Marriage: An Alliance – Not a Power Struggle

This morning is going to be an interesting morning.  It’s one of those passages every preacher pines for the chance to preach.  We’ve been in the book of Colossians for the past three months or so and we are nearing the end.  And the section that we are addressing today says in part, for wives to submit to husbands.  And it also says that slaves should obey their masters.  And so, those two sections are real crowd pleasers…

But here’s the deal.  It would have been easy for me to skip this passage – “move along – move along – nothing to see here…” but I would be robbing you of important truths that deserve our careful consideration.

Also – for those of you out there who are cynical about the church, and who are skeptical about the existence of a loving God – and who are debating in your mind whether or not the Bible can be trusted – you deserve to hear exactly what this passage means.  And so were I to skip it you’d be justified in saying – “Aha!  You skip those inconvenient parts of the bible!  Those places where the bible reveals itself to be an oppressive religious system.

But the truth is that there is no need to skip this.  In fact it would be a tremendous dis-service to you.  Because the Bible is more than a story of Jesus coming to earth in a manger and growing up and dying on a cross.  The Bible teaches us what it looks like to interact with one another in love.  The Bible teaches us how to be a different kind of human and what that different kind of human being looks like in action.

Especially – what that different kind of human being looks like as we live within the context of family.  Your family knows better than almost anyone else – what kind of person you really are.  What kind of person you are behind closed doors.

Is it too much to say that you are most you, within the context of your family?

So here we have the book of Colossians – and we read about this great message – this gospel – this good news, which is – that through faith in Jesus we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Jesus.  The Kingdom of Heaven.

We leave the dog eat dog world that we were born into by default.  And we begin to reside in a new kingdom where we no longer need to fend for ourselves.  We live under the gentle leadership of a good shepherd.  Who, we learned last week, really wants us to be with him.  He chose us – he cleanses us, and embraced by the chasing one, we get to experience what it feels like to be wanted.  To be loved.

So in a moment Paul is going to bring all of this teaching and he’s going to land it in the living room of your home.  And he is going to take time to speak to all the members who might be living within the home.

And so in a bit we are all going to get a turn feeling the burn.  There shall be some chops busted this morning!  But first – we have to cover the foundational elements to get a good picture of exactly what Paul is saying about when he speaks directly to children and husbands and wives.  And slaves.

So here’s the first foundational word.  You are God’s chosen person.  Holy and dearly loved – remember we talked about this last week?  It is imperative that we comprehend and embrace this truth.   Jesus knows you personally.  Likes you personally.  And died for you personally – and through faith is leading and changing and using you personally.

If you don’t understand that God dearly loves you then you will find your faith journey very wearisome.  It will be a burden.  You will always wonder what God thinks about you.

Ever been around small children?  “Look at me mom.”  Look at me Dad!”  Look!  I’m about to do something that you will find amazing.  I am about to do something that will make you very happy.”

And some people in here know the pain of growing up in homes where you worked very hard to try to get your parents to notice you but seemingly to no avail.

If we don’t understand that God wants you and dearly loves you then God will appear to us a preoccupied parent.  And we vainly live as if we are pleading with God – “Look at me God!  Look at me!  Did I do something to make you happy with me?  Do you love me?

And the very first foundational truth that we need to understand is that God has our undivided attention.  His face is turned squarely towards you.  AND – he is delighted with you.  Simply delighted with you.  Warts and all.

So that’s the first foundational element to understand before we jump into this passage.

The second foundational truth is that we can TRUST God with our lives.  We can trust him.

Jesus came to set us free from rulebook religion.  He has transferred us into the Kingdom that he wisely rules.  And as we walk with him through the valley of the shadow of life – we say – teach me how to live.  I want to live your way because I trust you.

Which means that we can say to God “Your will be done.”  Why do we pray that?  Because God is a tyrant who demands his way?  And if we don’t say it he will smite us?  No.  We can pray God’s will be done because we trust that He knows how to govern our lives.  Your will be done.  I trust you.

Once we understand these two foundational truths – that God loves and wants me and that God can be trusted to wisely govern my life today – then it frees us to be able to live as different kinds of people.  It frees me to love others.

