Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
4 February 2018
Sermon Text: Colossians 3:18
Rules for Wives
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

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[ sketch notes ]


Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Who are these wives?

In the context of the letter to the Colossians, these wives are married Christian women.

  • saints and faithful members of the church – 1:2
  • filled with faith, hope, and love – 1:4-5
  • delivered from darkness to light – 1:14
  • once alienated from God, now reconciled to him – 1:24
  • received Christ the Lord and walk in him 2:6
  • filled in Christ – 2:9
  • members of the covenant community — circumcised without human hands in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – 2:11 // baptized into the death and life of Christ / buried with him in baptism and raised with him through the faithful working of God who raised Jesus from the dead – 2:12
  • made alive by God 2:13
  • died to elemental spirits of the world in union with Christ – 2:20
  • raised with Christ to celestial realms – 3:1
  • undergoing spiritual formation / putting off the old self and putting on the new self – 3:5-11

The bottom line is that these wives are not just any ordinary wives. They are baptized Christians, members of God’s covenant family, living in union with Christ. By the gracious work of the Holy Spirit they are ( /becoming ) suitable helpers for their husbands.

What must these wives do?

They must submit to their husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Submit means stand under, give preference, yield.

Note: God calls everyone and everything to submit at one time or another. So there is no need to stress out or get defensive or make excuses.

According to apostolic tradition, submission is rooted and grounded in two things:

The order of creation and the order of redemption.

In the order of creation, man was created first, then woman. A husband is the head of his wife. He has authority over and responsibility for his wife.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says,

“I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

[Man] is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman;for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

From the beginning, God-established distinct roles and responsibilities for men and women, and for husbands and wives.

As Paul explains, the relationship between man and woman is symbiotic. They are mutually inter-dependent on each other. Remember, the woman came from man’s side, not his back or his feet. A wife was built by God to be a helper at a husband’s side, under his arm, close to his heart. Not a servant behind his back or at his feet.

That is the original, natural order of creation. So what happens when God’s order of creation is altered, inverted, or reversed?

Genesis 3 tells us.

When Adam’s wife abandoned her post and attempted to take the lead in their marriage, the results were disastrous. One moment they were walking around the garden, the next moment she was window shopping, then talking to a stranger, then shop-lifting, and eating fruit that God had forbidden her husband to eat. The rest is history, but the ripple-effects of her sin are still felt to this day.

So, why should a wife submit to her husband? Not just so that bad things won’t happen. A wife should submit to her husband because it shows that she understands how God ordered and designed the world and how she must live in it. In other words, it is fitting, it is suitable, in the Lord. It pleases God when his creatures walk in his ways.

In the order of redemption, a new man was “de-created” through crucifixion, then a new woman was formed out his side. (And a new man was “re-created” through resurrection.)

A husband still has authority and responsibility for his wife. But now they are called to a truer and better standard.

In Ephesians 5, Paul describes a profound mystery about the relationship of Christ and the church. He explains that every Christian marriage is an iconic representation / a visible depiction of that relationship, in which Christ laid down his life for his bride.

As Adam was put to sleep in order for Eve to be formed, so Christ was put to death in order for the church to be formed from his side.

As the gospel story story goes, Christ came into the world to kill the dragon and get the girl. And that’s what he did.

Tim Keller describes marriage as cross-bearing. And it is. But that does not mean your spouse is your cross to bear. No, marriage is the cross you bear. You (wife and husband) are equally yoked under the cross in the Lord.

Now, a husband is called to imitate Christ and take the lead in sacrifice and service for his wife. He loves her by laying down his life for her. (We’ll talk more about that next week.) And a wife is called to respond to his love by humbly deferring to him, by trusting him to lead her, and “by letting him fulfill his calling with joy and not with groaning (Gk. stenazō — sighing; “huffing and puffing”), for that would be of no advantage to her.” (Heb. 13:17)

To put it another way, wives, you must love your husbands with a submissive love.

Like the church, you may speak your mind, share your wisdom and insights, and state your concerns to your husbands. But like the church, you must yield and follow his lead. Why? Because a husband is the head of his wife and children. He bears the weight of responsibility for your whole household and will give account before God.

So wives, don’t let your attitude toward your husbands be characterized by resistance, as if you must always get your way; and don’t act as if your husband is an opponent to overcome, as if y’all were enemies. Rather act as though you are the helper God built for him; and treat him as though he is the man God gave you to have and to hold and to help. Stay by his side, and you will always be close to his heart.

To be clear: submitting is hard work and we all need more grace. So let me clarify a couple of things.

Wives, you are called to submit yourself to your husbands only, not to any other husband, not to every other man.

Wives, your husband is not Jesus Christ; he is not your Lord and Savior. He is simply a man called to imitate Christ towards you in sacrificial, selfless love. He ought work at that with all his might and do it as well as he can — but know that he will (still) fail and fall short. So do not idolize him or mistake him for Jesus. He needs the grace of Christ in his life as much as you do in yours.

Wives, your calling to submit to your husband is not absolute and un-conditional. It is conditional. Note well that it says “as is fitting in the Lord.” You must submit to your husband if and when he is leading you to do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord. But you must not submit to him if he ever leads you to do what is wrong in the eyes of the Lord. There are times in life when you must obey God rather than man.

Pastorally, we all know that some wives are living with proud, difficult, and foolish husbands. Others are suffering in various at the hands and mouths of their husbands. Sometimes by men who twist and pervert texts like the one we are considering today. This is a terrible travesty and a painful perversion of the truth.

Wives, if your husband does not treat you well, if he does not try to love you as Christ loves the church – if he does not forsake all others and cling to you only — if he mistreats you emotionally with his words or physically with his hands — if he withholds love and affection from you — if he does not try to provide for you and your children, then you must tell someone and seek help. Talk to your pastors, a counselor, and if necessary, a physician and the police.

Contrary to chauvinists who mishandle this text, and try to suppress wives and subjugate women, we want our wives and women to know that the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a chain to bind you. It is not a weapon to be used against you. It is the key that unlocks the door of your heart, mind, and soul; it is the shield that protects you body and soul.

What Paul says by the Spirit — “submit as is fitting in the Lord” — is far more radical and revolutionary than most of us realize. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The truth shall set you free.

If you are a Christian united with Christ, never forget that you are very precious and you have infinite value. You are a daughter of God. You belong here in the family of God.

How can wives submit to their husbands?

I imagine that some of you wives are feeling stress and thinking about all the “yeah, buts” and “what ifs”. You might even be wondering “How in the world can I ever submit to a man who does x, y, z — or doesn’t do a, b, c?!”

Whether it feels possible or impossible to you, there is good news. With God all things are possible, for nothing is impossible with the Lord.

If you are serious about obeying God’s word even on this point, the most practical thing you can do is get up and get dressed every day.

We covered this last week, but it is worth repeating.

You must put on Christ and his virtues, one layer at a time, day after day.

How in the world can you ever submit to your husband as is fitting in the Lord? First, by putting on

  • compassionate hearts — bowels of mercy
  • kindness – a general friendliness
  • humility – low-minded, yet not dumbed-down attitude
  • meekness – bringing your thoughts and feelings under control, by bridling your tongue
  • patience – long-suffering / giving your husband space and time to grow, to lead, et al
  • tolerance / putting up with one another

All that to say, you must clothe yourself in the faithful love of Christ, not in the fig leaves of culture.

Do this day after day, and you will soon discover that submitting — letting go, giving in, backing down, helping out — will come more and more easily to you.

Do this day after day, and you will please your Father, your brother Jesus, and your husband, with the gracious help of the Holy Spirit.