1 PETER #19: A BEAUTIFUL LIFE

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Peter writes that true beauty comes from within, and is attainable for everyone, regardless of clothing, hairstyle, body-type, or anything external. There is a beauty of spirit that comes from trusting God, and letting your heart rest peacefully on Him. He gives the example of Sarah, who, though she failed sometimes, trusted God, and became beautiful in this way. God used Sarah to show the world not only inner beauty, but also that women are equally important as men, and that both men and women are necessary to show the world his glory.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 19

1 PETER #19. 1 PETER 3:1-7

Last time we considered the essence of a woman’s submission to her husband, which is that she entrusts herself to God by using her gifts to support her husband’s leadership of their family, and encouraging that leadership. Ultimately, her trust is not in her husband, but in God, and because of her trust in God, she makes room for her husband to lead. We also talked about the limits of that sort of submission.

In case I wasn’t clear last time, I want to make sure and say it clearly: this doesn’t mean that husbands get to control their wives, and tell them what to do, or organize their schedules for them, and so on. These verses do not advocate those sorts of unhealthy relational patterns, and abuse of any kind is always wrong. The main thing is not that husbands get to control their wives, but rather, that wives make room for their husbands to step up and take responsibility in healthy, godly ways. Submitting means that wives trust God to be at work in and through their husbands, and they support and encourage their husbands’ godly leadership of the family.

By the way, there are several other verses in the New Testament that apply these same principles to church leadership. That’s useful for us today in two ways. First, if you are a single woman, and you wonder what this might have to do with you, you can apply it in your church. Entrust yourself to God, and then make room for the men in your church to lead in godly ways. Support and encourage them, contributing your own talents to their efforts. Single women might also consider how they can make room for, and encourage their own fathers to be spiritual leaders.

Second, if you think about submission in terms of the church, it is easy to see the proper limits of submission. Your church leaders shouldn’t be telling you how to spend every moment of your day, and therefore neither should your husband. Your church leaders shouldn’t be dictating who you can and can’t be friends with, or where you should shop, or what food to eat. Therefore, neither should your husband. If the men in the church have any wisdom, they will ask for the wisdom, talents and skills of the women to help them as they lead. So, a wise husband should want his wife involved in leading the family. There are a few differences, of course, between marriage-life and church-life, but understanding how it should work in the church helps us to navigate how it should work in the home.

Peter adds some new thoughts, while he is still addressing women:

3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

1 Peter 3:3-4

Let’s be sensible about these verses. It should be obvious that Peter is not prohibiting braided hair. What he is doing is quite clear: He is encouraging women to focus on inward beauty more than outward decorations like clothing, jewelry and hairstyles. As it turns out, this could be a tremendously freeing and wonderful thing for women.

Let’s start with the way Peter says it: “Do not let your adorning be external.” The Greek word translated “adorning” is an interesting one. It literally means “world.” Without giving a Greek lesson, I think the idea here is like this:

Don’t let your world be arranged around external things like hairstyles, jewelry and clothes.

(Tom’s literal-ish translation)

Peter is not saying that if you pay attention to your hair or clothes, you are sinning. He is saying that the focus of your world should be on internal qualities more than external things. He adds (my “expounded translation”)

Instead, arrange your world around the hidden beauty of your heart, your inner person. Do this through a composed and gentle spirit. This kind of beauty lasts forever, and is precious to God.

Tom’s literal-ish expounded translation

Before we get to the details, let me point out that this means that true beauty is possible for every woman, no matter their age, genetic make-up or workout regimen. In fact, the very reason we are familiar with the idea of “inner beauty” is because of this passage of the Bible. It reminds me of another passage, this time about a man. The prophet Samuel was looking for Israel’s next king, and he came upon a big, tall, strong young man who looked like a king. He thought his search was over until God spoke to him:

7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

(1 Samuel 16:7, NLT)

Our culture, by and large, does judge by outward appearances. Some of the most admired and envied individuals in our society are actually pretty lousy as human beings, but they are beautiful to look at. It’s been well established that there is such a thing as “tall privilege” (tall people get hired more, and are more likely to be promoted, etc). People who are considered physically attractive are also treated better than others. To our culture, outward appearances are very important.

Peter offers to free us from all of that. He says there is a beauty that touches the heart of God, and it is the beauty of the inner person. It has nothing to do with the size or brand of your clothes, or your hairstyle. It’s a beauty that will never fade, no matter how old you grow. You can’t lose it.

Writing specifically to women, Peter says that womanly beauty has something to do with a composed and gentle spirit. Where I write “composed,” some translations say: “quiet.” But just as “quiet” has shades of meaning in English, so does the word in Greek. It doesn’t necessarily mean “refraining from talking or making noise.” It means “remaining at peace,” or “not trying to control things.” It’s a piece of what we talked about last time when we considered submission. It means trusting God so much that you don’t have to try and control things. That trust leads to peace and composure in the inner person, which is a beautiful thing to God.

As an example of this, Peter names Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He says that Sarah used to make herself beautiful in this same way, as she too, entrusted herself to God’s work in and through her husband.

Let’s consider some of the details of Sarah’s beautiful life. (I’m going to call them Sarah and Abraham consistently, even though initially they were called Sarai and Abram). We probably need to start by acknowledging that much like her husband Abraham, Sarah was an imperfect person, who had ups and downs in her life of faith. Her worst moments came when she failed to trust God, or to make room for Abraham’s leadership, and instead, tried to control things herself. So, we’ll briefly consider the main negative example from Sarah’s life, because it has bearing on the rest of it.

God had promised a child to Sarah and Abraham. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. Finally, she decided that maybe God helps those who help themselves. I can picture it a little bit. She says to Abraham:

“It’s over. I’m done with my female cycle.”

“What do you mean?” Abraham might have been slightly clueless at this point.

“I mean that having babies is related to the fact that I bleed every month. Now, since I no longer bleed every month, my body has lost the capability of having babies.”

“OK,” says Abraham. He probably feels that he didn’t really want to know all these details.

“This just isn’t going to happen, Abraham, not by letting nature take its course. Nature has taken its course already, and has gone home to retire. Women my age don’t get pregnant. We have to do something.”

In this case, Sarah did not trust God. She tried to control things, and she made a hash of it. To make a long story short, Sarah decided that they should have a surrogate pregnancy. However, in those days, the only way to have a surrogate mother carry a baby for a couple was for the man to impregnate the surrogate in the “old fashioned way.” Sarah insisted, suggesting her maid Hagar as the surrogate. Abraham (and Hagar, apparently) agreed.

Hagar did indeed get pregnant, and this made her feel like she had replaced Sarah, whom she mocked. Sarah complained to Abraham, and blamed him for the strife, even though the whole thing was her idea. Later on, Sarah clashed with Hagar again. She certainly never bonded with Hagar’s baby, or considered him her own.

That was a dark spot on Sarah’s history. It occurred when she was not remaining at peace, or trusting God’s work. It happened when she tried to take control in order to get what she wanted.

However, for most of her life, Sarah displayed a remarkable level of trust in God, and that allowed her to support and encourage Abraham’s leadership. For instance, the story of Abraham begins in the land of Ur. I picture him coming to Sarah.

“Honey, I believe God has called us to move.”

“He didn’t say anything to me about it.”

“I know.”

“Where are we going?”

Abraham clears his throat. “Uh, I’m not really sure. God said he’d show me when we got there.”

“So, you have no idea where we’re going, or how long it will take?”

“Ah, that’s right, I guess.”

“How long will we stay there?”

“Um,” says Abraham. “The rest of our lives?”

“So I’m never going to see my friends or family again?”

“Well, uh, I guess not.”

“Why are we supposed to do this?”

“To have a land that will be populated with our descendants.”

“But we haven’t even been able to have children yet.”

“No. But God wants us to go. He says we’ll have lots of descendants.”

Sarah takes a deep breath. “OK. If you really believe this is what God wants.”

I can’t imagine the kind of trust in God she had to have to go along with Abraham at that point! What a beautiful picture of faith and peace!

After they got to the promised land, two different times, they had to stay in a city with a king in order to survive a time of famine. Both times, the kings noticed Sarah, and asked Abraham about her. Abraham was afraid they would kill him in order to take her into their harems, so, both times, he told a half-truth, saying she was his sister (she actually was either his step-sister or half-sister). He neglected to mention that she was also his wife. His lies actually put Sarah at great risk, since the kings did indeed want her for their harems. However, she trusted God, even when her husband was making mistakes, and God protected her in those situations, even though Abraham failed.

