The Biblical Role of Wives
Study #22 Colossians 3:18
by Bob Burridge ©2023
In this third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians God explains the role of members of a family.
<18. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
In this study we will start going through this section by looking at the role of women as wives in verse 18. Some today would immediately condemn what the Bible teaches on this subject.
There’s a lot of confusion about the role of women. Feminist leader Sheila Crinen said, “Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women’s movement must concentrate on attacking marriage. Freedom for women cannot be without the abolition of marriage.”
Elizabeth Stanton, a theoretician of the women’s rights movement, attacked what she calls the male bias of the Bible. She said, “… organized religion would have to be abolished before true emancipation for women could be achieved.”
Back in November1993 over 2000 women gathered in Minneapolis for the first Re-Imagining Conference. It was promoted by the World Council of Churches, and sponsored by the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodists, the American Baptist Church, the United Church of Christ, and several orders of Roman Catholic nuns.
They charged that Christian doctrine is responsible for the oppression of women, violence in the streets, child abuse, racism, classism, sexism, and pollution. Dolores Williams said, “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all. I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff” Virginia Mollenkott said, “I can no longer worship in a theological context that depicts god as an abusive parent and Jesus as the obedient, trusting child … This violent theology encourages the violence of our streets and nation.”
These rejected the idea that God has revealed himself in the Bible. They say we have just imagined our god, and that we have imagined him badly. They say it’s time to “reimagine a new god and a new road to salvation.” They took the Greek word for wisdom and called their new goddess Sophia. They prayed to her, worshipped her, participated in rituals and sacraments to her. They blessed all their speakers in her name and said that her special interest was in blessing the lesbian women present. Ancient cults of Canaan honored a feminine fertility goddesses, and sacrificed live babies to stone idols.
Many atrocities have been committed claiming to be done in the name of Christ. However they were not done in obedience to Scripture, but in defiance of it. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition were departures from the Bible.
The violent Roman society threw Christians to lions. It sent believers to battle bare-handed against armed gladiators. It was Nero who lit his gardens with the burning bodies of Christians. The rise of violence in recent years marks a decline, not an increase, in the acceptance of biblical values.
History is rewritten, and belief in God is blamed for our own corruption. Christ’s atonement has been so distorted that some say it was divine child abuse. The biblical view of the home has been characterized as a great enemy of women.
Our text for this study is from Colossians 3:18
Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”
Ephesians 5:22-24 is a good parallel passage to consider. It says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
We should consider many other verses too. Titus 2:4,5 tells older women to be good examples “and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” 1Timothy 2:11-12, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” 1 Peter 3:1-2, “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.”
What is the one idea that is common to every one of these passages? God commands women to be in subjection to their husbands. That’s certainly not a popular idea today. However it’s a clear and often repeated biblical principle when it’s properly understood.
As Paul wrote to the community of Colossae, false teachers had come. They promoted a perverted view of the role of woman. They taught that women were naturally inferior to men. They treated them as property, as mere slaves. Paul’s concern in this letter is that we avoid wrong attitudes like that. He called us to replace them with God’s teachings in his written word.
The idea of submissiveness is a general principle God built into his creation. The word translated as being in subjection is “hupotasso” (υποτασςω). It’s used 41 times in the New Testament. It simply means “submit to”, “obey”, “be in subjection to”.In looking at these verses, it’s clear that the idea of submission is not just for wives.
God made all things the way he did so that they display and declare his own nature. The idea of submission applies in various ways to all humans. In that same passage in Ephesians 5, in verse 21 we are all told to be
“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”. In 1 Peter 5:5 younger people are told to be subject to their elders. Hebrews 13:17 commands believers to submit to the leaders in their church. In Romans 8:7 We are all told to submit to God’s law. Romans 13:1-5 commands all citizens to be subject to the leaders of the governing authorities. Six times in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul explains that all things will be made subject to Christ. 15:27, “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”. Even Jesus was in subjection to his earthly parents when he was a child (Luke 2:51). As God the Son, he is subject to the Heavenly Father who sent him (John 5:30). 1 Corinthians 11:3, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Obviously submissiveness must not mean what many think it does today. Submission does not mean enslavement or inferiority. The word has to do with duties and responsibilities, not with lower importance or personal value.
God created an orderly world to reflect his own orderliness. Someone has to be held responsible for leadership. That’s not as much a privilege as it is an assignment from God. Others are called to the duty of supporting the ones called to lead. It doesn’t make them less important, though they have different duties. Citizens are to benefit from the civil leaders who hold office and make laws they are to obey. Church members are to benefit from the Elders and Deacons God calls to be their leaders. The wives and children are the ones husbands and fathers are called to care for.
Certainly there’s no inferiority among the members of the Trinity. Jesus isn’t inferior to God the Father. In his work of redemption as God the Son, he’s in subjection to his Father’s decrees. It shows a division of responsibility and work in the Trinity.
Order and structure, headship and submission, are a part of God’s creation order.
Similarly, the submissive wife is not inferior to her husband. Women do not have a lower standing than men. She is not her husband’s slave. But she has different duties and responsibilities before God. God has often assigned groups of humans different duties: He only allowed the family of Levi to be tabernacle priests. Only certain families were called to be Kings. Levites weren’t better than Kings, nor Kings than Levites; God simply gave them different duties. In the same way; God calls men and women to different duties in the home.
God didn’t want the home to be in chaos. It’s not the most dominant personality that should run things. God gave the male a big responsibility. The female is to be in subjection to his duty of leadership.
It’s the responsibility of the wife to be submissive to her husband. It’s not the husband’s duty or right to force her to be submissive. Husbands who use force or violence or humiliation to subdue their wives violate clear biblical principles. Submission is the duty of the wife.
