In last Sunday's sermon we looked at the 'secret' to harmonious homes and workplaces. This was one instalment in our series working through the letter to the Colossians. Chapter 3, verses 18 through chapter 4, verse 1, is rather controversial today. We don't like the ideas of submission, obedience and certainly not that of being a "bondservant."
So how do we take and apply this passage of the Word to our lives today that does justice to the passage and is still both applicable and transformative?
The whole idea of submission in our wider culture is, unfortunately, warped. Just look at the book and movie series on Shades of Grey. Others have written plenty on that, so I won't go there. Rather, I'm interested in us coming to a Biblical understanding of what the Holy Spirit, through Paul, was saying to husbands, wives, employees and employers. How did they understand it in their day and age?
This is called context, and is key to properly understanding what the Spirit was addressing. Digging a bit to get the right context to the first hearers helps us unearth the treasure some two millennia later. It's worth the effort.
First, let's address the errors. And many of these errors have been tolerated both within the church world and outside it for far too long. Now the #MeToo movement is a symptom of our cultural progression and, with hope, rise out of this mire.
I credit @Amy_K_Hall, who contributes online content with Stand to Reason, for bringing Wayne Grudem's comments on this issue from his work Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth. The leadership errors of the world and church in the past have included what Grudem calls "errors of passivity" - such as when a husband is weak in his leadership (e.g. a "wimp"), or the wife is inordinately submissive allowing her husband to dominate her (e.g. a "doormat"). On the flip side, there are also "errors of aggressiveness," wherein either the husband is a "tyrant" or the wife a "usurper."
None of these reflect the Christ-like ideal we are to strive for. If husbands are to "love their wives as Christ loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25, emphasis added), then no husband can fulfill this rule while being domineering, oppressive, abusive, neglectful and the whole host of other negatives that are manifested in disfunctional relationships. If husbands love their wives "as Christ loved the church," then there's no problem with submission.
Likewise, if wives "submit to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18) and "submit to your own husbands as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22), no wife will then be a usurper, a Jezebel, or the one who "wears the pants in the relationship."
Yet, we struggle still.
Here's the key embedded in every verse of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5: Every reference includes some form of statement - as well as being written in the saturated context - of having your eyes on Christ, looking beyond the role being filled by the other person, be they male, female, young or old, worker or business owner.
Keep your eyes on the prize: Jesus Christ. Serve in your role "as unto the Lord" in all things. Only in this way do we continue to strive toward - with the Holy Spirit's wonderful and irreplaceable constant help - the ideal that Jesus embodies. Only then can we be the husband we need to be, despite what our wives behave like. Only then can we be the wives we need to be, despite what hour husbands behave like. And the like for children, employers and employees, too.
No, this simple viewpoint doesn't address every contingency, such as egregiously abusive relationships in all these roles of life. Most of us don't live there. Yet even if we do, we'll still find solace, support and sanctification in keeping our eyes on the prize of Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit's work of recrafting us into the image of Jesus, to the glory of the Father.