Does that title sound harsh to you? If it does, it is only because you have a non-biblical view of submission. This is exactly what Paul tells the wives at Colossae:
Colossians 3:18 (NASB) Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Before we examine this verse, let's back up a verse and look at what Paul said in:
Colossians 3:17 (NASB) And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
And then, despite the fact that every edition, translation, and paraphrase breaks the paragraph and starts some new section on "Social Duties," Paul continues his thought and tells you the first thing that you are to do in the name of the Lord Jesus: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, and husbands, love your wives." That's how important marriage is - it's the first thing Paul thought of when he thought about what it means to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Colossians 3 is a sermon about how our union with Christ transforms us in our relationships with others. The selfish practices which characterized our earthly nature are to be put to death - not simply because they hurt other people - but because they are fundamentally inconsistent with who YOU are in Christ.
Our text today comes from the practical section of the book. Paul is showing us three areas where "the rubber meets the road." These three areas are where we have contact with opportunities to show the difference Christianity has made in our lives. They are areas almost all of us have to deal with: our marriage, our home, and our work.
As we look at these areas, you need to ask yourself some important questions: Does your relationship with Christ make a difference in these relationships? What difference does it make? Paul gives us some practical instruction that will enable us to have relationships that honor God.
Paul starts with the marriage relationship. Have you noticed that marriage has been disparaged in our society? It has been and continues to be. Many are saying that marriage is no longer a viable institution for our contemporary cultural patterns of living.
When you look at the statistics that show that half of all marriages end in divorce, you may be tempted to think that they are right. Something certainly has gone wrong in marriage. Yet, people still get married!
People get married, because marriage fulfills a need in our lives. We have a need for companionship. God mentioned this need in the Garden of Eden. He said that it was not good that man should be alone, and so He created a woman for the man. We need to remember that God instituted marriage. God performed the first wedding ceremony. God gave the first bride away.
Marriage is God's idea. God gave us our spouse for a reason. And God has given us instructions for marriage. The problem usually is that we are not willing to take God's advice. Instead of doing things God's way, we do things our way and usually mess them up.
The first instruction here is given to wives. They are told to "be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." There are many today, even in the church, who do not like this passage. Can you imagine reading this verse to a group of radical feminists? You would probably be shouted down. But whether they like it or not, there it is, in the inspired Word of God.
We need to notice something very important about this passage. Who is it addressed to? It is addressed to the wives. It is not addressed to the husbands. This is very important. What usually happens is that the husband reads the instruction addressed to his wife and reminds her when she is not living up to it (in his view). Is it illegal to read someone else's mail? Well, it should be illegal in this case. Husbands, this is not written to you.
Submission is not a command for the husband to enforce. There is never even a hint of such an idea in the Scripture in which a man, through conniving, brute force, manipulation, or mind-control, can bring his wife into submission. It is not something the husband demands of his wife any more than she makes the demand that he love her. So, we are not looking at ways to bring a wife into submission as we consider our text. In this verse Paul is addressing the responsibilities of the wife.
This text is not an isolated text. This is not the only time in the New Testament that wives are told to submit to their husbands. The idea of the wives submission is taught all through the Bible.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul declares the principle of headship that is to govern the people of God for all time. Here is the principle:
1 Corinthians 11:3 (NASB) But 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.
The word "head" is the Greek word kephale, which metaphorically means: "government, or authority." Now when "head" is used , figuratively, as it is here, it refers to priority in function. That is what the head of our body does; it runs the body; it is in charge; it is the direction setter of the body. Used metaphorically, therefore, the word "head" means primarily leadership, and thus it is used in this passage.
The hierarchy here is God, Christ, man, and woman. God and the Messiah are equally divine, but there is a subordination of function; so too, man and woman are spiritually equal, but one ranks above the other in function.
This submission is not only to be seen in the home but in the church also:
1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NASB) Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
These verses give us the woman's role in the church. She is not to rule or be a teacher over men. Her silence is that of not being a teacher. Many today would say that this is cultural. But Paul, in this text, says this is how God designed it from creation:
1 Timothy 2:13-14 (NASB) For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.
Back to 1 Corinthians. Here Paul gives the reasons for the woman's subjection. 1. Adam was formed first - Man was made for God, the WOMAN WAS MADE FOR MAN. Do you believe that?
1 Corinthians 11:8-9 (NKJV) For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.
The priority of creation places man in a position of authority over the woman. Eve was made for the sake of Adam, to be his helper:
Genesis 2:18-25 (NASB) Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man." 24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
She is to be his helper and his glory:
1 Corinthians 11:7 (NASB) For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
The principle of headship is something true from the beginning of mankind. By virtue of creation, there is a difference which puts the man above the woman in terms of function, a difference we should never forget.