So, Sarah knew how to speak her mind. Submitting to her husband did not turn her into a doormat. She sometimes laughed at him, sometimes argued with him. But when push came to shove, she almost always chose to trust God’s work in and through her husband, and therefore to encourage and support Abraham’s leadership. Even her failures are an example to us, in that they show us she was human, and there is grace when we fall. We have no physical pictures of Sarah, but Peter calls her beautiful, because of her trust in God.

Part of this beauty, no doubt has to do with the image of God, and how God made male and female to relate to one another. All the way back in Genesis chapter 1, God declared this:

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

(Genesis 1:27, ESV)

Being created in the image of God means that in some way, human beings reflect the glory of God to each other and to the universe. But the image of God requires both male and female.

There is something else very important about Sarah. We know from the incident with Hagar that Abraham was able to have children without too much trouble. In addition, many years later, after Sarah died, Abraham remarried, and his second wife bore several children to him. So, when it came to having the descendants that God promised, it was Sarah’s body that was keeping it from happening. But notice this very significant thing: After Abraham had a son with Hagar as a “surrogate,” God said, “This is not the child I promised you.” This is highly important.

In the days of Abraham, women were considered to be of secondary importance to men. When it came to having children, the important thing, to most people, was the father. If Abraham had not been a follower of God, it would not have mattered who the mother of his children was. However, God showed that his promise was not just for Abraham, but for Sarah, too. The child of God’s promise had to be not just Abraham’s son, but also Sarah’s. Hagar’s son didn’t count, even though Abraham was the father. In other words, in the eyes of God, Sarah was just as important as Abraham.

In a time when women were considered less important, God used Sarah’s life to say: “Women are just as important as men. My promise is for men and women both. My whole plan of salvation must involve not just Abraham, but also Sarah.”

Today, it might seem obvious that women and men are equally important to God. But it certainly was not so in the time of Sarah. In fact, it is because of the Bible that today we understand that men and women are equal. God used Sarah’s life to show that men and women are equally important, equally valuable, in His eyes.

Last time, I promised you “braids, beauty and biology.” It seems we don’t have space for the “biology” part until next time. So, let’s look for applications for our lives right now. I suspect that the applications will be slightly different for men and women.

Women, one practical thing might be to remember that true beauty comes from within, and you can cultivate it by your trust in the Lord. You can be secure in your beauty, because it is not based upon how you look, or what sorts of clothes or hairstyles you can afford. Your calm, peaceful trust in the Lord can shine out true beauty. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what kind of genes you have.

Men, we will talk more about your part next time, but we might begin to apply this by recognizing and appreciating the inner beauty of the women in your life. When they entrust themselves to God by making room for your leadership, consider it a sacred responsibility to do your best to lead with sensitivity, love and consideration for them.

It might also be important to remember for both men and women that God designed his image to be reflected not in maleness alone, or femaleness alone, but in the two as they work together. Though we are different, neither one is more (or less) important than the other. We will talk more about this next time.

1 PETER #18: DO I REALLY HAVE TO TEACH ABOUT THIS?

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These days, most of us in Western culture perceive submission as a dirty word. But the Biblical concept of submission in marriage is a beautiful thing that invites women to trust, and men to step up into loving leadership. If you don’t believe me, keep reading.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 18

1 Peter #18. 1 Peter 3:1-2

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

1 Peter 3:1-6, ESV

Here it is: the moment you’ve all been waiting for: “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

This is obviously a verse that sounds very out-of-step with our current culture. It comes across as patriarchal, oppressive toward women, and so old-fashioned as to be silly. In the minds of some people, it proves how horrible Christianity really is. It appears to be unjust, the product and producer of male privilege.

One of the challenges of living in the early 21st century is that, largely because of social media, we are losing our historical perspective. Huge portions of the population seem unaware of the fact that at other times in history, many wonderful people felt differently than the social media mob feels today. In fact, they seem unaware that until very, very recently, many things were considered quite reasonable that are now so offensive as to get someone fired. People today are destroyed socially, and often lose their whole career, for having opinions that weren’t remotely controversial even ten years ago. More than twenty years ago is treated as ancient history.

Because of all of this, there are a large proportion of Christians in the Western world who try to make verses like this meaningless. The Christians who try to eliminate any meaning or significance from such verses call themselves “egalitarians.” Sometimes they also go by the name “evangelical feminists.”

