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Colossians 3:18-21 by Robert Dean
Marriage can be a great source of joy, or suffering, depending on whose rules of relationship you apply. See how relationship roles predate creation and how elements of creation communicate and reinforce God’s design in role distinctions. Where is the equality in marriage? Does headship imply greater value? Does submission imply lesser value? See how God’s original purposes for man and woman were directly frustrated because of the Fall. Appreciate how God did not abandon us in the hopelessness of judgment but provided a solution in ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ and spiritual recovery in time through the Holy Spirit and the Word.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 34 secs

Redemption Solution for Marriage and the Family. Colossians 3:18-21

There is probably no area in life that for some people is the source of greatest joy and happiness than their marriage and their family. However, it is sad that in our generation it is also true that for many more people their marriage and their family is the source of the greatest suffering, adversity and difficulty in their life. For most it is simply based on the fact that they are without Jesus Christ. They have no concept of any biblical teaching on the role of men, the role of women, the purpose and function of marriage in life, and so they get married for all of the wrong reasons. The consequence is that they are unhappy, miserable, and unfulfilled. This probably applies to the vast majority of human beings in history because they have never understood any of the biblical teaching related to marriage and family.

On the other hand, for many Christians in our world today this is also true. It is true for a number of different reasons but they can all be summarized in the basic principle that they have still imbibed too much of the world, they think in terms of the world concepts of the role of men and women and the purpose of marriage, and they bring that baggage with them into their marriage. And as a result of never probing the teaching of God's Word, of never paying attention to what God says, never renewing their mind, conforming it to the truth of God's Word they are in marriages that are far from what they wish and hope they could be.

The only way we can overcome the consequences of sin and carnality and the corruption of the world around us is through the Word of God. And that is not always easy. In fact some times it is difficult to be honest with ourselves in the light of the Word of God because our sin natures get in the way—our self-absorption, self-justification. All of our arrogance skills come into play. In the context of marriage and family where we are living with other sinners in intimacy it is often very difficult because it exposes to other people that which we wish would never be exposed, and that, is the nastiness of our own sin nature. So we do all kinds of things that are not biblical in order to try to cover up and correct some of those problems rather than what the Word of God says which is to submit to God's Word. And that is such an important concept, it is a word that is applied to men and women in marriage. Often it is the the word that as soon as we talk about the role of women in marriage and submission we are immediately labelled as antediluvian patriarchal, stone age Neanderthals, and that is the view of the culture, the media, the TV shows and the films that we see. They constantly reinforce that theme. It is hostile to the biblical teaching on the roles of men and women.

But submission is not the distorted view that is often presented and is often enacted in many marriages and families because of carnality. Submission is not a form of tyranny. There is a relationship of submission to authority within the dynamics of the Trinity. The Son is submitted to the Father, the Holy Spirit is submitted to the Father and the Son, and there is a role function within the Trinity whereas the members of thew Trinity themselves are totally equal with one another in terms of their deity. So the idea that submission implies being less significant—which is the message within our modern culture and the predominant message within feminism—is totally anti-biblical. It is anti-God and a blasphemous theological statement because within the Trinity for all eternity there has been this relationship of submission which does not imply in any way any sort of secondary significance or importance to the members of the Trinity. And yet this is a message that is reinforced again and again in overt and subtle ways in our culture.

When we look at these verses in Colossians it is all about the relationship within the family. There are verses that speak to wives, husbands, parents, employers, all of which is related to these foundational roles that are at the key to a stable, advancing culture. When these roles become subverted then that culture starts to degrade and reverse it self and converts itself become perverted, corrupt and will eventually fragment. Western civilisation and American culture is deeply immersed in this negative development, this reversal of understanding of the roles of men and women and marriage and family, so that marriage and family are threatened in incredible ways in our culture. Many people today believe that marriage is just an antiquated idea. One of the reasons the divorce rate has declined is that people aren't getting married anymore. They just want to live together until they have a problem and then they'll break up. And there is no stability. If there are children produced then it just creates a more traumatic environment for the children. It has all sorts of negative consequences—not just in the personal lives of those people but something we know very little about: it has an economic consequence in the culture; it is a major cause of economic distress. At the end of the divorce the only person who has made any money is the lawyer and the husband and wife have lost almost everything. The children have lost parents and a stable environment and it has impacted them psychologically, spiritually and in many other ways that cannot be quantified or measured by dollars and cents or numbers and statistics. When we multiply that by the millions and millions of families and marriages that collapse we see the damaging and destructive consequences that are there.

