The Gospel-Centered Household

August 13, 2023 ()

Bible Text: Colossians 3:18-4:1 |


The Gospel-Centered Household | Colossians 3:18-4:1
Brad O’Dell | August 13, 2023

Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Colossians 3. Colossians 3 is where we’re going to be. As we turn to this passage, just a reminder that we’ve been walking through the book of Colossians throughout the summer. If you are new here this morning or if you’re just keying in online for the first time to check us out, you should know that our general approach to Scripture in this church is to take a portion of Scripture and to work through it successively, chunk by chunk, passage by passage. The reason for that is because we like to see the Scriptures in context. We want to know, “Hey, what came before these verses we’re focusing on? What was the overall message, and how does it fit into what this author was speaking about in its original context, so that we can understand what it meant, and thereby apply it to what it means to us in the here and now?”

We’ve been doing that in Colossians, and another reason we do that is because there are more difficult passages of Scripture, things that take a lot more time, things that are a little more heated. Those would be ones that, hey, as a preacher I would have been happy to go, “I’m going to skip that one; I’m going to go to a more fun and encouraging passage of Scripture. I’m not going to wade into the hot water.” But when we work through Scripture this way it makes us focus on all of it so that we cherish the truths that God has put everything in his word for us, for our upbuilding, for our encouragement, for our growth, and we need to focus on it all.

I say that because we come to a passage of Scripture today that is one of those tough passages of Scripture, I think. It’s one of those tough passages because of the themes here. We’re talking about the relationship of wives and husbands in marriage and some pretty loaded language that we’re used to the Bible speaking in. That’s tough. It’s tough to understand what that means in the here and now and to know how that applies. It’s also talking about parent and child relationships, and those are heated discussions. Those are things that people care passionately about. It’s going to talk about slavery and how that existed then and what the Bible has to say about it, and then what the Bible doesn’t say about it. That’s a difficult thing.

These are all things that we can be pretty passionate about. We can have strong opinions about these. So I want you to look at me here and let’s all get on the same page together, if you would. As we come to this, all of us are going to bring something to this passage. It’ll come from our family background or maybe our current family experiences, whether good or bad. That’s going to influence how we hear some of this language and how we respond to some of it. All of us bring teaching that we’ve heard in the past to these passages of Scripture, and we have an assessment of those teachings, whether they’ve been accurate or inaccurate, helpful or unhelpful. It makes us respond to these things and bring something to these texts. It shapes the way we tend to listen to them.

All of us have cultural messaging that’s coming from a thousand angles, whether through the news media or from the culture at large, and we’re responding to that and interacting with that on a daily basis. But also there’s stuff under the surface that we’ve just imbued and we haven’t really clearly thought about that is shaping our understanding of these things through entertainment sources and messaging and conversations with friends. So we all bring something to these texts.

Given this, the thing is that in a message like this we can’t speak to all of the individual particularities of everybody’s circumstances. The way we would apply these truths, the way we would encourage someone to live out these truths, the way we might work that out, is going to be particular to everyone’s individual circumstances. I think we’re all going to have themes that we would like emphasized heavily in a message like this, and some of us might have other themes that we would want emphasized, and that’s going to be because of what we brought to the text.

There’s going to be language that some of us are going to be a little bit allergic to, and then there’s going to be some language that some of us pump our fists to—maybe a little too hard—when it comes up. These are things that can happen because of some of our backgrounds here.

There are going to be experiences that are particular to us, and I just want us to look here. Some of you have come in here and you’re like, “Oh man, it’s the wives and submission passage, and I’m just coming and waiting to hear what the pastor’s going to say.” Right? If that’s you and you just came in and you’re riled up and your blood’s pumping a little bit, I see you. You’re sitting on the front of your seats. I see you every service. You’re usually leaning back at this point, still sipping that milkshake coffee that you get from Starbucks. But listen, if you’re on the edge of your seat, you’re ready to fight, you’re ready to respond, you’re ready to dismiss and see what I say; I’m asking us, let’s relax a little bit. This is not a passage that has to be disunifying. It didn’t have to be disunifying for the thousands of years of church history; it doesn’t have to be disunifying for us now.

I want us to be honest about what we’re bringing to the table and knowing how we respond, and I want us to come to this text with a heart of grace. I’m going to try to put things into good language, but I want you to be gracious to me if you think I misspoke or I didn’t quite handle something. I’ve done the best I could with this. So please be gracious to me.