Some egalitarians say that Peter was merely telling women to fit in with the culture around them. Others say that Peter was just joking around, being sarcastic. Some claim that if we interpret the bible correctly, it actually says the exact opposite of what it appears to say. Other egalitarians suggest that even though the Bible teaches that wives should submit to their husbands, God was just compromising with ungodly culture, and now today we are supposed to come up with new teachings about men and women that go beyond what the Bible actually says. They say that today we understand better than the apostles what God really would have said, if the apostles hadn’t been so stuck in their own culture and time-period. (They don’t seem to consider the possibility that we might be stuck inside our own time period and culture). If you really want them, I can give you exact references from books by Christian egalitarians, demonstrating these arguments.

Hopefully, just by sharing egalitarian arguments so clearly, you can see that they are problematic. Even so, I truly understand the desire to pretend such verses don’t actually mean anything. In many ways, I wish the Bible didn’t have verses like this one. But, unfortunately, the antics of Christian egalitarians contradict almost every good principle of Bible interpretation. If we were to accept the way egalitarians treat scriptures like this, we would have to accept that most of the Bible is meaningless. If you really want to dig into why that is, I’m happy to get you a copy of my book: In God’s Image, which is all about this topic.

In the meantime, let’s try to approach these verses the same way we approach all Bible verses. Before we get into our specific verses today, I want to point out that the New Testament repeats this teaching several times. Besides here, in Ephesians, Colossians and Titus, wives are told to submit to their husbands. In Corinthians and 1 Timothy, women are taught to relate to men as different from themselves, and having a unique spiritual responsibility that women do not have. In all of those verses, the New Testament does not give culture as a reason for the teaching. Instead, this teaching about men and women goes back to creation, to the fall of human beings, to the nature of the Trinity, and to the nature of Christ’s relationship with the church. In other words, it is a deep and pervasive teaching in the Bible that men and women are created by God to be different, and that those differences should be appropriately expressed in marriage and in the church.

With that, let’s look at 1 Peter chapter 3. First, let’s remember the context. Peter made the case that we are the very special people of God: specially selected to be his children, an ethnicity of holiness, priests in the way of Jesus, bought by God with the precious blood of Jesus. Because of who we are in Jesus, we live different lives. Our lives are to reflect our identity as God’s chosen ones. So, we abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls. We submit to governing authorities, because we inhabit a better kingdom with a perfect king. We submit to bosses or others who have authority over us, and we do so not because they are wonderful people, but rather, because we are God’s people. We are followers of Jesus, who entrusted himself fully to God, even in the face of massive injustice and suffering.

In the same way, writes Peter, wives submit to your husbands. In other words, submit in the way of Jesus. Submit because of Jesus, not because your husband is the most wonderful person who ever lived. Entrust yourself, not to your husband’s righteousness, but to God’s. Submit because when you do so, as a specially chosen daughter of God, as a follower of Jesus, God turns it into a thing of everlasting beauty.

First, what is submission? Many bible teachers feel that the core New Testament passage about marriage and submission is Ephesians 5:21-35. I agree. If you wonder where I get some of the ideas that follow, read that passage. In that passage, it tells husbands to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. A husband’s love in marriage is supposed to give the world a picture of Christ’s love for the church. In the same way, a wife’s submission to her husband is supposed to be like the submission of the church to Christ. Her willingness to let her husband lead is meant to show the world how the church is supposed to respond to Christ.

So, I might say it like this: Submission is a wife’s divine calling to honor, affirm, and encourage her husband’s leadership of their family, and to support that leadership with her own gifts and abilities. The core thing that happens when a wife submits to her husband is that she trusts God to be at work in and through her husband, and she supports God’s work in that way.

Part of this means that husbands and wives aren’t just doing their own thing separately, like roommates with benefits. They make a life together. They approach life as a team. I don’t mean husbands and wives can’t have their own friends, or individual hobbies. I think it’s healthy for married couples to have a few separate interests. But being married means making a life together. They have to find ways to work together to live the life that God has given them. A wife trusting God to work through her husband, and supporting and encouraging her husband’s leadership of their life together, is a tremendously important component of making a godly life together.

In our culture today, submission is associated with the idea of domination. However, that particular association is unique to our culture and to our time. Elsewhere in the world (and at other times in history), billions of people value appropriate submission as much as we might value compassion. In such places (East Asia, and Africa, for two examples) submission is a very positive thing. When we define it the way we just did above, we can see that it need not be humiliating or negative at all. It is an appropriate respect for the responsibilities of leadership entrusted to others. When we offer that respect, it also brings honor to ourselves.

