Paul speaks first to the wives (v. 18). We should note the stress that he lays on their practical union with Christ as they are reminded that the apostle’s charge is connected to what is fit in the Lord. In other words, since everything in life is an expression of obedience to Christ, so they are to obey Christ in this area as well as long as their husbands don’t cause them to disobey Christ.
The word ‘submit’ is not a popular word today, although submission is found in many areas of life. Submission will occur wherever there is authority. We submit to the government, soldiers submit to their officers, footballers in a team submit to the will of their manager. If submission does not occur in these areas, then there will be confusion. Nevertheless, many object to a submissive role, and some even say that it is unchristian.
But submission is biblical, and an obvious example of submission is that shown by the Son of God to the will of his Father. The Son submitted, even although he was equal to the Father. Not only does the Son submit to the will of the Father, so also does the Holy Spirit, who submits to being sent by the Father and the Son. Yet the Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son. Not only are the Son and the Spirit equal with the Father in power and glory, their roles as submissive are of great significance because they are the greatest activities that can be performed (aspects of the work of salvation).
The call of the wife to submit is not a denial of her equality with her husband. Instead it is a recognition and acceptance of the wise will of God. Neither is the submission of a wife an indicator that her role is insignificant.
The respective roles of husband and wife regarding submission require a great deal of study, and there are many books on the topic. For the present, we can summarise in this way. The authority of the husband is not dictatorial, it is not dismissive of his wife’s opinions or concerns, and it is not above the authority of God’s instructions in his word. The submission is temporary, because it is only for this life. Further, the submission is a test from God, as to whether or not his commandments will be honoured. In addition, the submission is an expression of trust in her husband that he will do what is best.
Having stated that wives serve Christ by obeying their husbands, Paul now reminds husbands that they serve Christ by loving their wives, especially by not being harsh with them. It may have been the case that Paul highlights this particular problem because it was common in Colosse. The idea behind harshness is irritableness and impatience, or expressions of annoyance. It is important to note that such verbal expressions are incompatible with the life of the new humanity. The leadership model for husbands is Jesus’ sacrificial love, and that includes how they speak to their wives.