But the promise of Scripture is that as Christians we don't have to go there. To go there is a choice that we make, but for Christians there is a wonderful option and the only solution to the problems and difficulties that can come to marriage is based on the redemptive solution of Jesus Christ.          

Our passage that we have been studying in Colossians actually begins in verses 16 and 17 where the command is to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you. It is to make its home in you so that it works itself out and is displayed in every area of life. Then the results of that are listed and itemised coming out of that verse. The interesting thing is that when we compare this passage with its parallel passage in Ephesians the results are all the same but the command in Ephesians is different. The command in Ephesians focuses not on the Word of God richly dwelling in us but being filled by means of the Holy Spirit. What He fills us with is the Word of God. So we see by comparing the two passages that there are two things that work. One is the role of the Holy Spirit in taking the Word and filling our souls with it, and the other is our volitional response to the Word of God, choosing to obey and it an implement it in our lives. The two go together. The filling of the Spirit and the Word of God work together. And as we are growing and maturing as believers these are the results that should show up: we talked about the first result that is emphasized as worship, the second has to do with gratitude and thankfulness, another result is in the expression of verse 17, "Whatever we do in word or deed [and that includes what we do as a wife, as a husband, as a parent, as a child, as an employer] do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Then we have Colossians 3:18-21 NASB "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart."

The problem we have in failing to do this goes back to Genesis chapter three. But to understand the impact of Genesis three we have to understand God's origi9nal design and purpose in creating the human race and creating men and women. Genesis 1:27 is the key verse. God created mankind in His own image. God exists as one and as three equal persons, and in that unity and diversity, that oneness and that multiplicity, we have the foundation for understanding all role relationships. We know that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equally God but they are distinct in terms of their personhood. That means they are equally God with distinct roles and responsibilities. Mankind, the human race, was created that way: Adam first, the woman second, but then something happened. There was an ideal relationship before Genesis three, it was exactly as God intended with the right role relations, but then there was sin. Sin corrupts, mars, and defaces everything. And there are specific consequences to that as we have seen. The woman is now going to have increased pain in child bearing—that is related to the original command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth—but also because she was created to be the etzer, the assistant, the helper to the man. Now she is going to be in a power struggle with the man under carnality. This is the idea that he desire will now be for her husband. That word "desire" means a desire for control, as seen in a similar passage in Genesis four where God is addressing Cain. The man also has a consequence. He is now going to be in a power struggle with his wife, he is going to wasn't to dominate her is a tyrannical manner, not in a kind of loving authority that we see in the Godhead but under carnality it is a malicious, manipulative, tyrannical type of control. This sets up the whole battle of the sexes. He also has problems with his mission in life which is to exercise dominion and control over the earth because now the earth fights him. It is now going to produce thorns and thistles and carrying out the responsibilities of God are now related to the sweat of his brow; now there is going to be opposition.

But in the midst of all of this we come to understand from the New Testament that there are certain role relationships to find. We have to address the question: Do these verses that we see in the original creation in Genesis 1 & 2 teach a) that God intended to establish male authority in the relationship between Adam and Eve in the Garden before sin. In other words, did God have an authority relationship between the husband and the wife in perfect environment? In the view of the complimentarians, i.e. basically the traditional view, the idea of a compliment is that two parts that support one another to accomplish and end and that both are necessary to accomplish that end. One compliments of fulfils the other. This view holds that authority is eternal, it wasn't something that came into existence in Genesis three to solve the sin problem but that there was always an authority relationship. Modern evangelicals often hold to what is called the egalitarian view and that is the view that authority within marriage is something that didn't come into extstence until Genesis three and it is there because of sin. Their view is that once you are saved you go back to this equal position. This is a challenge from the world, the idea of equality, not only of person but equality of function and that the roles are completely interchangeable.

The consequences of this for society have been damaging because compared to the depression generation, World War II generation—men of that generation had no identity crisis, they understood (though it was flawed) what masculinity was, what the essentials were to be a man and to be the male and the leader, the responsible member of the home. That was part of the culture because of the residual impact of Christianity in earlier generations. But now we have a generation that has no idea who they are as men, they are completely confused about what it means to be a man, to be masculine biblically—not socially because socially we come up with a lot of wrong ideas that get mixed in as well. But biblically they have no idea what a biblical man is all about. They've lost it completely and are just so gender confused it is unbelievable. They don't know what it means to be a father, to be a husband, and so everything is in chaos. On the other hand women are just as confused in terms of their femininity. They have no clue of what is it biblically anymore and the result is tremendous problems. This is the egalitarian view, that these roles are completely interchangeable and this has taken over the culture at large and has made enormous inroads into Christian circles and churches. In the historic view of the church across denominations you can go back centuries and no matter the theological framework, Calvinistic, Arminian, Palagian, Augustinian, Dispensational, Covenant, what we discover is that this is an agreed upon viewpoint. There is no disagreement here that the man is the responsible spiritual leader of the home and the woman is completely equal in person and in being with the husband, but she is created originally to be his helper, assistant to come alongside. This has been called today because the word has redefined terms like "patriarchal" and "traditional," and they are coloured in black and they drip with evil so we have to constantly conform our vocabulary to the assaults of Satan and the world system.

