Since this Sunday is Father’s Day, I thought I would share a recent homework assignment – a sermon written on the issue of domestic violence. One of the first and most important places to apply your leadership skills is as a husband and father. One of the ways that some men go wrong in their leadership of the home is to become violent or harsh toward their family.
Don’t be one of those men.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:18–21)
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22, 25, 6:1-4)
Wives and children are told what to do, submit and obey. Only husbands and Fathers are told what not to do (don’t be harsh or provoking). What the wives and children are told to do gives men a lot of power. What husbands and fathers are told not to do is to abuse that power, giving wives and children some biblical protection. The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
Biblical Love – The Husband’s Initiative
Let’s start by examining love. The Greek word used is “agape.” That is God’s love for us. It is unconditional, self-sacrificial love. Men, how are you supposed to love your wives and children? As Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her. Now, don’t be stupid or cutesy about this. A lot of dirt bag husbands and fathers can say and genuinely mean that they would take a bullet for their wives or kids. They have this inconsistent idea of protection that’s more like an older sibling than a Godly husband or father. Only they can hurt they wife, only they can hurt their kids, but no one else can. This objectifies people and makes them nothing more than a possession.
This is not about how we die for our wives or kids, it’s about how we live with them.
This sacrifice is not limited to something that might kill us, but things that make us uncomfortable. We need to be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the good of our wives and kids. If we’re doing that like Christ does it for us, then we’re doing it on an ongoing basis, and not based on whether or not they deserve it. Jesus doesn’t love us only if we’re good, he loves us even when we’re bad. He died for us even while we were actively sinning (Romans 5:8). So we need to love sacrificially even when our wives and kids don’t deserve it.
In this whole process of love and submission, love is the igniter, the starter. And it is specifically the man’s responsibility. Expecting your wife to submit or your kids to obey without loving them is like expecting your car to run without the key in the ignition. Just as “We love because [Christ] first loved us” (1 John 4:19), so wives submit and children obey because their husbands and fathers loved them first.
So that’s what you do. Here’s what to expect.
Biblical Submission (NOT Subjugation) – A Wife’s Response
Do not expect subjugation or obligation. Despotic kings and dictators get subjugation and obligation. Their subjects oblige them in behavior only. Their subjects do not submit or obey as a condition of their hearts.
Submission and obedience are voluntary. They are not the same as subjugation. When Jesus was a boy traveling to the temple with his parents, on the way back He initially stayed behind and freaked his parents out because they thought He was missing. When they found him and He went home with them, Luke 2:51 says, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” If Jesus the Messiah submits to his human parents, what does that say about the idea submission makes the submitter inferior?
So what does biblical submission look like. It is “as is fitting in the Lord.” One commentator says this phrase “points to the time of their entrance upon the Christian life.” [i] So, as submission to Christ is fitting for Christians (and not for non Christians), so submission to husbands is fitting for loved wives (and not for unloved wives). Another commentator says “Wives have rights and privileges, but recognition of the husband’s leadership is essential to a well-ordered home, only the assumption is that the husband has a head and a wise one.” [ii] Submission only works if the husband is loving, wise, and sacrificial in the way that he exercises his authority. Any man that would use this scripture to spiritually beat his wife into subjugation is not loving, he is abusive. Because he is not loving, it is not fitting for his wife to submit herself to him.
Another qualifier for what submission looks like is that it is “as to the Lord.” Just as a man’s love is supposed to be Christ like, so a woman’s submission is supposed to be like her husband’s submission to the Lord. Any man who wants his wife to follow him willingly had better be submitting his life to Christ. If he’s not, then he has no right to expect any submission from her. Remember we believe in justification through faith alone, not in justification through works. Submission in behavior only is not submission, it is subjugation. Submission that is heart deep is submission that comes as a result of the husband’s love in exactly the same way that our faith comes as a result of God’s love.
Women, is this what you have heard about submission? Or have you been taught about subjugation but heard it called “submission.” If so, let me apologize on the behalf of men and pastor’s who have hurt you and done a lousy job of helping you to understand scripture.
