It’s not easy being a woman in a man’s world. In fact, there are only a few areas of our world where males do not dominate. Examples would be teaching, nursing and administrative work. This isn’t much different than it was 60 years ago. To illustrate how this is a man’s world, consider these statistics:
- 100% of CEOs on Wall Street are … men.
- 97% of heads of venture capital firms are … men.
- 95% of Fortune 500 CEOs are . . . men.
- 90% of tech jobs in Silicon Valley are held by … men.
- 85% of corporate executive officers are … men.
- 84% of mayors of the top 100 cities are … men.
- More than 80% Congress are … men.
- 78% of state political executives … men.
- 75% of state legislators … men.
- 73% of top media executives and managers are … men.
- 73% of tenured professors are … men.
Because other areas of our lives are favored towards men: women suffer in studies done for crash test safety standards, pay higher insurance premiums, medical research can be skewed to the male physiology, and even the law can assume male bodies and experiences. An example? Men who kill their spouses get on average 2-6 years’ prison sentence. A woman gets 15 years.
James Brown nailed it when he sang: “It’s a man’s man’s man’s world.”
It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning God created humankind in his image, “male and female he created them.” “They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).
The ruling was to be done together, as equals, over the creation. Problem is, that did not last long. In Genesis 3 we find a serpent slithering his way into the story. The forbidden fruit was eaten. And consequences came.
To the woman God said, “Your desire will be for your husband…” (Genesis 3:16). The “desire” spoken of here is not a sexual desire or a passion for the husband. God looks favorably upon that. It is a “dominating” desire, the kind of desire spoken of a chapter later when sin’s “desire” is for Cain (4:7). Sin wanted to overtake him and dominate him. It’s the idea that the woman will want to dominate her husband. That’s not a good thing. It’s not the way it was supposed to be.
Another result is that the husband “… will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). This “rule” is not a caring, loving leadership that places her needs above his. It is just the opposite. It too is a dominating role that looks to his own self first. He will love himself more than his wife. That’s not a good thing. It’s not the way it was supposed to be.
But that’s how things were then when Genesis was written. And that’s how things were in Colossae when Paul wrote to the church. The Greco-Roman world was no different. It was a man’s world.
The Greeks believed the household was a sort of smaller version of the society as a whole. Aristotle taught that there were three relationships in the household that mattered. He said, “The smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.” He said that free men were by nature superior to the others and that the husband was to rule over his wife, children and slaves.
Wives were often young teens—sometimes 12-13 years old—who married much older men. The marriage was to provide legitimate children and was not designed to marry people who were in love with each other. Demosthenes noted: “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children” Women basically existed to please the men around them and husbands could do with their wives as they pleased.
Children did not have it any better. They existed to please the father. At birth, if there was something about the baby the father did not like, he could leave them outside the city to die. Even after they grew up and had families of their own, they still had to submit to his will. It was all about the father, not the children.
And slaves were viewed as being akin to animals and were created to serve. They were said to have no personality, no identity, other than what their master gave them. Slaves in the Greco-Roman world were often highly educated and many were doctors (Luke was one), teachers, professors, policemen and even public servants. But most of the elite assumed they were “con artists who acted nice while planning devious things.”
Such was the situation the church in Colossae found themselves in. These were its people. And they were already at odds with their society due to their following the Way of Jesus. Jew, Gentile, slave, free, men and women were sharing common meals together. This was unheard of in a society where free men ate separately from all others in the social system of their day. Christian women were studying philosophy which Greeks thought was nonsense. And Romans passed laws forcing widows to remarry. They believed this kept things in order with the order found in the realms of the gods. But the church helped widows without insisting they remarry.
Rome looked with suspicion on the behaviors of the Christians, even calling them “haters of humanity.” When a man became a Christian they believed he and his family were a step away from becoming traitors to their country.
Paul is aware of the tension between following Jesus and the thinking of the world. And so he writes to these three relationships in a household: wives and husbands, fathers and children, and masters and slaves. In many cases, one man could serve all three roles of husband, father and master. He wants the new culture in Christ to take hold, but do it in a way to not upset the society around them before it had a chance to take hold and spread.
