In order for a man and a woman to live together successfully, the Lord has to do a lot of prep work first. The Scripture tells us that unless the Lord builds the house, the one who builds it labors in vain (Ps. 127:1). And when the Lord builds a house, as He is building one here today, it will benefit us to look at what sort of preparation work he does.
What kind of site prep is necessary? What kind of concrete work for the foundation goes on? If such foundational steps are omitted, Jesus tells us what could easily happen. He says in one of His illustrative parables that a house built with no foundation looks just exactly like the other one—until a storm comes (Matt. 7:24-27). Then it collapses.
In our passage from Colossians, the apostle says a number of things just before he tells the wives to be submissive and the men to love their wives. In fact, we may go so far as to say that unless we pay close attention to what he says just prior to this passage, the loving and the submitting part just ain’t gonna happen.
But if we are attentive, and do the prep work right, the house will be as sturdy as a house can get. There is a whole row of apostolic concrete trucks lined up for this pour. Paul tells believers to clothe themselves with virtues like kindness, humility, patience, and so on (v. 12). He says that we are to bear with one another (v. 13). He says that if a complaint makes it past our forbearance, we should then make it a point to forgive the offense just like Jesus did with us and all our offenses (v. 13). The next layer is love, which goes over everything (v. 14). Let Christ’s peace protect you, he says (v. 15). Be thankful (v. 15). Let the word of Christ dwell inside you richly (v. 16). With wisdom and thanksgiving, sing a lot (v. 17). And do everything in the name of Jesus (v. 17).
This is another way of saying that in order to have a Christian marriage you need to do it with a man and a woman who are acting like Christians. Those are the two essential ingredients. Christian marriage requires two Christians. Forgiveness, forbearance, kindness, humility, etc. should attend us in all our dealings with everyone, and the closer we get to others the more evident it becomes whether that is the case or not.
In order to get these two Christians, it is not enough to decorate as though we had them. Draping Christian ornaments like kindness, humility and sacrifice on a fundamentally selfish person is an exercise in incongruities, like putting lipstick on a camel. We want Jesus to dwell within us, and we want to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ as well, but this will only be good if we are born again into the life of Jesus Christ. That occurs because we have submitted ourselves in faith to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
In one sense, marriage completely transforms us. Of course, how could it be otherwise? But in another sense, a very important sense, it doesn’t change us but only amplifies us. Self-centeredness will be amplified by the presence of another, as will kindness. Pettiness will be a lot easier to identify than it was when you lived by yourself. Humility shines when another person is present and close up. Marriage brings that person close and you are about to discover sins you thought you had conquered, or which you did not know you had.
But I am not saying this to scare you or put you off. This is part of the adventure. Sit loose to it, maintain a sense of humor, and cover everything with love.
Resolve that these Christian attributes will be characteristic of your treatment of one another. You are brother and sister in Christ first, and husband and wife second. When you come together, as you are doing now, you are doing so in faith.
Gabe, when it comes to your treatment of Charlene, this text says that you are to love her, and are not to be bitter against her. Some translations render it as “do not be harsh against her.” It works out either way, actually, because when husbands are harsh, it is usually because they are bitter. The word is pikraino, and means cutting, pointed, sharp. Generally people cut when they believe they have been cut, and they are sharp when they believe someone has been sharp with them. Paul here says that men are not to be embittered against their wives, and one of the reasons why they shouldn’t is that when they are embittered they will often provide many occasions for their wives to become bitter right alongside them. When that kind of bitterness takes root, it will eventually bear bitter fruit. Bitterness is the kind of thing that will degrade the foundation of your house that I was speaking of a few moments ago. So Gabe, my charge to you is to not allow bitterness to take root in your home.
Charlene, when Paul speaks to you, he says that you are to be submissive to your husband, as he also teaches elsewhere. But here he adds an interesting phrase—“as is fitting in the Lord.” There is a lack of submission that is not fitting for a Christian woman, but there is also a kind of counterfeit submission that is not fitting. The world loves to point at that counterfeit submission, as though that were what the Scriptures require, and unfortunately, some Christians have adopted that counterfeit themselves in the name of Jesus. But Paul here says “as is fitting in the Lord.” Christian authority and Christian submission all occur within Jesus. Remember what Paul said earlier about clothing yourself with the love and peace of Jesus. The love and peace of Christ surround you, and the word of Christ dwells within you, and does so richly. If you do these things, as the apostle instructs, you will give your husband the best gift a man can have, which is a wife who is a real sweetheart.
So I charge each of you to receive by faith those characteristics that God wove into the garment of Jesus Christ, and which He intends for both of you to wear throughout the course of your marriage.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.