Which is good because listen – Christmas is coming, you know.  Which means family is coming.  Somebody a long time ago had a bright idea that over holidays we should jam all of our family and all of our problems into the same room – just to see what happens.

Merry Christmas everybody!  Love, joy, peace and drama!

Some of you have already lived some family drama over thanksgiving, right?  And so you aren’t exactly looking forward to Christmas – but you know it’s coming.

Well, understanding that God loves and wants to care for you and is wisely guiding your life – it frees you to be able to enjoy your family and not just endure them.

For instance:  Understanding that God is our shepherd who takes care of us frees us from worry.  Why are we worried?  Do we think God has lost control?  Do we think we’ve been lost in the shuffle?  That God either is unable or unwilling to care for us in our time of need?

Understanding we are under his government in the Kingdom frees us from anger.  Why are we angry?  Because someone has offended my kingdom?  What kingdom?  I surrendered it long ago.  I don’t have to contribute to the drama by making a big deal out of every slight.

Since I am already loved by God and because I can trust his decisions when it comes to my life, I don’t have to manipulate you to get my way.  I don’t have to try to impress you to get you to like me or think better of me than you ought.  I don’t have to manage my image.  I don’t have to have the last word.

Instead, I can be free to love others – even the most unlovely person in the room.  No strings attached.

God is in the process of transforming us into the kind of human that seeks to love others – especially family.  Especially our immediate family – and that where Paul is going now.

The primary place our faith will affect will be the relationships within our family.

Now before I jump into the family aspect – let me briefly touch on the issue of slavery.  I’m going to jump down and I’m not going to spend much time on it.  But I want you to understand this issue.  Because there are people who don’t understand slavery as it was practiced in the first century – and therefore the only image of slavery that comes to mind is American slavery.

And the truth is that these kinds of passages we read were greatly misused by slave owners who used the Bible as a means of subduing and oppressing – and furthermore – though many of the strongest and fiercest abolitionists in history were followers of Jesus – we have to admit the shameful history in the church that preached passages such as this to justify something that was immoral and unjustifiable.

See many of the churches in America flipped this entirely upside down.  And they used this passage to treat people unlovingly.  But Paul’s intent was that we be the kind of people who lifted our view of humanity.  And who treated people with love and respect.

So I’ll put these verses up and you can read them as I tell you a little bit about slavery in the first century.  It wasn’t anything like American Slavery.

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. 23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. 25 But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.

If we were to time travel back to the first century you would not be able to tell who were slaves and who were free.  Because slavery was not a racial thing – nor was it an economical thing.  There were rich and poor freemen and rich and poor slaves.  There were doctors , educators, people of every occupation and walk of life who were slaves.

But they could buy and sell property.  And many times they used their money to buy their freedom.  Many times people sold themselves into slavery – that’s called becoming a bond-servant.  Roman records indicate that most people were freed from slavery by the time they turned thirty.

Now please don’t hear me saying that slavery was a great deal!  By golly!  It certainly wasn’t.  It was demeaning and masters could be abusive – certainly not a pretty picture anyway we slice it.  But it was an economic reality of the day.

And what does the bible say about slavery?  It says that you ought not sell yourself into slavery.  (I Cor 7:23) it says that you should try to get out of slavery as soon as you can. (7:21)

The Bible also spends considerable time addressing those who owned slaves, imploring them to treat their slaves respectfully – as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The letter Philemon in the NT was written by Paul to a man named Philemon about a runaway slave named Onesimus who has come to faith – and Paul writes to put considerable apostolic pressure on Philemon to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother.

And in deed many churches were filled with both slaves and slave owners – but as Paul write earlier in Colossians – In Christ there is no slave or free.  Christ is all.

But it also says that if you are in a place where you are indebted to a master – you should work hard and be respectful and honest.  In other words, be a person of integrity.   Work hard, trusting that even in the situation you find yourself in, as undesirable as it might have been, even there, trust that you are safe in the Kingdom of God and that He is governing your life with wisdom.

Now we wish, don’t we, that the Bible came out guns ablazing against institutional slavery.  But it wasn’t an abolitionist movement.  And it would be wrong for us to apply today’s standards about what is right and wrong to a two thousand year old greek and Roman system.

