Wives, Submit to your Husbands or How to Have a Healthy Family

A study was released in July that described three types of families.  One happy, termed cohesive.  Two unhappy, termed disengaged and enmeshed.
“Typically cohesive families are characterized by harmonious interactions, emotional warmth, and firm but flexible roles for parents and children. "Think the Cosby family," says Sturge-Apple, offering an example from the popular TV series about the affable Huxtable family.

Enmeshed families, by contrast, appears to be emotionally involved and display modest amounts of warmth, but they struggle with high levels of hostility, destructive meddling, and a limited sense of the family as a team. Sturge-Apple points to the emotionally messy Barone family in the family sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond as a good example of an enmeshed family.

Finally, disengaged families, as the name implies, are marked by cold, controlling, and withdrawn relationships. The seemingly pleasant suburban family in the movie Ordinary People provides a classic illustration of a disengaged family, as per the authors. Reacting to the death of their oldest son, the parents in the film retreat emotionally, creating a barren home environment in which feelings cannot be discussed.”
The authors of the study are clear in saying that family life isn’t the only factor that results in troubled children.

Another article describing the same study wrote:

The research found that children from disengaged homes began their education with higher levels of aggressive and disruptive behavior and more difficulty focusing on learning and cooperating with the classroom rules. These destructive behaviors grew worse as the child progressed through school.

By contrast, children from enmeshed home environments entered school with no more disciplinary problems or depression and withdrawal than their peers from cohesive families. But as children from both enmeshed and disengaged homes continued in school they began to suffer higher levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness and alienation from peers and teachers.
The authors conclude that “children in the early school years may be especially vulnerable to the destructive relationship patterns of enmeshed families.”

Paul, in writing Colossians, wrapped up telling us about the new self with what almost seems to be a sidetrack into the household.  The old self is lying, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk while the new self is compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, thankfulness, forgiveness, and love.

What we see in Paul's passage on the household in Colossians on how to have the family God desires is similar to what the scientists in the studies mentioned earlier would describe as a cohesive family.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.  Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 3:18-4:1 (ESV).
Now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first.  I would prefer not to deal with the elephant in the room because in dealing with it we risk missing the forest for the tree.  But if I don’t deal with it, I doubt we will get to see the forest because of that tree.  The big, hot button issue is that first sentence.  "Wives, submit to your husbands."  Let's be careful though; we can major on a minor and still have a dysfunctional family.

An exercise that is useful in discovering the meaning of a word is to to examine what it meant in the original language through a Greek word study.  One of the biggest mistakes typically done is to just look the word up in an English dictionary and call it good from there.  The problem with our understanding "hupotasso" is that we don't use the word "submit" much in our normal conversations.  The only places I hear it is in wrestling/mma and in a classroom environment where a student submits a paper to their teacher.  In doing a word study, we can see how the word was used in other sections of Scripture.  So let's look at some of those verses.

And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive (hupotasso) to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.  Luke 2:51 (ESV)
Jesus was hupotasso to his parents.
Let every person be subject (hupotasso) to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Romans 13:1 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso governing authorities.

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject (hupotasso) to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 1 Corinthians 16:15-16 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso to every fellow worker and laborer like those of the housefhold of Stephanas.
Submit (hupotasso) yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  James 4:7 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso to God.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting (hupotasso) to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Eph 5:18-21 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso to one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus.

We could get a grand and deeply authoritarian view of submission from the verses that teach us to submit to governing authorities and God, but there are uses of "submit" that throw a kink into that definition.  We see that submitting to one another is something that we are all called to do as believers. 

So the word "submit" is often misunderstood. This teaching of womanly submission has tragically been abused by the patriarchal society of the past and is still being abused in sexist settings.  I have heard of tragic stories of abuse in which a woman has been told to submit to her husband and remain in that abusive relationship.  That is not what this verse in Colossians is implying.

Submit (hupotasso) is voluntarily placing ourselves under someone in order to support them and help them achieve the dreams they have.  When Paul wrote that a wife should submit to her husband he was stating that a wife needs to be a person who is voluntarily supportive of their husband, but that is nothing more than what Paul said we need to be to one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus. It is nothing more than the husband should also be to the wife.

Submitting does not mean that we don’t speak up, that we don’t ever disobey.  It does not mean that we endure torture or abuse under another. It means that we know the dreams of the other person, we put ourselves voluntarily under them to help them achieve those dreams. We become a support to lift them up and help them achieve their goals. 

