Our every relationship can and should reflect our relationship with Jesus.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Colossians 3:18-4:6
Paul mashes priceless relationship advice into a small space as he tells the Colossians what the Christian life looks like in a marriage relationship, a parent-child relationship, a master-servant relationship, and a Christian-non-Christian relationship. So, that's pretty much everything. Put your learning glasses on.
Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people. 3:23
Getting Started: Things to Think About
All the Family Holiday Jokes
Your family is flawed. My family is flawed. It's because our families have humans in them. (The only perfect member of my family is the black lab. Apparently.) And nothing reveals those flaws like the holidays, right? Do you have any stories about what the holidays bring out of your relationships with your family members? (Keep them clean and fun, please.)
(If you have trouble getting the discussion going, you can always start by asking everyone's family tv sitcom family (and why),
Those shows worked because the viewers could always find something relatable in their flaws and failures. So, maybe that could be the bridge to a lighthearted discussion about their family relationships.)
[Leadership warning: a popular phrase now is "My family puts the fun in dysfunctional". And that's fine -- it's a way of everyone acknowledging that their family has issues and that it's okay not to be perfect. Just be sensitive when someone throws the word "dysfunctional" around. That word should generally be reserved for those situations where the misbehavior is so consistent that it leads to neglect and abuse, and there's nothing funny about that.]
This week, Paul is going to apply the Christian values we learned last week to the home (we will also lean on the parallel passage in Ephesians where Paul goes into more detail). What should a Christian relationship look like between husband and wife? Parent and child?
And if this lesson helps us have a better time over the holidays, fantastic.
This Week's Big Idea: The Ancient Roman Family
If you Google this topic, you'll find non-nuanced generalizations describing multiple eras. Let me try to add some era-specific context.
The Roman Family under the Roman Republic
The worst of the horror stories you'll find about living conditions for women, children, and slaves actually dates to the late Republic, which formally ended when Julius Caesar became dictator in 46 BC (but it would be decades before those conditions changed significantly). In the early Republic, all of the social classes worked together to win their wars against Carthage and Greece and whatnot, but once the wars were won and the plunder flooded Rome, the Roman Senate focused on consolidating power. They way they chose to do so was to entrench the power in Roman men, particularly the upper class.
Roman society was patriarchal, meaning led by men (read: upper class men, the aristocracy; has much really changed since then?). The oldest male in the family served as paterfamilias ("father of the family"), having full rights over the members of the family. He drew his authority from his heritage with a fervency that bordered on ancestor-worship. Sons (and grandsons) did not receive their inheritance until the paterfamilias died. They were given an allowance to maintain their household. The leading men were invited to join the Roman Senate, where they would determine the laws and the outcomes of trials.
That desire to consolidate power is what led to the worst of the conditions for everyone else.
Women lived under absolute authority of their fathers and then husbands. She could be married to anyone against her will. She could be divorced without cause. And because she could not own property or wealth, that would be akin to a death sentence.
Children literally lived at the whim of the father. When they were born, the father could choose to keep or abandon the child. Fathers could disown children or sell them into slavery at any time for any reason.
Likewise, slaves lived at the whim of the father (they were considered property of the family, but more on this below!). Fathers could abuse, torture, mutilate, or kill slaves with impunity.
The wife/mother did the day-to-day work of managing the household. Their biggest job was making clothes.
The Roman Family under the Roman Empire
Things changed when Rome became an Empire, particularly under Augustus Caesar, 27 BC - 14 AD. For one, Augustus wanted peace and stability in his empire (realize that fully 1/4 of the population were slaves). Additionally, Augustus had a very accomplished wife (Livia) whom he respected greatly and who gave input on how to govern the realm.
During the time Paul wrote this letter, Roman society was undergoing significant change. Women could not be forced to marry against their will. Women could make business arrangements. Women could not be confined to their homes. Women could divorce her husband. If they could afford it, women could be educated. (I'm not saying that things were good for women, only improved. Women were still thought of as second-class. In a divorce, children automatically went with the father.) Adultery, divorce, and remarriage were common.