Jesus didn’t come to overthrow slavery in the Greek and Roman world.  That just wasn’t priority one.  The first priority is to free people from the kingdom of darkness and into a kingdom supervised by Jesus himself.  What good would it be to gain the whole world and lose your soul?

Instead Jesus came to rescue and redeem us – and to create within us a new type of person – one whose primary characteristic is – they are the kind of people who treat others with love, They are loving.

And nowhere is this love supposed to be displayed more than within the context of a family.

How does this gospel live itself out through the lives of husband and wife and child?

Okay – so we finally come to the chops busting section.  Line up everyone.  Time to feel the burn!  Let’s take a look at each exhortation as Paul brings them up.  His first word is to the wives in the church.  And he writes,

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord.

So what does this mean?

Well, here’s the deal.  A marriage is meant to be two people becoming one.  The goal of a healthy marriage is oneness.  Which means you, wives, bring all of your wisdom and knowledge and insight into every decision that you and your husband make together.

And you combine all of your wisdom insight and expertise and you mash it together with all of your husband’s insight, wisdom and knowledge and together, you make decisions that are the best decision for your family.

This verse does not mean you are inferior, subjugated, oppressed, or silent.  You are both equal partners in your marriage.

That said there may come times in your marriage where you are faced with a decision and you say we should choose option A and your husband says we should choose option B.  And both of you are completely convinced that your decision is the right decision.  What do you do then?

Well, you can turn it into a fight and the loudest one or the meanest one, or the one who caves first loses – there are a few dozen other terrible ways to decide which option is the chosen option.  Normally it pits one against the other instead of with each other – and as soon as it becomes an ‘against each other’ deal then nobody really wins.  there is only one real ‘loser’ and that’s your marriage.

Let’s say that you have matured in your marriage enough to the point where you both see that what you have in front of you is an issue important enough to disagree lovingly about and that the two of you are going to work hard to make the right decision for marriage.

What can you do?  Well you might call in some advice from someone you trust.  Add insight from someone who you both respect and see if it sways you one way or another.  You might just sit o the decision and pray about it for a time to see if either of you have a change of heart.

But let’s assume you cannot wait on the decision any longer – what do you do then?  We have the answer from the bible.  God says in those times, trust that your husband is making the right decision.  And allow him to lead with his decision.

Well that stinks!  I can hear someone thinking. That’s not fair!  I hate that!  That’s a terrible

Okay – I get it.  But allow me to suggest that when you submit to another person you are behaving exactly as Jesus did – who willingly and joyfully submitted to the Father.  Not my will but yours be done. (Luke 22)

Well that doesn’t make sense – you might say – the trinity is three in one they are all equals.  Exactly!  Equals.  Just like you and your husband.  But within the relationship Jesus can say that I willingly submit myself to your direction.

Why?  Because he knows the Father loves him.  He knows he can trust the father.

Submission is a trust issue.  And so, wives, you can trust that God is working in your husbands decision – even in a decision you feel might not be the right call.  He loves you.  You can trust him.  It’s okay to say your will be done.  Both to God and to your husband when those times are called for.

And if you really believe that God is shepherding you, then you will be able to do this without freaking out.  Without anger.  Without worry and without fear.

It is not dumb to submit.  It does not mean you are dumb or weak.  This is not in any way degrading or humiliating.  It does not relegate you to second-class citizenship.

It is – above all – a decision that you make in your heart.  And it might have to be a decision you make behind the closed doors of your prayer closet -between you and the Lord – where you are willing to say, Okay Lord – I’ll trust that you are leading my husband to make a right decision.  I trust that you are wisely governing our marriage.

Now let’s put this picture up and compare it now with what is unfortunately all too common – which is a wife who thinks of her husband as something of an oaf.  Someone who is lesser than you when it comes to mental acuity.  He isn’t as sharp as you.

And you feel it’s important to remind him of that somehow.  Maybe a gentle reminder about a screw up.

And the manipulation begins and the result is that your marriage is the worse for wear.

Be the kind of wife who respects her husband and values his opinion.  Who lifts him up in her mind and heart as worth following.  Are you that kind of wife?  Do you value your husband’s words, or has he become to you something less than you over the year?

