Friday, May 31, 2013

Thoughts on Colossians

I have a conspiracy theory. (Hey! Don’t start rolling your eyes until you hear me out!) Leaders in the church, consciously or subconsciously, turn every guilt-inducing “Do not be harsh towards your wife” lesson (Colossians 3:19) into an ego-boosting “You are Christ and she is the Church” lesson (Ephesians 5:25-32).

Seriously. Think about it. Ever notice how sermons claiming to be based on Colossians 3:18-19 never actually get around to covering v.19? The typical scenario consists of the following steps:

1. Read Colossians 3:18, stressing the importance of a wife obeying her husband.

2. Read Ephesians 5:22-24, using the Christ-Church-marriage allegory as a defense against any women in the pews who might take offense at Step 1.

3. Read Ephesians 5:25-33, stressing the weightiness of the husband’s responsibility that comes with being in the head marriage, thus making the women mentioned in Step 2 feel really guilty about every bad thing they’ve ever done.

4. End sermon, “forgetting” to discuss Colossians 3:19.

Oh, so you’ve heard that sermon too? I have…more than once.

Yes, I believe it’s of the utmost importance to synthesize all the available evidence to discover “what really happened” and what the Bible “really means.” But by no means does that justify focusing on Ephesians 5:25-32 to the exclusion of Colossians 3:19, when the duties of husbands are being discussed. What’s instructed to the men in Ephesus should not be allowed to crowd out what’s said in those in Colossae.

The refusal to teach the whole of the Word has the door to some of the most disgusting perversions of it. Every preacher I’ve heard do this is guilty. Every book, devotional, Study Bible note, or Bible commentary author who’s done this is guilty. Every marriage counselor, Bible class teacher, and small group leader who’s done this is guilty. Every blogger and online forum poster who’s done this is guilty. I’m including an embarrassing number of women.

Lest you believe I’m making a mountain of a molehill, might I point out why the “Don’t be harsh” lesson is such a serious matter? Because Colossians 3:19 has been virtually eliminated from our Bible, we have inadvertently provided a loophole to allow domestic violence. Time and time again, I’ve heard or read men claiming that it’s excusable (or even godly and necessary) for husbands to physically “discipline” (i.e., abuse) their “unsubmissive” wives. And no, these false teachers don’t just come in the form of anti-“feminazi,” homeschooler/homeschooling, “home church,” wannabe patriarchs who wish to remain anonymous online. They’re also run-of-the-mill preachers, church leaders, and teaching laymen (and yes, even laywomen) who believe that women who have been hit and verbally belittled by their husbands somehow deserve it because they weren’t obeying Paul’s command to “Be submissive.”

Even during the times when the husband is acknowledged as being completely in the wrong, the wife is expected to grin and bear it like dutiful Christian wife should. Divorce, legal charges, and physical retaliation are completely non-optional. Men, however, aren’t expected to grin and bear anything, hence the excuses made if they explode in anger at their wives over something they disliked.

It’s appalling to me that such a double standard is upheld – even glorified – even when abuse has even resulted in hospitalization or death (of one or the other spouse). What makes church leaders so willing to brave the opposing fire from women who don’t want a lesson on submission, but too cowardly (or too ignorant or just too self-serving) to demand that the men in their congregations obey Paul’s instructions to them? Women are made to feel heat of the fire and brimstone. Men are not.

Do not be angry or harsh with your wives or bitter against them. It’s a short sentence, and can’t possibly be written any clearer. As I alluded to in my comment on I Peter a while ago, it’s unfair, dishonest, and outright evil to place the most burdensome interpretation of a command on one sex while ignoring or trivializing the command for the other.

Hear the truth: Men aren’t lectured on this command because it doesn’t sit well with them. It puts a whole new perspective on Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church. I can almost hear the familiar excuses coming, but this time from men rather than women: It’s impossible for a man to never get angry with his wife. Paul’s rule is unrealistic. Doesn’t allow wiggle-room for justifiable cases. Doesn’t allow for a godly man dealing with a sinful wife. My response? I assure you it’ll drip with sarcasm.


  1. Good call. I'd still rather the verses be even though. Have both be required to love each other and not be harsh with each other. Wives as well as husbands can use both lessons now and then.

    1. Joe, I think there's plenty of other passages that would support that. Thanks for reading.

  2. No, I never noticed it but instantly realized it when you mentioned it. I'm glad you brought it up.

    What I notice about passages like this is an over-emphasis on metaphor. True, there is a Christ/church metaphor used to describe marriage, but by no means is this metaphor meant to be an exhaustive description of every interaction between a husband and a wife. Hence Col 3:19. We are still sinners who live with each other as individuals, and I think Paul is invoking this idea because their culture taught that men dominated their wives. It was viewed as okay to treat a wife harshly. It is not okay with God. We don't need a metaphor to explain it, we need a word from an apostle who comments on our personal relationships.

    Metaphor as default problem solver makes us lazy. So lazy that we don't read everthing.

    1. Steve, I completely agree about metaphors. People can't just seem to appreciate a similarity. They need one-to-one correspondence on all points.


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