Man is uniquely created to bear the image of God as a ruler who was given a sphere of sovereignty. Both men and women were created in God's image, but as Paul points out in verse 8, the original creation from the "dust of the ground" was Adam only. Eve was created later from part of Adam himself. The male was given the dominion and authority over God's created world and is, by that fact, the glory of God.
Woman is the glory of man, woman was made to manifest man's authority as man was made to manifest God's authority. The woman is vice regent, who rules in stead of man or who carries out man's will, just as man is God's vice regent, who rules in His stead or carries out His will. Charles Hodge says, "She receives and reveals what there is of majesty in him. She always assumes his station; becomes a queen if he is a king, and manifests to others the wealth and honor which may belong to her husband."
1 Corinthians 11:8 (NASB) For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
The man was created directly for God; the woman, on the other hand, was made for man. She was created on his account, and not he on hers. God could have simultaneously created Adam and Eve as He did the animals, but He created Adam first, then Eve. God made this distinction for all times, and with it He reveals his design and purpose for the sexes. Woman was created under the headship of man
Before the fall, it was natural for him to lead, for her to follow; for him to be aggressive and her receptive. He was 'iysh, she was 'ishshah. Woman was made from man, for man, brought to man, and named by man. In biblical thought, because Adam was Eve's source of origin, she must honor and subordinate herself to him. Like the doctrine of the first born son, Adam's position as head of the family is due to his prior formation.
Women's subjection is tied to creation, and it is also ties to the fall:
1 Timothy 2:14 (NASB) And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.
Eve was the first to fall. Eve's fall occurred when she ignored her divinely ordained position. Instead of following, she chose to lead. Women, do you see the seriousness of not submitting to your husband?
Romans 5:12-21 places the blame on Adam; he followed his wife. Men, God created us to be the leaders. When we fail to do this and follow our wives instead, it causes numerous problems. Eve needed protection, she needed a head. She acted independently and was deceived and fell. The fall was caused by a violation of God ordained roles of the sexes; she took authority, and he submitted.
It is really clear in the Scripture that the man's responsibility is to lead, and the woman's responsibility is to submit. I think that most Christians understand this, but I also believe that in most Christians' homes the woman is running the show. She is not submitting, she is leading. Why is there such rebellion against God ordained priorities of male leadership in the church and family? I think the answer is found in the curse that God pronounces after the fall:
Genesis 3:16 (NASB) To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children; Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you."
The first part of this verse tells us that the pain of childbirth was to be a constant reminder to every woman who ever lived that she is a victim of sin.
The second part of this verse says, "Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you." - what exactly does this mean? Many say that this means that it's normal for a wife to have a strong sexual and psychological dependence on her husband, and that it's normal for her to desire the man, and for the man to rule over her. I have three problems with this: 1. Sexually, the norm is that the man, not the woman, has the much stronger desire for sex. 2. Historically, women have never loved their role of submission to their husbands. 3. If this was normal, it wouldn't be a curse. Before the fall, the woman was wonderfully submissive and dependant on the man. So the meaning of this passage must be something different than it was before the curse.
"Your desire shall be for your husband." The Hebrew word for "desire" is teshuwqah. This Hebrew word is used only one other time in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) in:
Genesis 4:7 (NASB) "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire teshuwqah, is for you, but you must master it."
The best textual rendering of this verse is, "Sin will desire to master you (or control you), but you must master it." The word "desire" used here is the same as that in 3:16. Therefore, 3:16 would rightly read, "To the woman, He said, 'Your desire will be to control your husband, but he will rule over you.'" The curse is not that man is to rule, that was true from creation. The curse is that the woman would now desire to control.
This is where the battle of the sexes comes from. It is a constant struggle, and there can only be harmony when believers are controlled by the Spirit of God. Submission is a sign of the Spirit's control in your life:
Colossians 3:16 (NASB) Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
If you are letting the word of Christ dwell in you, being controlled by the Spirit, an evidence of that will be submission. What exactly is submission? Let's go back to Colossians and exegete this verse:
Colossians 3:18 (NASB) Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Literally this verse reads, "Women, be in subjection to the men." The Greek language has no distinctive terms corresponding to our words wife or husband. But the reference to married persons is unmistakable.
The Greek Textus Receptus (from which KJV is translated) adds the pronoun "idios" (own), which is translated as: "your own husbands," but it is not found in most Greek manuscripts so is omitted from the majority of translations.
