Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Colossians 3:18-21

18Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Paul issues brief teachings on relational aspects of the Christian life. He reflects on these relationships more completely in Ephesians 5:22-32, 6:1-4. As mentioned earlier, these relationships are grounded in the redemptive pattern of Christ’s love. For example, in Ephesians 5:25, Paul says that husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. So the reason, the basis, the motive, the grounds for Christian living is the work of Jesus Christ. In the doctrine of the atonement of Jesus Christ, husbands find reason to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the Church. Biblical knowledge is practical; experiential knowledge of Christ breeds love for one another.

In v18, Paul’s instruction starts with an attitude but includes actual behavior as well. The idea is about obedience and a genuine desire to obey, which is exactly what God wants from us as the bride of Christ. Paul calls wives to a practical recognition of the divinely given order of the household. Wives are to know that God made things to be this way for their good. Do wives trust God in that? 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. Paul also wants wives to recognize the husband’s authority under God; the man bears certain responsibilities before God, and he will give an account before God for his household management. Paul’s call for submission entails the wife’s sacrificial self-giving loyalty to her husband. He calls her to show the type of sacrificial loyalty that Christ Himself shows to His people. But why does Paul, if husbands are the head of household, begin by speaking to wives first? First, Paul’s word to the wife first is designed to protect the order and structure of the home. He speaks to the place where, perhaps, the first reversal may occur. Paul also speaks first to the wife, because one might be tempted to draw from biblical logic the conclusion that since we are free in Christ, since there is neither male nor female in Christ, wives no longer have the responsibilities for submission to the head of the household because they are free and equal in Christ. Biblical logic, however, doesn’t work that way. Freedom in Christ means we are now free, with the right motives, to follow God’s principles for the life of the family, including a loyal recognition of the headship of the husband in the home.

In v19, a husband is to love his wife, and this refers, as Vincent Cheung says, “to something much greater than a feeling of affection, since biblical love is defined as obedience to God’s law in our relationships.” You can’t command someone to love another, but Paul does. He’s not speaking of romantic love, though that is nice. He is speaking of agape love, self-giving sacrificial love. Martin Luther once said, “The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.” “The woman takes her being from man,” Thomas Adams said, “but man takes his well being from woman.” The test of a husband’s love for his wife is his attitude toward her. The text speaks of being harsh toward her. It might better be translated, “embittered.” If a husband is truly engaging in agape love toward his wife, then he can’t possible be bitter toward her, holding a grudge in his heart and externally hiding it.

Likewise, in v21, fathers have the responsibility to raise their children properly, as Ephesians 6:4 states, bringing “them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Paul is calling fathers to rear their children in such a way that they will not feel only the rebuke of God, but they will also feel His approval. Notice that both here and in Ephesians, the father is given the parenting responsibility. Too often in our culture, the mother handles that alone. Paul’s command here is for fathers, specifically that they would not dishearten and discourage their children in the context of discipline.

Going back to v20, children are instructed to obey their parents in everything. Paul is saying, “A Christian child expresses his or her desire to serve the Lord by obeying his or her parents.” God takes this command very seriously. Notice the cause of it, the sins lumped with it, and the just penalty for it in Romans 1:28-32. We cannot say Christ is Lord, and live perverse lives of continual disobedience. But as Ephesians elaborates, this is especially for parents “in the Lord.” Honoring one’s father and mother is a lasting command, but never at the expense of honoring the Lord. Non-Christian parents must not be obeyed if their commands are specifically against sound Biblical doctrine and principles of Christian living. Now, why should we obey? Because it pleases the Lord; that’s our motivation to obey. In Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddel explained to his sister that he ran because God made him to run; when he ran he felt God’s pleasure, because God had made him to run. He took pleasure in the pleasure of God in doing what God had made him to do. And Paul says, “God takes pleasure when you obey your parents.” And finally, Ligon Duncan points out, “Education is rooted in deference to authority. If we do not defer to the authority of our parents in the home, and those other people in the world that God has put over us, we ultimately rob ourselves of the ability to grow, because God has made the world such that we grow through obedience.”

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