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Colossians 3:18-21 by Robert Dean
Like relationships within the Godhead, the divine institution of marriage is defined through roles, with equality in person and distinctness in role. Authority and submission are foundational. Without authority we are left on our own, doomed to failure in our relationship with God and every relationship that flows from that pattern. If the idea of submission makes you want to fight for control, look carefully at the submission of our Savior. Successful marriages function through roles God has prescribed. Circumstances, feelings and cultural trends don’t alter Truth. See the effective analogy of dance and marriage; success in marriage is a function of the correct application of authority and submission carried out within marriage’s unique framework of intimacy, love and respect.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:1 hr 12 mins 18 secs

Marriage and Dance: The Doctrine of the Dance. Colossians 3:18-21

 

In these few verses we see the focus upon foundational arenas of life. In verse 18 wives are addressed—submit to your own husbands. Verse 19—husbands love your wives. Verse 20—children obey your parents. Verse 21—Fathers do not provoke your children. What we see in these verses is that at the foundation of them we have the principle of authority: that in marriage, in the family, there is an authority structure that we have learned from Genesis 1 & 2 was built into the nature of marriage as a divine institution and into the family before there was sin. Sin just made it extremely difficult to apply these principles within our lives because the sin nature itself is an inner corruption that permeates everything in our being, affects our thinking, affects the culture around us, and drives us to a complete self-absorption, a complete focus upon having "my" needs satisfied. But the Scriptures teach that there are true changes that can take place. 

We have identified the foundational institutions that God embedded. These are universal laws, universal realities God embedded within the makeup of human beings. They are social realities and social laws. Often we hear today in politics that there is a distinction between economic conservatives on the one hand and social conservatives on the other hand as if an insistence on certain social absolutes such as personal responsibility, marriage is an institution between one man and one woman, and other social aspects of responsibility, and that these are somehow negotiable but economics is not. What we see in the Scripture is that God established certain social realities as universal laws, universal absolutes prior to the fall. They are still in effect but we struggle with their implementation because of sin.

The first three of the divine institutions that we focus on are personal responsibility, marriage (between one man and one woman), which cannot be redefined as a union between any two people who love each other, family. The first three divine institutions were created before the fall, and then the next two come afterward—divine institution #4 which is human government, grounded on the covenant with Noah, which authorises some kind of entity to determine judicial guilt in the matter of murder and when murder takes place the penalty was capital punishment. That is the most serious judicial act possible. All of the judicial concepts related to government derive from that because they are of lesser significance. So the Noahic covenant is considered to be the foundation for principles of human government. There were not nations at that time; nations did not come until some 2-300 years later at the tower of Babel as God judged that attempt at universalism (internationalism), an early form of the League of Nations or the United Nations. It was against God and so God brought judgment and divided the nations by giving everyone different languages. This forced them to isolate themselves in different tribal groups based on languages, who they could understand, and this led eventually to the development of tribes and nations. This must continue to be honoured.

So when we look at politicians, government officials, and political parties that do not endorse personal responsibilities for all issues in life they are violating divine institution number one. In divine institution #2 the US President himself has now taken the position that homosexual marriage is a good thing, and the party he stands for espouses the same view. This is always indicated by a rejection of God. On the fourth divine institution when it comes to the principles of human government and the judiciary, the appointment of various judges that this president and his administration have appointed also reveal principles that violate that divine institution. This government promotes and affirms and constantly gives more authority to the UN. They believe in international government and international solutions rather than maintaining the strict identity of autonomous nations. 