God’s design for order in the home involves loving leadership. Though Jesus Christ is the head of his church, he doesn’t demean his Church, he rules to encourage her in love. Our Lord doesn’t make personal slaves of His people. He cares for them and looks after their needs. The godly husband doesn’t demean or make a slave of his wife. He makes responsible decisions for her benefit and happiness. [We will say more about this in our next study about Christian men.]
God commands every wife to be submissive to her husband. It’s not optional. If a wife is to be blessed and fulfilled as a Christian, she must obey this law of God. To refuse to submit to the husband is rebellion against God. Her submission is an act of obedience to Christ. She’s not only to be submissive when her husband is an exemplary leader, but also showing submission when his skills are imperfect. His lack of proficiency doesn’t exempt her from his headship in the home.
The wife’s subjection is limited by only one thing — by God’s higher authority. No one in a leadership role can command us to disobey God. No husband has the authority to command his wife to do what God forbids, nor to make her neglect any duties God commands. Our text in Colossians 3:18 shows that her submission is “as is fitting in the Lord”
The husband abuses his authority when he commands what’s not delegated to him. God’s word is the standard that defines all headship and obedience. Yet, if a wife must disobey her husband in order to obey God’s clear commands she must do it with love, humility, and respect. Her goal is always to let the fruit of the Holy Spirit be seen in her.
No one can be required to disobey God. As Acts 5:29 says, “we must obey God rather than man”. But not with defiance. A wife needs to submit in her attitudes as well as in her actions. A grudging submission will not do. Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband” The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “She is to notice, regard, honor, prefer, esteem, praise, and admire her husband exceedingly”.
The wife’s attitude in the home, before her children, her neighbors and friends, should demonstrate respect and godly submission. Before her children, she is their primary example of respecting leadership. Children who have a distorted example of structure in the home will often struggle all their lives with authority.
Her attitude shows she is satisfied with her position as wife. She should not be covetous of the job God gave her husband, not envious of his responsibility of headship, and willing to let him do his job and help him to do it well.
This is one of the duties assigned to women at creation. Adam’s loneliness couldn’t be satisfied by anything else in creation. So God said, “I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18. Helper is not a degrading term. God is often called our helper! Psalm 121:2, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Woman as helper to her husband is no more a slave to man, than God is to us! Genesis calls her a helper suitable for (corresponding to) him. They need one another. 1 Corinthians 11:11 says, “in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman;”
The wife, though in subjection to a husband, has a great ministry in her home.
The wife does not live just for her husband.
She doesn’t have to sacrifice her intellect or her creativity. She contributes and is creative in the home.
As Paul compares in Ephesians 5, the church is submissive to the headship of Jesus Christ, yet the Lord fully uses her talents and efforts.
Similarly the wife puts her talents, ideas, abilities, and resources under her husband’s management for the good of her family. A godly husband treasures his wife’s insights, ideas, and abilities. God made them to work together and to complete one another. She should lovingly share her ideas and opinions, but not to get her way or belittle her husband. She’s to be a team-player. In the Marriage vows the two become one. They need to strive for one goal. There is great freedom within the boundaries appointed by God.
Proverbs 31:10-31 is a classic passage about the virtuous woman. The wife “seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” (Proverbs 31:13). In John 4:34 Jesus tells us that his service to the Father was his food. Psalm 40:8 says that the Messiah delights to do the Father’s work.
A wife is certainly not inactive or a domestic slave. She works and invests and is creative, but never to where these things hinder her work as helper. She never neglects to ease her husband’s burdens and put her home’s needs first. She makes the home a safe place; a place of encouragement, comfort, understanding, and refuge. She keeps the home in order and clean so that her family will have a comfortable, healthy place to live and do their work.
This doesn’t mean she makes it an immaculate and uncomfortable showplace. She keeps a balance: The house and its order is for the people, not the people for the house. Dr. Francis Schaeffer’s wife Edith said, “People are more important than things”. Never let care for the home, its furnishings or decor, make those who live there feel like slaves to the things. Wives shouldn’t become so obsessed with housework or decorating that the spiritual needs of her home and family are neglected. There are times when getting the dishes or laundry done are not the most important thing. Yet they should not be put off unwisely either. Women in the home need to be examples of balanced living.
Men need to appreciate the difficulty involved in maintaining this balance. In the next section of Colossians Paul gives advice to the husbands. It’s their job to wisely look after and lead their wives in love.
The role of the wife is difficult,
yet it’s vital to the health of a home.
If she rebels against the authority God has set over her, if she shows disrespect and takes charge against her husband’s leadership, if she fails to be an example to her children of respectful submission, there will be chaos! Not only chaos in the home, but in the society made up of such homes. However, if the wife is growing in fulfilling her duties as God has outlined them, her home, husband and children will be growing into Christ-likeness too. Her home will be a place of peace, patience, and mutual respect. It will be a refuge from the world, not a tense, ugly place where the children can’t wait to leave.
The confusion about our duties today sets itself against the Bible’s position: We have a gospel — good news! which is to be presented by word and by our example. We need to expose the distortion of biblical submission and order. The rebellion of lost hearts has created a distorted image. It replaces God’s created order with self-destructive self-serving principles.
The result are obvious all around us. Many homes and marriages are deteriorating, some are already destroyed. Communities hate authority which they see as wicked. Many streets, stores, and schools are unsafe, and families are in tense turmoil.
If our society is to be turned around, if our homes are to be safe again, women, as wives, can make the difference!
The Bible lays great importance on the vital importance of wives: Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.”
Proverbs 31:10-11, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” In verses 28-31 it says, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.