Similarly, children and slaves could no longer be killed at whim. (Again, not saying that things were good, but that's a huge improvement.)
How Does This Compare with Jewish Society?
Remember -- Paul is writing this letter to Gentiles, not Jews. Paul was aware of the fact that Jewish-Christians would also read the letter, but the primary audience was Roman.
Jewish women had fewer rights than Roman women by this time. They could not divorce their husbands or have a job. Some Jewish women had the trust and respect of their husbands and so had financial resources and influence, and some Jewish widows could maintain her husband's property and business.
Jewish children were probably more highly valued than Roman children, but they would not have had any more rights or privileges.
Big Idea, Part 2: Ancient Roman Slavery
We have talked about this a number of times, but it is always good to remind. My statement above that fathers could sell their children into slavery should have been a hint that "slavery" meant something different in that day than in modern American consciousness. At its core, any idea of "slavery" is that someone "owns" someone else. Under any circumstances, that's wrong and an affront to the image of God in every human being. But Americans seem to have our country's historical practice in our minds when we hear this word.
The way Americans practiced slavery is somehow even worse than in ancient Rome. In this country, slavery was racial and generational -- only a certain race could be enslaved, and their descendants would forever remain in slavery. (Not to mention that they were kidnapped from their homes and sold into slavery without cause.) That's not how slavery worked in ancient Rome.
In that world, most slaves were either prisoners of war or debtors (some people sold their children into slavery to pay for their own debts). Some slaves were unwanted children, and fewer still were kidnapped. Debt-slaves (a term that might make more sense to us might be "indentured servant") could eventually buy their freedom by working long enough. Masters would also free their slaves in their wills. Slaves with skills were often treated well (better than poor free persons). Slaves had the freedom to do things like go to church. It was the prisoners and criminals who lived under the worst conditions (like working the mines).
The thing is that slavery was a way of life in that culture. Fully a quarter of the population of the empire was a slave, meaning that Christian churches probably had slaves as members, people who would have struggled to understand what their "freedom in Christ" really meant.
[There has been a lot of complaint that Jesus or Paul didn't "free the slaves" or encourage them to rise up against their captors. But remember what the gospel is. It's an invitation to salvation in Jesus Christ. People in any culture, any society, any social class, any condition have been invited to receive the free gift of salvation. That's because salvation in every person's biggest need -- even bigger than freedom from slavery (or freedom from Rome as the Jews desired). The hardships of slavery could not cancel the joy of salvation or the power of true freedom in Christ. And, as Christ changed hearts, Christian masters freed their slaves. Let's not blame Jesus (or Paul) for the failures of self-identified Christians who have perpetuated the blight of slavery (or racism, for that matter).]
[This leads to a topic worth knowing: modern slavery is alive and well. Global Slavery Index estimates that 40 million people are slaves today (25 million in forced labor, and 15 million in forced marriage). What happens to people in slavery today is horrific, every bit as horrific as the worst stories we might read about slaves in the old Republic. We need to do what we can to help organizations working to free people from slavery today.]
Where We Are in Colossians
We are the end of the main body of the letter --
II. Main Letter
A. Paul's Ministry and Purpose (1:24-2:5)
B. Spiritual Fullness in Christ (2:6-15)
C. Dangers of False Beliefs (2:16-23)
D. The Right Way to Live for Jesus (3:1-17)
E. Rules for Christian Households (3:18-4:1)
F. Be Wise in Christ (4:2-6)
We should read this week's set of "rules" as an extension of last week's "rules". Paul gave us some brilliant principles for living a Christian life, focusing on things like compassion, forgiveness, love, peace, and truth. The home is the centerpiece of our lives, and so Paul continues into specific examples how those principles play out in the most common human relationships (remember that slaves were considered part of the household).
The parallel passage in Ephesians is 5:22-6:9. Sadly, I can't find my notes on that lesson (I must have saved over them) -- that would have been really handy and helped keep this week's post shorter. I do have notes on another lesson we did that focused entirely on marriage, if that helps you:
[Note: this is our last lesson in Colossians. Next week we study Philemon -- one of the personal examples of slavery we read about in the New Testament.]
