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If you were in the armed forces, there would be a particular uniform you would be expected to wear. There would be appropriate dress for formal events and for work. But all of it would be what was fitting for the branch of service one was in. Soldiers wear one kind of uniform, sailors another.

For the follower of Jesus there is also appropriate “dress.” Not an external uniform but an appropriate character, a fitting demeanor, that fits our lives as children of God.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he presents his readers with this fitting garb for life. (Explored in earlier posts.) As he continues to help the Colossians understand how they are to live out their lives in grace and in Christ, he turns his attention to specifics and addresses family relationships. However, we cannot dismiss what he has already said. The specifics are the particulars of how a follower of Jesus would live in relationship with spouse when appropriately “dressed” for life.

So, the context for Paul’s specifics is found in the broad brushstrokes he has already laid down:

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:12-17)

When Paul addresses a few simple words to both the husband and the wife, he has these thoughts in mind. Men, as followers of Jesus, will not be able to live out what husband-life looks like apart from what he writes in Colossians 3:12-17. Women, as followers of Jesus, will not be able to out what wife-life looks like apart from what he has said in Colossians 3:12-17. The counsel to husbands and wives fits in this context.

And so he writes: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them” (Colossians 3:18-19).

Only a few words, but a great deal to unpack (which we will do over a number of posts!). But the first thing to notice is the unilateral nature of this call.

Paul called us, individually, to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, to wear humility, gentleness, and patience, and to bear with one another and forgive one another without qualifying it by how others might treat us or respond to us. Rooted in that perspective, the call he now extends to wives and husbands comes unilaterally as well.

It won’t do for husbands to say, “I love her when she . . . ” or for wives to insist, “I will respect him when he . . . .”

Right here, beginning to reflect on Paul’s words, it is essential to see that he is inviting husbands and wives to give into Jesus’ specific, personal, intentional call . . . regardless of what one’s spouse might or might not be doing.

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