Union with Christ in Marriage

Colossians 3 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

My pastor preached from this passage last week, inviting his wife up for a portion of the sermon to discuss with him how this has worked out in their marriage. I especially appreciated his introduction of the topic and the way he puts the passage in context. He also gives a good argument for why we can not write off Colossians 3 or Ephesians 5 as Paul simply addressing household codes in his context with little long term application for us in the 21st century. In his introduction, he emphasizes wrong and right ways to approach the concept of gender roles in Scripture.

The Bible is NOT giving us rigid distinctions of chores in marriage.

The Bible is NOT giving us an easy checklist to evaluate “Biblical” marriages.

The Bible is NOT giving us a black and white checklist for work and careers for men and women.

The Bible IS showing us what working out our salvation in our marriages looks like.

The Bible IS emphasizing what union with Christ looks like in marriage.

Fundamentally, the goal of any discussion of marriage in Scripture is UNITY – two becoming one flesh. Most importantly, Paul doesn’t give us commands to extract from the other spouse. Instead, Paul instructs us in the graces to give!

He ends with a discussion containing great wisdom for how to approach this if either spouse is an unbeliever or blatantly disobedient to Scripture. Basically, these instructions in Colossians 3 assume that both wings of the plane are working – perhaps not perfectly, but nevertheless at some level both spouses desiring to pursue unity in Christ. But if one of the spouses has abdicated their role or rejected Christ, it’s a bit like one wing of the plane is damaged. In that case, the pilot has different instructions for crisis situations – more like loving your enemy and showing grace to those undeserving of it.

My summary is incomplete, but those are some of the main ideas on which I was left ruminating. If you’d like to listen to the sermon, I recommend it.

5 Responses to Union with Christ in Marriage

  1. Anne Vyn December 2, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Hi Wendy,

    That is a great message, Wendy.
    There’s something really beautiful in the way they both share their hearts on this subject.

    I love how John makes it very clear that :
    1) the text is not talking about chores and activities that men and women do or don't do in marriage.
    2) the husband and wife team are to “work out the details together”.

    This is exactly what egalitarians would call submitting to one another in a spirit of love, considering the others needs above your own. This is how my husband and I interact with each other. When both parties in a marriage do this for each other, it’s not difficult to see that the end resolution is one that both feel is a reflection of their shared discussion. I’m hearing John and Lynne say that the wife AND the husband’s voices BOTH have EQUAL value in this discussion (Christ is the head of their marriage, Christ is the Paterfamilias in the decision making process, John is not the boss or the CEO) and therefore the unity in their relationship as they move forward is being determined by an egalitarian process.

    Would you agree with this summary, Wendy?

    They make it very clear that they’re not happy with the way “submit” is being defined by many today. (And I totally agree.) Lynne says that “submit” needs to be redefined. Lynne’s own friend argues that “submit is what your dog does.”

    However, their message loses relational clarity for me when the husband’s “leadership” and “authority” are alluded to but NOT defined or explained (at the 13:00 minute mark as well as at the 18:50 mark).

    After everything they’ve said in this message, I’m confused now as to what it looks like when the leadership and authority factor come into play. How do they “work out the details together” if the husband holds a trump card in the mix somewhere? What activities and decisions are excluded from the mutually submissive interaction they have been describing?

  2. David J. December 3, 2013 at 5:07 am #

    The approach Anne Vyn describes sounds great for probably the vast majority of married life (at least as long as they are extending grace to each other where their respective approaches are different but both reasonable, such as parenting style, most financial decisions, etc.). But sooner or later, and more than once during any marriage, they are going to disagree about something important, or at least fail to reach a consensus. What then? Who breaks the deadlock? Who decides (and takes the responsibility for the decision) to take that other job, or move to that other state, or switch to that other church when there has to be a decision but the husband and wife in good faith have different opinions? Regardless of whether those occasions arise weekly, monthly, annually, or once a decade, doesn't Colossians 3:18 mean at least that, when necessary, the husband will decide and will take responsibility for the decision, and the wife will support the decision (as opposed to undermining it, carping about it, and looking for an opportunity to say “I told you so”)?

