Most folks enjoy their ruts. They find a way of doing things, and that’s the way it should be done. But occasionally, along comes some technological innovation, or some brilliant genius. The way you’ve always done things is suddenly upended, and you can’t imagine ever doing it the old way again. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was the epitome of completely changing how to do things. Christian marriage, then, should have a similar effect. As people see your marriage, they should be left scratching their heads going, “I’ve never seen it done this way before, but I want that.”
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. […] Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.Colossians 3:12-13;18-19
Summary of the Text
Unity in human society is impossible without Christ’s atonement. The people of God are to wear the uniform (v12); the uniform is Christ and His righteousness. We must note the flow of Paul’s thought. Your affections must rest in Christ on high (3:1-4). You must fight to the death against evil desires and deeds, and put off all the rowdiness of the sinful nature (3:5-8). That is who you once were, but you aren’t that now.
You are chosen, beloved, and holy. This in turn leads to a particular way of doing things; a way that is profoundly counter cultural to every culture not built on Christ. This looks like large-heartedness. Kindness. Humility. Meekness. You have a long fuse (v12). Along with this comes a clear cut way of dealing with violations of this holy way of living: forbearance or forgiveness (v13). Covering or confronting. All of this is to be done in imitation of the Love of God (v13b-17). This is how true community is formed. God, in Christ, has forgiven you, so you forgive others. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are indebted to us.
Nevertheless, a besetting sin of Christians is thinking that we could be very holy if it weren’t for all the people. So, Paul locates the playing field for us. This Christ-like way of doing things should be seen first and foremost in the life of a Christian marriage. Wives are to array themselves under their own husbands, for it is fitting (v18, Cf. v17). Husbands are to love their wives, without harboring or causing bitterness (v19).
Lemon Juice in the Paper Cut
It shouldn’t escape your notice that Paul’s instruction for wives & husbands is in the context of this “new way of being human” in Christ. The patience, humility, and sacrificial love described are not just nice plays drawn up on the chalkboard. This play is to be executed “in game”.
But where are wives & husbands most likely to be tested in their endeavor to be Christlike but in the failures of their spouse? It is easy to be sweet, kind, and cheerful when everything is sunny. But what about when she’s doesn’t obey her husband’s decision? Or when he thoughtlessly neglects to tell her he’ll be home late from work? When she does an end-around on her husband, getting the in-laws to take her side? When he gets cranky about sexual regularity?
This is why, in order for a marriage to go the distance, both husband & wife must put on Christ. They must imitate His forgiveness towards them in their forgiveness to each other. This won’t be easy. Without divine grace, you will be unable to give grace.
A husband who doesn’t love his wife well, or a wife who routinely disregards her husband’s authority will provoke the other to fill up the relational garage with boxes full of aired (and unaired) grievances. Things get really bad when his box ends up on her side of the garage. But where will a wife need to most likely extend forgiveness but when her husband fails to provide the love he ought? Where will a husband most need to forgive but where she runs roughshod over him?
So, Paul’s command to Christians in general, and then applying it more directly to married couples, rings loud and clear: forbear or forgive. Let it slide, or confess/confront it. Either way, you aren’t ignoring the sin or offense, you are dealing with it as Christ commands. You must not, however, wait until your relational garage could be featured on an episode of Hoarders. Keep it tidy, don’t let grievances pile up.
Bonfire of Joy
This “live differently” project must be spearheaded by husbands. Husbands should be a bonfire of joy in the midst of their home. Husbands, you set the tone. You provide the warmth. You are your home’s brightness. The family should want to gather around you, not because you are such a narcissist, but because you are a bonfire of joy in Christ and joy in them. This means more than just “be there.” It means “be there, and be joyful.”
James warns that ungodly ruckuses begin through wrong desires, disordered affections (Jas. 4:1-10). We see this in toddlers, and then pretend we adults are too advanced for such petty rivalry. But husbands, your wife is not your competitor, she is your helper. You aren’t in a mad dash to gather up more scraps of gratification than your spouse, but you are to increase the joy in the home. Don’t view joy in your marriage as a zero-sum game.
So then husbands, you lay down your life, that by God’s grace He might raise you up into greater glory. You work your tail off in sacrificial toil, while humming a joyful tune through it all. You bring the irrepressible joy, and your wife will gladly crown that joy.
In-Laws, Money, Intimacy, Kids
Now, it almost goes without saying, but the greatest arenas of provocation in marriage usually center around a small group of issues. Like clockwork, marriage issues arise around in-laws, money, intimacy, and child-rearing. In a majority of instances, conflict can usually be avoided entirely or at least minimized through the kindness that is clear communication.
Write it down. Explain to the in-laws where the boundaries are. Put it on the schedule. Implement a solid budgeting tool. Get on the same page regarding discipline and child-rearing issues. Too many couples assume their spouse is a mind-reader. Then are disappointed when they discover this isn’t the case. But in all these areas, it will take mutual forbearance (and forgiveness) to work through the presenting challenges. Again, much of it can be relieved by interacting with clear lines (writing it down, scheduling, frank conversations), instead of vague shrugs or telepathy.
Golden Rule, Golden Marriage
Many couples are wonderful people to their friends, co-workers, and colleagues. But when it comes to their marriage they are constantly aggravated and aggravating. Christ’s way of doing things should be jaw-dropping to the world around us. You once walked this way, but now you have put off the evil scheme of rivalry (Col. 3:7-8). Or as Paul says in another place, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11).”
Christ bears with your many failures, sins, flaws, and faults. He does not treat you as you deserve. But this doesn’t mean He doesn’t deal with your sin. He has made a way for you to be finally and fully forgiven. Not only that, but His Spirit is at work in you to subdue all remaining corruption. Look to Him, and then do as you’d be done by.
Charge & Benediction
There are two ways of living in this world. One is Gollum’s way, grasping, pawing, scheming, clutching to “your precious.” Me wants it. The other is to be like Christ. You died, and your life is hid with God. One is a clenched fist, the other is an open hand of blessing. Christ calls you to imitate Him in your dealings with others. And, lest you puff yourself up with imagined visions of being a great philanthropist, Paul tells you…start with your wife, start with your husband, start with your kids.
Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. Amen. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17