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J. Dwayne Howell, Ph.D. is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in the School of Theology of Campbellsville University and was named Distinguished Professor in 2008. He is also pastor of Rolling Fork Baptist Church in Gleanings, KY. Dwayne has written and presented in the area of Old Testament and Homiletics and is chair of the Homiletics and Biblical Studies Section of the Society of Biblical Literature. He is also active in the Academy of Homiletics.
I read these words from Colossians 3:12-14 as I was preparing a sermon:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Furthermore, we are told of the peace offered to us in Jesus Christ (v. 15). What a beautiful image of the Church: caring commitment for one another, bound together by love, and finding true peace—wholeness in Jesus.
Then I read further, beyond the lectionary limits, and came to verse 18: “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” The beauty of the passage suddenly disappeared from me and I was reminded how this passage has caused schism, not unity, among Christians. I began to rehearse through my mind the reasons this passage is often misinterpreted based primarily around understanding the context of first century Palestine and how women were often treated as property—thus a call for wives of that age to submit themselves to their husbands. Today, women ideally are seen as peers with men, not subordinate second-class citizens. Even as I prepared my arsenal for an unseen attack on Biblical equality, I could see the other side positioning for the debate behind Biblical authority—male leadership and female subordination as a way for a woman to find fulfillment in life. While I have disparaged the view of the other, such a view has often been well thought out, documented, and coherent.
In the midst of preparation for debate, I felt the peace I had earlier slipping away. I began to ponder on other words that Paul spoke in Colossians 3. Words about putting aside my previous ways that only tend to separate me from Christ and others. I have to remind myself that the “other” that I am afraid of is part of my family in Christ. Perhaps that is why it hurts so much and causes anxiety—the “other” is my brother or sister in Christ.
Much violence has been done for the sake of protecting one’s views in the Christian family. How should it affect me to know that our unity is found in Jesus Christ? That I cannot find peace until I offer love, even to those who disagree with me? I see two steps in offering this love. First, I need to always remind myself that others are also a part of the family and that we are connected by the same Savior. Secondly, I cannot control how others respond to me and my message, but I can control how I respond to them. Instead of fear and disdain, I hope I choose love.
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (v. 14).