In Colossians 3:18 - 21, the family is presented to us in its perfect ideal. The circumstance of each family may vary from the ideal, but the principles are universal regardless of the individual providential circumstances we may find ourselves in. Also, when applying the instruction from God's Word, especially in the family context, we need to remember that we will often be in conflict with the broader culture and that this conflict is not a recent development, but has always been the case; it certainly was the case in the 1st century Roman Empire. The issue before us in the conflict is not traditional values versus non-traditional, or patriarchy versus matriarchy versus "nothing-archy." It is a question of faithfulness or unfaithfulness; acceptance or rejection of biblical commands; submission to or rebellion against the Divine revelation. Every one in the family has responsibility and duty: wives, husbands, children and parents.
Regarding wives, the text says, "submit yourselves to your own husbands." When we hear or read the word "submit" our natural reaction is to stiffen our necks and resist. It is often viewed as demeaning and even dangerous. But this reflects a defective view of submission. Submission is an inescapable concept. Everyone submits to someone - even the most ardent anarchist submits to the brute force of someone stronger than they are. The question is not whether we submit or not, it is to whom we should submit and why. And rather than being demeaning, submitting to just and regulated authority is dignified, even as the Colonel submits to the authority of the General, even though the Colonel has a powerful and dignified position. But if that is not convincing, as noted in our text, the relationship between a husband and wife ought to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church...and our Savior Himself submitted to the Father (I Cor. 15:, 27, 28).
Regarding husbands, the text says, "love your wives...be not bitter against them." If we are really dealing with the implications of this passage, this command should cause as much struggle as the previous one because the standard is still our Savior who gave Himself for us. And loving is not merely feeling good toward the object of your love (although goodwill is part of it), love is shown in prizing, cherishing and valuing the object as something precious. The loving husband, following Christ's example, is willing to devote his time, energies and any other needful thing to the point of his own life, for the benefit of this cherished treasure - his wife. This is such a high standard that there is a danger, and that is why husbands are warned against bitterness. True love of your wife must include the condition of your heart. It should not be a grim duty, rather, looking to Christ's love for a very unlovable people, He willingly laid down His life for us (Heb. 12:2, 3). How much more so should husbands lay down their lives for their wives?
Regarding children and parents, God-honoring authority and obedience to that authority, is always regulated by the Law of God in the Scriptures. This is true for both the child and the parent. And while a child is called to obedience, the wise parent is careful in issuing commands, and only commands that are according to God's revealed will, do not provoke the child, exasperate the child or crush his spirit, and are "age-appropriate". Parents (and fathers in particular) have a unique and powerful influence on their children for good or ill. So even in the midst of dealing with disobedience, the parent must always have the building-up of the child for the glory of God as his goal.
Can it be that these commands deal directly with our natural weaknesses?