Let’s be gracious to one another. There are differences of opinion in this church, and listen, in that conversation we can all be strengthened and learn from each other more and more. So let’s have a heart of grace, a heart of understanding.

I want us to say this—I’m not looking to affirm my preconceived notions in this and walk out here; I’m not looking to dismiss what I want to dismiss. Let me have a heart disposition—I want all of us to say this: “What does God have to speak to me?” That should be our heart disposition in Scripture every time we come. “What does God have for me? How can I think through these things a little bit more? How can I care for others a little bit more? How can I speak in a little bit more of a nuanced and wise way in these circumstances? What does God have for me as I learn about these things in Scripture? I want to manifest the love and care and wisdom of the Lord in these all-important topics.”

I want us all to come to the Scripture passage with that in mind this morning.

We have a six-week marriage course coming up in the fall that’s going to be on Sunday nights, and we’re going to have an opportunity to talk about these things. There are going to be about forty-five minutes of Q&A through a panel format every single session, so those are places you can submit more specific questions, as well.

I know that’s a long intro, but I thought it was important. With that, let’s read the text, Colossians 3. We’re going to start in Colossians 3:18. It says,

“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.”

Here’s going to be my outline as we work through this passage.

First I’m going to do the background. There’s a gigantic background situation in the ancient Near East, in the Greco-Roman world, that I think helps us understand how this passage would have landed in the original audience and then how it should land, and we can see the emphases there.

Then I’m going to focus on the main idea of the passage, the big thing that I think shines through with all of it together.

Then we’re going to take the sections in the order that the text lays out: wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters.

1. Background

First, let’s look at the background that we should understand when we’re reading a text like this.

First, let’s remember this in context. This is in the context of a letter. We’ve read a lot of things in this letter that preface this. This isn’t something that we just pulled out and we’re focusing on in itself. We’ve talked about how Jesus is the Lord of creation. He is preeminent in creation, he is preeminent in new creation, and therefore all of the world and all of our lives should be lived unto him and for his glory and for his honor.

We’ve talked about how the mystery of Christ has been revealed to us, such that we have an identity in Christ and we can have a hope of glory in our lives. Then we talked about what that looks like in various ways; the ways that we’re not supposed to live, things that we’re supposed to be put away from us, put to death, actions that are not consistent with that way of life; and then actions that are consistent with that way of life. Actions and also heart dispositions, character traits that are representative of the life that we have in Christ. This is part of that and how it fleshes out into the family relationship.

Also, there’s a big cultural background that I think we need to understand so that we don’t just read our modern context into this ancient letter.

First, this is classically called a household code. These were something that were pretty popular in the Greco-Roman era, the Hellenistic era. We have these from Aristotle, we have these from Plato, we have them from Philo, we have them from Jewish theologians of that time, both before and during. We also have them from theologians who came after the New Testament.

So these household codes were a pretty regular way of speaking, and it always worked in these iterations, where it talked about the husband and wife relationship, the parents and children relationship, and then the servants and masters relationship.

That’s another thing to remember. In that day and age, the household was not just the nuclear family as we understand it today, but there were other people that were in the household and that were considered part of the household and the structures there. That involves these servants, it involves even extended family, to a large degree.

In that day and age, with all of this happening, the husband or the man of the house was considered the lord of the house. He was the king of the house. He was the boss, right? Everyone else had duties that they had to live out in response to him to kind of build out what he’s trying to build out and to bring him into the fullness of what he’s trying to accomplish in the house. That was the common way of understanding this. It was called the pater familias, this understanding that the pater, the father, is the head of the family.

This fleshed out in a lot of different ways. First, we see that this husband was the only one who could own land and property, usually, and usually was the only one who could conduct business in the public sphere. So that’s really important, because though there were some exceptions to the rule and we see women doing that, it’s usually under the authority of the husband in the home.

Also, in that day and age women were usually not formally educated. There weren’t systems set up for that. Also with arranged marriages there was often a situation where there could be a fifteen, twenty, even greater length of age gap between the husband and the woman who was married to him, so just capacity to engage in these spaces was impacted by a lot of those dynamics.

We also need to remember that the general household was an agricultural, family farm type of life. When we’re talking about men and women and how that works with work responsibilities and home responsibilities, in the industrialized age that has shifted how we think about those things in a lot of ways, but in that day and age there was a much more united sphere and everybody was on the family farm, everybody was doing the work that needed to be done. They were sharing those responsibilities, and there were structures, but I do think it gives us a little bit of a different schema.

