18 Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them.
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged. HCSB
The family is God’s building block for society. He made man and woman in his image by giving each gender his own unique characteristics and brought them together under the covenant of marriage. He created marriage to be a loyal bond between one man and one woman for their lifetime. How far has our society drifted from God’s design for the family? In this brief passage, God tells us how he created the family to thrive under his leadership.
Because he chose to make the husband the head of the household, a key responsibility of the wife is to acknowledge God’s created order for the family. In every organization, business or team, there must be an authority structure. God chose the husband to lead his wife and the parents to lead their children. His design originated from the Godhead where the Son and the Spirit submit to the Father. They are all equally God, but there is a beautiful order of authority within the Godhead. For husbands, this means that they should strive to be the kind of husband that their wife wants to submit to and faithfully follow. It most definitely does not mean that he rules over her, takes advantage of her in any way or neglects his leadership responsibility.
The command for wives to submit to their husbands is extremely unpopular in our culture. It is rejected by so many because God’s directive is terribly misunderstood and frequently abused. No one was a greater champion for the value of women (and children) than Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:22-6:4 is the parallel and expanded teaching on the family where marriage is compared to the relationship between Jesus and his Church. Jesus is the husband and the Church is his bride. Therefore, husbands are to model leading, serving and loving their wives in the same way that Jesus relates to his people, the Church. That is why Colossians 3:19 commands husbands to love their wives with the kind of love that always puts her needs ahead of his. And agapé love always costs, so the way you know it’s agapé is when it cost you something. Agapé love is Jesus himself. And since all husbands have the sin-tendency to irritate their wives, God commanded husbands to not be bitter or harsh toward to them.
Notice in v18 that the wife’s submission to her husband should be fitting in the Lord. Her first allegiance is to her Lord, so a wife is not held to submit to her husband when he is leading the family contrary to the Lord’s words and ways. The basis of her submission is not her husband’s worthiness. She honors her husband out of her reverence for the Lord. As the husband’s leadership must be rooted in agapé love for his wife and children, so must her submission be rooted in respect and admiration for her husband.
The core need of husbands and wives is very different. God created man with the need to be admired and respected (Ephesians 5:33). Notice that he never commanded wives to love their husbands. Peter encouraged wives of non-believing husbands to respect them and be subject to them so that they may be won over to the Lord (1 Peter 3:1-6). How much more should the wife of a believing husband be able to respect him? Because men were created by God to work to provide for their family, showing respect for her husband’s vocation is a powerful way for the wife to tangibly demonstrate her admiration and submission to him. That’s what husbands need!
God created wives with the core need to be loved and cherished (Ephesians 5:25, 33). That is why husbands are commanded to agape love their wives. When a husband coveys authentic agape love, his wife will feel secure emotionally, physically and spiritually. As the husband agape loves and cherishes his wife and the wife honors and respects her husband, God’s beautiful blueprint for marriage is realized and the two enjoy the mystery of becoming one.
His plan for marriage pinnacles in the raising of children. What children need more than anything is to be raised by a mom and dad that love and respect each other, and the Lord, by following his design for their marriage and family. Children need to see their parents growing together in unity by God’s grace and strength. Remember from 1:18, Jesus is to have first place in your marriage and family, not your spouse and definitely not your kids. Parents are to strive to show their children the same kind of unity that is enjoyed by the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
Realize that children were never made to be worshipped. They can’t handle that kind of pressure. No human can. God alone is to be worshipped. Instead, children are to be taught to honor and obey their parents so that they can learn how to honor and worship God. A profound question for a parent to ask is: “What kind of adult do I want my child to grow up to be? Would I want to live beside them when they’re twenty five?” Raise them accordingly.
Parents especially love Colossians 3:20. If your child wants to get a tattoo, agree if it’s this verse! Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. It’s easy to understand God’s design for the family when you realize his perspective about children honoring and obeying their parents. Of the Ten Commandments, the first four teach us how to love and respect God and the next six teach us how to relate to one another, in the family and in society. God emphasized the importance of children respecting their parents by this first commandment regarding all human relationships: Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and so that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.(Deuteronomy 4:16, “Lord” in Hebrew is Yahweh, God’s personal and covenantal name.)
Parents are to raise their children so that they learn how to respect and obey authority. When children learn to do that in the home they grow up in, they will very likely carry that reverence for authority into society. Any school teacher can tell you. If a child doesn’t show respect in the classroom, it’s probably because they don’t show respect to their parent(s) at home. Society breaks down when the home breaks down and children are not taught to obey and respect their parent(s).
Lastly, fathers are given an admonition. It is very interesting that mothers are not included in v21. Why is that? God chose to create women with his nurturing characteristics. That’s why you ran to your mom when you skinned your knee. Men don’t have the same tender love and nurturing nature that women have. Fathers actually have a sin-propensity to frustrate their children. They can do this by demanding too much from them or by expecting them to be something they are not, such as a straight-A student or a star athlete. That is why the Spirit led Paul to admonish all fathers to be careful that they don’t frustrate and discourage their sons and daughters.
God’s design for families is holy. It is the pinnacle of his entire creation. The idea embraced by society that two men or two women can be happily married and even raise healthy children is radically opposed to God’s created order. What happens when you don’t have order?
Doing family God’s way isn’t easy and he never intended us to do it without his help. The two prayer requests in 1:9-12 for wisdom and strength are critical if you want be the family that Christ intended.
- Because you need God’s wisdom in your role as husband, wife or child, ask your Father for his help using the Kingdom Come prayer in Colossians 1:9-12.
- Think about why it makes sense that homosexual relationships are so diametrically opposed to God’s basic design of mankind. For God’s clear perspective on homosexuality and society, study Romans 1:18-32.
- Think through Genesis 1-2 to get more grounded on the beauty and power of God’s created order.