In the first part of chapter 3, Paul revealed how Jesus’ sufficiency in all things has caused us to be raised up in unity with Him. A sort of co-resurrection, if you will…a co-resurrection that is expressed outwardly through our baptism. Since we are raised up with Him we are also raised up in unity with Him, the One who is all sufficient for us. We have all we need in relation to life and godliness through the unity with our Saviour. As such, we now desire to live in a way pleasing to our Lord…not as we used to live but in our newness of life. We are to put off the old self and put on the new self in order to please and glorify our God!
Now in verses 3:18-4:1 Paul dives even deeper into the specifics of how we apply this new self that we’ve put on towards others. It’s all about our relationships to one another: husbands/wives, fathers/children, masters/slaves.
18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
These verses should sound familiar. We just studied the same application of the husband/wife relationship when we studied Ephesians 5:21–33:
21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
(For details on this study in Ephesians 5:21-33 read: https://crossingschurchaz.org/ephesians-521-33/)
But that section in Ephesians 5 only concerns the husband/wife relationship. In Colossians 3:20-21, however, Paul immediately turns to the father/child relationship. Ephesians 6:1-4 also discusses this relationship:
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
(For details on this study in Ephesians 6:1-4 read: https://crossingschurchaz.org/ephesians-61-3/)
Colossians 3:22–25 thru Colossians 4:1:
22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
Again we have already seen this in Ephesians 6:5–9 except the order of the master and slave has been reversed:
5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
(For details on this study in Ephesians 6:5-9 read: https://crossingschurchaz.org/ephesians-61-3/)
I don’t want to just rehash what I’ve already written about in Ephesians 5-6. Rather, I’d like to see what Colossians has to say about these interpersonal relationships within the context of this book.
First, we should ask, “Why the repetition?” If Ephesians already discussed this application, why do we need to hear it again? Well, the Bible is overflowing with repetition. The reason for this repetition is 3-fold. First, repetition helps us to remember.
Second, repetition points us to something that is very important. It’s like a parent telling a child over-and-over not to touch the hot stove. It’s important for the child not to touch the hot stove! Likewise, here we have repetition on how to show that we are in Christ and modeling Christ through our relationships to one another. First and foremost is the relationship between the husband and wife followed closely by the relationship between the child and parents. The family structure and cohesiveness is paramount to the health of a church. A healthy church will be evident in the relationships of the husband and wife and their children.
Third, repetition can give us new perspectives on a topic. Think of the four Gospels. They all cover the same subject, Jesus’ life and ministry, but from different human perspectives. From these four unique perspectives we know Jesus even deeper. What deeper things can we learn about our relationships?
I think the first thing is that relationships are very important, not only for our own peace (a broken relationship is never peaceful) but also for our sanctification. As we draw nearer to Christ (our all sufficient master) we naturally become more adept at putting into practice these commands that Paul gives us in these verses.
We know that the main idea of Colossians is that of Christ’s preeminence and His sufficiency in everything. In light of that and knowing that we just read about the putting off of the old self and putting on of the new self, we can understand that these commands to be loving, obedient, submissive, just, and fair are not done in our own power or under the power of the old self. Rather, as we are “in Christ” and He is “in us” and we now are clothed in the new self we are able to put these commands into action. Compare this to Ephesians where the main idea was what Christ has done for us in all grace and power and how we should respond in both joy and obedience. In Ephesians we were commanded to treat others as Christ treated us. Therefore, we can understand that these commands to treat others as Christ treated us are not burdensome and impossible but as a joy and a way to lighten our earthly burdens. If Christ treated us in such a way that while we were yet sinners He died for us in the most humiliating way possible, then shouldn’t we treat our spouse and our children with love, grace, mercy, and respect? You see, as a new creation these commands are not a burden but a blessing…a continual blessing as we live them out.
If you ever feel that you just can’t keep these commands, just pray to Christ for strength. Pray to the Spirit as you put on the armor of God. Prayer is our instrument to enable our actions. In fact, (spoiler alert) that is what we will delve into next week…prayer. Remember also in Ephesians 6 that Paul spoke of prayer immediately after he gave us these same interpersonal commands. And prayer was a prelude to putting on the armor of God. So in everything with prayer and supplication, may we make known our requests to God. But prayer also comes with a warning in James 4:3:
3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
That is, we must ask with the right motives. We must ask with the motives of Christ. Husbands (of which I am one of you), ask with the right motive. Ask that you will love your wife with the agape love in verse 19 and I will do the same with my wife…a love that is sacrificial and seeks the good of the other, not ourselves.
Wives, pray for your husbands. Pray that we may truly love you with the agape love that we are commanded. Pray that as we husbands love our wives more and more deeply that you also may model God’s command for you given through Paul.