With all of this, I think there were some things that tended to be true—not in all cases, but tended to be true for how women and children were viewed. Because of this, women were kind of seen as second-class citizens in a lot of ways, and children were mostly seen as nuisances until they became useful to the family. That’s kind of in the background of how these things are happening.

When Paul is taking a pattern, called a household code, and he’s using it in the New Testament—this happens in a few different places with New Testament authors—he’s speaking into these environment, but he’s also going to greatly adapt what he’s saying, and he’s going to bring the gospel to bear on it. He’s going to bring the realities of Christ to bear on these things in some really significant ways. If we don’t have that background of what these things typically said, then it’s going to be tough for us to understand what he’s saying in the here and now.

In those household codes, the man was almost never addressed and given duties. The man had all the rights. He had all the rights in the family, and everyone else had duties that would line up with his rights. What we see with Paul is that everybody will have duties and rights.

Paul is not trying to be a political revolutionary, but he is speaking into these things in some dynamic ways that in the Christian community and as Christianity took hold in the Greco-Roman world would shape society in dynamic ways.

2. The Main Idea of the Passage

So, here’s the main idea of the passage. I think this is how the original readers would have seen and it’s what would have been the beacon light that shone into their faces from it, and that we can tend to look over. It’s this: the husband is not the lord or the king of the family; Jesus is the Lord of the family, and he is the one who is to be served and glorified. And all of us, no matter who we are, whether children or husbands or wives or some servant in the family, we all stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and we live unto him and we serve him in what the Lord’s called us to.

The word “Lord” is used eight times in this passage in reference to Jesus, and it’s actually used nine times total. Look at Colossians 4:1, because I think this is where this really comes into focus. It says this: “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

“You also have a Master in heaven.” In Greek that’s the word for Lord. So, “Lords, you need to treat your bondservants justly and fairly, because you serve the Lord in heaven.” That’s the idea there.

The thing is, the person who is in the master role, in the husband role, and the father role is the same person all throughout, and I think what we’re supposed to see, with this being the capstone statement of this household code, is that the husband particularly needs to understand that he lives before the Lord Jesus Christ and he serves the Lord Jesus Christ and he is called to engage the members of his family from that place. He has duties on him even as his family has duties, and they have rights that they should expect from him even as he has rights he should expect from them.

So, I think that’s the big idea of the passage, that everybody has duties, everybody has rights, and there’s an equal value and dignity of all people. That would have been what shook the first century audience as they heard this.

Douglas Moo says this—I think it’s really good. He says, “We may tentatively suggest that the New Testament teaching about the oneness of all in Christ, coupled with the demand that husbands love their wives as Christ did the church [that’s from Ephesians 5], sets a trajectory that leads to a more equal sharing of all dimensions of the marriage relationship.”

Like I said, Paul is not a political revolutionary. He’s not saying, “Listen, we’re going to live completely different in all these ways and we’re going to create our own communities.” He’s not trying to do all that, but he is setting some patterns where, if you follow these things consistently and if these things hit your heart the way they’re supposed to hit your heart, then there is a trajectory that is being set, such that the family relationship would not be this tiered superior/inferior type of setup, but there would be an equal sharing of all these dimensions in the marriage relationship, in the family relationship.

So, I think that’s the main idea of the passage, and then we can get into some of the specific language.

3. Wives and Husbands

Let’s look first at wives and husbands. We see this in verses 18-19. It says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”

Before I get into the language of submission, I want to remind us of some primary things that we’re supposed to have in mind. I’m just dragging this out so you guys don’t walk out too soon in the service here—no, I’m kidding!

What we’re supposed to remember is that when we come to anything that’s specific like this, this is one stream that we’re supposed to pay attention to, and it’s significant, but it’s one contributing stream to a gigantic river of information and teaching and a gigantic river of how we’re supposed to understand ourselves as the people of God. This is just a contributing factor.

I want us to remember that river, because if we miss that then I think we’ve missed everything that is significant about these passages and how we can apply them to our lives.

We see that there are some primary relational realities that are supposed to be true of the people of God that we see all throughout Scripture.

