Relationship Rules

Relationship Rules

Colossians 3:18-4.1

James C. Denison

A friend recently sent me some statements about marriage which he thought I should use only at Men’s Bible Study on Thursday morning. But since I’m not as smart as he is, here goes:

Patrick Murray: “I’ve had bad luck with both my wives. The first one left me, and the second one didn’t.”

Sacha Guitry: “When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.”

Henny Youngman: “Some people ask us the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”

Rodney Dangerfield: “My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met.”

Fortunately, God’s wisdom on marriage and relationships is far more redemptive than ours. We’ll close our conversations in Colossians today with the most practical discussion possible, as we study God’s relationship rules. They apply to us all–husbands, wives, children, parents, employers, employees, Americans. We don’t break these rules–we break ourselves on them. Let’s learn how to keep them, and why we should.

Marriage rules

“Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord” (v. 18).

“Submit” translates “hupotasso,” the voluntary submission of one to another. Do this, not because you are inferior to your husband, for you are not. Do this because encouraging respect is what your husband most needs from you today.

The Lord designed him in such a way that your affirmation and support is his greatest need. Before he needs the respect of his peers or society or anyone else, he needs it first from you. Encouraging respect is your greatest gift. That’s simply how God made men.

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (v. 19).

In a culture which made women the property of their husbands or fathers, Christianity was radically different in its affirmation of women. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the risen Christ, and the first person commissioned to tell the world about his resurrection. Lydia was the first convert in Europe. Philip had four daughters who were preachers (Acts 21:9). Phoebe was a “servant” or “deaconess” of the church (Romans 16:1). Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).

So it is that husbands are not to be “harsh” with their wives. The word means to find fault, to criticize and complain. Such treatment makes our wives a means to our end, an object for our use.

The Jewish theologian Martin Buber distinguished between “I-You” and “I-It” relationships. In “I-It” relationships the other is a possession, something I use for my purposes. In “I-You” relationships the other is my equal, as valuable and significant as I am. We are to have “I-It” relationships with things and “I-You” relationships with people. Unfortunately, we often reverse the two. I know men who love their car and use their wives. As the song put it, “Loving things and using people only leads to misery; using things and loving people–that’s the way it ought to be.”

And so we are to “love” our wives.

Here Paul uses agape, the word for unconditional commitment. Not eros, the word for erotic or sexual love; not phileo, the word for friendship or partnership love. Before our wives are our sexual partners or our business partners in raising our children and running the house, they are first our unconditional commitment. They must come before all others.

God made wives in such a way that this is their greatest need. Before they need our sexual love or our friendship as partners in raising children and running the house, they need to know that they come first. Before all others. Before all ambitions or plans or priorities. Husbands, unconditional commitment is your greatest gift to your wives. That’s simply how God made women.

In my wedding introductions I always quote the statement: “Long ago, the Lord God gave the first woman to be the bride of the first man. The Bible tells us that Eve was taken from the side of Adam. Not from his head, to be a ruler over him. Not from his foot, to be trodden upon by him. From his side, to be equal with him. From under his arm, to be protected by him. From near his heart, to be loved by him.”

Encouraging respect and unconditional commitment are the gifts God made us to need, and to share. How are you doing at giving your gift this morning?

Parenting rules

From marriage to family: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (v. 20). “Obey” can be literally translated, “listen under.” Listen to them, then do what they say. “In everything,” in every dimension of life. Why? Because parents are superior to children, of greater value? Just the opposite, in fact.

In a world which saw children as the possessions of their fathers, to be kept or discarded as they wished, the word of God is subversive and revolutionary in its view of children.

Children are his gift, created by his grace: “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3).

They typify all that is best in life: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).

They are to obey their parents because this is best for them. Such obedience “pleases the Lord” because it blesses the children he has made: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth'” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Every child on earth has probably encountered some circumstance where disobeying parents would have led to pain or even death. They would have run into the path of a car, or eaten something poisonous, or played with something deadly, except that they obeyed their parents.