Even Peter gets into the commands of how to love and be subject to one another. Here in 1 Peter 3:1–6 he repeats what Paul has been repeating:
1Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
But Peter here goes into a bit more detail concerning a wife whose husband does not obey the word of God. In the context of this chapter in 1 Peter, this is most likely an unbelieving husband whose wife is now a believer. Notice that the wife is not commanded to leave her husband or to “win him with words”. Rather, her conduct is the way she wins her husband to Christ.
These may seem like very difficult words to follow and they are. But remember that Christ is sufficient to meet every need, including this one. I do have encouraging words though. I’ve seen 1 Peter 3:1-6 played out before me in a powerful way. My mom and dad were not believers but then my mom went through a crisis and ended up joining a fellowship of women who studied the Bible in depth. This led her to Christ, whom she is with right now in heaven. But in between the time she believed and the time she died, she epitomized 1 Peter 3:1-6. I saw the power in her conduct as one who was in Christ. She was always subject to my dad and my dad recognized the change in her. He became a Christian due to my mom’s respect and conduct towards him. Her adorning was always as a gentle and quiet spirit that you knew could only come from the heart. So wives, be like my mom. Take these commands from God and write them on your heart. The preeminent and all sufficient Christ will provide for all your needs.
Lastly, I want to mention this verb “be subject” that is given to wives. This is a single Greek word that is in what is called the “middle voice”. English has the “active and passive voices” but no “middle voice”. This middle voice means that the wife is to place herself under the husband. That’s why the word “be” is added in the English. Paul knows that this type of subjection is a matter of the heart and it must come from the heart in order to be pleasing to the Lord. In stating this command in this manner we see that the husband does not have absolute control over this matter. The husband cannot and should never demand this from his wife. Rather, as we read in Ephesians, the husband is to love his wife and sacrifice for her just as Jesus loved and sacrificed Himself for the church. In other words, we husbands (myself very much included) are to make it easy for our wives to follow God’s commands. We are to lead by example. We are to love, cherish, and sacrifice for our wives thus providing our wives the desire in their hearts to follow their husbands’ family leadership under God’s divine provision and authority.
To complete the family loop, Paul focuses on the father/child relationship. Notice that the men have a much larger number of commands than anyone else. We have a lot of responsibility and here this responsibility relates to not exasperating or provoking our children. This could also be thought of as stirring up or irritating our children. Doing so may cause our children to be discouraged or lose heart. Rather, we are encouraged to love our children so that they may want to obey us in everything.
As fathers and mothers, we want the best for our kids. One way to know that we are giving the best to our kids is that we are loving them as we should. Notice that a child who obeys is well-pleasing to the Lord (v20). I know that I want the Lord to be well-pleased with my children. A child that is pleasing to the Lord is a blessed child indeed.
Consider the child that is disobedient and/or discouraged. Now think of the devil who is described as a roaring lion going around and devouring anyone and everyone that he can, including our children. A disobedient/discouraged or even an irritated child is going to be easy pickings for the devil. The way we protect our children is to love them as Christ loved us. Listen to your kids. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Spend time with them. I believe that just saying you will spend quality time with your kids is an excuse not to spend quantity of time with them. To be precise, we must spend both quality and quantity of time with our kids in order to raise them as we should. Know that these are not easy words for me to write. I have failed more often in this than I’d like to admit. Don’t let the failures just lie there; fix them. The time is always right to do better. Start small and build. Your children will appreciate it.
Finally, we get to servants and masters. As much as we may not like to admit, we are still all beholden to someone or something else. There is our boss at work. If we own our own business then there are our customers (the customer is always right as you know). And, of course, there is Christ who is head over all. But maybe there is an idol in your life: money, power, pride. These can be masters too; however, in this context Paul is strictly talking about interpersonal relationships.
We’ve just studied this same command given to masters and servants in Ephesians 6:5–9. But Peter also has something to say about this in 1 Peter 2:18–25:
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
Notice that this section comes directly after the sections on the family interactions. If we can’t get the family right, how can we think we can get relationships right outside of our family. So, first work on the family relationships and then move on to the other relationships outside of your family.
The thing I see most often in these verses that detail the master/servant relationships (or what we can think of as our work relationships) is that we need to serve those over us with a sincere heart. When we have a manager that is just and kind this is easy, but when we have a manager that is difficult to work for this becomes much more difficult. What does Paul and Peter have to say about difficult managers? Serve them as you would a good and kind manager, for ultimately we serve Christ Himself. Our reward will come from Christ…that is, our reward that is stored up in heaven where rust and moth cannot destroy it. Not only do we receive a reward but we also please God in our submission to others, especially when they persecute us. That is why we sometimes suffer under unjust and unkind managers, to please God. And when we please God we are more able to glorify Him.
So we should do our work as unto the Lord, not man. We should work heartily and honestly with a reverent fear towards God so that we may please and glorify Him. We need to take our eyes off of people and place our eyes on the One who is truly the preeminent head over all. He is all sufficient for what we are going through. We should desire to please Him and let His peace (the one that is beyond all understanding) envelop us completely.