Each time that the Bible commands the wife to submit to her husband, it joins that with a command for the husband to love and take care of his wife.  Paul even goes so far in the letter to the Ephesians to say that the husband must love his wife like Jesus loves the church.  
A domineering man might then ask, "What does authority matter if it does not mean blind obedience by those under authority?"  It’s mean Christian authority.  If you are over someone in Christ, then you are their servant leader.  Jesus does not force His will to be done through taking away free will.  He leads out of submission and love.  We are to do likewise.

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matt 20:25-28 (ESV).
Jesus also taught that leadership in the church and in Christian relationships is upside-down.  
The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Matt 23:11-12 (ESV).
Servant leadership is what Christian leadership is all about.  As a pastor, I think about my role a lot and what I am to do.  I am in this position to serve the people in the church I minister at, the community around here, and world abroad.  It is not about me getting special treatment; it's about me serving people through calling on them, meeting their needs, and studying the Scriptures for what I think God wants us to hear.  The other leaders in a church are there to do likewise.  If you are living out the life of Jesus in your workplace, then you should be about serving them.  Government, if it is doing it’s job, is here to serve us.  Christian leadership, whether it is the role of a husband in the house, parents to their children, a teacher to their students, a law enforcement officer to the citizens, is one of sacrifice and service.

We all know in the core of our being what good leadership is.  What kind of cowardly father would flee if his family was endangered?  I know this one is a stretch, but what kind of corrupt politician would seek to gain personally from their position as a representative of the people?  What kind of shameful law enforcement officer would abandon people in need of help?  We all know, in the core of our being, what good leadership is.  And that is what Paul is laying out here because, so often, men can create a destructive family environment from their unhealthy leadership.  The leadership trap for a husband, as Paul warns, is to become harsh with their wives and provoke and discourage their children.     

But a healthy family is not one of selfish and personal ambition.  It’s one of  compassion, patience, love, humility, forgiveness, and love.  It is the new self lived out in unison one with another.  A healthy family is the most basic example of the love of Jesus lived in community.

It is dangerous for someone to get into a relationship with an unbeliever because the believer, if living the way Jesus would have them live, would be walked on by the other. The new self can only truly be lived without being abused when both people are living in the new self.  The family is designed to be a place where people are encouraged and built up to be who Jesus wants them to be rather than a place of manipulation and selfish ambition.
In the healthy family, telling a wife that she is to submit to her husband is also proclaiming that the husband must serve his wife.  We must never separate a wife submitting with the love of the husband that is always connected with that command to submit.

The main crux of the argument, as Paul described the way the household should function is that the man should no longer abuse his position.  At the time this letter was written to church in Colossae, the man was very domineering over the family. Paul gave three warnings to the man. One, he is not to be harsh with his wife. Two, he is not to provoke and discourage their children. And three, he is to treat his slaves justly and fairly.  This was a radical teaching that would be liberating to wives, children, and slaves at that time.

The Roman society was patriarchal and vicious.  The babies would be presented to the father after birth at which he could decide to let the baby not enter the family forcing the baby to die from exposure.  No property was allowed to be owned in a Roman family except for the father; this even included grown men.  All children were to be under the authority of their father until his passing.

Like modern sitcoms jokingly show the faults in the American family, Roman theater did the same for their audience.  And we can see in the family comedies of Plautus and Terrence that the Roman family could devolve into manipulation and greed.  With such a patriarchal structure, the wife, children, and slaves would all try to manipulate the father to get their will done.  Paul's writings were a direct assault on the Roman family structure and would have transformed a Roman family that lived selfishly into one that would be a witness for Jesus.

If the man is the head of the house, it is not a domineering head. Christian leadership is the exact opposite of being domineering. If anyone is the head of anything, then that person is to be the servant of those he is the head of.  True Christian leadership is serving, not domineering. It is an authority to serve rather than an authority to boss around and be obeyed.

Submit does not mean that someone should be silent, obedient at all times, or a slave. Actually, if submit means to support someone to achieve their dreams, then speaking up and telling the other person where they need to improve would be needed at times. So submit, in Paul's command for a wife to submit to her husband, just means that the woman will help the man achieve the dreams he is trying to achieve.  She will be his support. From other verses, we see that a man should be just as supportive of his wife.