However, Ephesians 5:22 in the best Greek text does have "idios" or "own" (your own husband) to demonstrate the uniqueness of this exclusive wife to husband submission.
The word translated: "be subject" is from the Greek word hupotasso. Hupotasso is in the present tense indicating this is to be a wife's lifestyle. The mood is imperative indicating that it is a command. Finally, it is in the middle voice which signifies that the wife initiates the act of submitting and participates in the effects or results of her submission. It conveys the idea of the wife putting herself under (hupo = under) her husband, not by compulsion, but willingly. Middle voice also conveys a reflexive sense & can be translated as "subject yourselves." In any case, the idea of submission of the wife is that of a voluntary attitude and action based upon one's recognition of God's ordained order, and it cannot be forced upon her against her will by a demanding despot.
Hupotasso comes from two Greek words, the word hupo, which means: "under," and tasso, which means: "to set in place." In other words, the word means to set something in place up under something else. In the context it is talking about submitting to the authority of another. So Paul is saying to the wives, "Be willing to place yourself in a position under your husband, who is the authority of your family. Be in that position of being submissive."
Now, let's make sure we understand what it doesn't mean. Sometimes when you look and see what it doesn't mean, it tells you better what it does mean. For instance, it does not mean that she is commanded to obey her husband as a child would obey his parents or a slave would obey his master.
That is not what the word means at all. As a matter of fact, there is another Greek word that is used in that kind of relationship. It is the word hupakouo. That is entirely different. Let me show you where it is used:
Colossians 3:20 (NASB) Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.
Guess what word the word "obey" is? Hupakouo. In other words, you are an inferior to a superior, and God says you must obey your parents. You have no option, and it is only by God's grace they ever give you a reason why they tell you to do what they tell you to do. That word (Hupakouo) is never used with a husband and wife.
Colossians 3:22 (NASB) Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.
The word "obey" is the same word, hupakouo. Hupakouo is of an inferior to a superior. Hupotasso is not that at all. Hupotasso, the word that is used for wives to husbands, is the word that talks about two people who are absolutely equal in God's eyes, totally equal:
Galatians 3:28 (NASB) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Spiritually speaking, men and women are equal in terms of their relationship before God, both are responsible to love and serve God. In terms of personal worth, intellect, or spirituality, men and women are equal. But in terms of authority and function, men and women are different. A Captain in the Navy is not necessarily superior in intelligence, wisdom, spirituality, moral character, talent, or any other ability over a seaman. The Captain, however, has authority over the seaman. A position of authority does not mean a person is a better person. It simply means that his function is different, he has a different role. And the Bible clearly teaches that men and women have different roles in life.
Submission is not inferiority! The submissive wife makes a choice to place herself as an equal underneath another equal, her husband, in order that there can be order and function in the family. If you want to have a properly functioning family, wives, you yourself make up your mind you are going to live in the state of submissiveness to your husband, no matter what he is like.
Now, what in the world would make a woman who is equal, maybe more gifted, maybe more educated than her husband, put herself under submission to him? Well, let's look at the verse again:
Colossians 3:18 (NASB) Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
"Is fitting" is the Greek word aneko which means: "something is fitting or right to do and is what is proper or is one's duty." Aneko is used of actions that are due someone; it conveys the ultimate meaning of moral obligation.
Philemon 1:8-9 (NASB) Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper (aneko), 9 yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you-- since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus
The contextual use of aneko denotes not merely that which is fitting, but that which is almost legally obligatory or a necessary duty. In this use in Colossians, aneko is in the imperfect tense, which speaks of an action going on in past time. The Greek form in this phrase expresses an obligation, It is how God designed and commands the family to operate.
Listen, wives, the reason why you are to submit to your husband is not because he is such a wonderful guy - it is not because he deserves it. You know very well that sometimes your husband does not deserve anything from you! The reason why you are to submit, is not because HE deserves it, but because our Lord Jesus Christ deserves it. It is because you have died and have been raised with Christ that you are to set your mind on things above and put to death the things that belong to your earthly, sinful self. And out of your gratitude toward God, you can submit to him, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
It's not because you love your husband that much, but it is because you love Jesus that much. That is the key. As I love the Lord Jesus, I am willing to do whatever it is He tells me to do. A wife's love for Christ motivates her to obey. So, she looks in God's Word. She is a student of Scripture. She can't be Spirit-filled if she is not, because the Scripture has to play a role in our obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. She gets into the Word, and she knows that Colossians 3:18 says, "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." Jesus said in John 14:21, "If you love Me, you will obey Me." She says, "Out of loving You, Lord, I am going to do what You have told me to do." That is the motivation of submission.