In 1954 Lyndon B. Johnson proposed an amendment to the law related to banning 501C3 tax exempt organisations from participating in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office. His amendment had a reason at that time. It was not directed against churches, it was in the heat of the anti-communist crusade in the early fifties and he was really directing his focus against certain conservative anti-communist organisations that were 501c3 organisations. But the unintended consequence was that the word changing he proposed for the law—which was quickly voted on without any opposition—was a change that would also impact churches. Many churches have become identified as 501c3 organisations. For those of you who are the products of public education and did not get taught the Constitution the freedom of the pulpit and the tax exempt status of a church is guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Constitution, not the IRS and not their 501c3 tax-exempt organisations. Secondary religious organisations such as Dean Bible Ministries, Bible colleges or seminaries or camps are not considered churches. Churches are guaranteed to be tax exempt because they are a church, not because they are a 501c3 organisation. The way the IRS and their totalitarian, tyrannical, dictatorial technique to control churches—pastors are among one of the protected groups that can conscientiously object to the socialism of the social security program. If within 18 months of their ordination they file paper work then they do not have to participate in social security taxes, and they don't have that taken out of their pay. This has guaranteed the possibility for pastors from many small churches in the country over the past fifty years (many churches are not able to pay a pastor a survivable wage if they have to take out and pay for the social security tax) to retain the money that they have earned and take the responsibility before God for their own future.

However, the IRS for the past forty years looks at a pastor's ordination and if he is not ordained by a 5013c church then they do not recognise his ordination. That is tyranny and a violation of the law that nobody will challenge. And they put out this myth that churches have to become 5013c organisations in order to be recognised as tax-exempt or in order to be able to ordain pastors. So this is just part of the nastiness that goes on with this 5013c thing.

The wording of that Johnson amendment is what is at stake because that could be applied to churches. It has not been applied to churches. Only one church has ever had their tax-exempt status revoked because of something that they have said about politics, and that was a church in New York in the 1990s that took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper saying that a vote for Bill Clinton was a vote for the devil. They lost their tax-exempt status for 24 hours. Throughout their history churches in this country have addressed political and social issues and addressed who should be voted for and who should not be voted for on a Christian basis. However, if you are not of the right ethnicity this usually is seen to be a problem. Certain groups seem to be able to say whatever they wish without this becoming a problem. This is just part of the distorted values of our era.

This issue of marriage among all of the others related to the divine institutions is a crucial issue. The Democrat candidate in this year's elections does not affirm the divine institutions and establishment laws. And so a vote for the Democrats is a vote that runs counter to the divine institutions of Scripture.

Authority and submission are corrupted by sin, sinful creatures, and cultures. We live in a world that basically says there is no authority over you as an individual that has a right to tell you anything about how you act as a husband or a wife. That is embedded in our culture.

We need to address the issue of authority and how that works within marriage. In Ephesians 5:18 we have the command "be filled with the Spirit." When we are in fellowship we are being filled with the Spirit—He fills us with the Word of God (Colossians 3:16). The results that follow that come the command to be richly indwelt by the Word of Christ in Colossians 3:16 and to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 are parallel. The Ephesians passage gives a little more detail. [19] "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; [20] always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; [21] and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." Some English versions will make verse 21 an independent sentence and they will translated the participle as if it is a finite imperative—"submit to one another in the fear of Christ." It might have something of an imperatival force but it is really a result, stating one of the many results flowing from the command. Here we have this whole series of participles and all of them indicate results that come from walking by the Spirit, being filled by the Spirit.

The verb is Ephesians 5:21 is "submitting." There is no verb in that clause in the Greek. The verb is left out because it is a continuation in the Greek of a previous sentence, so it doesn't restate the participle again. The participle "submitting" applies to both. How can we know that? Because in the parallel passage in Colossians 3:18 it states it: "Wives, be subject to your husbands …" So the passage should really be punctuated something like this" "Submitting to one another in the fear of God, wives to you own husbands, as to the Lord." It really doesn't stop there even though the English puts a period there. The next couple of verses also go into the nature of this submission for the wife in relation to the husband. What we need to point out for both the husband and the wife is that the basis for their fulfilling these commands of God has absolutely nothing to do with the other person's behaviour. It doesn't say "wives submit to your husbands because he's a great guy, he's young, he's sexy, he's successful," etc. There are no conditions there. The wife is to submit to him as to the Lord; she is doing it to please God, not to please him. The husband is irrelevant to why the wife is submitting. She is submitting because she is obedient to God and she wants to please God.

