Colossians 3:18-19 / Marriage

September 10, 2019

Andy Kerr

This morning we continue our series in Colossians. It’s a letter written to a church in modern-day Turkey. Today we’re looking at just two sentences on the topic of marriage. Let’s turn to Colossians 3:18-19

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (NIV)

Every time I read these words, it jars. That’s because, sadly, I know enough men who have used the verses to oppress women.

Can I say if you’re here today and you’re single, separated, divorced or you’re a victim of abuse, I want to especially acknowledge the very real pain you’ll probably feel as I address husbands and wives. Please know that you’re not forgotten.

Marriage, for so many of us, is a delicate subject. It’s sad, isn’t it? That we all come into marriages broken, some more than others. We live in a broken world and we’ve seen far too many broken marriages. It could be our parents, our own, our child’s or a friend’s. For many of us, there have been not so helpful role models, an absent father or mother. Whether it’s the horrors of rape or of abuse or unresolved conflict, not to mention mistreatment or power imbalance. Marriage sadly is not what it’s meant to be. Turn back a verse or 2 to Colossians 3:16

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (NIV)

Today is about hearing and letting the timeless message of Christ dwell in us, not reluctantly, but RICHLY. When it comes to marriage, we desperately need God’s help. We especially need to hear and receive this as a good word from a good God.

Let’s pray:
Father, we acknowledge that it’s not easy to hear these words. To talk about this subject today. There’s a quota of pain in each of us. Yet hard as these words are to hear, they’re true words. Thank you that you are not a silent God. Thank you for this life-giving, life-changing message of Christ. And as we approach this delicate topic of marriage. By your Spirit, moves us from reluctant acceptance. To a rich reception of your life-changing Word. Please comfort and speak to our souls now. In Jesus name. AMEN.

In the 8 years I’ve been a Pastor, I’ve had the privilege of officiating at over 20 weddings as the minister. A good number have been people from MBM. That’s over 20 times, where the first thing I say, after the bride’s walked down the aisle, are what God’s purposes for marriage are.

Usually I say something like this. God’s given us marriage for 3 purposes.

First – marriage is a lifelong union between a man and woman. Companionship and partnership for the purposes of serving God and serving each other.

Second – marriage is the place where God’s good and wonderful gift of sex is to be expressed.

And third – marriage is the place where children are born. Raised, loved and cared for.

Now that’s what marriage is for, that’s the way He designed it.

The sad thing is that today, we humans, we’ve gone about getting these things without marriage. We’ve by-passed the public promises, we’ve moved on and said: We can get two out of three without marriage. But now our culture says marriage doesn’t have to be life-long, if things don’t work out – there’s always the alternative. Divorce.

And second, sex – well that now happens outside of marriage.
When I prepare couples for marriage, I don’t assume the couple are coming into the marriage as virgins anymore.

In Melbourne, there’s an exhibition on at the moment, put on by the Museum of Broken Relationships. It’s a collection of items, each with a painful story, of a broken relationship behind them.

There’s an item that’s called a boyfriend pillow, belonging to a Melbourne woman that was given by a boyfriend, so she could hug it to sleep while they were dating long-distance. Eventually she moved overseas to be with him, only he broke off the engagement and she moved back home with the pillow in tow. A painful reminder of what once was.

Colossians so far has been thumping home this one big idea: That we have a BIG Jesus! That all things were made by Jesus, for Jesus and through Jesus. This same Jesus has not only transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son, but he also transforms us to look more like him. One of those things he transforms is marriage.

These two concrete sentences about a husband’s role and wife’s role. They come off the back of the fact that Paul opened up Chapter 3 by saying we have new life in Christ, that we’re united with him. Just as he died, so too did our old self. The life marked by greed, by sexual immorality, by anger, by rage. Just as Jesus has been raised, so we’re to put on the new self.

We’re to put on compassionate (not stubborn) hearts,
Kindness (not self-centredness)
Humility (not superiority)
Meekness (not assertiveness)
Patience (not impatience).

Colossians 3:13-14

bear with each other and forgive one another, if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (NIV)

Now if there’s one place where forgiveness, where love, where our new life in Christ is to be put on display, then surely it’d be marriage! Jesus: Lord over all creation. Lord over marriage.

Can I say, if you’re not currently married please don’t think this sermon doesn’t apply to you. You have the unique position of providing insights on the marriages you see. To observe, to question, to encourage, to challenge. It’s important you too think God’s thoughts on this issue.

Let’s begin by addressing the husbands. Verse 19.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (NIV)

God’s word to husbands is to love your wife. So the way God’s set up marriage is this – the husband is to love his wife and the wife – she’s to let him love her. Many women have told me “I’ve got the easy part. As a wife, my job is to let my husband love me. Sure! Who am I to get in the way of that?!”