So the term that has been used is complimentarian. We believe the husband and wife come together and they compliment one another in their distinct roles.

We have seen that authority existed before the fall, but after the fall it is colored, distorted, corrupted by our sin nature and by the world system. We started with three points (of ten) showing that yes indeed this authority relationship where the husband is the leader is embedded within the opening two chapters of Genesis. The first point was that the order of creation with the male created first indicates God's design and intention for male headship, male authority in the marriage relationship. The apostle Paul refers to this when he talks in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 about why women are not permitted to teach the Word of God or to have authority over males. This is in the context of a pulpit ministry, the context of formal structural authority within the church. Paul recognises role distinctions and the reason is the order of creation, not because of how the rabbis have interpreted things. Second, it has been pointed out how the woman was created also showed this authority relationship. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 11:8 where Paul again goes to the creation order to prove his point on authority relationships within the marriage, and he says man is not from woman but woman from man. The woman was created from the side of man to show unity. Third, we have seen that the woman was created from Adam to show her absolute unity withy Adam in terms of being fully in the image and likeness of God.

The fourth point is that the woman was created for the man as Adam's helper and assistant. In our modern world this is viewed as something that is not so significant. A helper, an assistant, is a derivative secondary position, and that is not really important. You want to be the leader; you don't want to be the number two person. God is consistently referred to in Scripture as our etzer, our assistant, so the idea of being an assistant is not a negative in divine viewpoint but it is so positive that it is a assigned to God as the one who helps or assists us. So an assistant is not a secondary, subordinate role of somewhat irrelevant significance but it is something that is extremely important. In application, a woman's role is to help her husband be everything that God intended for him to be. That means she really needs to study that guy before they say "I do," because whatever it is God has called him to be it is what she needs to help him be. Once she says "I do" then that is her job, her God-give role and responsibility. 1 Corinthians 11:9 NASB "for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake."

For the men, this doesn't give them in any sense the right to say, "Wife, you are created for me so I'm going to tell you what to do." Because the pattern, the role, the model that is given for men is the role of Christ. We never see Christ address the church in that kind of tyrannical dominion type of mentality. Jesus doesn't boss the church around. He is the authority and we respond to that authority. But Jesus isn't  a tyrannical boss who comes out like a drill sergeant in boot camp dictating terms to the new recruits. That is not how it is done. That's not how the Father exercised His authority with the Son. What has to happen is that the husbands need to go to these patterns in Scripture, the authority of the Father to the Son, and watch how Jesus exercises His authority over the disciples. He never uses His authority in a tyrannical manner; that is a carnal distortion of authority and leadership. It is really easy to let that sin nature take control but all that is is the second part of Genesis 3:18 where it is talking about the desire of the woman will be for the man "but he shall exercise dominion over you." That is coming in and playing the role of judgment there. It is not the right way to do it. Men never have that right to dictate terms to your wife. That is not how Jesus did it; that is not how men are to do it. But the ladies need to recognize on their own that they are there in order to help the man within that complimentary relationship of marriage achieve everything they as a couple should be achieving to the glory of God. The side benefit of that is fulfilment and happiness. But the goal of marriage isn't to be happy. The goal of Christian marriage is to glorify God. God is not glorified at all when the roles get reversed or distorted by carnality.

The fifth reason that we see this authority in the relationship in the original created order is that the man, not the woman, was given the spiritual commandment, the spiritual direction in the garden. It was before God ever created the woman that He told Adam that He had provided everything for him in the garden, he could eat from every tree in the garden except for one. God didn't tell that to the woman, He told it to Adam. In Genesis chapter three the woman knows it. How did she learn it? She learned it because he told her. The role of the husband was to provide for the spiritual health of the family and the marriage. That is part of his leadership responsibility. He does this by paying attention to his own spiritual life and being the spiritual example. First and foremost he has to get his act together with God. It used to be a common statement whenever you studied leadership: You can't be a good leader unless you are a good follower. The truth of that is that being a follower means that you understand humility and you have dealt with your own arrogance and self-absorption. You can't be a good leader if you are arrogant and self-absorbed. Men can't be a good leader in the home if they are arrogant and self-absorbed and full of their own position. The way to overcome that is to submit to the authority of God and to grow spiritually, and that is where it starts. In humility you are focused on the spiritual objectives, and that becomes a pattern and an example for your wife and for the family. Then you lead from that position of strength.