Men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That is almost an impossible standard; it can only be fulfilled if the man is walking by the Spirit. He doesn't love her because of who she is. Ultimately he loves her because that is what pleases God. He fulfils this command of God, not because she is so responsive to him in everything he wants her to be but it has something to do with his understanding of God. The really convicting thing for all of us is that how we relate to our spouse says more about how we are relating to the authority of God than anything else in our lives. How we are relating to our spouse is one of the great barometers in Scripture for how we are relating to God. Putting it into practice is the real barometer. Jesus in the New Testament and the Law in the Old Testament both say that if you love God you obey Him. That is the measure.

For the wife the rationale for her obedience is Ephesians 5:23 NASB "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself {being} the Savior of the body. [24] But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives {ought to be} to their husbands in everything." So the pattern is not anything in creation. It is not based on culture, it is not based on politics, it is not based on the other person's likeability; it is based on a spiritual reality.

We live in a world today that really doesn't like this idea of authority, and this is part of our culture. They have successfully managed to redefine marriage in the last couple of decades to something that is nothing more than a biological, sociological phenomenon. We have managed as a culture to remove God from marriage, if not successfully from our political platforms. Because of this the idea for almost everybody is that marriage is based on biological needs, basically based on sex, and if one's sex drive is toward someone of the same sex then what right do we have to change that view of marriage? So we have changed our view of marriage in accordance with our Darwinian evolutionary presuppositions and so we have decided that it is just biological or it is social, it is for economic purposes, etc. And we also think that marriage is designed to be a basis for emotional gratification. Once you take God out of the picture the reason you are in that marriage is so that you can be sexually satisfied, emotionally satisfied, and that you can fit into certain social expectations. We have completely rejected the notion that there is a moral obligation in marriage to a higher authority because we don't like the idea in our culture that there is an authority outside of our marriage that has the right to tell us how to think, how to act, how to behave as a husband or a wife. It has been drilled into us that we are our own boss and we are going to do marriage the way we think we ought to do marriage.

This problem has gone on for centuries, all the way back to the garden, because this is part of the curse. And part of the curse is that we all think we ought to do marriage the way we want to do it. But God says, "We can't, and if we do it is going to be self-destructive. The only way we can fulfil the objectives of marriage as I have laid them out (which has to do with the original creation covenant) is to be obedient to Me." When the focus is on God from both the husband and the wife, then one of the results of that is that there can be real joy and happiness in a marriage. But when one person op0erates on their sin nature, when one person is operating independently of God, then they are going to bring misery into that marriage. And that is true for any social union. We live in a culture today that has rejected Christian marriage as just an antiquated form of bondage or slavery, because today we have elevated personal rights: my right to personal happiness, my right to emotional wellbeing, it more important than anything else. Sadly, many churches are falling prey to this and are beginning to teach this.

At the core of this, as we have seen, is this issue of the relation of authority. Too often when we hear pastors or teachers talking about submission—because this word is used in other contexts of a master to a slave or in a military context—it doesn't relate to a marriage. Because the relationship between a sergeant and a private, the relationship of a general to a second lieutenant, maybe similar in terms of authority but they are not the same in terms of unity and in terms of that marriage teamwork relationship. So these create problems because we tend to think of submission only in those kinds of top-down scenarios. It would work well if one is a Muslim, but it is not the Christian idea because in Christianity there is a horizontal unity between the husband and the wife, because they are both in the image of God and team members in the same team, that there is not in some of these other analogies.

The analogy developed is about dancing. This is not talking about a lot of modern forms of dancing where basically everybody gets up on the floor and does their own thing independent of the other person. That is how most people today do marriage. They get out on the floor together and each one does their own thing, and if by chance there is any coordination between them it is simply accidental and by chance. But in dancing where the two people have to learn to dance together and follow certain external rules and guidelines in order to create anything in terms of grace and beauty, then they have to learn the principles of authority. But it is teamwork. It is not the kind of authority relationship that there is between a sergeant and a private, it is much closer than that. You have two people who come together, and as they spend more and more time working together they learn to move as one. And yet the male is the leader and the female is the follower.   

