Renewed Relationships in the Community of God
Colossians 3:18-4:1. God is healing the creation through Jesus. As we come to trust him, we are restored to God and brought into fellowship with him. We are also made new, the old us has died and new us is emerging. This new us is being made new in knowledge, after the image of our creator. As we come to know him more and more, he changes us into what He is like. Beholding him leads to becoming like him. This transformation has effects at every level of our human relationships. This is the household code, but I want to focus on the most important relationship that exists in the home, in the church, and in society – and it is that of the husband and wife. If you are not married, this is still for you today. Vision serves as filter. Anytime we speak about marriage, you should be gaining greater focus with regards to the profile of a future spouse and your own personal profile – becoming the type of man or women that another would be glad to commit one’s life to. If you are divorced, please don’t tune this out. You have so much to offer. God wants to redeem that pain in your life by allowing you to speak into the lives of others. If you are married, today should provide you with some practical helps to move you toward a marriage that stands in stark contrast to the norm in our society. It is no secret that marriages are failing all around us and many of the marriages that last have functionally failed – together legally but separated in every other way. This text gives us some help.
God does have a vision for how marriages should work and flourish.
In verse 18, he says that wives should submit to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord (in other words, as is proper for those who belong to the Lord and are seeking to live out his vision for our lives). The parallel passage in Ephesians uses the word respect. Husbands are called to love their wives with an unconditional sacrificial love that is ready to serve and die for his wife at any moment. And, he is not to be harsh or have bitterness in his heart to her. Submission says nothing about dignity, worth, ability, significance, value, or strength. This truth is rooted in the Godhead. The Father, Son and Spirit are ontologically equal, but there is a functional subordination in the God-head. For the Son to submit to the Father does not mean that the Father is somehow better or more important or stronger, wiser, and the Son is somehow less. The Son chooses to submit himself to the Father who loves the Son and seeks to honor the Son and bring glory to the Son. The same is true in the marriage relationship. So this commandment has nothing to do with dignity, importance, wisdom or power. It is also rooted in Christ and the Church. Parallel passage: Ephesians 5 highlights marriage: Husband is the Christ figure, loving and leading, sacrificing and dying. Wife is the Church figure – relishing that love and responding with admiration and honor.
This is rooted in creation. Men and women are made differently. Genesis 1:27 male and female he created them. Generally, women are wired for love, men are wired for respect. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs calls “The Love and Respect Connection.” This is what this passage is calling each to. God’s wisdom addresses our wiring. Here is what we need to see. The reason that God commands the husband to love his wife is because that is what she most needs from him. The reason that God calls the wife to respect her husband is because that is what he most needs from her. A Man most needs his wife to show him respect. Illus: In a national survey was conducted by Decision Analysts 400 men were asked if they were forced to choose between going through two different negative experiences, which would they prefer to endure (a. to be left alone and unloved in the world OR b. to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone)? 74% chose “a,” they would rather be left alone and unloved than to be disrespected. Men are wired so that they have a great desire and need for respect (ask your husband some time). What about Aretha Franklin? R-E-S-P-E-C-T-? Otis Redding wrote the song. Illus: If I were to ask the men here “do you want your business associates to love you or respect you,” which would you choose? Men desire respect. A husband is called upon to love his wife with agape love and hold his calling to leadership seriously. That call to loving leadership is a call for the husband to cherish his wife, honor her, esteem her, provide for and protect her, even dying for her if called upon. Something in a man longs for a women to look to him for this. He longs for a woman’s respect and admiration. Old saying: “Every man does what he does for the admiration of one woman.” That does not mean that men don’t have a great desire to be loved, it just means that they feel loved most when they are looked upon with respect and admiration. This is the main reason men commit affairs. Not because the other woman was prettier or sexier, but because she looked at him and spoke to him in ways that show respect and admiration.