And for some that might be where God is going to put a finger in your heart and say – listen to what the guy on the stage just said.  And you might need to do some work between you and the Lord – to admit that in your heart you see your husband as beneath you in some way.  Less than you.

And listen – it doesn’t matter if it’s husband or wife – if either of you feel that the other is somehow beneath the other – that you are the brains of the outfit, that you are the decision maker, That you are the godly one – that you are the best source of wisdom and understanding – then you know what you are doing, right?  You are degrading your spouse and your marriage is weak and susceptible.

Marriage is a partnership where both partners bring all they have to the table and make decisions together for the sake of team insert-your-last-name-here.  Team Human.  Team Schulte.  Team Frei.

If the Spirit is convicting you that you have been degrading your spouse then you and the Lord spend some time talking about what it means to trust and what it means to love your spouse.  And if you give the Lord permission to make you into the kind of person who elevates your spouse instead of cutting them down then your marriage will be a stronger marriage by the time you go to bed tonight.

Now – let me speak to the husbands. Paul next addresses them.  Knowing that he just instructed wives to submit to their husbands, Paul next speaks to them and says, simply…

19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.

Now I have the privilege of knowing many of you out there – I get a chance to see many of you and the way that you treat your wives and so I think I can say that there probably aren’t any turds in this audience – the kind of turd who would cling to verse 18 and use it as a way to manipulate their wives, or abuse their wives, or attempt to turn their wives into their servants by sitting around quoting Col 3:18 – Darling – submit.

Let me ask you this question Husbands – if Jesus were married and had children – if he did – would he treat his wife the way you are treating yours?  How do you think you are matching up.  Now there is plenty of evidence of how Jesus treated women in the Ne testament and I defy you to find one time when Jesus was anything other than compassionate and kind and a servant.

If anything you should be the servant, you know.  Ephesians 5 25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.

What evidence can you point to that you are laying down your life for your wife?

Here’s the deal, God doesn’t mess around with husbands.  He says – okay I’m authorizing you to cast the tie breaking vote on important matters – but you better take it seriously, and you had better listen very carefully to everything your spouse says.  And ultimately you treat her with respect and gentleness – not harshly – or else, according to 1 Peter 3:7 – if you don’t treat your wife with consideration and respect then your prayers will be hindered.

How seriously does God take the role of a loving husband.  Don’t come to me asking for me to treat you kindly if you aren’t going to treat the wife I gave you on your wedding day – you do know that God’s gift to you on your wedding day was your wife, right?  He cares greatly about how you treat his daughter.

Think about that – your wife is God’s daughter.  That makes God your father in law?  Mind blown.

Ultimately- these words from Paul aren’t meant to be looked at as laws or rules as much as a picture of what a marriage looks like when both members know they are dearly loved and trust that God knows what he is doing.  We are becoming the kind of people who elevte and lift one another up.

And husbands – you get a second little encouragement from Paul – in verse 21 – 21 Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.  And I think it’s fair to say that mothers are not off the hook here – but Paul recognizes that Dad’s sometimes can be the kind of people who check out on the raising of the kids.  And Paul is saying, no in a loving parent – they work hard to even elevate and respect their children.

And if you listen carefully you might hear a few kids in here mutter an amen under their breath.  Yeah – treat me with respect!

But alas kids – its your turn!  You didn’t think you would get off the hook here, did you?

Actually isn’t it great – if you are a teenager – isn’t it great that od has your back?  He just told your parents not to aggravate you!  God loves you guys. But of course he also knows that even you need a reminder from time to time.

And since God loves you and since you can trust him – then you can hear him say…

20 Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. 

Oh Man!  I don’t like that rule!

Well let me encourage you – I don’t want you to look at this as a rule.  See – once we look at these verses as rules then we use them against one another – kids are telling their parents not to aggravate – husbands are telling wives to submit, wives are reminding husbands that God isn’t listening to them, dads are quoting scripture at their kids because the laundry didn’t get done.

And we walk around throwing flags at one another and in the process we whittle one another down instead of building one another up.

Students – do you believe God loves you?  Do you think he is trustworthy?  Great, then not everything needs to be this huge deal.  You too can submit lovingly.  It’s good for you.