The doctrine of the dance (Lessons learned about marriage from dancing). The background for this biblically is that dancing is used throughout the Scriptures as a picture of joy and happiness. Often in poetry dancing is used in a metaphorical way to communicate joy. Mourning is used often to communicate death, and so the idea in Lamentations 5:15 NASB "The joy of our hearts has ceased; Our dancing has been turned into mourning." Sadly, this is what reflects the state of a lot of marriages. There's no joy there anymore, their dance is turned to death. We need to learn how to dance, and by that is meant we need to learn how to have a good marriage that follows the principles of Scripture.

1.  Dancing involves teamwork—every team has a leader—with clearly defined rules and roles for each member of the team. The man leads; the woman follows. But how do they do that so that they come together and create a work of art.

2.  Two people cannot dance together without a common goal. That is just a basic scriptural principle. Amos 3:3 KJV "How can two walk together unless they are in agreement?" The goal of marriage between two believers is to produce a union of two lives which brings glory to God and is a testimony of God's divine grace before the human race and the angels in the angelic conflict. The goal of marriage is not personal satisfaction, not personal happiness, not getting what you would like to get out of marriage unless what it is that you would like to get out of marriage is a marriage that glorifies God. Unfortunately in many, many marriages the goal is not the biblical goal. And if you are in an unfortunate marriage where you want to glorify God and the other person doesn't then you need to just stick it out. You never know how long it may take until there is a change. It takes time to grow and to become a good dancer.

3.  Like any team, dancing has specifically defined roles for the two participants. The male is the leader; the woman is the follower. That means the man initiates plans, directs the movement of the woman. That is hard for many women because they have to do everything the man does but they have to do it backwards. They don't see it coming.

4.  In a dance the leader and follower positions are not related to the skill level of the dancers. The male leader may be less graceful and skilled than the partner, then she yields to his leadership in grace. In other words, ladies, you husband may have a lower IQ, lower success rate, have a lot of problems, may not be spiritually positive. There may be lots of problems there but his leadership is not related to who he is as a person, what he has accomplished as a person, his IQ, his spiritual focus; it is related to that is the position God put him in. Yielding to his leadership has to do with your relation to God, not him.

5.  In dancing each person has specific footwork that must be learned and practiced in order to develop grace and fluidity. It is not going to come naturally for a wife to submit to her husband. It is not going to come naturally for the husband to be a good leader. There are some men for whom it may take many years before they develop the skills to be good spiritual leaders in the home. So ladies, what are you supposed to do? Pray for him every single day. Encourage him. Don't try to back-lead him; don't try to push him forward. Pray for him; let God be the one who provides the solution. Just like in the Christian life, it takes hours to grow as a Christian. Some people do it easier than others because they grew up in a Christian home; they had parental discipline that guided them. Others didn't have that. Everybody is different. Spiritual growth, spiritual maturity, doesn't happen over night. In fact, for most of us spiritual growth and spiritual maturity are built on millions and millions of failures and sins. Same thing happens in a marriage. Just because there have been mistakes doesn't mean you can't go forward. It is from the mistakes that we learn; it is from the mistakes that, if we are humble and not arrogant and self-absorbed, we can learn to go forward and to grow and to mature. And the end result can be absolutely fabulous.

6.  In dancing the male, through good leads, can make his partner look graceful and keep her from making mistakes. That is a part of leadership. He doesn't break her wrist in the process, he doesn't step on her toes in the process; he has to learn to balance strength with gentleness in communicating that lead. So when she doesn't really understand what is going on he can firmly guide her into doing what he wishes her to do. Many times, even if a woman doesn't know the steps or the manoeuvre, if she can relax and let him guide her she will do it anyway. But he can't do it too strong, and he can't do it too weak. But it is going to be different for every partner, so a man has to recognize it and learn and study his wife because he has to understand how to lead his wife. He has to learn what is right for his wife. If she is a willing and helpful partner in this then she will give you guidance and feedback, and you (men) have to have the humility to accept what she says is true.

