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Love And Submission

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

‘Submission’ tends to be seen as a negative concept.  But, in fact, it is as positive as love. ‘Submission’ simply means to place yourself under somebody else.  It has humility at its core in the same way that love is based on self-sacrifice (1 John 3:16).  True love is not a feeling or a nice idea: it is the willingness to recognise how best to serve another person and to place their needs higher than self-interest.  The motivation to submit is our reverence of Jesus Christ, who submitted Himself to His Father (Ephesians 5:21).  It is also out of reverence for the example of Christ as the head of the church who sacrificed Himself for us, who are His bride (Ephesians 5:25-29).
It is possible to make people submit by force, but that idea has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.  Submission, in the way the New Testament uses the word, is never forced.  It never has a coercive pressure to make people do things that they don't choose to do.  Certainly, in this verse, the word 'submit' is a command, but if it is not a willing choice it cannot be godly submission.  Christians should honour each other above themselves in the church; and that principle must especially apply between husbands and wives (Romans 12:10).

Wives need to recognise their husband's role in taking responsibility for the marriage, and not make that responsibility more difficult to bear.  But, at the same time, husbands are reminded to love their wives and not be harsh with them.  Harshness reveals an arrogant, power-hungry pride which is inconsistent with Christian marriage.  Love is practical, serving, understanding, caring and forgiving (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  When husbands value those divine characteristics and discipline themselves to serve their wives in that way, unstable marriages are rescued, and good marriages find a new joyful freedom.
The application could not be more obvious.  These simple commands need to be obeyed.  However, the obedience that God seeks is not a slavish ‘ticking of boxes’ but a wholehearted desire to prefer the other person out of reverence for Christ.  So, although behaviour must change, it is really a change of heart which is most needed: the change from haughty pride to humility, from self-interest to self-sacrifice, from lust to love, from command to consideration.  However, selfish lifestyles become a habit.  Bad habits are only broken by knowing what is good, deciding to change, and asking for help.  The information comes from God's Word and the change needs God's help.  So, make this a matter of serious prayer and share with a Christian friend who can encourage you into a wholehearted devotion to your Lord and then your spouse.

Loving Lord. Thank You for this reminder that my spouse is a very precious person who I must treat with humility and respect. Please forgive me for hard heartedness, unkind words and selfish behaviour. I need Your help so that I can love as You have loved me, and submit as Christ submitted to Your will. Teach me how to accept submission without dominating and receive love without complaining. Please also help me to be honest when I pray to you; and help me to share appropriately with other Christians who can help me. May my marriage be a good example of a loving heart and practical service. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams