It is a sad commentary on
our day that there is an urgent need to lift
marriage out of the sitcom sewer and bring it into
the bright, clear light of God’s glory.
By what standard is the
culture of our day to be measured? When the Bible
conflicts with contemporary cultural patterns which
one is to be chosen as correct? Is the Bible
secondary to the prevailing culture? Does the
culture interpret the Scripture or does the cultural
acceptability determine the teaching of the Bible?
We live in a culture that
glories in "I, me and mine," and whoever dies with
the most toys wins. It is tragic when this
philosophy is carried over into the marriage. "What
is in it for me?" "What do I get out of it?" "How do
I get my needs fulfilled?" Many marriage
relationships degenerate to self-absorption and are
shipwrecked on the beaches of life.
When spouses are
concerned with, "My needs must be met first," then
neither will have their needs met.
"I, me and mine" marriage
will lead to utter chaos – divorce or even murder.
Marriage is a good barometer of our civilization. As
marriage goes so does society. If the family unit is
basic for sustainable civilization we are in deep
How do you keep
contemporary family relationships and society from
turning into complete chaos? How do we live together
responsibly? How do you stay out of power struggles?
relationships are based on love. Romantic love may
lead to marriage, but it does not sustain a
marriage. It must move on to a sacrificial
commitment to the one loved.
You might be surprised
that the Bible has some proven principles that
encourage and sustain healthy marriages. When taken
seriously and applied they really do work. Here is
the arena where we practice our faith. It is here
that we learn to live the Christian life. In deed,
it is here that our faith is tested in the structure
of the most intimate and revealing relationships.
How we live in the stresses of home life reveals our
true Christian character. I have watched so often
professional men and women do heroic things in the
public arena only to be miserable failures in the
privacy of their home. This is why as pastors and
church leaders we must keep the fires burning and
guard the integrity of our hearts at home.
There are reciprocal
obligations in the Christian family. It is never one
sided. We have responsibilities in our relationships
with one another. Christianity has something to
teach us in these relationships. Paul stresses
responsibility, not rights in the family. A home is
in stormy weather when the members are insisting on
their perceived rights.
THE BOND OF LOVE
APPLIED TO MY MARRIAGE (3:18-19)
Our text before us is not
about who gets the power to boss the family. It is
about demonstrating love. The apostle Paul addresses
the women, children, slave and master as equal
members of the Christian household in the first
century Roman family.
Several times in
Colossians 3:18-4:1 Paul stresses a Christ-centered
home. Do what "is fitting in the Lord" (v. 18),
"this pleases the Lord" (v. 20), "fearing the Lord,"
(v. 22), "as for the Lord" (v. 23), "from the Lord"
(v. 24), "you are serving the Lord" (v. 24), and
"you have a Master in heaven" (4:1).
Someone has to be the
leader in the home. Ultimately someone has to make
the final hard decisions that keep the family
functioning with integrity.
We are all too familiar
with dysfunctional families. It is even more tragic
when dysfunctional families run dysfunctional
In the ancient world, the
extended family could include any or all of the
following relationships: the man and his wife; his
male and female slaves; his sons and unmarried
daughters; the wives of the sons; grandchildren;
aged parents and grandparents. Other people living
in the same home and considered as part of the
family could include servants and their children and
aliens, or strangers, who attached themselves to the
family for a time before moving to another location.
The man making the
decisions for the family was designated as "father,"
although he may not have been the oldest male in the
group. These family groups, therefore, could be very
large. Along with the honor of the position as head
of the family, the father was expected to assume
certain responsibilities that can be classified into
three categories: spiritual, social, and economic.
Under Jewish law a woman
was a thing, then possession of her husband, just
like houses and cattle. She had no legal rites
whatever. A husband could divorce his wife for any
cause, while a wife had no rights whatever in the
initiation of a divorce; and the only grounds on
which a divorce might be awarded here was if a
husband had leprosy.
In Greek society the
woman lived a life of seclusion. She never appeared
in public alone, not even to go to the market. She
didn’t even join the men for meals. Her husband
could go out on her as much as he liked, and could
enter into as many relationships outside of marriage
he liked without incurring any stigma. The wife owed
her husband absolute, unquestioning obedience.