7.  The male as the leader plans and initiates moves, but he must always be thinking five or six steps ahead. He must be thinking about where they are going on the dance floor where other people or obstacles exist, and how to avoid them. He must maintain control because the woman cannot see where they are going. This implies that the man, as part of the leadership role, understands Christian marriage and where the couple is going, even if the wife doesn't. It also means that it is helpful in the planning and initiating where you are going to go and what you are going to do that you are going to take into account what your partner can do and can't do. Because if she can't follow your leads to get there or those particular moves you have in mind, then it is not going to go well. So just because you want to get from point A to point B a certain way that may not be a way your partner can go. 

8.  In the dance the leader must learn and study his partner and know how to lead her effectively. As a leader in the home and as an expression of aggressive personal love sometimes the husband overpowers the wife. He has to learn and study his wife so that he can lead her effectively. It involves communication; it involves the ability, men, to listen you your wife and understand what she says, and honing your own skills of observation.

9.  The man must listen to his partner. She, and she alone, knows how he is leading. The only person in the world who can really tell you (men) how you are leading as a husband is your wife. And if she says isn't what you want her to say it is not her problem, it is your problem. You need to listen to her. If she wants the right thing then she is going to be telling you the truth whether you like it or not.

10.  It works the other way, too. The woman must learn to communicate to the man without challenging his tender male ego. She has to learn to say, "Why don't you try it this way," without seeming to be suggesting that he doesn't really know what he is doing. That doesn't happen overnight; 21-yr-olds usually can't do that very well.

11.  The woman must learn to let the man lead. That means she has to learn to let him fail. We always have to deal with other people's bad decisions. If the man is going to stand up and be a good leader in the home, then he is going to learn that through making a lot of mistakes. The woman then has to learn to keep her mouth shut, fo0rget about it afterwards, don't say I told you so, don't nag him—things like that.

12.  The woman may be unaware of where the man is going and of his plans, so she must constantly be ready to respond and shift according to the lead. If you become self-absorbed then arrogance will take over and you will become inflexible, and the result leads to a breakdown in the marriage.

13.  The woman must continue to follow as best she can no matter how faulty his leadership may be. If the man is a failure in his leadership the woman can still be successful in her role. Her role of being a godly wife is not dependent upon him being a godly husband. For the men, their role is not dependent upon the wife being a godly wife. God set it up so that each can pursue excellence in our obedience to God, even if the other person is doing things that are wrong.

14.  Trouble starts when you quit thinking and start emoting. The emotion is great but as soon as you quit thinking about the steps, and as soon as you quit thinking about responding and paying attention to everything, especially as you are learning, it falls apart very quickly. You can't take each other for granted and you can't think that certain things will just happen on their own. Nothing in our sin-corrupted world happens by itself; you have to work at it.

15.  Success ultimately is based on consistency and practice. You always make mistakes. You step on the other person's toes, they step on yours; things like that happen. Sometimes things can look almost hopeless. With God there is always hope. But if one person is operating on the sin nature in arrogance (not to mention two) it is going to be very hard to have success.

16.  As two people work together mutual respect and admiration develop, confidence increases, and as a result of that they can go forward and there can be hope and maturity. But what is it based on? #1, you have to understand what your role is; # 2 you have to have humility; # 3 you can't let your ego get in the way; # 4 you can't let your personal desires get in the way; #5 you can't impose things from outside that are not relevant. Only God can give us the ability to deal with things we really need to deal with. Only on that basis can we go forward; that is the challenge. It starts with each of us having a good, personal, spiritual life. And it is also dependent upon a willingness to exercise grace toward the failures of a person and forgiving them. Without that there is no hope.