as Christ did with our wife? Are we showing compassion, meeting needs and desires, giving our best, using our strength and power and gifts for her good? Are we loving as Christ loved in this instance, in that particular circumstance? I love the way we have this opportunity to see Christ in action as an example that we can follow!
If we are to love our wives as Christ loves, then we need to read and see how He loves. And we can do that through the pages of Scripture.
Now, I said at the beginning that I don’t want to leave anyone in despair, that is I don’t want us as husbands to think we have been given a task that is somehow meant to just leave us in a ditch of depression or something because we cannot follow what God has given us to do.
Here is the thing. I believe that the primary purpose of this command to husbands has to do more with our relationship with Christ Himself than our relationship even with our wives. The bar is high with God. We talked last week about the challenges for wives to submit to husbands. This is not easy. Today it is about husbands loving as Christ loves. Next week, Lord willing, we will talk about children obeying parents. None of these, if done from the heart, are easy. And there are times when we may think they are impossible. But God gives us hard things to do, even things like these, that are way beyond our abilities. But why? To drive us to Himself!
Men, when you can’t love your wife as you should, this should drive you to Jesus. It should remind you of His love for you. It should remind you that you are a sinner and His love isn’t effected by that. It should remind you that He has said He will help us in our trials and times of need. It should remind us that in our weaknesses He is strong, and He makes Himself known. It should drive us to prayer, to meditation on His Word, to love Him and rely on Him and trust Him more, and not to place our hope in ourselves and in our own abilities. It should cause us to cry out to Him as Lord and giver of all good things. Our lives are about Christ first, always Christ first. Our hope and our rest is in Him, and He finds all kinds of ways to remind us of that. I hope today we have been reminded of that.
“28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Our place is to rest in Christ, it is His power that is to be exerted in our obedience, He is the one we must turn to as we live in these relationships that God has graciously given.
A word to wives: ladies, recognizing that your husband has a high calling, pray for him, encourage him when he does well, and point him to Christ.
Husbands, love your wives!
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:18-19)