Ronald Reagan was famous for Trickle-down Economics. That what is established at the top of the economic food chain will eventually trickle down and affect the whole chain.
Paul uses that philosophy in writing. He first forms a doctrinal foundation and then moves from there into the practical application. He does so to show how truth leads to life. He wants us to know that how we live is to be tied to truth not preference.
Now if you miss the truth, you will often get confused about the application. When the application comes as a command, we need to understand what’s behind the command so we can obey appropriately.
The Bereans were a community of believers who did just that. Where Paul felt the Thessalonians were a bit slack on what they believed, the Bereans would search the Scriptures to see if the things Paul was teaching was consistent with what Scripture said was true.
Most controversy comes when we simply take the words of a teacher and never question if what he says is supported in the whole of Scripture. Not doing so can cause disagreements and arguments that divide us into sides.
In Corinth, Paul confronted those who were pulling the church in opposite directions. They were elevating the teaching of one man higher than another. They argued Paul was the best. Others would say, no, Apollos is better. Some would go with Peter, while even others said, “We should only stay with what Jesus taught.”
They were pulling away from some, drawing themselves into the camp of the teacher they agreed with. Holding one teacher’s opinion higher than all others. What my guy says is right and anyone who disagrees is wrong.
It was a common problem. Paul addressed this to Timothy: 2Tim 2:14-15 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
Wrangling over words. Struggling with each other over the meaning and use of words instead of working diligently to accurately handle the word.
To resolve the Corinthian controversy, Paul wrote 1Cor 4:6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.
The arrogance toward our beliefs can become as damaging as non-belief when it divides us instead of unites us. So, Paul warned us not to exceed what is written. To take what is written and explore it to see what the writer meant, not what people have determined he meant. Not to take away from what he said nor to add stuff in he didn’t say.
Nowhere is that more challenging than with the word submit. And especially when that word is attached to wives in reference to their husbands. In 1611, when the KJV Bible used the word submit as a requirement for wives, the sparks of controversy began to fly.
KJV - Col 3:18-19 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Without knowing what their intentions were back then or how that word was understood in 1611, in English today, the idea is to place yourself under the control of someone else. There was a military understanding of the word. It had to do with recognizing authority to command, as a soldier submitting to his ranking officer. Some husbands have taken that to mean the wife is relegated to a position of servitude to her husband and must do whatever he tells her to do without question or hesitation. And thus, the word obey was placed into the wedding vows. What kinds of problems does that enable?
- A domineering husband wanting control.
- A perverted husband wanting self-pleasure.
- An insecure husband wanting power.
- A violent husband wanting to imprison his wife in a relationship of terror.
- A dysfunctional husband having no idea what he’s wanting.
To justify their actions, they throw around Paul’s KJV command to submit as an excuse to abuse and use. That’s why we need to examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so.
Is submit what Paul meant? What word did Paul use and what did he mean by it? Other translations have changed the English from submit to be subject to, which softens the idea a bit.
NASB - Col 3:18-19 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
But even this change doesn’t offer much help for us to know what Paul was saying. It’s obvious Paul had more in mind than the word implies, because be subject to is too much of a wide-opened command to follow.
God never made reckless commands by telling people to obey without telling them how He expects them to obey.
He said: have no other Gods before Me. What does that mean? How do we obey it? So, He went on to spell out what that meant: Ex 20:3-5 You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them;
He’s talking about not allowing anything to lower His priority in our lives – as happens in idolatry. Fashion no statue or create no counterfeit representation to worship instead of Me. Nothing in your life is to be more important than I am. He’s establishing priority.
You shall not covet. What does that mean? How do we obey it? Ex 20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Leave other people’s stuff alone. Don’t sit around lusting after people’s stuff because that could lead to taking what doesn’t belong to you. God wanted obedience but also wanted them to know what that obedience would look like.
So, when Paul says, wives submit or to be subject to your husband, what does that look like? How do we obey that command?
