Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven. (3:18-4:1)
In these verses the Holy Spirit, who, as we have seen, is Himself not mentioned in this epistle save incidentally in verse 8 of chapter 1, gives us instruction in regard to the sanctification of the natural, or earthly, relationships of the new man. It would be a great mistake to suppose, as some have done, that because we are members of the new creation we need no longer consider ordinary human ties or responsibilities. While it is quite true that in the new creation there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus, it is important to remember that our bodies belong to the old creation still. It will not be until the redemption of the body at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him that we shall be above the natural relationships in which we stand to one another as men and women here in the world.
Even in the church of God these human distinctions hold good as we are reminded in the epistles to the Corinthians and to Timothy and Titus. To say as some do that because there is neither male nor female in the new creation, we are to pay no attention to the divinely given order pertaining to the respective places of man and woman in the church of God on earth is not only to go beyond Scripture but is positive disobedience to the Word of God. As long as we are subject to human limitations, so long must we recognize our human responsibilities and seek to maintain these in a scriptural way in order that we may commend the gospel of Christ.
There is no condition in which the new life is more blessedly manifested than in circumstances sometimes hard for flesh and blood to endure, but where grace enables, brings triumph. A comparison of the instruction given in Colossians in the verses quoted above, with similar instruction in the epistle to the Ephesians, will show us that the apostle deals very briefly here with what he has taken up at much greater length there. The one epistle should be compared with the other, and both with similar teaching given in 1 Peter, in order that we may get the mind of God as fully revealed in regard to the great and important principles that govern our behavior.
It will be noticed that in each of the Scripture passages referred to the weaker is dealt with first, and then the stronger; or the one subject first, and then the one in authority. So here we have wives and husbands, then children and fathers, and lastly, servants and masters. Let us examine with some degree of care what the Holy Spirit says to each one.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” Where husband and wife are both Christians seeking to do the will of God, in whose hearts there is real mutual affection and esteem, there will be no difficulty whatsoever in regard to such an admonition as this. But it will require true grace to yield loving obedience when perhaps the husband is a carnal, worldly, and unreasonable man. Yet we need to remember the marriage relationship is divinely ordained, and as the old wedding ceremony puts it, “not to be lightly entered into” and according to the Word of God not easily to be terminated. “For better, for worse, until death do us part,” are words often flippantly uttered with no real conception of their seriousness.
For the Christian woman this relationship once entered into there is no other position in conformity with the will of God than that of godly submission to the husband whom she herself has chosen. The present loose ideas in regard to easy divorce are bearing fearful fruit which will increase unto more ungodliness as the end draws near, until there will be duplicated in Christendom the corruption and vileness of the days before the flood and the unspeakable immoralities of the cities of the plain. Of all this our blessed Lord has warned us most solemnly. For one to seek to dissolve the marriage relationship because of incompatibility of temperament is to fly in the face of the Word of the living God. Death, or what is equivalent to it, the infidelity of husband or wife, is the only scriptural ground for termination of the marriage contract, leaving the other party free to remarry.
It is true that 1 Corinthians 7:11 would imply that there may be circumstances in which no self-respecting woman could continue to live in this relationship, because of unspeakable cruelty or abominable conditions which would be ruinous to soul and body alike. But if she departs she is to remain unmarried, and if conditions change, she may be reconciled to her husband. But so long as she remains with him she is responsible to recognize his headship as the one appointed by God to provide for the family, and even though conditions may sometimes be very distressing, she is to seek to win her wayward spouse by manifesting the grace of Christ.
“As it is fit in the Lord,” suggests that gracious demeanor which ever characterized Him while He was in this scene, and also that her submission and obedience will never be such as to injure conscience or dishonor the Lord. In this she must act as before God, for after all, hers is the submission of a wife and not of a slave. It is loyalty to him who is her head that is enjoined.
In verse 19 we read, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” And, right here, how many husbands fail! Imperiously demanding submission from the wife, how little do they show the love of Christ in their dealings with those thus dependent upon them! The Christian husband is to accept his place of headship as a sacred responsibility put upon him by God Himself and is to exercise his authority for the blessing of his home in the love of Christ. And just as some wives may be united to tyrannical and unreasonable men, so there are husbands who, after marriage, find that one who in days of courtship seemed so docile and affectionate is a veritable termagant and as unreasonable as it is possible to be. But still the husband is to love and care for her, showing all consideration, “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel,” as Peter puts it, without indulging in wrath or anger. How much is involved in the exhortation, “Be not bitter against them.” God knew how petty and trying some women’s ways would be when He said to good men, “Be not bitter against them.” In the power of the new life one may manifest patience and grace under the most trying circumstances.
Now we come to the injunction to children: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” In childhood days parents stand in relation to their children as God Himself in relation to the parent. Children who do not obey their parents when young will not obey God when older. The natural heart is ever rebellious against authority, and perhaps never more strikingly has this been manifested than in these democratic days in which we live. But Christian children should be examples of godly submission to father and mother or whoever may be in authority over them, and parents are responsible to instill into their hearts the divine requirement of obedience. For young people professing piety, to ignore this principle of obedience is to manifest utter insubjection to the One they own as Lord.