Part 1: In Our Families (Colossians 3:18-21)
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged.
I'm going to put Colossians and Ephesians side-by-side:
15 And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
18 And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: 19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.
19 Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her . . . 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, . . . 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. . . . 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, 3 so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land.
21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged.
4 Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
22 Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.
5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. 6 Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. 7 Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, 8 knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord.
1 Masters, deal with your slaves justly and fairly, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.
9 And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Compared with Ephesians, the family instructions in Colossians are really short.
Remember that Colossians came first and that Ephesians was based on it. We all tend to elaborate more in a second-time-around product. Also, Paul didn't have personal connections with the people in Colossae, so short-and-to-the-point makes sense.
Note that the framework in Colossians is "the word of Christ" and "peace" rather than "the Spirit". That's because this letter was occasioned by false teachings that threatened to tear apart the church family. But the truths will be the same in both settings because the Word and the Spirit always agree!
Note also that in Ephesians, Paul clarifies that submission is not a one-way street. While the husband is tasked by God with authority, the respect inherent to submission should flow both ways. To me, that makes so much more sense of the rest of these statements. Perhaps that's why Paul added it to Ephesians?
About the Word "Submit"
Sometimes, when Christians study this passage, they stop at the word "submit" and miss everything else (accusing Paul of misogyny; get woke, Paul). I'm really hoping that my little lesson on Roman society sets all of that aside. There were generations of pent-up frustration and resentment about the poor ways women (wives) had been treated, and some women were "testing" their new-ish freedom (perhaps flaunting it). Paul is letting them know that there are no exceptions to the rule.
Importantly, this includes Christian wives of non-Christian husbands. In Paul's day, Christian adults were adult converts (and immediately joined the local church). According to math, if the majority of church members are women, then some women have non-Christian husbands. If you have any friends in that situation, you are aware of the complications it creates. (In this interesting chart from 2017, the bottom number represents men:)
Anyway -- to the word "submit". A good definition is "to voluntarily place oneself under the authority and leadership of another". Note that this does not mean "blanket/blind obedience", or else Paul would not have told Christians to submit to the government (Rom 13). There is a higher authority than the government (God), and our obedience is always to the highest authority. Likewise, a wife submits to her husband in ways that would "be fitting" to her relationship with Jesus.
[Aside: this command only applies to "her" husband; Paul uses a personal possessive pronoun -- in no way is Paul suggesting that all women are to submit to all men.]
The Illustration of The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
In this book, Keller says that God created marriage to be a picture of the gospel.
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. God’s saving love in Christ is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us.”
The wife submits to the husband for all of his flaws, and the husband loves the wife for all of her flaws, and the world sees the kind of unconditional, self-giving, accepting love that God has for everyone in Jesus Christ. It's the kind of love that transforms us into the people that we could be through forgiveness, mercy, grace, and encouragement. Such a relationship rooted in the kind of submission and love that Paul talks about will weather any storm brought on through our sinfulness.
In other words, "submit" is not a bad word at all, but a word that reveals true inner strength, assurance, patience, and love. In the Roman world (just like in our world), women would be tempted to leave their husbands for someone better. Paul is telling them that their "someone better" is their current husband as he becomes a Christian and grows in Christ through her encouragement and support.
[Aside: Paul isn't saying anything about staying in an abusive relationship, making the children unsafe, or anything like that. This is a general principle, nothing more.]
[Aside 2: And if you think your group might enjoy taking a sidetrack on being in a Christian marriage, I include a summary of the entire book at the bottom.]
Back to the Passage
So, where were we?
Oh yeah -- "wives, submit to your husbands". To understand "as is fitting in the Lord", just read Paul's parallel verses in Ephesians. Whatever attitudes/behaviors reflect/enhance how we submit to Jesus are "fitting" for the wife.