Let’s briefly talk about what submission is not. Husbands are not called to dominate wives. Biblical submission is a gracious entrusting of oneself to God first, and through God, to husbands. But it is not a call to be a doormat. It is not a call to allow yourself to be subjugated and manipulated. No woman must submit to physical or emotional abuse, or any kind of deliberate harm. No woman must submit to being controlled, or humiliated, or treated like a child. (No man must submit to this, either)

In addition, all of the things we said in previous lessons about submitting to government, and to masters, apply in this case. You should not go along with your husband when he wants you to sin. You should not go along with your husband when he wants you to stop reading your bible, or praying, or going to church. Not only that, but trusting God in your marriage means that you should not encourage or support your husband when he wants to sin himself, even if it is without involving you. John Piper addresses this, adding an important thought:

The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. She should never follow her husband into sin. Nevertheless, even when she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband (e.g., 1 Pet. 3:1, where she does not yield to her husband’s unbelief), she can still have a spirit of submission—a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.

(John Piper & Wayne Grudem, 50 Crucial Questions. Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2016)

Peter says that when women are disposed to honor and affirm and support the leadership of their husbands it can have a profound impact on those husbands. In fact, he suggests it as a means to reach husbands who are not following Jesus with the gospel.

Many years ago, our neighbors were not Christians. The wife was a self-proclaimed radical feminist. After a couple years of praying and talking, the wife became a believer and started following Jesus. We taught her to read her Bible, and she began to do so regularly. Then, just two or three months after that happened, she approached me when I was taking out the garbage.

“Did you know about these verses?” she demanded, reading me this exact passage from 1 Peter.

“Yes,” I said, wincing inwardly. I was kind of hoping it might have been a bit longer before she came across them. I knew they would really challenge her feminism.

“Does this mean pretty much what it says?” she asked.

“I believe it does,” I said. I waited for the angry outburst, but she just stood there, chewing on her lower lip for a few seconds, thinking. Finally, she turned back to me, and declared, “I’m going to try it.”

Two months later, her husband became a follower of Jesus. He agrees that it was in large part due to the change he saw in his wife. As a pastor, one of my privileges is to walk with people through their struggles and also their joys. I know personally of at least one other man who became a Christian because his wife did her best to put Peter’s words into practice. I know of other marriages where the two were already Christian, but their relationships were transformed when wives took this seriously.

I think one of the key things about submission is the surrendering of control. Again, I don’t mean submitting to be controlled by your husband. But I do think that being Biblically submissive means that wives must give up trying to control or manipulate their husbands, or even trying to control things through their husbands. It involves letting go, trusting God to work through the man you committed your life to.

I believe that in general, good men respond positively to vulnerability combined with trust. I think when a man believes that his wife is genuinely counting on him to handle things, he really does want to come through for her. He is motivated by his wife’s godly submission in a way that no amount of nagging can accomplish. That’s not to say, women, that your husband will never disappoint you, just as you can’t say you will never disappoint him. Also, he may come through for you in a way that is perfectly acceptable, but not the exact way you planned, or not in the manner you would have done it. Part of godly submission is allowing your husband to do things differently than you might.

However, if he is a wise husband, he’ll enlist your help. The trick though, is to help without taking control; to maintain your attitude of trust in God and support of your husband’s responsibility as a spiritual leader.

But your ultimate trust is that God will work in and through your husband. When you believe that, you will also do your best to use your own talents and energy to help him succeed, because then the two of you are successful together, as a team, and that is the way God designed it to be.

Women, I don’t think you can get up enough trust on your own for this. You need the power of the Holy Spirit to work in you in order to trust God enough to submit to your husbands in this way. Men, you know you don’t have what it takes to be worthy of such submission. We too, need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be godly leaders in our families.

There is more to be said on this. We’ve only really covered verses 1-2. So next time we’ll talk about Braids, Beauty and Biology!

COLOSSIANS #34: THE BEAUTY OF TRUST

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Dancing takes a certain kind of surrender and willingness from one partner, and attentiveness and gentle guidance from the other. . So it is with men and women. Both sacrificial love and trusting submission teach us to be like Jesus, to show the world what Jesus is like. The heart of submission is both humility and trust. When you submit to someone, you are entrusting yourself to that person.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Colossians Part 34

COLOSSIANS #34: THE BEAUTY OF TRUST. COLOSSIANS 3:18-19

This our third message on Colossians 3:18-19. If you have not read the other two, please go back and do so before you read this one. In this day and age, we need a great deal of background and information to discuss issues regarding women and men.

