Gordon E. Johnson



Paul's Prayer

Walk but Beware

Life in Union with a Risen Christ

Freedom In Christ

Victory: Real or Counterfeit

The Christ Life in an Alienated World

Panoramic Review

Holiness in the Home

Holiness in Our World at Large

Paul's Greetings to Fellow Workers


The Christ Life in an Alienated World

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

Holiness in the Home - Husbands and Wives

Colossians 3:18, 19

Bishop H.C. G. Moule, one of my favorite Bible expositors, declares: "For on the one hand the Christian Home is truly ‘the masterpiece of the applied Gospel;' the scene of the loveliest manifestations of its spirit, and then also the source, or reservoir, out of which its noblest influence is to flow around. On the other hand, the Home is the place of all others where it is most easy for us forgetful sinners NOT to live in the full light of the Gospel."[1]

Paul shows a profound concern with the family relationships that God ordained from creation itself for the blessing of His own. On the sixth day of creation God said on contemplating His creation: "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). You can't improve on God's "indeed very good".

The Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossian and Philemon address this concern at various levels. In Ephesians he devotes the most attention to this concern (Ephesian 5:18-6:9-25 verses) and Colossians should be read in that light.

In Colossians his treatment is very brief to wives, husbands and children, but more extensive for servants.  Probably the reason for this is because of the recent difficulty of Philemon, a Colossian master, whose slave, Onesimus, defrauded him. Onesimus had become a convert under Paul in prison and Paul wanted to welcome him into God's family in the Colossian church.

We must not be deceived by the brevity of Paul's treatment in Colossians. We must take into account the full argument of the Christian's resources in our death and resurrection to live a transformed life all of our marital relationships. These resources are taken for granted and are available and should be considered as in use throughout our reading of the letter. Paul does not address here the many variables in marital problems and relationships. He states without apology God's plan for marriage as He ordained it and now provides resources for it.

In his epistle Paul highlights our union with Christ (Colossians 1:9-14,27) and provides the resources for a life of victory over sin in the home: we have been circumcised, buried, raised (vv.2:11-15) and hid with Christ in God (vv. 3:1-4). Now as the elect of God we have put on "tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering" (vv. 3:12-16). These graces are veritable passports to a marriage for which little further counsel is really needed.

We have learned from our 64 years of happy marriage that the best marital counseling is a deeper understanding and practical acceptance of these truths.  Self-help is of little value faced with the ever present strains and joys of marriage.

These Christ-like virtues will sanctify any marriage relationship among believers.

The Fundamental Principle of Marriage       2 Corinthians 6:14-16

We must begin at the beginning to be assured of a God-blessed marriage.The final word is: DON'T marry an unbeliever, whatever the promise of improvement that may be hoped for. 

Paul states clearly that divine rule: "You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's Table and of the table of demons"

(1 Corinthians 10: 21). "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?" (vv.6:14, 15). To begin such an intimate relationship in disobedience to the Word of God is to guarantee future sorrow.  I have said so often to my students: what begins badly ends badly. Only the sheer grace of God could alter that inexorable law.

The Broadest Biblical Principle for Life and Marriage     Ephesians 5:21

In the Ephesian account of a more in-depth treatment of marriage and life's relationships, the preamble uses a gerund to indicate the ongoing nature of life and marriage: "submitting to one another in the fear of God" (Ephesian 5:21). This overarching principle should govern all that follows in terms of the duties, not the rights, of life and marriage for all.  This, then, calls for a deeper acceptance of our death and resurrection in a risen Christ. Such a practical grasp of that truth provides the only Biblical basis for humility that undergirds such a walk.

God's Word to the Wife       Colossians 3: 18 and Ephesians 5:22-24

Now in the light of the entire preceding context – read it again – Paul simply says: "Wives, submit to your own husbands as is fitting in the Lord" (v.18.).  Far too much has been said of this as the simplistic answer to the wife today, as if it covers every occasion.