Paul gives the "harder"(?) job to the husbands. Again, this is a lot more clear in the Ephesians passage, and maybe that's why Paul spelled it out there. The model for a husband loving his wife is Jesus, who quite entirely poured out his own life for her well-being (and also eternal salvation, but Paul is focused on the well-being part here).
Interestingly, Paul leaves this command with "don't be bitter toward her". That's a far cry less poetic and uplifting from his words in Ephesians! Maybe Epaphras told him about a specific marriage relationship in trouble because the husband was bitter. I don't know. The idea is "bitter feelings that result in harsh treatment".
Let me explain this this way -- our country's "sexual revolution" a generation (or two) ago left a lot of unhealthy relationships in its wake. As women and men explored their newfound sexual freedom, they broke a lot of marriages. The Roman Empire was still in the wake of a (much more subdued) kind of sexual revolution, where some wives may have been testing their husbands, leaving their husbands bitter. If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, this old Superbowl commercial flips the script:
An adage that has stuck with me is this line from Christian wife to husband: "I think it's great that you are willing to die for me, but I just want you to take out the garbage." Husbands, are you treating your wives in such a way that she wants to submit to you? Wives, are you treating your husbands in such a way that he would never be embittered to you?
But Wait, There's More!
As far as I'm concerned, those verses could be an entire small group Bible study, but that's just the first half of the first of three sections in the study! Glory be.
The next foundational relationship is between parent and child. The word for "father" in the plural was regularly used to mean "father and mother". I do actually think that the focus was on the father, though. In that day, the mother did all of the child raising, and the father just showed up to make sure his son was worthy of his name and his daughter wouldn't embarrass him to her future husband. That's absolutely going to discourage a child.
First, note the language change for children -- children are to obey their parents. Why do you think Paul would change the rule for the child as opposed to the wife?
Second, note the particular rule for parents -- do not exasperate their children. "Exasperate" means to provoke someone to such an extent as to irritate them (like goading someone to accept a challenge by way of insult). That's the behavior of the school playground. It should not be how parents treat children. Why do you think Paul would have focused on this particular rule? What happens when a child becomes exasperated with his parent?
This section is your big discussion section. Paul wanted the church to help one another make practical application of these teachings, so you should do the same for your group!
What are fitting ways for wives to submit to their husbands?
How can husbands love their wives?
How should children obey their parents? (And is there an age at which this no longer applies? I think there is.)
How should parents treat their children? What goals should they have for their children?
Part 2: In Our Work (Colossians 3:22-4:1)
22 Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism. 1 Masters, deal with your slaves justly and fairly, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.
The obvious illustration for application for us when reading this passage is the workplace, and that's how I'm going to take it. But let's be very clear that our relationship with an employer is very different from a slave's relationship with a master. For starters, an employee can leave a job when he wants to. (And according to the reports, you may have done so recently! The "Great Resignation" is still going strong.) Further, an employee (at least in America) has rights and protections. So, if you try to complain how hard it would be for you to follow these rules, stop.
The holiday family jokes from the top also work great for the workplace. Every workplace is flawed and can drive us nuts (and we can also be the cause). If you have funny stories about workplace Thanksgiving or Christmas parties, they might be appropriate for here. (But again, be sensitive -- I know from talking with you that some of you have cruddy workplaces.)
I think it's pretty clear how Paul is telling slaves to behave. And I also think it's pretty clear how it can be applied to employees today. The topic of "unproductive employees" appears on so many leadership/employer websites. This fun graphic shows up in a bunch of places (note: I can't find any citations for the data, so it may just be made up, and the misspelling is a red flag; I just like it as a starting point for discussion):
How does Paul tell us (employees) to work?
What do you need to change in your behavior to be the kind of employee you should be in order to reflect better your relationship with Jesus?
The rules for "masters" is far shorter than the rules for slaves. I assume that's because there were far more slaves than masters in early Christian churches. But further, I think it would have been harder for a slave to understand what it meant to be a Christian. "If I have freedom in Christ, why should I care about my station as a slave?" There might have been discouragement -- becoming a Christian did not materially improve their life circumstances.