We have so far learned that the Bible teaches us that God created male and female genders for a purpose, and that purpose is to reflect God’s image in the way that male and female relate to one another. This time, we will consider Paul’s instructions to wives:

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

I have to admit, verse 18 makes me uncomfortable. Unfortunately for those who don’t like it, this is not the only verse that says something like that. There are seven different passages in the New Testament that specifically teach about male-female relationships, and all they all have the same consistent message. A lot of people claim that these types of verses were written as instructions to obeyed only in the context of the chauvinistic first century culture. In this view, they are just there to tell people to fit in with the culture around them. Of course, the idea of conforming your behavior to ungodly culture is the exact opposite of everything else in the Bible. There are other big problems with that idea. Dozens of books have been written to try and interpret these sorts of verses in some way or another that makes them inoffensive to 21st century Western culture. I’ve read probably eight of those books, plus numerous articles. From the standpoint of solid biblical scholarship, they are horrifying.

I don’t have time here to go into all the reasons that we must take these verses seriously. I have actually, literally, written a book about this subject. It is called In God’s Image, and it is available in print or ebook from Amazon. I will only say that all of the ways of “getting rid of” these verses, or avoiding their plain meaning, lead us logically to dismiss not just these verses, but the entire bible also. I wish it wasn’t that way, but there it is.

I’ll say one more thing about this. I think almost anyone who read my previous message on Colossians (message #33) would approve of it, and perhaps even feel very strongly that men really need to hear the command to love sacrificially.  But if we get rid of “wives submit to your husbands,” we also have to get rid of “husbands, love your wives sacrificially.” We saw last time that that the command to husbands is deeply bound up with how Christ loves the church. In that word, there are beautiful parallels calling men to live for others rather than themselves. There are compelling pictures of how Jesus loves his people. Go back and read that message, and see if it would really be worth getting rid of all that that command means.

We have already seen the context of the “wives submit” verse here in Colossians. It comes as part of the section where we live new, different lives here on earth because we know that our real life is hidden with Christ in God. After dealing with some of what that means, Paul writes:

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

So, the way we relate as male and female is part of doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. It is part of putting off the old way of life, and living the new way, in dependence upon Jesus, with our real treasure in heaven. This is anything but an instruction to fit in with the culture. It is obviously an instruction of how to live out our new lives with Jesus. So, rather than making this meaningless, let’s see if we can also find something good and helpful in Colossians 3:18, which is, after all, part of God’s Word.

In the first place, let’s make sure not to misuse “wives submit to your husbands.” This does not mean that wives should tolerate any form of abuse. Your husband does not have the right to hurt you physically, or make you do something you don’t want to do. You should not tolerate emotional or verbal abuse, either. These verses do not give your husband the right to tell you what to do, or to arrange how you spend all your time. These verses do not say: “Your husband is the dictator of your life.” Unfortunately, some men have abused these verses that way, but they will have to give an account of themselves before God himself, and I would never want to trade places with them, come judgment day. We must always keep in mind God’s instructions for husbands. If husbands love their wives sacrificially, as the Lord tells them to, there will be no abuse, nor even misuse of “wives submit to your husbands.”

One problem we have in applying these verses is that in our culture, the word “submission” is not very positive. We think of it as something degrading or humiliating. But that is just our culture, at this time in history. There are cultures in the world even today where people think of submission as a positive thing. Just as people in our culture think it is positive to act in ways that are kind and loving, so people in certain cultures think it is positive to show respect and submission. Those folks are eager for the chance to show that they are submissive and respectful, just as we might be eager to show that we are loving, caring people. So, when you hear “submission,” and think “yuck,” understand that such an attitude is neither necessary, nor universally correct. Maybe there is an opportunity here to broaden your wisdom and understanding, and learn from other cultures.

Another thing we need to get correct is the understanding that submission has nothing to do with equality, or inequality. We all have to submit to lawful instructions from police officers. Does that mean that all police offers are better than everyone else? Does it mean they are more valuable, or smarter, than all of the rest of us? Does it mean there is fundamental inequality between us and the police? Of course not. But the police have certain responsibilities that the rest of us do not, and it helps everyone if we cooperate with them.