That philosophy was
absolutely opposite of what the apostle Paul teaches
us in this passage. Christ as Lord in the home of
the Christians would have been a new revelation and
revolutionary to the heathen in the city of
Colossae. In fact, it is still revolutionary to
pagan homes in our own culture. Christianity changed
The apostle Paul does not
follow the prevailing cultural patterns of the first
century Roman society. He stresses an ordering of
society which keeps the family from turning into
pure chaos. Wives should align themselves with and
respect the leadership of the husband.
A Word to Wives
The apostle Paul did not
instruct the wives to obey their husbands. That
would have been the typical demand of a Roman
household. His choice of words does reinforce the
Biblical conviction that men do have a God-given
leadership role in the family.
He did not have in mind
the wife being a slave to her husband. However, he
did say: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is
fitting in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18). "Wives,
submit yourselves to your husbands."
The word for "submit" (hypotasso)
is a volitional choice. I choose to submit. The idea
is to defer to the husband and let him take the
lead. She therefore would be willing to take second
place to her husband. The idea may be "to be loyal
to" her husband, or to "give preference" to him.
Show eagerness in honoring him.
Is Paul out of date, or
does he have a key to healthy marriage
relationships? Wives have privileges, but
recognition of the husband’s leadership is essential
to a well-ordered home. The assumption is the
husband is wise and loving.
An emotionally healthy
woman has the emotional strength to submit to her
husband. I have also observed that she has the inner
strength to submit to whatever authority in her
life, including that outside of the home. My wife
has observed many times that if a woman has a hard
time submitting in the home to her own husband she
will have a difficult time at school or in the
workplace. To submit is a volitional choice. An
emotionally healthy woman can say, "I chose to
submit" and has the self-esteem to do it.
Why is this attitude so
important in a healthy family relationship? Someone
must be the head of the household. Who
makes the final decision in the tough choices? It
also provides significance for the husband. He is
the role model for leadership in the home.
Yes, there is plenty of
room for discussing, negotiating, problem solving,
etc. That does not take away from his leadership,
nor the attitude of submission to that leadership.
A Redneck proverb says
the husband may be the head of the family, but the
wife is the neck that turns the head. It is sad but
often a lot of emotional blackmail, manipulation,
passive-aggressive behavior destroys the positive
interaction of healthy responses.
Referring to Ephesians
5:23-33, Alexander Maclaren said "Marriage is
regarded from a high and sacred point of view, as
being an earthly shadow and faint adumbration of the
union between Christ and the Church."
The admonition of Paul is
so critical to a wholesome marriage: "You wives,
continue in subjection to your husbands, as it
should be in the Lord" (Robertson, Paul and the
Intellectuals, p. 116).
The greatest motivation
is "it is fitting in the Lord." It makes our Lord
happy. It honors and pleases Him. Submission takes
on a whole new level of understanding.
What is the
responsibility of the husband? What is his response
to this attitude of the wife?
A Word to Husbands
The wife’s submission is
prompted by her husband’s unselfish sacrificial
love. "Husbands, love your wives." "Husbands, love
your wives and do not be embittered against them"
Husbands are to
demonstrate Christ’s sacrificial love. Note that it
does not say the husband is to love if the wife
chooses to submit. It is the husband’s
responsibility to love even if she chooses not to
obey God and submit. It is the husband’s
responsibility to love and keep on loving, and not
become resentful and bitter. It is a deliberate
attitude of mind.
This is the balance. What
woman does not want to submit to her husband when
she knows that she is loved in the same way "Christ
loved the church and gave Himself for her"? What man
won’t love his wife with a sacrificial love when his
wife shows him honor and respect as the leader in
Both attitudes and
responding behaviors reinforce positively each
person’s response to the other. In practice it
reinforces a loving relationship that watches out
for the interests of the other person.
"Love" in this verse is
agape. It is God’s love demonstrated in Christ’s
death. "For God so loved the world." Christ
did not love with sentimental emotion; it was love
in action. It was a love that loved the unlovable.
It is a self-sacrificing love. This provides
security for the woman.
Paul admonishes the
husbands, "don't be embittered against them" (Col.