Turn with me to Titus where we see the seriousness of submission:
Titus 2:4-5 (NASB) that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.
The word "subject" here is hupotasso. Ladies, when you don't submit to your husband's authority, you are dishonoring the Word of God.
Ladies, God has honored you, because He has asked you to do what He also has done. The model of submission is the Lord Jesus Himself:
Philippians 2:5-8 (NASB) Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Submission is typified in Jesus Christ's relationship to the Father. We firmly believe in the co-equality of the Son with the Father. Jesus declared, "I and the Father are one." There is no thought of inferiority in Christ though He is always viewed as under submission to the Father's authority (I Cor. 11:3; I Cor. 15:28). He came to earth by the Father's authority in sending him. He acted by the Father's authority in every miracle and sermon preached. He submitted to the Father's authority as he became a propitiation for our sin. He said that He always did those things that pleased the Father. Did Jesus get short-changed because of his submission to the Father, a submission that continues in the orderliness of the Godhead? Of course not! Rather, we glory in the Son's submission to the Father for our sake. So why do we take this same term spoken of Christ that is applied in this context to wives in marriage, and make it into a cruel, derogatory term? I believe that the reason is a gross misunderstanding of submission. Rather than seeing it as a reflection of the Son's love, loyalty, and delight in the Father, now applied to wives toward their husbands, we view it negatively.
Look over in 1 Peter 2. This is the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to see what he says about submission over here. He takes it right into the marriage relationship, but he doesn't start there. He says in:
1 Peter 2:13-15 (NASB) Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
In other words, he is saying, "If you are not willing to submit to authority, then you are bringing all kinds of confusion to these people." He goes on in 2:16-25 to talk more about submission. Then in chapter three, he says:
1 Peter 3:1 (NASB) In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
Peter talks about the beauty of a wife when she submits. It is not outward. It is inward. God turns that light on, and even a disobedient husband can actually be won to Christ.
So the meaning of submission is not an inferior to a superior. It is of two equals. One chooses for the sake of the design to do what God says to do. You are going to have to make up your own mind. It is going to have to be a lifestyle. The motivation is the Lord Jesus living in you. You are doing it for Him. You are loving Him. The model is Jesus Himself. He has already modeled it out for us and showed us exactly what to do. So the responsibility of the wife is to submit to her husband in order for the home to have order, and for it to function properly.
Single ladies: The husband is the established authority under the laws of divine order. Any woman thinking of marriage should think twice before she agrees to marry any man. She should ask herself the question, "Do I want to be under this man's authority for life?"
Marriage contains mystery. That was Paul's assertion as he described marriage to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 5:32 (NASB) This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
He had quoted Genesis 2:24, that explains the marital union and the mystery of the husband and wife becoming one flesh. That was a great mystery! But the greater mystery is what it represents: Christ and the Church. As Paul unfolds the great mystery of marriage, he infers that it was planned in the purpose of God to be a visible testimony of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church. The patriarchs did not understand the mystery that was yet to unfold. Nor did the others who followed, until Christ, in the fullness of redeeming love, called His bride out of the world and unto Himself. Paul's assertion is that when God designed marriage in the first place, he had in mind Christ and the Church.
If this is so, then the commands and order related to marriage are not cultural accommodations that have no bearing on our society. Instead, the portrait of marriage set forth in the New Testament offers the timeless model for every Christian marriage. Paul wants wives to know that that is not only how God has made things to be, but He has made things to be that way for their good. His is the divinely given order of the household, and when His order is reversed, when these roles are reversed, just like with Adam and Eve in the fall, it always results not only in the destruction of the man, but in the self-destruction of the wife. And so he calls for a recognition of the divinely given order of the household.
How can you tell who's the leader in the home?
1. Who is making the decisions - leaders make decisions. With the children, if a husband and wife disagree on a certain course of action, whose decision should be followed? Leaders make decisions as to the finances, the church, the schooling of the children. Women, how do you respond when your husband makes a decision that you disagree with? Do you line up under his authority?
2. Listen to the speech - those in submission don't give imperatives. You don't tell your commanding officer, "Get me a cup of coffee." You give commands to subordinates, not authorities. Does your speech betray you?
Colossians 3:18 (NASB) Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
According to Paul, there is no possibility of a married woman's surrender to a heavenly Christ which is not made visible and actual by some submission to an earthly husband. This directive is not mine, not the Puritan's, it's not even ultimately Paul's. And when it is ignored, it does not make life better for women, it actually makes life worse. And I would argue that many of the stresses and strains on family life today are precisely due to disagreeing or ignoring His particular biblical directive.
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