He tells wives: “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18). It’s unlikely that Paul wants the wives to live in the same way they had in the past since he has already told them not to conform their lives to the present world. And it certainly should not be used to justify power and status used against women, as it sometimes has been used.
The word “submit” is middle-passive which means he is telling them to “choose to order” themselves towards their husbands. But this is not about a wife grounding herself to some authority the husband has over her or into a creation order. Her grounding is instead “in the Lord.” “In the Lord” is a new way to live. From Paul’s writing to the household in Ephesians we understand there is mutual submission in this new way and the wives are to learn to live under this order, that is, under Christ. They learn how to be a wife as Christ would be a wife if he were in their shoes.
And they will have no problem doing so when husbands follow Paul’s instruction to “…love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them” (Colossians 3:19). If Paul were wanting the women to get in line with male authority or creation order or his role as a leader, the complimentary command to the husband would be about his leadership. Male leadership and power were assumed in that culture. But Paul talks about “love.” He is to love her, not lead her.
Passages such as this or Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 have been used to support the man’s world. But in Paul’s writing he supports not a patriarchal form in the home or an inferiority-superiority status or some hierarchy. Instead Paul focuses on a Christ-Formed home. In this kind of home, the husband loves his wife as Jesus loved the church. And how did Jesus love the church? He died for the church. Husbands are called upon to learn to love in this way.
The same is true with fathers and their children. Children are to “obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). The word “obey” carries with it a hearing with the implication that what is heard is followed. Obviously, a child does not obey anything that is against the will of God. The “everything” they are to obey should come from the goodness of the parent and their wisdom. But their motivation to obey is different. It is because that “pleases the Lord.”
Fathers, in turn, are not to “…exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged …” (Colossians 3:21). The word “exasperate” has to do with picking fights with the child or provoking them. In the Greek world the father had authority in the home. Listen to some counsel given to fathers in the ancient world:
- He who loves his son will whip him often.
- Pamper a child, and he will terrorize you; play with him, and he will grieve you.
- Give him no freedom in his youth, and do not ignore his errors.
- Bow down his neck in his youth, and beat his sides while he is young.
Think those actions might exasperate a child? Instead, fathers were to learn to be different than the world around them. Their role model was Jesus. How he treated people a father is to treat his child. How he welcomed children a father was to welcome his own. Fathers are not to exercise their right as the parent in demanding things for themselves or in insisting on their own way. They are to consider the impact their actions will have on their children. Imagine that kind of home in Colossae! It would surely get the attention of the neighbors.
And masters mixing with slaves would blow up the gossip circles. Slaves took on the identity of their master, even their names would signify who they served. But once a slave came to Christ, he would then be foremost a slave of Christ. Paul reminds them, “You serve the Lord Christ” (v. 24). Because they do, they serve differently now:
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism. — Colossians 3:22-25 (CSB)
These are good instructions for any worker today. Do your work well, even when you aren’t being watched. Work with all your heart, give it your best. Work like you would for Jesus. And remember, your pay on earth is not your final goal. You want to receive the inheritance from the Lord.
But masters have to learn to view themselves differently too. “Masters, deal with your slaves justly and fairly, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1) Talk about a paradigm shift! The master is now a slave too, a slave to Christ. Whatever “rights” the master has in this world, he now has to behave not according to any rights the world says he has but by how Jesus would have him behave. Jesus is his Master too.
And he is ours. (rom. 6:22). How different would our homes look if each person in the family unit saw themselves as a slave to Christ first? Or what if we considered our actions in view of what our Master would want us to be? Our words would be kinder. Our actions softer. We’d listen quickly and answer slowly. Whoever thinks they have power because of their size or volume of voice would realize they cannot set the rules “according to their own whims and preferences.” In fact, whoever has any power will use that power for the benefit of others in the household or in the workplace.
The reality is we who follow Christ live in two worlds at once. We live in the present world, mixing it up with people who have all kinds of ideas on how life should be lived, especially life in the home and workplace. But we also live in the world of the Kingdom of Christ, and that world determines how we live out our lives in this one.
When we do that, others may come to realize that it is not really a man’s world after all. It is Christ’s world. In it no one tries to dominate each other. There are no power plays. All are equal. There is neither male or female, slave or free. It is a world moving back towards God’s intention. And it is a world dominated by love.
 Thompson, 96.