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There are a variety of things that I appreciate about how the Spirit led Paul to counsel and encourage followers of Jesus. Paul provides clear and practical advice. He writes about what we really deal with (even if there are times when I wish that he had given us a few more details!). He offers his counsel based on Gospel-truth. He doesn’t call us to become something that we are not, but invites followers of Jesus to live out what they are, in Christ. Also, his instructions for life come to us in ways that we can respond to, act on. He doesn’t set me up for failure by calling me to live in a certain way, but anchoring my ability to live that way on the response or reactions of others. I can live the way Paul describes, in the power of the Spirit.

After reflecting on life in Christ in general terms with the Colossians, Paul turns attention to some specifics. He addresses family relationships. In previous posts we looked at what he says to wives. We now turn attention to the husbands.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. (Colossians 3:19)

When Paul issues such a call, he is obviously calling for something that doesn’t always just naturally happen. If that were the case, it would not be necessary for Paul to say anything. (Notice, there are no commands in Paul’s letters to eat regularly, keep on breathing, laugh when someone tells a truly funny story, and the like. We already do all of that stuff!)

When Paul tells husbands to “love your wives” the truth must be that husbands don’t just naturally fall into a full and appropriate “loving” of their wives. Paul’s language points to more than simply “feel kindly toward” one’s wife; the word for love used here speaks of a genuine passion (think “all in,” not necessarily “passion” in the way popular culture pictures it).

Now in other passages of Paul, he unpacks certain facets of this love. Here he touches on just one thing. Love you wife “and do not be embittered against” her. This suggests something about how Paul understands the struggle husbands face in loving their wives.

“Embittered” is a relatively rare word in the New Testament. One fascinating snapshot of this word is found in Acts 8. When the Gospel comes to Samaria, a local popular religious leader ends up losing some of his status. When the apostles come to the area and there is a breaking out of the Spirit’s manifest presence, this religious leader wants in on that. Simon is his name and he is struggling with what is happening in and around him that he can’t take credit for, get in on. And the apostles identify his problem as being stuck in “the gall of bitterness” (Acts 8:23).

Simon is apparently tasting or wrestling with some kind of combination of jealousy, rivalry, and resentment. He clearly doesn’t like what is happening around him that he can’t take responsibility or credit for. He isn’t happy with the success others are experiencing that doesn’t make him look good. And that provokes him to a subtle competitive animosity.

Using this word, Paul says that husbands should stop (his language suggests they need to stop something they are already often doing) allowing themselves to be stirred to such feelings (his language indicating that it is the husbands who are becoming embittered rather than the wives who are causing them to be embittered).

Well, that’s a lot to unpack in one post. Sufficient to say, Paul’s call is for husbands to genuinely love their wives and to abandon the “I’m not sure I like what you are doing so I am just going to be a little antagonistic” attitude that often arises in their own hearts.

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