But again we notice how carefully the Spirit of God guards all this when He says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” Parental rule may be of such a character as to fill the growing boy or girl with indignation and contempt instead of drawing out the young heart in love and obedience. How easy it is, when come to manhood, to forget the feelings of a child, and so to implant in the hearts of the little ones resentment instead of tender affection. Surely this is contrary to every instinct of the new man. The Christian father is to imitate Him who is our Father-God.
It is when He addresses the servants that he goes into the greatest details. These, in the days when this epistle was written, were slaves and not free men who served for wages, but if such instruction as we have here was applicable to bondmen, how much more does it apply to those who have the privilege of selling their services and of terminating engagements at will. There is no excuse whatsoever for surly, dishonest service because perhaps the master or mistress may be exasperating and unappreciative. Notice the exhortation, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” How this glorifies the servant’s lowly path in whatsoever capacity he is called upon to labor for others. He is privileged to look at all his service as done unto the Lord Himself.
Thus he labors faithfully, not only under the master’s eye, but when unseen by man. He carries on his appointed task conscientiously in singleness of heart, having the fear of God before his soul, according as it is written, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men: knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: [because] ye serve the Lord Christ.”
What a cheer was this to the Roman or Grecian slave, toiling on day after day with the most faithful ministrations taken perhaps but as a matter of course. Yet if all were done as to the Lord one could be sure that in the coming day, the day of manifestation, He Himself would reward accordingly, accepting all the service as done unto Him. On the other hand, if treated cruelly, and perhaps overreached and cheated out of the due reward of his labor, the Christian servant does well to remember that God is taking note of all, and a day is coming when every wrong will be put right. Things that can never be settled here in righteousness will have a full settlement then, for, “He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” Whether it be the servant who is unfaithful or the master who is unappreciative, the Lord Himself will bring everything to light at His judgment seat, or in the case of the unsaved, at the Great White Throne, when every man shall be judged according to his works.
It is unfortunate that the chapter break comes just where it does. It would seem far more suitable to close chapter 3 with the next verse, and let chapter 4 begin with verse 2, for it is evident that verse 1 concludes this particular section. It is a message to those in authority: “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” In every instance it is to the new man He speaks. Ungodly masters could not be expected to take heed to such an admonition as this, but it is addressed to one who, while master in his relationship to his servants, is himself but a servant to his own Master in heaven. He may well give heed to what is here so impressively urged upon him. He is to treat his servants as he would have the Lord treat him. He is to be characterized by fairness, giving to those beneath him that which is just and equal, knowing that all the time his heavenly Master is looking on. When he comes to give account of his service, his relations to those who on earth served under him will all be carefully gone into, when everything will be brought to light.
What marvelous principles are these which we have seen so simply stated. Only one who knows something of the conditions prevailing in the Roman Empire at the time this letter was written can realize how revolutionary they were. In those days, wives, children, and slaves had practically no standing before the law, except as husbands, fathers, or masters might desire to recognize them. But this glorious truth of the new man, this blessed unfolding of the new creation, tinged with glory every earthly relationship in which the Christian was found. It is like the blue border upon the hem of the pious Israelite’s garment. Even on the lower edge where that long flowing robe came most nearly in contact with the earth, this ribbon of blue was seen. Blue, as we well know, is the heavenly color. The Israelite was to look upon it and remember that he had owned the Lord to be his God, He who had said, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” As he looked upon the ribbon of blue he was to remember his responsibility to honor and to glorify the God of heaven in his life on the earth. We as Christians are to manifest the heavenly character in every lawful relationship which God has established during the present order of things for the blessing of mankind.
There is a story told of one of the Dauphins of France who had an English tutor. This teacher found his princely pupil very difficult to handle. Proud and haughty, and impatient of restraint, the young man submitted unwillingly to schoolroom restrictions and his foreign instructor was often at his wits’ end how to deal with him. One morning as his pupil came to him, the tutor placed upon the lapel of his jacket a purple rosette, saying to him, “This is the royal color. As you wear it I want you to remember that you are the Crown Prince of France, and that it is incumbent upon you ever to behave in a princely way. If you are willful or disobedient I shall, of course, not attempt to punish you, as that is not in my province. But I shall simply point to the purple, and you will understand what I mean, that I do not feel your behavior is worthy of a princely lad.” The appeal to the purple! How striking the suggestion. May we not say that to us there is a similar appeal, but, to use the Old Testament picture, it is the appeal to the blue! Wives, husbands, children, fathers, masters, and servants, are all alike called upon to manifest the holiness of heaven, to display the heavenly character, even in earthly relationships.
It is in just such things as these that the power of the new life is wonderfully manifested. “Holding the Head” is not merely maintaining ecclesiastical truth, but it is shown forth in a holy, godly life—in subjection of heart and mind to Christ, and never more fully than in the way we live in the family, and in connection with business and social responsibilities.