Paul reminds them (and us) that Christians must take an eternal perspective.
Rom 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.
No matter how bad things get here, God has promised so much more for us in eternity (as well as the strength and courage to make it through every day with hope in our hearts, the kind of hope that will attract others to Jesus). (And along with that -- Paul reminds the slaves that masters who get shown favoritism in this life receive no such partiality from God in the final judgment. God judges all people equally. What is different about Christians is that Jesus already paid our penalty.)
And that's the same advice Paul gives to masters (again, our parallel will be employers). What does an eternal perspective help an employer realize?
If you are over employees? How are you treating them? What does God think about your leadership methods?
Part 3: In Our Interactions (Colossians 4:2-6)
2 Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, 4 so that I may make it known as I should. 5 Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
Paul clarifies those implications above in these words. I'm so sad that we are trying to cover these in the same lesson as those amazing verses about the home!
I love when Paul spitfires some rules for Christian living toward the end of his letter. So practical, so easy to understand. How do we live these ways? A lot of prayer. And that prayer should always be with thanksgiving.
This has come up so many times in this letter. What do you think the difference is between prayer with thanksgiving, and prayer not with thanksgiving?
The mention of prayer sends Paul off on a short tangent -- don't just pray for yourself, pray for the people who are taking this message to the world. (Note Paul's re-mention of "mystery" and "chains" from earlier.)
And that mention of the lost brings Paul back to tie off a loose end from the earlier instructions. Some (many?) of your masters and family members will not be Christian (an "outsider"). You need to take that into account when you interact with them. For one, certain things won't mean anything to them. "Husband, Paul says you are not to be bitter toward me." "Master, don't forget that you have a Master in heaven." That's probably not going to help you. For two, you should be more concerned with their salvation than with how they treat you. That's what "wisely" means here. Consider the verse that opens the parallel passage in Ephesians:
5: 15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
We have forever to enjoy the blessings of God in heaven. We only have a short time to make a difference to the people around us.
So there you go. That's a lot to take in in one sitting, but everyone should take away plenty.
With the holidays quickly approaching, you will have multiple opportunities to observe your relationships with your family. If you need something to focus on coming out of this lesson, start with that.
Closing Thoughts: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
If you want to focus on Christian marriage, let me offer this summary of an excellent book to give you discussion guidelines.
The Secret of Marriage. The secret of marriage is very simple: it is a picture of the gospel. People no longer realize this because our whole world has become about self-fulfillment. In marriage, this has meant that we are looking for a spouse who will make our lives more interesting, someone who will give us emotional and sexual satisfaction without interfering with our personal goals or self-image. People want a spouse who is fun, stimulating, attractive, low-maintenance, and content in themselves (so as not to be a burden on us). They want to marry Mr./Mrs. Right. Here’s the secret of marriage: there is no Mr./Mrs. right! We are all flawed people; we are sinful, self-centered, and incapable of “fixing” one another.
The secret of marriage is realizing that God invented marriage to show us the healing, gracious, forgiving love of Christ. “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. God’s saving love in Christ is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, un-conditional commitment to us.” God wants us to experience that same radical, unconditional commitment in marriage.
The Power of Marriage. The greatest saboteur of marriage is self-centeredness, that the spouse should always be about me and my needs (of course, the spouse is thinking the same things about you!) But God is not self-centered. He is other-centered. He is a Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit have always thought about the Others. It is no coincidence that Paul gives us his instructions on marriage after he has just told us not to be filled with wine but the Spirit, and to give thanks to God the Father in everything in the name of Jesus (read Ephesians 5). Paul is putting marriage in the context of the Trinity – the ultimate selfless relationship.
A servant puts the needs of others before his own, willingly not resentfully. A marriage in which both spouses lovingly serve one another is very likely to succeed. But that idea runs contrary to our me-centered culture. What good does it do ME if I am always worried about OTHERS??? Here’s the point: love on a Jesus scale doesn’t worry about “me”, and that kind of love finds a joy and satisfaction that the me-centered culture can’t even imagine. That’s God’s plan for marriage.