First we see this—I think this is really important for our passage—before God, we are all together, individually and together, called the Bride of Christ. We are all wives. I don’t care if you’re a man, I don’t care if you’re a woman, I don’t care if you’re a child who knows the Lord Jesus and is following him as Lord of your life; you are all a wife. You are all part of the Bride of Christ. This is a primary part of our identity. We’re supposed to understand ourselves in this way, that Jesus is the Head, Jesus is the Husband, and someday we will have a great marriage feast where we are all presented to him in our white raiment, pure and holy, and that is what the marriage ceremony is supposed to represent. It’s a beautiful image. We’re all supposed to see ourselves in that.

Also, before God we are all children. We are all children of God, co-heirs with Christ. That’s a primary thing that we all need to understand as a key part of our identity in Christ.

Another relational reality is that we are all supposed to be servants. We’re all servants in the Lord Jesus Christ. We used to serve the king of this world, the prince of the power of the air, but now we have been brought into a new kingdom, and now we serve as new citizens in a new kingdom with a new King who sits on the throne of our hearts and who sits on the chair of this church. He is our King; we are all servants of him. So, as we talk about wives and children and servants, I think the key that husbands are supposed to remember here is that, “I share this identity in Christ and these dispositions before Christ in all these ways.”

We have some primary relational realities that we’re supposed to have one another here, and that’s this, that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. That is much more primary. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and therefore we are called to do in each other’s lives what brothers and sisters in Christ are called to do. That means we’re all called to submit to one another. That’s said in Ephesians 5. We’re all called to build one another up in love. We hear that in Ephesians 4. We’re all called to exhort one another day after day, as long as it is called today. That’s from Hebrews 3. We’re all called to call out sin in one another.

So there is no relationship in a marriage where only one person gets to call out sin but the other one doesn’t get to do the same. No, no, no. We’re all called to call out sin in one another. Men in this church, if it is a responsibility of any woman in this church to call out sin in your life because she’s your sister in Christ, then it absolutely is the case that your wife is supposed to be speaking that into your life in a loving and gracious way.

We are all called to speak the truths of the word of God to one another, to remind one another, to encourage one another, to build one another up in these things.

In the marriage relationship there are primary things that we get from Genesis all the way through, and that’s the fact that we are supposed to be one flesh. The marriage relationship is supposed to be this joint union where there is a synergy together, where each of us bring our individual gifts, our individual experiences, our wisdom, and we use them together in this synergistic way, and it’s supposed to represent a unity and a love where we work together as a team. There’s a unity between us. When people look at us, they don’t so much see two individuals, they see one unit working together in consonance and harmony.

So, I think when we’re talking about men and women in Scripture, I do think Scripture indicates—in most places this comes up—something of a particular responsibility that the husband has for the wellbeing of the family that he’ll answer to before God. I think that’s true in most places this comes up, either in the language used or in the specific instructions or some of the assumptions of the text.

Here’s the thing: both parents, both of you will stand before God someday and give an account for how you poured into one another, how you loved each other, how you sought this unity and this oneness in marriage and how you laid yourself down for the sake of the other. Both of you will give an account for that. Both of you will give an account for the wellbeing of your children and how they are raised. But it does seem to indicate that husbands will have a particular responsibility laid on them that they will give answer to before God for the wellbeing of the family.

Here’s what I want us to see primarily: in your marriage, most of your marriage relationship should be something of a mutuality, a reciprocality, a subjecting of yourselves to one another both in love and respect. I think in my opinion that should be about 99 percent of your interactions together, that you are working together as a team, as a single unit, that you are seeking to serve one another, hear one another, shape yourself to the other, and to love the other in every way you can and to see, “How do we work as a ‘we’ and not a ‘you and me’?”

Marriage is not supposed to mostly be an understanding, “There’s you and there’s me and we’re trying to work alongside each other in some type of congenial way so that we can achieve something.” We’re supposed to say, “What are we going to do in this? What are our decisions? How do we care for one another? How do we grow together in order to strengthen ourselves in this marriage or to pursue what the Lord’s calling us to?” I think that’s the overwhelming thing that we’re supposed to get from Scripture.

I want that to hit you in a powerful way this morning, that this is the primary way that we are supposed to see ourselves in the marriage relationship. I want to say that because I think some of us can get so concerned about roles in marriage that we tend to neglect the primary things that Scripture’s calling us to and the primary identity and the primary vision we’re supposed to have for our marriage. I think in this way we become essentially these marriage-role Pharisees. We are tithing the mint and dill of our lives while neglecting the greater matters. That’s the language of Jesus.