A sixth reason that we see the authority established and function before the fall is that the man named the woman both before and after the entrance of sin. He names her Ishah when she is first created, Genesis 2:23. Ish is the Hebrew word for male; Ishah means "from man." She is called Ishah because she comes from the male. There is that organic unity with the male. There are distinctions but there is that identification, that equality of being in the image and likeness of God. After the fall she is renamed (Genesis 3:20) Eve, which means the mother of living, from the root word meaning life. But the exercise of naming something is an exercise of authority over something. It is showing that position of headship. Once of the first responsibilities given to Adam was to name the animals. He is exercising his rulership as a human being in the image of God over the animals—Genesis 1:26, 28. Mankind was created to rule. So the act of naming Ishah, later Eve, is to emphasize his role of authority from the very beginning within the marriage.

A seventh reason we see the authority relationship is because Satan in his attempt to destroy the perfection of the garden approaches the woman, not the man. He is going through the weakest link (in his perception). He approaches the woman because he thinks that the best way to get to the man is through the woman. Then through her there is then the usurpation of male headship. This is affirmed by the apostle Paul under divine inspiration in 1 Timothy 2:13, 14 where he talks about the fact that Adam is formed first, then Eve. That shows the priority of Adam. But he says Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression. So there is a consequence for women because Eve was deceived, and part of that implies why she is not allowed in the church age to be a pastor and to teach the Word or have authority over men.

The eighth point.  There are two consequences to Eve's deception but the real issue is the male failure. Although the woman sinned first it is the male that is held responsible. He is the leader. It is not in Eve all die, it is in Adam all die. Because Adam was the designated spiritual head of the race, and it was his decision that brought spiritual death into the human race, not her decision. He decision affected her; his decision affected the entire human race. So when God comes to the garden when they had both eaten the fruit He doesn't address both of them, He says: "Adam, where are you. Why are you hiding?" He is addressing the man because he is the determinative leadership leader in the relationship. This is reinforced in subsequent passages in the New Testament such as Romans 5:12-19 where in verse 19 we are told: "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." It is that significance of the man, the male, in Genesis 3 that is the determinative for understanding sin, for understanding the transmission of sin, for understanding the importance of the virgin conception and birth, and for understanding the work of Christ in His sinless perfection before He went to the cross. And all of that is essential. We can't throw out these early chapters of Genesis or reinterpret them in some cultural manner without doing damage to everything else. What we are trying to teach here is that what the Bible teaches about the role of men and women is consistent from Genesis chapter one to the end of Revelation. To understand the passages we are looking at in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 we have to understand where it fits within this total flow of revelation and that it is totally consistent.

The ninth reason that we see headship, male authority, before the fall is that the judgment that God pronounced on each one involved in the original sin addresses the role and the responsibility of each one. The woman was to be the assistant and the child bearer, and because of her disobedience her judgment is directed toward her God-designed identity so that where she was to be fruitful and multiply now there is going to be pain, discomfort which is going to be radically increased in the whole concept of the child-bearing cycle, and that she was designed to be the assistant and now she has failed to be the assistant and gone against her husband in the fall, and these are the areas that will predominate. This is a general picture. This isn't saying every woman is going to be as rebellious as every other woman. This is generally a trend just as the obverse is true that not every man is going to have trends toward irresponsibility like every other man.

The tenth point is that the Trinity is equality and role distinction, and this is reflected in the equality and role distinction in the marriage. It all comes back to understanding that we are in the image of God. In God there is equality and distinction, and so in our marriage it reflects that same equality and distinction.