When your husband loves you and you submit to him in your heart, not just in your behavior, you make it easier for him to love you. I’m not a Greek scholar, so my technical understanding of this may need correction from someone with better Greek skills than me. The Greek word for submit is in the middle tense. Which means the person who is doing the submitting has an impact on both themselves and on the person their submitting to. When your husband “turns the ignition” by loving you like Christ loves you, you keep the engine running by keeping the spark plugs firing.
Men: no ignition, no spark. No spark, no running engine. If the engine aint runnin, you aint drivin. You only get to steer the relationship when you love your wife. Love is no matter what and submission is optional (but strongly recommended). Too often, we get it the other way around. When we do, it gets really easy for the man to become harsh with his wife. The exact thing that Paul says not to do.
Harsh Bitterness – a Father’s Folly
I want to examine this word “harsh.” In some translations it’s don’t be bitter. The form of the Greek word here is passive. What that means is that all it takes is complacency and we’ll fall into this thing that we’re not supposed to do. Just as it takes ongoing effort and discipline to love our families like Christ loves them, it takes ongoing effort and discipline to NOT be bitter, harsh, or provoking.
When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the same Greek word was used to translate Hebrew words that referred to intense, fuming, boiling anger directed at a specific person. This gives the idea of a man ready to explode, a man full of anger.
Here’s what Jesus says about anger. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21–22)
What does this say about a man who actually explodes?
What does this say about a man who allows himself to hold on to anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness about his wife’s flaws or things he’s given up for her?
What does obedience look like? “…in everything” and “in the Lord.” Remember, the underlying assumption is that your parents love you. One commentator said, “This is the hard part for the child, not occasional obedience, but continual. Surely a Christian father or mother will not make unreasonable or unjust demands of the child.” [iii]
In marriage, there is a distinction between the husband and the wife. The man’s job is to love the woman no matter what, and the woman’s job is to submit as long as he loves her. With regard to the kids, there is no distinction between boys and girls and obedience. Obedience applies to boys just as much as it does to girls, there is no male privilege in scripture. I think it’s interesting to compare kids with wives on this note. This is just my observation, I can’t claim that this is what scripture is saying: it’s more obvious when kids are not obedient than when a wife is not submissive, but both are indicators of an unloving husband and father.
I hope you notice how much burden and responsibility I am putting on the man. I think the pattern for a long time has to put the burden on the woman and to let the man skate. If we’re looking closely at scripture and keeping context in mind, that’s clearly wrong.
Provocation Impairs Obedience
Paul started by talking about the relationship between the parents before he moved on to the kids. Parents are more honorable when they love and submit to one another than when they are provoking and harsh to one another. Expecting obedience from your children when there is poison in your marriage is like expecting your car to run with no gas in it.
Just as husbands are not to be harsh with their wives, so they are not to be provoking toward their kids. The ideas are similar, but there are a few differences. The reason Paul gives not to provoke your kids is “lest they become discouraged.” Don’t provoke your kids, so that they won’t be discouraged, disheartened, or depressed. In other words, don’t shame your kids.
I’ve been talking about the love and submission between husbands and wives, and this issue of shame is one of the things that can seriously derail biblical love and submission. Nothing predisposes men to be abusive more than a shameful childhood, especially when the source of that shame is their father. Nothing predisposes women to be abused more than a shameful childhood, especially when the source of that shame is their father.
Who is more bitter and harsh than someone who has, as a pattern of life, been discouraged, disheartened, and depressed?
Rather than shaming your kids, encourage them. Notice them as individuals. As often as possible, notice the good things that they put their energy into. “What gets noticed gets repeated” – Dave Wenzel. As often as possible, let your kids judge the quality of the results they produce. As often as possible, ask them what they’ll do differently next time instead of telling them what to do differently next time.
In a loving home, the wife is loved, safe, and what she feels, thinks, needs, wants is considered valuable, and of high priority. She is not subjugated. In a loving home, children are encouraged and built up. They are not shamed.
In a loving home, husbands and fathers are loving, encouraging, trusted, and honored.
[i] Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 507). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
[ii] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Col 3:18-21). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
[iii] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Col 3:20). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.