Colossians 3:18-4:1 (Week 10)
“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.”
This section goes into detail to provide us with a more extended application to explain the command to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” As we follow the apostle’s train of thought, he has decided (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) to hand out specific instructions to six different groups of people: wives, husbands, children, fathers, bondservants, and masters. Not only do we get these specific instructions (for each specific demographic), we can also understand more of what God requires from us individually. You might be thinking, “I’m not someone’s master or slave, how does this apply to me?” Great question. Remember that these are the words of God, and every passage of Scripture is profitable, leading to your growth and maturity. Think of it this way, if your dad is giving instructions to your brother or sister on how to do something, can you learn from that? Absolutely. So let’s approach this in such a way that we are asking God to teach us something personal from His Word. Or to put this another way, we can glean general principles of application from these specific commands. And let us respond in obedience.
WHAT IS THE TEXT SAYING?
Wives are commanded to submit to the leadership of their husbands. This should not take you by surprise, this is the consistent teaching all over the Bible (Ephesians 5:24; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1,5). Often when confronted with this teaching, people respond by saying that the Bible is oppressive to women, but that is not the case at all. We don’t have time to go into too much detail on this, but the Bible is a very radical book that has elevated women above the way that the first-century culture viewed them. We are talking about the fact that the Bible teaches that men and women are created in God’s image. Not only that, but God became a man, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to save men and women.
This is crazy.
Not just in the original setting, but even now, the Bible is a radical book in the way that it elevates women, especially in the marriage relationship.
How? You ask. Check this out. In the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:
‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its savior. Now, as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body. ‘Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Wives are told to submit and respect their husbands but look at the command for husbands. Husbands are told to have a self-sacrificial love for their wives that mimics the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. And further down, if a man doesn’t love his wife, he doesn’t love himself. This is a highly elevated position, especially since the Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture of the day saw women as basically second class citizens.
One more example of this comes from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. Here we see the Apostle Paul say that a woman’s body doesn’t belong to herself but to her husband. This would have been the majority opinion in that culture. That isn’t in the least controversial. However, what he says after that would have been seen as cultural blasphemy. Paul has the audacity to say that in the marriage relationship, the wife has ownership of her husband’s body. What?! That is crazy. It gets even crazier when you think about the fact that this is all in the context of sexual fulfillment. He is saying that a man’s body is supposed to be used for his wife’s sexual satisfaction. If that isn’t happening, then it is disobedient to God. Wow. How could anyone who seriously considers the words of the Bible think that it is oppressive to women?
Now, with that behind us, what is this text saying to women? Wives need to submit to their husbands. This is fitting, which is appropriate in the Lord. It is a little confusing what “in the Lord” means here, but I think it has to do with the appropriate submission of a wife to her husband and points to the submission of the church to Jesus. In doing this, wives have an opportunity to put a spotlight on the Gospel.
There are two commands handed to husbands: one positive and one negative. First, is the common biblical instruction to love their wives. As we saw above, this is similar to Ephesians 5. What is unique about this passage of Scripture is the negative command, “do not cause your wife to be bitter.” This specific word is only used four times in the NT (the other three are in Revelation) and carries with it the idea of “causing bitter feelings.” Interesting. So what he is saying here is that a husband is told that he needs to be concerned with his wife’s feelings. Wow.
Notice again how this is an elevation of the woman’s status. In that culture (and in many around the world today), a woman’s feelings were largely deemed irrelevant. But in a thoroughly Christian marriage, a husband needs to love his wife in such a way that she feels loved and appreciated by him. If she doesn’t feel that way, then it is a problem that he is obligated to correct. A corollary teaching is found in 1 Peter 3, where husbands are told to “live with their wives in an understanding way.”
This is also a continual refrain in Scripture; after all, it comes from the Fifth Commandment. It is also repeated in Ephesians 6, along with the reminder that “this is the first commandment with a promise,” and “that it may go well with you.” The specific emphasis in this text focuses on two qualifications: “in everything,” and “that this is pleasing to the Lord.” The “in everything” is almost self-explanatory. Children are commanded to give 100% obedience to their parents as the authority that God has established over them. The “pleasing to the Lord” highlights the fact that when a child is obedient to their parents, they are being obedient to the Lord. This is the same idea that we see in Romans 12:1, where he talks about being “acceptable” to God.
FATHERS, DO NOT PROVOKE
Again we see the idea of a servant leader in a household. Just like husbands are to be concerned with their wife’s emotional state, fathers are told to care for the well being of their children. It is interesting that the Christian household is concerned with so much more than just making sure that the family is adequately cared for financially. Now don’t get me wrong this doesn’t mean that wives and children are supposed to be leading the homes with their emotions, far from it. A good husband and father is one that exercises his God- given stewardship of the home by shepherding his family in every possible realm. He should mimic the servant leadership of Jesus in the way that he responsibly leads his home.