If I told you to jump, what am I expecting you to do? Jump. But for how long? In one place or all over the room? How high?
If I told you to run, what am I expecting you to do? Run. But for how long? How far? How fast? In what direction should you go?
Because there aren’t any clarifying suggestions following those words, we’re left to fill in the blanks. Our obedience can look like whatever we want it to look like.
In the same way, with the command to submit or to be subject to, there aren’t any details given. And you’ve heard all the ideas people have used to fill in the blanks. But what if Paul had something else on his mind that doesn’t fall into our understanding of the highly volatile word submit?
He used the same word in Eph 5:21 submit or be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. If everyone is to be subject to one another, and that means everyone submits to everyone else, how do we do that? How do you structure that into an organization? How do you do that with what Paul says in Colossians for wives and husbands?
We can’t leave out other Scripture when we’re trying to understand a particular verse.
So, before we apply a word to one side of the equation – wives submit – we must factor in the larger idea of mutual submission which has been left out when interpreting husband and wife relationships. Obviously, Paul’s word must have a greater meaning.
The word is uppotasso. uppo – under and tasso – to arrange. Or, to arrange yourself under or to place yourself under the arrangement. I set myself under, or I place myself under or in subjection to the original arrangement.
Throughout secular use, the word has meant: Designated, appointed, established, determined, devoted. Nowhere do you hear the word submit. It is more of an agreement to what was decided beforehand.
In other words, there was an expected, established relationship wives were to have with their husbands and husbands with their wives. Paul was not pointing to something cultural, but looking beyond culture to help couples see how to structure their marriages to look like what God designed. Specifically, as these intentions bear on the relationship of a wife to her husband and a husband to his wife.
So, back in the beginning, within the first documented marriage, when God decided to create Eve, Gen 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.
What is a helper suitable? Again, with no specifics, we’ve filled in the blanks with our own ideas. And in doing so, we’ve limited what God was saying.
In the Hebrew, there is no word suitable in the text. Suitable is an adjective. It helps describe a noun. What’s in the original is a preposition that means: corresponding to, according to (Sept). A preposition expresses the relationship of a word to the rest of the sentence. She is a helper that resolves the issue of it not being good a man is alone.
So, the wife would be a helper according to or corresponding to the reason she was created in the first place. Her purpose as a wife is defined in her creation. A man isn’t best suited to be alone, so she would come alongside her husband and be his companion helper who completes what is missing in his life.
The specific word for helper in this verse is also rather unique. There are many other ways to say helper, but God chose one that in all other references refers to the kind of helper God is to His people.
God’s help is nurturing, supportive, soothing, compassionate. It can come in the form of: advice, aid, benefit, boost, comfort, counsel, guidance, support, assistance, correction, lifting, nourishing, sustaining.
Nowhere do you find the idea she was designed to be dominated or domineering, berated or berating, demanded or demanding, disheartened or disheartening, stifled or stifling. Her help comes through sympathy, care and support. But in the same way God helps us, the wife can challenge, urge, nudge, confront, remind, point out, convict, convince, question. God’s help is specific to what’s best for us and always adds value to our lives.
So, to be subject to your husband is for his wife to align herself with her God-given value to her husband.
- Without subjecting yourself to your husband, he becomes a hindrance to your happiness and you to his.
- Without subjecting yourself to your husband, he becomes a source of your frustration and you to his.
- Without subjecting yourself to your husband, he becomes a problem you must endure and you to him.
- Without subjecting yourself to your husband, he becomes a thief to your joy and you to his.
A wife is a part of the support mechanism God has placed in her husband’s life, helping her husband fulfill his God-called responsibilities as a man. Not giving him blind obedience, but urging him toward God’s best – not just toward her opinion of what she thinks is best.
That requires her to learn how her husband is wired to receive help. In doing so, her help is according to God’s intentions. That makes her help a God-type help. How do you know what that looks like? It will be the help by which you Phil 2:3-4 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard your husband as more important than yourself; not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for his interests as well.