The Essence of Marriage. What makes a marriage? What turns two people into husband and wife? Most Americans would probably say a wedding. Tim says it’s the “covenant” that is made during a wedding. Many people today gloss over the marriage covenant (the “vows”) because they look at marriage like any other consumer good (I’m in this relationship *until* . . .). But Tim says that the covenant is what gives a marriage staying power and deeper fulfillment.
When we’re dating, we’re always trying to impress. We even put on a false front to sell the deal. But if we’re in a binding “contract”, we have the freedom and security to be radically truthful about ourself and our spouse. But it’s even deeper than that. Tim says that our promises are our very identity. If we cannot keep our promises, we cannot develop a stable identity (or have stable relationships). Marriage is the training ground for that promise, that stable identity, and that stable relationship. It makes us even as we make it. And that will never happen if we are not willing to make that initial commitment or promise, that initial “sacrifice” realizing the lifetime of gain. “Love” is a commitment, not a feeling.
The Mission of Marriage. As I said earlier, it’s not making children (i.e. a Christian couple might not have children and yet have 100% completed their purpose in God). It’s about true companionship. The goal of Christian marriage is not social status or romantic happiness (although those might be byproducts). The goal is having that person who knows us but loves us, who walks with us and pushes us on our journey to Jesus. Status and money come and go. Appearance and sexual attractiveness mostly just goes. But a true friend doesn’t worry about those things. Therefore, according to Tim, our spouse must be our true friend.
What is the mission of marriage? “It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.” When we look at our spouse, we should see not only the person we know, but also the per-son we believe God is creating. “I see all of your flaws, imperfections, weaknesses, dependencies. But underneath them all I see growing the person God wants you to be.” And most exciting of all, we realize that God wants to use *us* in the process of making our spouse glorious.
One day, we will stand before God, and our spouse will join us, and we might just hear these words: “Well done, good and faithful servants. Over the years you have lifted one another up to me. You sacrificed for one another. You held one another up with prayer and with thanksgiving. You confronted each other. You rebuked each other. You hugged and you loved each other and continually pushed each other toward Me. And now look at you. You’re radiant!” That idea changes the way I see my relationship with my wife.
Loving the Stranger. There are two important facts of life. (1) We’re constantly changing. We’re not the person we were five years ago (and neither is our spouse). We are always a bit of a “stranger”. (2) We’re not perfect. Put those two together, and that means that our flaws and our sins are constantly changing with us. In a marriage based on attraction or need or convenience, these flaws can be devastating. Tim gives us three “powers” that will overcome them.
The Power of Truth. Marriage is like driving a Mack truck over a bridge. If there are imperfections or flaws, they’re going to be noticed. In marriage, you live life up close with someone else; there’s no hiding. Marriage doesn’t *create* your flaws, it just reveals them. “Marriage shows you a realistic, unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it.” But you’re not in this alone! God gave you a spouse to help Jesus wash you of your blemishes. If you focus on the blemishes, you’ll eventually start looking for “someone better”. But if you focus on what’s underneath, you’ll realize that the “someone better” is your spouse, being changed by Jesus.
The Power of Love. If truth reveals your flaws, love heals your flaws. “The love and affirmation of your spouse has the power to heal you of many of the deepest wounds.” Why? Because our marriage love is like gospel love; it’s a miniature version of the power that Jesus has in us.
The Power of Grace. “The experience of Jesus’ grace makes it possible to practice the two most important skills in marriage: forgiveness and repentance. Only if we are very good at forgiving and very good at repenting can truth and love be kept together.” And it gets better: “One of the most basic skills in marriage is the ability to tell the straight, unvarnished truth about what your spouse has done – and then, completely, unself-righteously, and joyously express forgiveness without a shred of superiority, without making the other person feel small.” If we can do this, we know what grace is. And grace is as simple as remembering that Jesus died for *you*; your sins hurt Jesus far worse that your spouse, yet Jesus still willingly died for you. That humility and grace will keep your marriage rock-solid.