Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
As we open God’s Word, we are reading words inspired by the Spirit of God. God created us to be relational beings. So when God’s Word gives us instruction for how a marriage, parent-child relationship, or a work relationship should work, we should listen! God is the expert.
When we zoom out to the big story of scripture, the true story of the world, we see that He made us for relationship: to relate to Him, to one another, to the earth he created and to ourselves. Scripture shows us that early on sin entered the world, and distorted those relationships. After Adam and Eve sin, they start hiding from God and pointing fingers at one another. The ground is cursed, and man experiences shame for the first time. Even our own self-image, our self-relationship is not the way it’s supposed to be.
In this series, we’re examining this letter that Paul is writing to a small town in the Roman Empire called Colossae. In the first chapter, Paul reminds us that we were alienated from God, but Jesus has come to change that! Jesus came to reconcile us to God by his death and resurrection. (Colossians 1:21-22)
Then he exhorts us, “as You received Jesus Christ the Lord, walk in Him.” (2:6) He reminds us that Jesus is all we need, not a blend of religious practices, festivals or human philosophies. Rather we should put off the old, and put on the new. Here in our passage today, he describes what that looks like in our closest relationships: marriage, parent-child relationships, and the relationship between a bondservant and master. Paul will show us what these relationships look like under the lordship of Christ.
As we examine this passage, understanding the context will help us. In Roman culture, the patriarch had ultimate, unquestioned authority over his house, his wife, children, and slaves. Children were not valued as in our culture. Slavery was normative, but different than our conceptions of slavery from the early days of our nation.
“Wives submit to your husbands” was not countercultural, until he adds “as is fitting in the Lord.” Jesus is placed over the marriage relationship. Without violating Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, Paul points to God’s design for marriage in calling wives to submit themselves to their husbands. This design had been distorted, perverted in Roman culture, as it has in ours. Even within Christian circles, this passage has been misused to justify abuse, selfishness, and male domination. This is not the intention. Rather, this is a call for wives to willingly submit themselves to their husbands.
Husbands are commanded to love their wives, and avoid harshness. This is further expounded in a parallel passage in Ephesians 5:25, “…love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” The love husbands are called to looks like the cross, death for the sake of another, sacrifice for the one you love. This reciprocal relationship is God’s design for a healthy marriage that honors Him and puts Him on display. (Eph.5:22-33)
Children are addressed next. N.T. Wright points out, “In addressing children as members of the church in their own right, and in giving them both responsibilities and rights, Paul is again allowing the gospel to break new ground.” As Christ is placed over the parent-child relationship, children are commanded to obedience, for the purpose of pleasing the Lord.
Fathers, then, are commanded not to provoke their children. Obedience, at the price of discouragement, is not the goal of Christian parenting. Again, Ephesians 5 amplifies this instruction by adding the admonishment to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” There is a difference between discipline motivated by love and care, and discipline motivated by frustration. Instruction takes more effort and time than doling out punishment. This is what Christian parents are called to.
The institution of slavery, and the values that justified it, had shaped Roman culture and social structures. In our culture, this can be hard to fathom. In spite of the differences, Paul’s instructions to bondservants and masters can be applied to how we relate to our work.
Paul wants these Christian slaves to understand that, in a very real sense, they are no longer serving man at all. Rather, they are to “work heartily as for the Lord, not men…” (v.23) The word “inheritance” is significant, because slaves weren’t legally allowed to inherit anything. Inheritance implies citizenship, family, belonging. Masters are reminded that they too have a Master, and to treat their bondservants fairly.
If we translate this to our work, the message is clear. The Christian worker works for the Lord, is rewarded by the Lord, and belongs to the Lord. And the Christian manager, or employer, is under the ultimate authority of Christ.
What does it look like for Jesus to be “over all” in your life?
What areas of your life need to be surrendered to Christ?
Which relationships in your life need to be submitted to Christ?
May Jesus be “Over All” in our marriages, families, and vocations!
Our Via Communities are our primary discipleship tool. This section is to help you as you discuss the sermon with others in your life. It is designed for communities to utilize but can be used to facilitate a conversation between spouses, good friends, co-workers, etc., as we live to be faithful to God’s mission in his world.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
The Gospel is powerful. The good news of Jesus changes us. This section is to record the ways you are noticing the good news of Jesus transforming your life. Jot notes to help you remember.
As we examined God’s Word, in what ways was His Word examining you?
Describe how Jesus is becoming more central in your life.
What does trusting in Jesus look like for you this week?