To apply the language of Jesus in a different way, many of you are focusing so hard to strain the gnat of concern over marriage roles in your relationship that you have swallowed the camel of pride and self-focus and disharmony that you are really supposed to be focusing on the whole time. Do you get that? You’re focusing on the gnat. “Boy, I have to get that out of my soup. This is the thing I’m so concerned about,” and you’ve put marriage roles in that place, and you’re so concerned about, “Are we there? Are we not? Is every one of our interactions this way?” All the while you’re swallowing a camel-full of things that you’re supposed to primarily be avoiding, and that’s your pride, that’s a heart towards disharmony, it’s a heart towards entrenching when you have differences of opinion, and saying hurtful and harmful things and putting your stake in the ground. Self-focus, trying to make sure you get yours in the marriage. You’re swallowing that whole camel and focusing on this.

I want us to get that, and then we can look a little more directly at this language of submission.

Let’s look at what submission is a little more directly, and I want to start by clarifying. I think it’s important to start here and say what submission is not. This will actually do a lot of the legwork for us.

What this kind of submission in Scripture is not. I got this list from a number of different people, Brian being someone who contributed as we’ve talked over these things as well as other authors.

First, it’s this: submission is not male superiority. It does not indicate who is more important in God’s eyes or who has the better spiritual gifts or opportunities in life. That’s not what submission carries and it’s not what it leads to.

Submission is not male dominion. The man is not king of the house and all the other members are not serfs to try to make him comfortable and happy in every way that he would want to be. In fact, he is supposed to seek to be the most self-sacrificing member of the house and to love his wife and his kids in this way.

Submission is not submitting to abuse or wrongdoing. That’s really important. It is not submitting to abuse or wrongdoing. If your husband is trying to lead you or your family into things that are clearly sinful or wrong, you need to refuse to take part. And if your husband is being abusive in any way then you need to get out and get safe, and then you need to get help and counseling to help work through that in various ways.

Submission is not submission to men in all areas of life. This is only something that happens in the covenant marriage relationship. This isn’t something that’s supposed to be understood broadly for men and women in general in society.

Submission does not mean raw obedience. We actually get the word for obedience—it’s a much stronger term—when it’s given to children and to slaves in this passage, and that word is not used here. The word “submission” is used, and it’s a little bit different.

Here’s the thing: obedience is something that we do to superiors, but submission is something that we do to equals. I think that’s important. Obedience is something that we are called to do to superiors, but submission is something that we are called to do to ones who we know are our equals.

J.D. Greear makes a good point here using Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He says, “Submission is not a tool for husbands to wield over their wives.” He simply makes the point that this is not your verse, it’s the wife’s verse. So Lloyd-Jones says this is not a verse, husbands, that you get to take and speak to your wife and quote to your wife. That’s not what this is supposed to be about. This is a verse to the wives and submission is something that they are called to give willingly and in submission to the Lord.

Here I want to say this—this is important, because I think this is what we tend to read into the idea of submission—submission is not demeaning. In the language of Scripture, this idea of submission, subjecting of ourselves to one another is a manifestation of the Spirit that all believers are called to manifest in some way or another in their lives. Also it’s a characteristic of Christ, who submitted to his Father’s will. So it’s not a demeaning thing, it’s a very holy, sanctified, lovely thing.

We’ve talked a lot about what submission isn’t. I think it would be unhelpful if we just moved on without giving a positive statement of what it is.

This is difficult. As I tried to come up with positive statements of this, as I tried to actually find some other people who put these into clear terms. What it does is immediately when you put things distinctly it opens up about fifteen rabbit trails. “What about this? Does that account for this? What about this situation? If that language is applied in a very strict form to this situation, then . . .” Right? It’s tough. It’s tough for us to track down all those rabbit trails and head them off.

I do think this will help us. I want it to be helpful language. Again, let’s have a heart disposition of grace, let’s have some nuanced thoughts and wisdom as we approach these things.

I think in the rare occasions this comes up—and I do think it should be rare. I think I said 99 percent of your relationship should be this mutuality, reciprocality, team atmosphere. But in the situations where this comes up, where there needs to be some understand of this and it’s applied, I think here’s what submission is: it is a heart disposition of deferential trust that supports your husband’s efforts to lead the family.

An example might help, and I grabbed one from Kathy Keller of how this worked out in their relationship in their season of life. It might not work exactly like this in your relationship. This is something that you’re supposed to be sorting out together in marriage and in relationship before the Lord.