3:19b). Phillips paraphrases: "don't let
bitterness or resentment spoil your marriage." A. T.
Robertson picks up on the imperative: "stop being
bitter." "Bitter" he says, "is like the taste
of vinegar or gall."
Men in the Roman society
raged against their wives and family members. How
many family relationships have been severely damaged
by sinful natures out of control expressing harsh
words, threats, unkindness, physical violence? We
live in a day when marriage and families are
destroyed because of bad attitudes resulting from
The apostle cautions
everyone: "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let
the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26). "Do
not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were
sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness
and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put
away from you, along with all malice" (Ephesians
The apostle Paul is
concerned about the ultimate well-being of all the
individuals in the marriage. Balance is the key to a
healthy marriage. Selfishness will destroy it.
Loving attitudes and behaviors will build up the
"You husbands, keep on
loving your wives, and stop being bitter toward
them" (Robertson translation, p. 117).
THE BOND OF LOVE
APPLIED TO MY CHILDREN (3:20-21).
How many times have we
heard some adult say, "Children are to be seen, not
heard"? True, robust children make a lot of noise,
but we must be careful not to destroy their need to
Under Roman law parents
could do anything they wished with their children.
The father could sell his children into slavery; he
could make him work like a laborer on his farm he
could even condemn his child to death and carry out
the execution. We can thank God every day for the
change that Christianity brought to change the
cultures of the world. I hear a lot of talking heads
on TV condemning Biblical Christianity and
ridiculing the influence of Christians and I think
they don’t have a clue. They are as pagan as the
Roman Empire in the day of Paul.
A Word to Children
"Children, be obedient to
your parents in all things, for this is
well-pleasing to the Lord." (Colossians 3:20).
"Children, obey your
parents in all things" (v. 20). "You children, keep
on obeying your parents in all things, for this is
well-pleasing in the Lord" (Robertson). There are
exceptions of course, but in the context Paul is
speaking of the Christian home and Christian
parents. If parents step in between God and the
child, the child must obey God. However, in our
context we are talking about a Christian family
where conflicts between duties to parents and duty
to God are not in question. Paul is dealing with the
Christian home and does not contemplate unchristian
attitudes on the part of parents.
"Honor your father and
your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the
land which the Lord your God gives you" (Exodus
The word translated
"obey" implies a readiness to listen and the idea of
obeying orders. It is a habitual action of listening
to parents and following the instruction to
They are to do "all
things." Children don’t have a say in the
instruction. They are for their own good. Children
are not to be the judges of what they should or
should not obey. The parents have the responsibility
of developing Christian character in their children.
This obedience to parents
is seen as "well-pleasing in the Lord." It is
another way of worshipping God.
Do you want to please the
Lord? This is where it begins.
A Word to Fathers
"Fathers, do not
exasperate your children, so that they will not lose
heart" (Colossians 3:21).
"You fathers, stop irritating your children that
they may not lose heart." The verb "here means
irritation as the result of nervous explosion on the
part of the father."
"Fathers, provoke not
your children to anger" (v. 21). The word "provoke"
in this verse means to arouse, provoke in a bad
sense, irritate, embitter. Various translations
read: "vex not your children," "do not fret
and harass your children," "avoid irritating,"
"don't overcorrect," "stop exasperating."
Probably the fathers are
singled out because they are the head of the
household with special responsibilities in training
the children. It is true that the word for "fathers"
(hoi pateres) here can be used in a much
broader sense of both the male and female "parents."
Parents need to be careful not to be constantly
faultfinding and nagging their children.
The family is where we
learn to control our temper, abusive language, and
lying lips. This is the laboratory where we invest
in eternity. It is where our attitudes and thoughts
form and shape the future of our wives and children.
The peace of God reigns when we as husbands guard
our tongues and bring encouragement instead of
anger. Some people live with a broken spirit all
their lives because of something said in the home on
the spur of the moment. The child loses heart and
becomes spiritless. A broken spirit can become the
plague of a youth. My observation is that it can
have devastating effects on attitudes in school and
later in the workplace.
In the home the father
and husband can "put on a heart of compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Col.
3:12). There he learns to bear with one another and
forgive each other (Col. 3:13).