But then, Paul turns his attention to the husband’s submission to his wife. Wait, the wife submits and the husband loves. Remember mutual submission? The same responsibility applies.
After Paul said be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. He then said: Wives, be subject to your own husbands…and, Husbands, love your wives.
So the same applies: Husbands, do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard your wife as more important than yourself; not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for her interests as well.
What are those interests: Col 3:19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
How might a husband become embittered toward his wife? When he resents her intrusion in his life. Wait a minute, didn’t God design her to intrude in his life as a helper for his benefit? Yes, so where does the bitterness come from?
- When a man gets frustrated that things don’t go his way,
- When he can’t solve a problem,
- When his plans fail,
- When he needs to make a decision and doesn’t know what to do,
- When opinions offered clash with his opinion,
He often holds those disappointments inside causing bitterness to fester.
Bitterness is the result of hidden fears and failures, unconfessed grudges and unresolved issues. It means we have rejected the role of our wives to help us and have allowed resentment to replace love. How can he fix this? By sharing the load with his wife. She doesn’t need to know the technicalities, just what you’re dealing with and how it’s affecting you. You’re not asking her to fix the problem, simply allow you to unload it.
Going it alone wasn’t good for Adam and it isn’t good for us. That’s why she is your wife. God has placed her there to help. A man is less capable when he ignores his helper who corresponds to God’s intentions. She could be the voice of God in that moment to calm your fears and even help you discover the solution.
What about love? Why would Paul need to command men to love their wives? Because it is a point of failure for him not to give his wife what she needs most. It’s probably not done intentionally, unless he has become bitter. It’s more likely out of ignorance, neglect, habit or the example he’s patterned his manhood after.
Love is what the wife needs most. And not every wife defines what love looks like to her in the same way as other wives. Husbands need to discover how to specifically love their wife. He has to learn how his wife is wired to know how to love her. If you can’t figure it out, ask her what you do that says I love you, then start doing that again. Paul doesn’t tell us how to love them, only that we must love them.
But he does give us a clue in the word he uses.
With several words for love Paul could have chosen, he selected the highest category of love. The one that most represented the kind of love God has for us. Agape. It is a selfless, giving love that wants the best for them, takes pleasure in, longs for, esteems and cherishes them as most valuable.
The wife helps with God-like help. The husband loves with God-like love. Both result in what’s best for the other person.
- Without love the wife becomes part of the problem rather than the solution.
- Without love her actions become an irritant rather than an ointment.
- Without love he will resent her as an intrusion rather than appreciate her support.
- Without love he will dominate her rather than cherish and protect her.
I’ve heard wives say, “If he’d love me like that, I’d do anything he wanted.”
I’ve heard husbands say, “If she’d do anything I wanted, I’d love her like never before.”
Well, sorry, that’s not how it works. Go back to Colossians. These are commands not suggestions. They’re unconditional. We can’t obey God and place restrictions on our obedience. I’ll be subject to him if he does what I want him to do, or I’ll love her when she doesn’t do things I don’t want her to do. We can’t measure out our help according to what he deserves. We can’t withhold our love because she’s aggravating us.
Wives are our helpers because that’s why God created them. Husbands love because they are the only ones who can express the God-like value that satisfies their wife’s ultimate need.
It’s called a symbiotic relationship. Each living to the benefit of the other. Sounds like mutual submission.
Phil 2:3-4 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard your husband or your wife as more important than yourself; not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for his or her interests as well.
- Marriage doesn’t just happen because we say I do at the altar.
- Marriage is the product of commitment to each other and to the Lord.
- We can be the best husband or wife our partner needs if we give ourselves first to God and then to each other.
- Our faithfulness to our spouse trickles down from our faithfulness to God.
- By submitting ourselves to God, we will be able to help and love as He intends.
- When we refuse to submit to Him, we will also fail to help and love as commanded.