For Time and Eternity
The victory is in Christ Jesus our Lord; the victory is that of a marriage centered in Him. Today's title, "For Time and Eternity," reflects the teaching of God's word that marriage can be a pinnacle human experience of this life, and it is the way God prepares us to celebrate forever with Him the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb and His bride, the church. In marriage we have the Bible's most beautiful expression of what God's love is like, and in marriage we truly have a "foretaste of our eternal home." Christian marriage is the thrill of great victory.
Usually when we think of marriage passages we first think of Ephesians 5:22-33. That is a beautiful passage on marriage. Another excellent passage is Colossians 3:18-20. Here Paul states the teaching on marriage briefly and pointedly. There is no mistaking what he has in mind. Besides, it is easy to memorize and to carry with you each day of your life.
The whole idea with which Paul begins this chapter is that we should set our minds on the things that are above where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. What a thrilling thought! If our minds and hearts are truly set on that, then we will see all of life in the proper light. If our minds and our hearts are set in heaven at the right hand of God, if we live each hour as if we were living for eternity — which we are! — then how true that this marriage advice is for both time and eternity. Yet the eternity dimension comes first, for finally everything that we are is shaped by the eternity beyond us. With that background, Paul proceeds to give some short, practical advice about marriage and the home.
Notice the three paragraphs that precede the commands about marriage. First, Paul tells us what we should put aside. That is true of all Christians, married or single. In these verses Paul describes the life of the world which we are to shun. Then in the next two paragraphs Paul tells us what we are to do. Notice those commands:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In this context of Christian living, Paul sets the ideal of the Christian home. In the Christian home those things are first learned. Now that Paul has set the context of his comments about marriage, he is ready to make those commands specific.
Submission ... in the Lord
"Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." In our age, that hardly sounds like reasonable advice; nor did it in Paul's day. The Greek Stoics said that they should endure everything, and marriage was often seen as "endurance" as the wife submitted to the unreasonable demands of her husband. That advice had failed. It had failed to bring them the kind of relationship that Paul described in the opening 17 verses of the chapter, and failed to bring them the foretaste of the eternal home. But Paul went a step further, "As is fitting in the Lord." Now the submission is not seen as blind obedience, as in Greek Stoicism, but obedience that arises out of a mutual commitment to Jesus Christ.
This submission is in the context of each partner's allegiance to Jesus Christ and each partner's desire to make their marriage here on earth a picture of the eternal feast with God.
Living in the age of women's liberation, it is difficult for us to recapture that concept of submission that was so clear to St. Paul. Perhaps it is easiest seen in the creation order. When we go back to Genesis 2 we notice two remarkable things about the creation of Eve. First, she was created last. In God's creation pattern He had moved from the simple to the complex, from the basic to the more advanced. This was the progressive pattern of creation. In that pattern Eve was created after Adam making her a crown of creation. We still see that today — women live longer, are able often to cope better — they still reflect something of that final epitome of God's creation.
The second thing that we see is that she is a "help meet for Adam." That was her role — help her husband. As a pinnacle of God's creation pattern she is to be the helper who assists God's man to function as he ought. The old adage that behind every great man there is a great woman goes right back to God's pattern in creation. That is the kind of submission that Paul has in mind here — a correct understanding of "help," of submission in the Christian sense of the word, there is the basis for a solid and happy marriage, the kind that truly pictures the love of God and prepares the partners for their eternal relationship with Christ, the great Bridegroom.
Demand of Love
"Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them." Again our minds drift back across the centuries to the creation. We saw in "The Carriage of Marriage" what Adam's ecstatic reaction was when he first saw Eve. To this Paul adds a warning, "Do not be harsh with them." Apparently, as Paul looked at the marriages in Colossae he saw that a most common error was that men were harsh with their wives. How typical of modern American society! We have more battered wives than we have ever had before. It has gone beyond "harsh" to horrible. Why is that?
It is easy to say that is the result of sin in the world. Of course, that is true. But there is more to it than that. You must remember that God made woman to be a "help meet" for man. The man needs that. When the wife no longer is in that supportive role, then the husband loses his own emotional balance and begins to strike out at the wife and possibly the children. Battered wives come from families in which the husband does not understand his role as leader, or is unable to exercise it because the wife does not allow herself to be submissive. Of course, there are exceptions to that pattern, but the prevailing reason for harsh husbands in Colossae and today is the failure of husband and/or wife to function in the God-assigned role.
It is also clear that a husband's love for his wife must be expressed in the context of all the things Paul has said about Christian living — the don'ts of verses 5-11, and the do's of verses 12-17. Those verses define what love is. In the intimate relationship of husband and wife, in the daily living together as a couple, their Christianity can come to clearest expression — but it must always do so in the context of God's creation order.
Every Christian couple that is able to have children, ought to have children. Marriage is not only for convenience, mutual pleasure, or to have a lifelong companion. The Bible never tells a couple how many children they should have or how they should plan their family, but it does teach that Christians who marry in the Lord should plan to have children. This is part of the covenantal character of marriage. This is why Paul also speaks of children in the context of the marriage.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Children, you are commanded to obey your parents because it pleases the Lord. If you are living the kind of life that Paul describes in this chapter, then you will obey your parents. If your parents ask you to do something, you may ask, "Why?" Sometimes parents say, "Because I told you to." Paul says that is not the reason you do it. You do it because God asks you to obey them. When you hear your mother's voice say, "Clean your room," God says, "Clean your room." When you hear your father's voice say, "You must be home at midnight tonight," God says "You must be home at midnight." Remember, you intend to be spending eternity with the God who is giving these commands through our parents. That is an awesome teaching of the Bible. That is what Paul taught the children and teenagers of Colossae.
There is more. Just as husbands may not be harsh with their wives, they may not embitter their children. While it is true that when children and teenagers hear a command from their parents it is really a command from God, it is also true that God wants parents to give no command that He also would not give. If parents expect their children to obey then because God is speaking through them, then parents must speak like God. That too is an awesome responsibility, one we parents cannot take lightly. When we speak the voice of God, when our children obey us because in our voice they hear the voice of God, then we truly have the beautiful Christian relationship that Paul describes in those opening verses.
It is a continual struggle in our society to have this kind of Christian marriage. It requires effort every day. It takes constant reminders of what God Himself established at creation as the pattern for marriage. Yet the rewards of such an effort are enormous. How great that in our own homes we can be preparing for eternal life in the family of God. How great that what we do as parents is like the voice of God Himself. What a stunning truth that is!
That truth can be lived only when our homes are truly Christian, when each day is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we do not avoid the agony of defeat because we are so good, but we enjoy the thrill of victory because Christ is so great. None of us today can boast of marriage that is great because the victory is not in ourselves, but in Christ Jesus our Lord. How I yearn for that to more fully be true in my own home, and how I pray for that in yours!