Biblical submission has nothing to do with equality. But it does have to do with the fact that men are given some responsibilities that are not given to women (as in the police officer analogy, above). There’s something very interesting about the first sin, recorded in Genesis 3. Eve is the one who listens to the serpent. She is the one who takes the fruit and eats it, and then she is the one who entices Adam to do the same thing. Even so, it is Adam who is held primarily responsible for the fall of human beings into sin. God holds Adam accountable first, before Eve, and then pronounces the judgment on him last. He begins and ends with Adam. The New Testament writers affirm this idea. The New Testament clearly blames Adam, not Eve, for sin entering the world (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; Romans 5:12-19). How can this be? How can it be Adam’s fault, if Eve was the first one to actually listen to the serpent, and then take and eat the fruit?

The reason is given in Ephesians 5:22-24:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV, Eph 5:22-24)

When it says the husband is head of the wife, part of what that means is that the husband is responsible for the leadership and direction of the couple, and their family. He will be held responsible even if he refuses to accept it. Adam tried to blame Eve, in Genesis 3, but God didn’t buy it. Adam was supposed to protect Eve from the temptation of the serpent, and lead her. Instead, he stood by and said not a word while his wife was corrupted. He avoided his responsibility. Adam was blamed for failing to lead. So too, men will be held responsible for loving their wives sacrificially, and part of that loving also means gently pointing them toward God.

So wives, bear in mind, your husband will be held responsible in some way, even if you insist on doing it your way. It seems only fair that you allow him to have the final say in decisions for which he will be held accountable. This doesn’t mean every little decision, like where to go out to eat, or what brand of cat food to buy. But recognize that your husband has a responsibility that you don’t have.

Just as Jesus is the example of love for husbands, so Jesus is also the example of submission for wives. Jesus submitted himself to the Father, and came to earth in humility, depending upon the Father, rather than his own resources. From this we can see that the heart of submission is both humility and trust. When you submit to someone, you are entrusting yourself to that person.

As we did last time, I want us to consider a passage that teaches at greater length on this same issue. Peter, when he speaks to this issue of husbands and wives, starts with the example of Jesus, in 1 Peter 2:21-25:

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 (ESV, Peter 2:21-25)

He goes on:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:1-6)

So Peter says the example for wives in submission is Jesus. And one important thing about Jesus is that he entrusted himself to God. So wives are to entrust themselves to God, in part, by trusting God’s work through their husbands. Peter gives Sarah (wife of Abraham) as an example of what he means. Abraham felt called by God to leave their home and family and travel to a place neither of them had ever been, a place that God did not even clearly specify. What did Sarah do? She said yes. She did so, not necessarily because she thought Abraham knew what he was doing. But Sarah trusted what God was doing, and so she went along. Abraham made some questionable decisions later on. Sarah went along with it, trusting that even though Abraham might be making a mistake, God was still in control, and she could rely on God to protect her.

Sarah was also a woman who spoke her mind. On several occasions, the Bible records that she made her views known very clearly to Abraham. But once she had clearly spoken her mind, she trusted herself to God, trusting that God could and would be with her, even in her marriage to this imperfect man, Abraham. And God honored Sarah for this sort of trust. His promise of a child was not just to Abraham, but to Abraham and Sarah. When Abraham had a child without Sarah, God said, “No. My promised child will come through Sarah too, not just Abraham.”

So when you submit, you are not saying, “My husband is the perfect man who never makes any mistakes.” You are saying, “I am entrusting myself to God, and to the work of God in and through my husband.” It is a call to trust God.

Men often need to be motivated to step in and move forward. They don’t enjoy being criticized, and so many men would prefer their wives to take over and do everything. That way, they (the men) will be able to relax, and avoid all sense of blame and responsibility. Nagging has rarely had the power to correct this attitude in men. But what if, instead of telling him to do it, instead of nagging him about it, you communicate clearly that since he is the husband, you will trust him to take care of it? Offer your opinion, expertise and assistance, of course, but make sure he knows that that the buck stops with him. Give your love and support, but don’t let him pawn off his responsibility on to you. Trust is a powerful motivator.

Another part of godly submission is this: the two of you belong together. You, as an individual, are not just living your own, pursuing your own hopes, dreams and goals. No, when you are married, you move together in the same direction. Wives should have clear, weighty influence upon the hopes, dreams and goals of the couple. They are, after all, half of the whole “oneness” created by marriage. But godly submission also means that wives, entrusting themselves to God, should remain open (perhaps more open than they would normally be) to the influence of their husbands as they build their lives together. Of course husbands and wives often have different interests and pursuits. That is normal and healthy. But when it comes to the big stuff, like what you value, and how you will raise children, and how you will pursue God’s work in your life: here, couples should be united as possible. The husband’s part in that unity is to love to the point of self-sacrifice. The wife’s part is to trust God and her husband to the point of godly submission.