Well – it’s that time of the year again. I’m talking about that TV show ‘The Bachelor!’ The other night I snuck a peak, for research purposes of course! and sure enough, the same thing happened, just like every other Bachelor or Bachelorette series.
The goss. It all centred around when and who will say “I love you” first? or to quote one of the contestants ‘Who’s gonna drop the L-bomb?’ Whatever you do, do NOT get your definition of love from the Bachelor!

God’s definition of love comes from Ephesians 5:25. Where Paul, the same author says this.

Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (NIV)

Husbands, you want to know what it means to love your wife? It’s right here, look at what Jesus did. He gave himself up willingly, for us, for our sake. He didn’t deserve it, he didn’t have to and yet, out of his great love for us, Jesus died for you and I. The shape of a marriage is the shape of the cross.

Love doesn’t begin with us. It begins with God. We’re talking about concrete, demonstrated, heart-wrenching love. This is a love that involves the spilling of blood not just the spilling of words. Jesus put our needs before his. That means fellas we’re to do for our wives what Jesus did for us. That’s both the platform and the priority of your marriage. Giving up your very own life, nothing heroic about that, that’s just part of the job description of being a husband. But along the way there’ll be mini-deaths too, death to yourself, as you put her needs, her interests, her desires and her comfort above yours. As you devote yourself to her, remain loyal to her and protect her.

As husbands we take the initiative to say sorry, even if it’s not your fault. We don’t keep a tally of her wrongs, nor do you count up who’s contributing more. Thinking ‘Oh good – she owes me one’ Being a Christ-like husband involves loving her not just when it’s convenient, or to get something in return.

Now of course that’s easier said than done. I remember a while back how I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, as an expression of my love for Teresa, only it was anything but. There I was, resenting the fact that I was the one doing the dishes and she wasn’t helping. So rather than doing it gladly, willingly, I was making as much noise as possible and I made sure she could both see and hear what I was doing for her. Slamming the cupboard doors as I put the plates away, rattling the cutlery in the drawer as I was putting it back all just for effect. What a relief Jesus died for my selfishness! Continuing in Ephesians 5:26-27

to make her [God’s people] holy, cleansing her [God’s people] by the washing with water through the word, and to present her [God’s people] to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (NIV)

Jesus traded in his life for yours, not because we were already holy. No, He died to make us holy!

For those of you who aspire to be married. This is how what I’ve been saying today applies to you. God’s criteria for a spouse means looking for the godliest person you can find.

Rather than ruling out someone because they’re too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny or because they don’t earn enough to provide for you. Instead, look first for godliness. We all know that physical attractiveness won’t hang around. The wealth could disappear in an instant. Look for the person who’s encouraging you to set your mind on things above, the things of eternity. Who’s encouraging you to put to death the sins, the stains, the blemishes of sin. That ought to be your standard because chances are if they’re doing it now they’ll keep doing that as your spouse!

Just before we move onto what Paul says to wives, here are 4 final comments for the guys.

1. Value her as your equal

As a husband my goal is for Teresa to feel safe, that’s a basic human right. To feel loved. That she flourish and become the woman God is recreating her to be. Maximising her gifts, her abilities in the context of loving relationships.

Treating her as my equal, that’s what I call a trust builder. And in a marriage, that’s gold! That’s what marriages are built on. Our wives need to know that we’ve got their backs, that we want what’s best for them, that we won’t betray them, that we won’t misuse our role in any way.

To not value your wife as your equal, that has the opposite effect. They’re called trust stealers. One of those trust stealers is there in the second half of verse 19. Husbands, do not be harsh with your wife. Being harsh with your wife – Whether it’s expressed by a husband who lords it over his wife, by making demands by exercising power over their spouse. That’s failing to love your wife like Christ loves the church. It’s to misuse that God-given headship.

Here’s a question for you, Is your wife afraid of you when you’re angry? That should never, ever be the case. If those harsh words have crept into your marriage, it’s time for them to be replaced by gracious words. Husbands and would be husbands, I beg you, do not be harsh with your wife.

Valuing your wife as your equal will involve things like:

  • Sharing in the task of raising your children together.
  • Not neglecting your responsibility as a dad.
  • Simply paying the bills by providing doesn’t count.

It’ll involve never, ever demanding your wife submit to you, especially when it comes to sex. And lastly, it won’t involve disciplining your wife. You discipline a child, not your wife. She is an adult. She is your equal.

2. Cherish your wife

One of the greatest privileges I’ve had as a husband is that day in day out, year after year, part of me loving Teresa has meant
studying her. Learning new things about her, asking her questions, listening to what she says, picking up clues, taking notes. I literally have a note on my phone where I record ideas for future dates or things that I know she’ll enjoy doing. A movie we can watch, a café we can visit, a place to go on a day off. That’s not a chore, that’s part of cherishing the wife God’s given me!