So, a man longs for a woman that will look to him for provision and protection and look to him to serve her and die for her. A woman is different. A woman doesn’t typically want a man who will look to her for those things. She doesn’t want a man who will look to her to provide for him and protect him and who will look to her to lay her life down for him if danger ever threatened him. A man who would gently wake you up in the middle of the night and say, “I hear an intruder in our home, will you grab the bat and go and check. I will be here with the door locked.” Women don’t typically have this dominant desire to be respected and admired, they typically have a great desire for love and affection, to connect heart to heart. My daughter says to me, “Daddy, aren’t I pretty?” My son says to me, “Daddy, aren’t I fast?” One is seeking words of affection; one is seeking words of admiration. Market research shows that the majority of greeting cards are bought by women and for women. Those cards typically use the language of love, not respect. It doesn’t mean that women don’t want respect; it just means a woman feels respected most when she is loved with a selfless, sacrificial gentle love that is ready to die for her. She feels loved when she is romanced and cherished. This is a big reason that woman have affairs, not because the other guy was more handsome or successful, but because he spoke kindly and looked at her and listened to her and showed her affection with his words and touch until it escalated.
The call in verses 18-19 is for husbands to show unconditional love to their wives and the wives to show unconditional respect for their husbands. When the husband unconditionally treats his wife with love and affection, cherishing her and serving her and the wife treats her husband with unconditional admiration and respect, speaking and responding to him in respectful ways, the marriage flourishes. Now, we don’t flinch at unconditional love. But, that is like saying, the husband must meet my need unconditionally, but I do not have to meet his need unconditionally. If we could see that husbands feel about respect the same way that wives feel about love and vice versa both husband and wife could move closer toward giving each other what they each need without making them earn it. This must be unconditional but not idolatrous. IN other words, we have to say, I will respect my husband even when he is acting unloving and the husband must say, I will love my wife even when she is acting disrespectful. This becomes idolatrous when the husband says, I must have respect before I can love and the wife says I must have love before I can show respect.
Here is the defeating cycle that many marriages find themselves in according to Eggerichs: Without love, she reacts without respect; without respect, he reacts without love. When the wife feels like her husband is not loving her, she usually responds in ways that lack respect and admiration. She will do this out of frustration but also as a way to motivate her husband. Motivating your husband to be more loving by using less respectful words, criticisms, attitudes or looks never works. And when the man feels disrespected, he reacts without love – sometimes as a way to motivate his wife. This never works. It is a vicious cycle.
The solution to getting out of this cycle is to hear the cry of your spouses heart in your spouses’ behavior. She is crying out to be loved; she is not trying to be disrespectful. He is crying out for respect; he is not trying to be unloving. This means you have to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Some people have a lot of baggage that has postured their heart toward criticism and unloving patterns and need some help along the way, but typically, your spouse is not malicious or full of evil intentions. You have to hear the cry in your spouses’ behavior. If your wife is being critical of you and treating you in ways that feel disrespectful, it may be because she is needing love from you, not because she intends to disrespect you. If your husband is treating you harshly and being unloving failing to meet your needs, neglecting to be close to you and to listen to you, it may be because he is needing respect, not because he is intending to be unloving to you. We have to learn to move forward toward our spouses with the very things they need. Instead of retreating or pulling back, we have to move forward toward our spouses with unconditional love and respect. This is how we win the heart of our spouse. These relationships must be laced with forgiveness (remember 3:12-14). Apart from the Gospel, this is virtually impossible. When our identity is based upon God’s treatment of us and not someone’s else’s, we are more able to forgive their treatment of us and not be devastated by it. When the husband feels disrespected or the wife feels unloved they must move toward the other with forgiveness rooted in the Gospel and with words that express their feelings and seek to uncover the cause. Here is a simple way to do that – “That felt disrespectful. Did I treat you in an unloving way?” OR “ that felt unloving; did I treat you in a disrespectful way?” if the answer is yes, the response is “I am sorry; how can I be more loving or more respectful to you.” This kind of calm communication and openness can transform your marriage and your dating relationships. This is responding instead of reacting.
Just like the vicious cycle cripples the marriage, another cycle can heal it. Her respect motivates his love and his love motivates her respect. When we intentionally with the help of the Holy Spirit embrace loving or respectful patterns in our relationship with our spouse, we inevitably begin to experience healing and flourishing in our marriages. But we have to learn our spouses mother tongue. Practical ways to do just that? Show and tell. You know your spouse. Discuss it with him or her. Ask her, How can I be more loving? What do I do that communicates love to you? That doesn’t? Ask him, “ how can I be more respectful to you? What do I do that communicates respect? That doesn’t?” We image forth our God and his Gospel when we live this way. Husband is the Christ figure, loving and leading, sacrificing and dying. Wife is the Church figure – relishing that love and responding with admiration and honor.