Bishop Handley Moule (1841-1920) of Oxford and Cambridge, an unparalleled Greek scholar of his day, paraphrases the text: "Wives, be loyal to your husbands." He notes: "Be loyal, as best, perhaps representing the idea of submission which is absolutely different from service [so often referred to as a military term - emphasis mine] and yet is the recognition of a God-appointed leadership." [2]

As a soldier feels heart patriotism for his country and submits to his superior, so the wife from the heart desires willingly to be loyal and responsive to her husband, as he loves her as Christ loves the Church, His body. What a different picture now is painted of the Biblical concept of marriage!

Bishop Moule makes the point several times that God never gave man "the right divine to govern wrong (sic)." Well said.  That headship is sanctified by the analogy of the Trinity.  "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3).  If you can imagine division in  the Trinity, you can measure the mutuality of the marriage relationships!

Paul appears, to some, to give simple sweeping statements that are sometimes imposed arbitrarily on all marriages. His concern is vital, but he speaks of divine principles in play on the basis of our mutual spiritual union in Christ (Galatians 3:28, 29). To put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, etc. (Colossians 3:12-16) is taken for granted as obeyed, equally by wife and husband. Such mutual obedience is taken for granted and must be weighed carefully.

Paul is not talking here in context about an unequally yoked marriage of a believer with an unbeliever. God's principles for marriage apply in general, but other passages are more relevant to the exceptions that may exist.

Paul's interest here is not to discuss the exceptions or the variations that may obtain. He states the broad fact of a God-ordained marriage between two believers, a man and a woman, with equal access to the grace of God and both availing for themselves God's resources.  With less than that marriage norm, we can expect greater danger and distress to both members.

Let it be said emphatically that the Biblical concept of marriage is not open to the ever rapidly changing cultural whims and fancies of relatively small minority. In the last decade in America, so called legal ruling have been made on the basis of public polls or on the every changing "rights" of the gay, lesbian and transcultural claims.  Let the Supreme Court rule as they may, it will in no way affect the original plan of God who designed marriage for intimacy, companionship and procreation.

The Bible accepts no variation at all from the "one man, one woman" principle. The unchanging Biblical position may or will demand that the believer to go against a volatile public opinion and the accusations of discrimination and homophobic intolerance. It is not out of the question that the believer will suffer persecution. Jesus as much as promised that to his followers.

God's Word to the Husband    Colossians 3:19 and Ephesians 5:25-33       

Paul now addresses the husband succinctly: "Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them" (v.19).  Just as he enjoins the wife to be loyal, her greatest challenge, now, he enjoins the husband to love and not embitter the wife, equally his greatest challenge. So often the husband may make harsh and insensitive demands from a position of "supposed" Biblical authority granted, just because he is a male by simple human accident.

Ephesians enlarges on the role of the husband, a far more challenging and demanding role than is ever assigned to the wife: love as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it. (Ephesians 5:25-29).  The husband is now faced with a divine norm that he cannot achieve in himself.

Such failure so to love as Christ loved us should produce in the husband the humility and lowliness of mind that transform the headship role into a humbling challenge that, in turn, produces a truly God-honoring marriage.  When our children see such love in action, they will desire to be like Dad.

Let me observe that the home life of many believers, yes, even of Christian workers, falls far short of these norms.  There is selfishness, withdrawal, deprivation of the marital dues, verbal and sexual abuse, so often hidden behind pious Sunday theory and behavior. Little wonder that our children, often pastors' children, are often rebellious. They cannot live with hypocrisy and not reject it.

If holy living is at all possible, it must begin at home, the most difficult place, our sanctum of life; holiness must change our home life and conduct.

Paul says no word about the rights of the wife, or equally, the rights of the husband to govern wrongly. Marriage is mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). Paul assumes as the compelling need for wives to be loyal and for husbands to love with the gentleness that becomes the savior of the wife, as Christ is of the Church which He purchased with His own blood. (vv.5:22-32).  All I can say is: God help us so to live and love.