In the unregenerate world of fallen mankind it is just a struggle and a battle in the marriage. There is no real solution. But for the Christian, the believer who is filled with the Spirit, letting the Word of Christ dwell richly within him the path to reversing the curse problem is for the women, submit yourselves to your husband as is fitting to the Lord. You can do this now and this tape jumps back to before the curse so that there is a measure of recovery in terms of the original intent. For the man, his original purpose was to co-rule, to be the leader. He was to guard and keep the garden and to multiply and fill the earth. But now, in toil he is going to eat. There are going to be thorns and thistles, opposition from creation comes up and it is "the sweat of his brow." It is not pleasant to be a man and to have to go out and take the rocks out of the garden and to pull the weeds out of the garden, and to do all of that work. It moves from being a responsibility that he can easily perform in a non-fallen environment to a situation where he is always opposed, there is always opposition and difficulty. It is now negative, it is sweat and toil. Frankly he would just rather stay home and be a couch potato and watch football. And that is just fine with his wife because she would rather run things, because she could do it better. And that is the problem. We see from this that because of the curse there is this role reversal trend, and when it is played out through the giving ourselves completely over to the sin nature—carnality and depending on the culture surrounding us—it is just destructive of marriage.

So what is the solution for the man? Now he is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He loved the church by dying for the church. He loved the church by putting the necessity of spiritual salvation over His own personal wellbeing. We talk about submission but this is a form of submission where the man is putting his wife before his own needs, before his own demands, before his own requirements. Scripture teaches again and again that the person who is the real leader, as Jesus taught, is a servant of all.

Women are told to submit to their husbands. The husband is not told to make sure the wife submits to him. Nowhere does it says: "Husbands, make sure your wives submit to you." It is of their volition. If they choose not to that is between them and the Lord, not the husband. The husband is not the Holy Spirit in their life. God didn't put the man there to make she he always straightened out his wife and saying to her, you are not being submissive. No, this is directed to her and it is between her and the Lord. And of she doesn't do it from her own volition the man has a problem. The Bible talks about, especially in Proverbs, how impossible it is to deal with a rebellious woman, and you don't solve the problem of a rebellious woman by tyranny. It doesn't work. The solution is going to be the solution: you need to love your wife as Christ loved the church.

That is the challenge fore every man. If you want to have the kind of spiritual life you hope to have and want to have the kind of marriage you want to have, don't look at your wife; look in the mirror. It starts with you and your spiritual life.

So we start off withy perfect environment where there is a role relationship, and authority relationship between the man and the woman. Then we have the fall. And in the sinful world, the environment, it gets all messed up and there is no real hope for marriage apart from regeneration, becoming a new creature is Christ and having the model of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to overcome that. We live in a sinful, corrupt world and if we operate on our sin nature it is just going to be man against woman, woman against man, me against you and you against me and it is never going to be pretty. It is always going to be so far removed from what God intended that we wonder why we even have marriage—which is where our culture is today.

There is hope though, tremendous hope. There is spiritual recovery based on the redemption solution that there is real substantive hope and change that comes from the Scripture, that comes from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.


1.  Authority as a principle is intrinsically good. It existed in the Godhead.

2.  Authority was never designed as a solution to the chaos of sin. Authority was always there, God doesn't initiate authority after the fall to solve the sin problem; it predates sin.

3.  So therefore subordination is not intrinsically bad but reflects the need for order and mutual dependence in the plan of God.

4.  The belief that submission implies inferiority is an assault on the Trinity, the incarnation, the cross, and therefore on the foundation of all biblical teaching. It is a pagan blasphemy that subordination implies inferiority.

5.  Authority and submission are corrupted by sin, sinful creatures and cultures. So often what we think of as an authority relationship is actually a tyrannical relationship that has been corrupted by sin. So when we hear that the man is the authority what some people hear is that the man is a tyrant. That is not what it is saying. The model is Jesus Christ, and He is not a tyrant.

6.  The only solution begins at the cross, which removes the judgment of sin through regeneration and provides the foundation for understanding and restoring our God-designed purposes and roles. That is where it starts, but if you are not willing to do what the Scripture says about your walk with God then that is going to mess up not just you marriage and your family but everything else, because you are still wanting to do everything your way instead of God's way.

7.  It is only through the filling of the Holy Spirit and the rich indwelling of the Word of Christ that the corruption of sin in our thinking and in our marriages and in our families can be reversed so that we can truly pursue God's plan for our lives.

Just remember what the last part was that Paul says in Colossians before he started talking about letting the Word of Christ richly dwell in you. "Don't lie to one another…" Think about this in a marriage context. "…because you have put off the old man and all of his deeds… "and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—{a renewal} in which there is no {distinction between} Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you."

We don't see words there like "demanding, authoritarian, dictatorial self-serving". For both men and women the model in your role always goes back to your relationship with Christ. That is the pattern—Christ and His relationship to the church.

"Beyond all these things {put on} love, which is the perfect bond of unity [maturity]."