3. Make submission a joy for your wife

Guys, try a few of these lines and see how your wife responds: “How about I change the nappy?” “Darling, let me cook dinner tonight” “Would you like me to massage your back?” Or the one I tried with Teresa last night: “How about we put on a face mask together!”
This is a concrete way that makes submitting to your love that much easier! Where the obvious answer will be a big fat YES!

4. Take the initiative to nourish your wife spiritually, emotionally and physically.

I know a few husbands here who’ve said to their wives: “Each Saturday morning, I’ll take the kids so you can have time to do what you want” Some of those wives, they’ve caught up with friends, they’ve spent time with God, they’ve gone for a walk. 
Those husbands put in the time, the energy and the preparation to make it happen.

Husbands also prioritise gathering with God’s people. That means, coming to church and going to small groups. As husbands, our responsibility is to make sure that happens. Let nothing get in the way, whether it’s a “don’t feel like it” excuse, or because there’s a clash that night.

I know one husband from church, who each year, he makes sure he and his wife invested into their marriage. He would book them in to a marriage enrichment event or buy a book to read or have a night away together.

OK – that’s God’s word to husbands and would-be husbands. Wives and would-be wives as I address you, please bear in mind what I’ve said to the men. Let’s look at Colossians 3:18

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Let’s begin with the elephant in the room. That word submit.

To the modern, 21st century ear, submission is either offensive or oppressive. It’s become a dirty word. And yet know that every truth in the Bible has been misused and misapplied by sinful people. This truth is no different. And that’s because our world – whether through the songs we listen to or the movies we watch, it screams the very opposite of submission. No wonder submission has become a dirty word.

Now before I go any further and try to defend the notion of submission, I need to be clear. If you’re hearing this as a victim of any kind of abuse in the name of submission or headship, then I am truly deeply sorry for the pain you’ve experienced.
Know that God sides with you in your agony. Here at MBM, we want your marriage to be a safe place. Having said that, the solution, I think is not to do away with submission altogether. No, instead, let’s pursue what the Bible’s vision of it is instead. In God’s mind, to submit to something, or someone, it’s to respect a higher authority. And notice how the second half of Colossians 3:18. That submission is to be done in a way that is fitting in the Lord. So, let’s see how the Lord himself submitted!

12 year old Jesus. He’s been hanging out in the temple in Jerusalem and meanwhile his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph have started heading home, only to discover – he’s still there!

Then we pick up Luke 2:51.

Then he [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient [original: submissive] to them. (NIV)

Here you have the greater, the sinless son of God! Submitting to the lesser, to a sinful human parent. Don’t you just love how Jesus doesn’t call us to do something he himself isn’t willing to do. It’s just that when it comes to marriage the stakes are higher. God calls upon wives to willingly recognise the authority of her husband. It’s not as if God is directly having a go at wives only. No, he’s saying that order in relationships, it’s not only a God thing, it’s a good thing, for everyone’s good, because there’s order rather than disorder.

Ladies, just to be clear, submitting to your husband does not mean that husbands get to play a trump card every time we want sex and nor does it mean suffering in silence as a husband bullies his wife either physically, or emotionally. That’s just not on. Nor does it mean that the wife can’t be the main breadwinner of the family or that she has to be stuck in the kitchen. Far from telling wives to be a doormat, God says to wives: Absolutely, you do have a voice. Absolutely, you can express an opinion, a disagreement. Wives, you’ve got every right to tell your husband when you feel hurt or when you’re not being listened to. That’s what submitting as is fitting in the Lord looks like. Because at the heart of submission is respect.

Ephesians 5:33

However, each one of you [Paul’s talking to husbands here] also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (NIV)

Respect lies at the heart of submission. Yes, your husband can probably do better. Yes, he’s let you down at some point. Yes, he’s been slow to initiate. But please respect him, patiently encourage him and build him up, don’t tear him down with your words.

One of the ways that I’ve realised Teresa has respected me is when it comes to making decisions. I’m a slow decision maker compared to her. Part of that is because I like to have all the information first. And yet, Teresa, very graciously, has resisted the urge to step in or to complain. Instead, she’s patiently encouraged me to make a call and go with it, to back myself.

Wives, I know that respecting your husband doesn’t come overnight, but can I encourage you to pray for him? To pray for yourself in this matter too. Not only that, can I encourage you to chat to other women about this, not to whinge, complain or compare husbands. But check in, to confess how you’re going in these areas, with other marrieds and with unmarrieds.

Let me get the ball rolling for you. Here are 3 things that one wife shared in a book. For her, this is her litmus test of how she’s going as a wife. Teresa found it helpful too so I thought I’d share it with you.