The specific command here is that fathers should not stir up their children to anger. Should a father discipline his children? Absolutely, but not in a way that provokes his kids to anger. Fathers are supposed to follow the “father-ship” of God in disciplining his children for their good. If he rules with an angry iron fist, then there is a good chance that his kids will be discouraged (this word is only used once in the NT and has the connotation of losing motivation by becoming dispirited).
It is important for us to realize the “why” behind these negative commands. In general, men can be hot-tempered and loose-tongued, but this is not the way a Christian father or husband is supposed to act. God knows our weaknesses and gives us each (husbands, wives, fathers, children, and servants) commands that are specific to our individual temptations.
Here is where we have to get a little more intentional to find a specific application. Remember that in all of these different situations, there are principles we can learn from them about God and ourselves. In this context, he is addressing slaves or bondservants, which I’m assuming none of you are. However, it does give us some general principles in how we are to interact with those whom God has placed in authority over us.
One other introductory comment needs to be made. Don’t forget that when we talk about slavery in the Bible, it isn’t a direct parallel to the type of slavery that was practiced in antebellum America. For the most part, NT slavery was a relationship that an individual entered in order to pay off a debt and usually did not last for their lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, during this time the bondservant was still seen as property. There were situations where abuse took place, but it was economically and not racially motivated. And there was always the option to work yourself free by paying off your debt.
Bondservants are told to obey their masters in everything. The actual word for “masters” here is the word we usually translate “lord” and is more reminiscent of something like a British lord. What is most interesting is that he qualifies it by saying your lords “according to the flesh,” which is in opposition to your Lord in heaven. But we can learn from this, we need to obey our earthly lords similarly to how we are to obey Jesus. That might sound like I’m taking this too far, but just wait.
There are two participles coming off of this command that better explain how we are to obey. First, Paul says we should not obey “as people-pleasers” in eye service. What he means by that is that you shouldn’t just obey when your master is looking. Whoa. Think about it, that’s not genuine obedience.
Second, he says that we need to obey our earthly masters because we fear the Lord (our heavenly master). Yeowtch! Follow the logic, your earthly master is not always looking, but our heavenly master sees everything, even the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). This is why we are to fear the Lord and obey with a sincere heart.
WORK FOR THE LORD
This is even more explicit. This is where we need to see the universal principle at work. Whatever it is that you might do, you should see it as working for the Lord, and not working for man. Not only that, but he says that this should be done from your very soul, with everything that is inside you.
Look at the distinction that he is making between earthly and heavenly. You are not living and working for the things of this world. You are doing earthly work for a heavenly master and a heavenly reward. That is why he says to do this, knowing that it is from the Lord that you will receive your inheritance as a reward. Wow. Every day, every hour, as you work, remember that you are working for the Lord and His reward.
SERVE THE LORD
There is a little bit of confusion as to how this little sentence needs to be translated. Some think that it is describing the previous command, “because you are serving the Lord.” Others will say that it is an emphatic command, “Serve the Lord, who is Christ.” I’m with the others on this one. Jesus Christ is our Lord, and if we are going to “walk in Him,” it requires us to serve Him with every aspect of our lives.
The following phrase provides additional grounds for the command to serve the Lord. He just said that we will receive a reward from God for our obedience, now he balances that by saying that the one who does wrong will receive punishment for the wrong that he does. There are consequences for our actions, and God shows no partiality in giving out reward and punishment.
MASTERS, BE JUST AND FAIR
Just as he warned husbands and dads, now he is warning masters. This makes sense because inherent in being a master, there is a temptation to rule unjustly. So he says that masters need to be fair and just. But look, this isn’t just for the sake of fairness and justice, it should be motivated by the fact that they have a master in Heaven. This echoes everything he has said up to this point. All of us have a master in Heaven for whom we are living our lives. This should motivate us to live our lives in a way that pleases Him. Amen.
What Does This Mean for Me?
- This might sound like an odd point of application, but how do you view gender roles? Do you have a biblical understanding of gender roles, especially in marriage, or is your thinking influenced more by your current culture? This is a big deal. Talk this out and make sure you are getting your view of these issues from the Bible and not imposing your beliefs onto Scripture.
- How do you interact with those people whom God has placed in authority over you? Are you prone to rebellion? Only you know your heart. Are you prone to excuses and justification? Are you obedient in word only? Do you obey just for show, when they are looking?
- Do you see yourself as a people pleaser? Or are you living to please God?
- What about how you are leading others? How do you use your influence on others? Are you using it to discourage or encourage? Do you see yourself actually caring for those whom you are leading?
- How do you view your work? Are you just working for your paycheck, or do you understand that you are working for your heavenly Father?
- Do you see yourself as a servant? Do you see your time on earth in terms of serving? Never forget that we are called to serve God and others.
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