It is easy to break the
spirit of a child, and have a lifetime of negative
The apostle Paul
cautions: "lest they be discouraged" (v. 21b);
"lest they lose heart," "become discouraged
and quit trying," "grow up feeling inferior and
The admonition of by
apostle Paul should be taken not only by fathers,
but mothers, school teachers and anyone else with
authority over children and youth. Be sensitive to
your children and their emotional and personal
needs. Encourage them and build them up in the Lord.
"Happy is the man who can
find his own childhood reproduced in his children
and grandchildren" says Robertson. "Children are to
be seen, heard, and welcomed in home and heart" (p.
THE BOND OF LOVE
APPLIED TO THE WORK PLACE (3:22-4:1).
In the context of the
passage of Scripture we are examining it should be
noted that slavery was the most extreme form of
exploitation of human being ever devised by depraved
humanity. It was evil and everywhere it exists in
our day it is still evil. Slavery no longer exists
in most parts of the world because of the freedom
and equality that Christianity brought.
Everywhere in the Roman
world of the first century you would have seen
slaves. Slavery was universally accepted in ancient
times. It was considered indispensable to civilized
society. The majority of professional people such as
teachers, medical doctors, and craftsmen were
slaves. Many of the slaves in the Roman Empire were
captives taken in war and were more cultured and
educated than their masters. The Roman Empire had
millions of salves. It has been suggested there were
as many as 60 million in Paul’s day. The slave under
the Roman law was thing. There was no code of
working conditions. When a slave was no longer able
to produce he could be thrown out to die. He did not
have the right to marry, and if he cohabited and
there was a child, the child belonged to the master.
In most situations they were treated like animals.
This was also true in the city of Colossae.
The early Christian
churches numbered many slaves among their members.
They along with their masters were members of the
church at Colossae.
The apostle Paul treated
the slave with dignity. In no way does he condone
the system of slavery. God did not ordain slavery.
It was imposed by the evil nature of human beings.
It was never in the will of God for any person to
have dominion over other human beings. The evil of
trafficking human being is condemned.
Paul’s letter to Philemon
addresses a slave holder who also lived in Colossae
and Onesimus was a slave who had come to Christ. How
should the slave and his master regard each other in
the Lord? The slave and the master both serve a
greater master. They both have equal dignity.
The apostle Paul defends
the rights of slaves, who under Roman law had no
legal rights. Paul was saying they should be treated
with respect, justice and fairness.
multitudes of slaves and freemen to its ranks. In
the church they were allowed equal privileges right
along with their masters. Some of these slaves
became pastors of the churches where the masters
were members. "The masters according to the flesh
were not their spiritual lords," observes Robertson
Christianity entered into
the picture and brought a new work ethic. To
understand this passage of Scripture and its
application to our life today we need to keep in
mind the context and historical setting. Slaves in
the Roman Empire were considered members of the
larger family unit. They worked in the home and on
A Word to Servants
"Servants, obey in all
things your master. . ." (v. 22a).
"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"
The principle is give of
your best on the job. Do what is expected of you.
Fulfill your obligations as an employee. Work as if
you were doing it for your Master. Work with a
"singleness of heart." Give it your very best; give
a full day’s work.
If you strongly believe
you are being abused in the work place, look
somewhere else for a job.
"Whatever you do, do your
work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the
reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ
whom you serve" (Colossians 3:23-24).
Work "not only when their
eyes are upon you, as if you had but to please men,
but giving them ungrudging service in your reverence
for the Master" (TCNT).
Moffett translates: "do
not work simply when their eye is upon on you, as if
you had but to please men, but giving then
ungrudging service, in your reverence for the
The Roman slaves would
not have received an inheritance. However, Paul
says, "you know that you will receive your
inheritance from the Lord as a reward" (NET).
Inheritance of God’s children is eternal life. The
reward consists of the inheritance. That is
something worth looking forward do regardless of our
Let your work be the
"sincere expression of your devotion to the Lord . .
. put your whole heart and soul into it" (Phillips).
Williams translates: "Whatever you do, do it with
all your heart."