Biblical Treatment of Some Other Marital Situations

The One "Exception Clause" that Jesus Allowed for Remarriage

I must comment on the one "exception clause" that Jesus expressly gave twice in the gospel of Matthew 19:8, 9 where He defined marriage as a God-ordained institution. And in Matthew 5:32: "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual fornication causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery". Sexual fornication, as the consummation factor of the marriage covenant is the only cause that breaks the marriage vow that God allows.

Jesus allowed sexual fornication, in effect, to constitute a divorce–the one flesh-definition of marriage. [Mark in 10:5-9 does not include it in his abbreviated resume of marriage.] That fact does in no way invalidate the straightforward exception in the case of fornication. If Jesus recognized the marriage bond as now broken, It follows that the innocent spouse, innocent of sexual fornication, is now "free", hence free to marry again but only in the Lord.

My older sister married a professed believer who shortly after marriage abandoned her and their offspring. She waited years in her in-law‘s home hoping for reconciliation. But deserted and divorced she had no choice but to leave. By virtue of the exception clause she, innocent of fornication, was free to remarry which she did. God's full blessing rested on her four off springs, now families, all believers and serving the Lord.

Peter's Counsel to Wives (Spouses)          1 Peter 3: 1, 2

One cannot expect the Bible to be specific to the great variety of marital relationships, many of which may be sinful. Peter and Paul suggest a few variants. Let us consider them in passing.  So often the entrance of God's word enters a marriage relationship after the marriage has been established.

Peter's counsel is direct: "Likewise, you wives be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear" (vv.3:1,2). Let is be said that this could apply, in principle, equally to the two spouses.

A transformed life and love in action constitute the strongest statement that will disarm most opposition of the other spouse. Hope springs eternal in the breast of all. God's grace conquers. However, this does not include demands that the believing spouse obey sinful demands at the expense of marriage. Here patience and the strength that the Spirit gives will indicate the believer's Biblical response.

Paul's Treatment of Abandonment and Remarriage     1 Corinthians 7:10-16

Where Jesus had spoken on marriage, Paul concurred. But he ventures to give his understanding on a variety of marital and cultural situations in 1 Corinthian 7.  I recommend the thoughtful reading of the whole chapter. His understanding presented in the Holy Scriptures guarantees its validity as Scripture to be obeyed.

Paul proposes that should salvation come to one spouse, the rule of thumb (v.20) that may prove possible, is to remain in the state in which God's grace found the believer.  This assumes the full consent of the other spouse (vv.10-13). Marriage can be "sanctified" by one believing member for the sake of the children. God is not in the business of breaking up marriages (v.14).

However, if continuation of the marriage is not possible; implicit the marriage is unbearable or unsafe because of sexual and verbal abuse for other spouse and children. In such a case, God allows separation. If there is no hope of remedial grace, departure may follow. "But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace" (v.15). However, a cautionary word suggests that the believing spouse do nothing hastily (v.16). God's grace may yet triumph. Where sin abounds, grace may much more abound (Romans 5:20).                              

In retrospect, God has only one standard for marriage between one man and one woman. "Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matthew19:6). As Jesus explained through Moses "because of the hardness of your heart" certain restraints may be lifted to prove the sensitivity of God to the ravages of sin that may afflict His own children.

In brief resume, marriage can only be blessed of God between two believers, one man and one woman. God's grace and His work at the Cross effectively deals with the old nature--the basic root cause of all marital and relationship problems. In God's gracious plan there is no higher blessing than to practice the art of loving God and being loved by Him and our spouse and to see our off spring serving the Lord.

God's Pattern for Husbands and Wives   

Do you grasp the connection of this spiritual basis as the dynamic for marriage?

Reflect on it ……………………………………………………………

Does God spell out the rights of believers along with their duties?


What does that tell us?


Any relationship involves privileges and responsibilities. How do you balance yours?


How humble and considerate are you toward your spouse and your children?

Let God be your judge!


[1] H.C. G. Moule, Colossian and Philemon Studies - Lessons in Faith and Holiness (London:Pickering & Inglis Ltd), Second  Edition, p.232.

[2] Ibid, pp. 234, 235.