  3. Wendy December 3, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    I think no one can work through it all in a 30 minute sermon, and we have to leave great big room for the Spirit to convict a couple individually in the specifics. But the big point is that the couple needs to have unity as the goal, and the tools for working it out along the way are sacrificial love on the part of the husband and sacrificial submission on the part of the wife. And those two are not spoken of in completely mutual ways. There is some overlap, but there is also diversity in expectations of each gender.

  4. Anne Vyn December 3, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    David, my husband and I will be married 33 years this month. Through the years, there have been several times where one of us felt the need to move in one direction while the other was just not there yet. We found ourselves at an impasse where our differing desires and perspectives prevented us from moving forward in unity.

    Early on in our marriage, we had resolved that we would always put our unity above any decision making that needed to be done. If we couldn’t come to agreement about something that ranked high on the decision scale, then we would do nothing until the Holy Spirit brought us into unity on the issue.

    I’m reminded of Nicolas Cage in the movie “Family Man”. After making alot of selfish career decisions and uprooting his family in one move after another, he comes to the place where he finally realizes that his wife is more important to him than any decision or choice he feels led to pursue. In a powerful moment of relational conflict near the end of the movie, he suddenly “gets it”. He pulls his wife gently into his arms, looks her in the eyes, and says with beautiful humility, “I choose US”. Such a powerful truth!! Our unity as husband and wife is of primary importance. Everything else is secondary.

  5. Anonymous December 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    I enjoyed their sermon; they complemented each other well in the delivery. I wholeheartedly agree with their thesis: union with Christ in marriage makes the goal unity. Some of my thoughts are:

    1. Re: needing a different word i.e. “support, respect, get behind” or “partner with” Do these represent what the original audience would have understood the Greek to mean in the context of household codes? From what I understand, what would have been striking for the original audience is the addressing of subordinates (wives, children, & slaves), wives not being told to obey, and the paterfamilias not being told how to rule or exercise authority but how to treat subordinates, i.e. love his wife. I think we can only understand the principle and any application to us when we can try and extract the meaning and understanding of the original author and audience. Unless we choose it and/or live in a subculture that promotes it, we wives in America do not live in a society with cultural, state-sanctioned authority invested in our husbands that requires our submission to a hierarchy lest the word of God be maligned.

    2. The pastor says of the husband at about 18:48 “authority is there and real.. It is “there and real” only in the sense of its historically real context. It is not there explicitly instrcuted in the text. It is “there and real” because it was assumed culturally. He also says it is “nuanced” but doesn't say how and to what extent. Would the original audience have understood the paterfamilias authority is being “nuanced” in such a way that it resembles how complementarians with hierarchy practice the nuances today?

    3. I appreciate what I think she is saying about Jesus being her paterfamilias, but I don't believe the original audience would have heard those words conveying their husband, father, master was not their paterfamilias. I think that is counter to what the authors were trying to accomplish. She can say that because she lives in a far different culture than the original audience. Maybe she assumes her listeners get that.

    4. I have been thinking a great deal about your recent posts on marriage, love, and respect and my comments on them. As I said on an earlier post, it seems complementarians with hierarchy use the texts on the household codes (Eph 5, Co 3, et al) as the rubric for all dynamics of Christian marriage. If not these verses only, they certainly seem weighted on the rubric more than any others.

    Assuming emotionally, spiritually healthy individuals, each spouse fulfilling rigid, diverse expectations with some overlap no doubt will produce unity. However, realizing the objective of unity from two emotionally, spiritually healthy individuals does not require rigid, diverse expectations regardless of some overlap.

    I enjoyed your summary and thanks for the heads up on the podcast. Overall, I enjoyed it and appreciate their message.