In laying out Rules for a Christian Households, St. Paul says in:

Colossians 3:18-20 (RSVCE)

Rules for Christian Households

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

What is the explanation as to why he does not say?:

18 Wives, love your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

20 Children, love your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

cf. Ephesians 5:22-33 (RSVCE) - Ephesians 6:1-9 (RSVCE) and 1 Peter 3:1-6 (RSVCE)

  • Were he to have done that, the question would still have remained how to best show one's love for one's spouse, one's parents, or one's children.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 15:25

3 Answers 3


Marriage isn't 50-50. It's both parties giving 100%. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs addresses the differences in the commands extensively in his book Love and Respect and on his website, most recently in a September 4 blogpost.

This verse doesn't mean that women don't have to love and men don't have to be subject to their wives. Paul was giving instructions about the hardest thing for each group to do. Because of how women are structured, they love more easily and more completely than men do. To do the hard thing, they have to respect and submit to their husband. That kind of respect goes against the desire for lordship they've had since Eve (Genesis 3:16).

The same verse (Genesis 3:16) shows why men are commanded to love. Because of that Fall, we want to dominate at all costs. For men, love is the hard part. We want to feel respected and we give respect relatively easily, but love, that deep, pure, selfless-give-myself-for-you love, is harder to give for us. We want to say, "Love me physically, and I'll give you the emotional love you crave."

As to why children are commanded to obey, just spend time with some. Obedience is their hard thing. Obedience to those in authority is part of love (John 14:15, 23).

All of these things are love, but they are love in the way the other party understands it best.


Another perspective on this issue: why should Paul have counselled "love" in each of the three cases of domestic relationship in Colossians 3:18-20 (wives to husbands, husbands to wives, children to parents)? The question assumes that this disposition -- certainly a norm in modern western nuclear families -- is also the default social configuration in Greco-Roman families.

However, there is ample reason for granting a different kind of social space to these chronologically distant communities. The OP cites along with the Colossians text, two related passages (Ephesians 5:21-6:9; 1 Peter 2:13-3:7). Collectively these are known as the New Testament's "Household Codes", often referred to by the German "Haustafeln". These have been much studied. Despite the questions that still remain, it's clear at least that they find their context in the moral instruction of antiquity, not the sociology of the modern nuclear family.

One of the debated questions is whether these instructions in the NT are intended to make Christian families exemplary members of society according to contemporary standards, or rather that these relationships in some way transform or challenge the existing norms. (Not a question to be settled here!)

Of the more recent literature related to this theme, one interesting contribution comes from Bruce Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Eerdmans, 2003). Perusing its pages would give a good orientation to at least part of the debate, and how attention to ancient social norms informs our understanding of this aspect of biblical literature.

  • What Men Need Most From the Woman They Love. This modern view contradicts your answer.
    – FMS
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 22:05
  • 3
    @FMS - errrmm... no - it entirely misses the point. Did you actually read anything at any of the links provided in this answer?
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 7:45
  • You answer says Despite the questions that still remain, it's clear at least that they find their context in the moral instruction of antiquity, not the sociology of the modern nuclear family yet the link I have provided is a modern view.
    – FMS
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 7:50
  • 4
    Hmm - yes, the link provides a modern view, and my answer is saying that the "modern view" provides an inappropriate context for explaining the language of the Colossians text -- I've tried to word that carefully. I hope it's clear!
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 8:11

"Love" would have been too non-specific. You can make a case in Scripture for things like obedience and submission in the right relationships to be evidences/marks of love. God's people are showing they love God when they are being obedient to Him and submitting to Him. 2 John 1:6 says, "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love." [See also 1 John 5:3; John 15:4, etc].

And in these household relationships, Paul calls for them to treat or regard each other in certain ways, which are practical ways of expressing love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul doesn't enjoin love and then list random further instructions - he rather calls his readers to love and then delineates that love in concrete, practical ways (similar to initially drawing a black outline and then colouring it in). I would say that things like obedience and (in the right connection) submission are subsets of love, proper.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange! If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour. In particular, be sure to read the section on what constitutes a good answer and revise your post to either cite references that back your position or to more thoroughly explain how you get this interpretation from the text itself. Please note that "showing your work" is required for answers to be considered "good" and get upvotes from the community on this Stack Exchange. This has answer has some good observations, but could be made outstanding with a little work Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 4:15

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