Our work says something
about us (vv. 24-25). Paul assumes the masters are
Christians and will not command obedience to
themselves that cause the slave to be disobedient to
Your work tells the world
something about your Christian character. Our first
responsibility is to please the Lord Jesus Christ;
everyone else comes second. Both servants and
masters serve the same Lord.
Christianity should help
us to be better employees. "For he who does wrong
will receive the consequences of the wrong which he
has done, and that without partiality" (Colossians
When we sin we reap the
consequences. This is a common biblical theme.
"Believers who sin and disobey the Lord whom they
serve will receive the consequence of their actions
which is a fitting discipline" (NET, v. 25 note).
God does not show partiality, even to Christians.
Along about the same time
Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus saying, "And
masters, do the same things to them, and give up
threatening, knowing that both their Master and
yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with
Him" (Ephesians 6:9).
Paul wrote probably a
short time later after he was released from prison
in Rome another word of encouragement. "Those who
have believers as their masters must not be
disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but
must serve them all the more, because those who
partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.
Teach and preach these principles" (1 Timothy 6:2).
Everything we do ought to
be done with the high deal of exalted service to the
Lord Jesus. That attitude will transform our
attitudes toward work. Peak said, "However their
earthly master may reward their service, their is a
Master who will give them a just recompense;
although they cannot receive an earthly, He will
give them a heavenly inheritance."
John Eadie wrote:
"Christianity did not rudely assault the forms of
social life, or seek to force even a justifiable
revolution by external appliances. Such an
enterprise would have quenched the infant religion
in blood. The gospel achieved a nobler feat. It did
not stand by in disdain, and refuse to speak to the
slave till he gained his freedom, and the shackles
fell from his arms." It did something far greater.
"It went down into his degradation, took him by the
hand, uttered words of kindness in his ear, and gave
him a liberty which fetters could not abridge and
tyranny could not suppress" (Ephesians, p.
It helps to keep in mind
that within a couple of years the one who wrote the
letter from a Roman prison cell to the church at
Colossae and to Philemon the slave owner would
himself die as a result of his loyalty to his Lord
and Master. Wisdom called for a careful, tactful
message in its cultural context. In the end, Paul
employer (Col. 4:1)
Colossians 4:1 give
balance to what Paul has just said. "Masters, give
unto your servants that which is just and equal. .
." "Masters, grant to your slaves justice and
fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in
heaven" (Colossians 4:1).
The Roman law held and
the Greek philosophy taught that the slave had no
rights, he could be bought and sold like animals;
however the apostle Paul demanded that the slave be
respected as a person. That was the revolutionary
change and eventually transformed the world. "You
master, keep on supplying on your side justice and
fairness to your salves," translates Robertson (p.
Employers have a
responsibility to give just and equitable treatment.
If you are a manager do what is right and fair. Paul
was seeking a fair deal for the slaves. The
revolutionary thought was, "Christian master shall
treat his salve as a brother in Christ." This is
fleshed out in his letter to Philemon. The idea that
the slave may be a noble man, and a brother in
Christ, would one day blot out slavery all over the
I can tell you of too
many stories of business men who have been taken
advantage of by lazy, selfish, undisciplined
employees who claim to be Christians.
The Master of both the
slave and the master will have the final word. One
day we all stand before Him and give an answer as to
how we have lived our lives.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
I have lived over half
of my life in the third world. I know and have seen
injustice first hand. I have seen lives changed.
Christ does make a difference.
1. When we are
Christians all our relationships are influenced by
Christ. The whole of the Christian life is lived in
2. In the
home Christ is always the unseen, but welcomed
3. When you are
Christians you are under obligation to your employer
to give of your best on the job.
4. When you
are a Christian business man or woman you are under
obligation to treat your employees as persons, not
5. When we have the right
attitude work of any kind is worship.
The Christian life
enables submissiveness that puts other members of
the family first, encourages selfless love that
refuses to become bitter, sustains obedience when
life is difficult and overbearing, enhances devotion
to giving your very best in the workshop and
balances fairness and justice in the
responsibilities of the work place.
Is it easy? No one said
it would be easy. But herein is the secret. God
gives us the grace to live and work and demonstrate
His grace in the most difficult arena of life. This
is where the believer puts into practice the
principles of the Word of God in the power of the