Questions for wives:

1. Do you appreciate your husband’s work and service?
Listen in to the impact this can have on a husband. The husband writes: “In my own life, I must confess that I had never felt “manly” until I got married. I was a nerd before it was fashionable, playing the trumpet and staying in the Boy Scouts through high school. Good things, no doubt, but not cool or macho. I was often mocked and excluded, especially at high school for my uncoolness. But my wife has always told me, and continues to tell me, that though all the world may look at me and see Clark Kent, she knows that underneath it’s as if I’m wearing blue underwear. To my wife, I’m Superman. She has always been very quick to point out and celebrate anything I have done that is courageous. Over the years, bit by bit, it has sunk in”

2. Do you admire his efforts to love?

One of my female friends used Facebook to praise the efforts of her loving husband. Rather than Father’s Day last Sunday being a fun day at the snow, instead it was him cleaning up his daughter’s vomit in the motel room at 2am. For every moment like that, there’s also moments we’ll miss as husbands. We won’t pick up on the clues, we won’t read your mind, we’ll botch it up. But please be patient with us. Praise the effort, rather than the result.

3. Speaking of praise, Question 3. Do you praise his ideas and godly leadership?

This is a biggie for me. Please understand ladies that your words are extremely powerful! Us men, we might appear like we’ve got it all together on the outside, but words can either tear down or build up on the inside. I’ve really appreciated it when Teresa has said to me: “Thanks for letting me have some time away from the kids to recharge”. “Thanks for making that coffee / that weekend away with the girls possible”. It inspires me to make it happen again.
Friends, I hope today you’re walking out of here, seeing just how breath-taking and amazing God’s vision of marriage really is. That rather than approaching marriage to find a spouse who can deliver social status, financial security, emotional stability, or great sex. Where marriage is all about me and my needs, my desires. God has designed marriage to be a wonderful, life-giving union. A partnership between two equals. Serving God and serving each other.

And the goal in all this, is in 50 years time right, when I wake up next to Teresa. When finally, our Asian genes of looking young have caught up with us when we’re all wrinkly and saggy, and baggy. When we smell that delightful morning breath and have to put in our false teeth. On that day, my goal is for Teresa to say on that day she feels more loved by me, than she does right now. That I’ve helped her pursue Jesus. To live for Jesus. And love like Jesus. Just as it’s Teresa’s goal, to on that same day, for me to say that I feel more respected by her as my wife than I do right now.

Friends, if you’re married here today, here’s the test before you go to bed tonight.

Husbands, don’t ask yourself do I love my wife?
No ask her! Hear from her! Honey, do you feel loved?
And then bite your tongue and just listen.
And wives, don’t ask yourself do I respect my husband?
Go straight to the source: Darling, do you feel respected?
And then bite your tongue and just listen.

But know this, our earthly marriages are just a snapshot. They’re temporary. They’re but a preview of something much bigger and much better. I’m talking about the union between Jesus and the people he’s rescued.

Please understand. There are no perfect marriages. No perfect wives. No perfect husbands. But there is a perfect Jesus. Who offers an endless supply of grace. Doesn’t matter whether you’re single. Whether you never plan on getting married.
Whether you’re separated, divorced, widowed.

Whatever your circumstances – Happy, Unhappy, Fulfilled, Frustrated.

God invites every single one of us to be blissfully joined in the ultimate of marriages. A marriage between God and His people. Where Jesus – he’s the groom. The husband and his people, those of us who’ve put their trust in Jesus. Are his bride. His beloved.

The question is, will you be at that final marriage? In their excellent book on marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller describe what Jesus has done to enable you and I to be part of that final marriage. Let me read it for you.

“You and I. We are so lost and flawed, so sinful, that Jesus had to die for you. But you are also so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for you. Now you are accepted and delighted in by the Father, not because you deserve it, but only by free grace”

Come 13 November this year, Teresa and I will have been married for 15 years. I still remember the day, super strong winds, just like the ones we had on Friday. I also remember the song Teresa walked in to, it was called Faithful God.

Our “theme” for our wedding. As we were about to make huge promises, we wanted to remind ourselves of the God who not only makes promises. But keeps them too!

Let me read to you some of the lyrics:

Faithful God keeping us strong
Giving us the hope that we need to go on
Pure to the end, turns weakness to strength
Your mercy keeps us blameless at the day of our Lord

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus Christ who died
Who for the joy set before him bore the cross
Who scorned the shame so we will not lose heart
Faithful God we trust in you

For 15 years, our marriage has had 3 parties involved.

There’s Teresa, there’s me, and there’s a God who is impeccably faithful. A God whose faithfulness that enables us to pursue marriage. A God whose faithfulness inspires us to keep working at marriage. A God whose faithfulness has seen us through some pretty dark times, the death of a parent, a sibling, a child. A God whose faithfulness keeps us delighting in God’s precious gift of marriage.