I have often felt that this whole thing a bit like dancing. When both people try to lead in a dance, it doesn’t go very well.  The movement doesn’t flow with the music and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky. When the dancing couple recognizes that, and one lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music.  One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It’s as if the two become one body, moving beautifully. I know some men might say, “I don’t know how to lead. I’d be happy for her to do it.” But God’s command to men is to step up and take responsibility, using your strength and initiative to love sacrificially. Some women may say, “I don’t want to be led. I want to be in control.” But God’s command to women is to learn to trust.

Dancing takes a certain kind of surrender and willingness from one partner, and attentiveness and gentle guidance from the other. So it is with men and women.

There is no guarantee, of course that your husband will love you sacrificially, the way he is supposed to. And there is no guarantee for men that their wives will love them by trusting, the way they are supposed to.

However, if you wives want to increase the likelihood that your man will try to love you sacrificially, try trusting him in biblical submission. If you husbands want to increase the possibility that your wife will trust you by supporting and encouraging your efforts, by respecting you, try loving her sacrificially.

In any case, that’s all we can do. Men you do not have the right to try and compel your wife to do what you want. That sort of thing is abuse, and is both sinful and illegal. What you do have the right and privilege to do is to love your wife sacrificially, and to trust God to be at work in your wife.

Women, you don’t have the right to try and compel your man to love you sacrificially. That sort of love can’t be forced, anyway, and if you try to get it through manipulation, you’ll find the result isn’t real love. What do you do  have the right and privilege to do is show your love for your husband by respecting him, and entrusting yourself to his loving leadership. There is no guarantee that your husband will do everything the way you want it done. There is no guarantee that he will respond to your warm invitation and your willing giving-up of control. But you also entrust yourself to the One who will never fail you.

Let me offer you a real life example of all of this.

Some dear friends of ours came over a while back to share a struggle they were having. I’ll call them Will and Jane (not their real names). Will felt very strongly called by God to do something (it wasn’t sinful or bad). It was something he wanted to do anyway, but he sincerely felt that God wanted it, too. The thing he wanted to do would have a significant impact on Jane and also the rest of the family. Jane wasn’t OK with it. Will and Jane agreed to pray about it for a while, and then after a while they came to us to discuss it. Jane had done her best to go along with Will’s proposed plan. She had prayed, and asked God to change her heart, but after six months, she still wasn’t OK with what Will wanted to do.

Now, how would you apply these verses today? Jane could have dug her feet in and said, “You have to love me sacrificially, so you can’t make me go along with this.” Will could have insisted and said, “You have to submit to me, and so you have to go along with this.”

But that approach is not at all what the Bible is trying to say. The Bible doesn’t tell Will: “Your wife has to submit.” It tells Will: “You love sacrificially.” The Bible doesn’t say to Jane: “Your husband has to give up everything for you.” No, it tells her to  express herself, and then to entrust herself to her husband’s love and God’s plan to work through and with her husband.

These Bible verses tell Jane to submit to her husband. So she explained to him very clearly exactly how she was feeling. She described how troubled she was about what Will wanted to do. And then she put herself in Will’s hands. She made it abundantly clear what her own position was, but when she had done so, she still left the decision to Will.

These Bible verses tell Will to love his wife. So, he explained why he felt so strongly about his position. He explained his process that led him to believe that God wanted him to do this. And then, when Jane couldn’t seem to change, he made the decision to love his wife sacrificially by not making her go along with something that she was not ready for.

Everything I’ve just told you is true. I didn’t give you details about what it was Will wanted to do, but it was nothing sinful. I didn’t give you their real names. But this really happened. This is a beautiful example of Sacrificial love and Loving Submission in action.

Jane gave us a beautiful picture of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. She really didn’t want to go the direction Will wanted to go. So she poured out her heart to Will. When she was done, she trusted him with what she had said, trusting that God would be at work in what Will decided.

Will gave us an example of Jesus loving his people sacrificially. He saw that he could not move forward without hurting Jane. So, he gave up his own desire to make sure she felt secure and loved.

Both sacrificial love and trusting submission teach us to be like Jesus, to show the world what Jesus is like. Would you trust him today by trying these things?