But there was a time when they were trying to decide if they should move up to New York City to plant Redeemer Church. They talked about it a lot and they prayed about it a lot, and after all that time they were still in different places. Tim really felt like they should go, and he felt that this was what God was calling him to, and Kathy wasn’t quite there. She said, “I’m not comfortable with it, and I don’t think we should go.”

So what Tim said was, “Well, if you’re not comfortable with it then we won’t go.”

Here’s how she responded to him. She said, “Oh no you don’t! You’re not putting this on me. As we’ve discussed, you have to make the decision in these situations, and you’re the one who’s going to bear the responsibility.” You’re the one who’s supposed to make the decisions in these unique scenarios, and you’re the one who’s supposed to bear the responsibilities.

I think it’s a good example, because it helps us see a couple things. First, this was a special circumstance in their lives. This was not the day to day for them. This was not something that they were battling through moment by moment. This was a special circumstance where they would work through things and they would talk through things and they had heard one another and they prayed together, and they still remained in different places, but they needed to make a decision and move forward.

I think this is really important to emphasize: that husbands, in life—you need to always remember this—you are not who you’re supposed to be in Christ yet. You do not have all the wisdom and understanding that you need to have to live this life and to lead your family into goodness on your own. You weren’t supposed to have it on your own. This is what the marriage relationship was supposed to bring in. It’s supposed to strengthen you where you’re weak, it’s supposed to build you up in areas where you’re falling down, it’s supposed to hold you up in those areas where you are prone to collapse. In these situations you are called to look primarily to the experience, the wisdom, the counsel, the walk before the Lord that your wife has, and you need to hold that as the highest priority and as the highest value in things that should speak into your life. If you’re in a situation where you’re in a place and she’s in a whole different place and you are there, then you need to start treading carefully and you need to start looking at yourself very strongly. It could be, like the Kellers, that the Lord has called you to something and it’s clear that that was what the Lord’s path is going to be, but you just need to start walking carefully, because your wife is that primary instrument that God has brought into your life before those circumstances.

I think also in this situation with the Kellers you see this: someone had to make the decision. Someone had to make the decision, and they both agreed that in those situations it was Tim’s responsibility before God. Kathy’s responsibility before God was to support him in that and then to see down the road if they had heard God correctly.

Here’s the thing: in my opinion, the practical situations where this dynamic of leadership by the man and submission by the wife comes up, in my opinion, should be really rare. It should be these special circumstances, and it should be pretty infrequent. If it’s happening on a really regular basis, week to week you are butting heads on this and you’re figuring it out and you can’t get there, then I think you need to go back to the primary things, because you’re not working together as a team. You aren’t operating out of oneness, you aren’t operating as a “we,” you’re mostly operating as “you and me,” trying to figure things out together, and I think you need to go back to that.

One more quote modifying something J.D. Greer said. I think it’s helpful. “Spiritual submission is not enablement for the husband to do what he wants to do.” This is not about the husband getting his desires. “Spiritual submission is not enablement for the husband to do what he wants to do, it is empowerment for him to do what he ought to do.”

Before we move into husbands, I want to say a couple things here and speak to you personally, pastorally, practically. I know that in a lot of marriages this is a tough thing. There might be a lot of you that, objectively speaking, you know that in your walk with the Lord, wives, you are the more spiritually mature one of the relationship. This makes it pretty difficult to know how to flesh this out in those scenarios. I think this still applies, but it’ll apply in a particular way to your marriage, and I would encourage you to seek that out in counsel with others who can come alongside you and your husband and can help walk you through some of those things and what it means.

For some of you, it might be that you have an unbelieving spouse, and that makes it particularly difficult. You know your spouse doesn’t have the Spirit of God and he’s not leading you into what the Lord’s calling you to, and it’s difficult to know how this applies.

I think there are also hard circumstances where it could be that you have a lot more wisdom and skill in an area, but you know it’s an area that you need to help support your husband walking that out in leadership and taking responsibility for that a little bit more.

Maybe there have been times in life when you’ve done that and you’re still experiencing some of the pain of those situations not working out very well. I imagine that that is present, to some degree, in a number of marriages in this congregation, because that’s just the way it is when people are trying to figure things out in life and they’re immature and they’re growing. That’s how it is for mature Christians; it’s definitely how it is for those who are still growing in maturity.

I want to say that, again, I would encourage you to seek counseling and to see how these things apply in circumstances and to seek some wisdom and discernment in those areas, because those problem scenarios or those hard scenarios don’t negate this teaching, but they do demand that extra level of discernment. I would ask that you bring people alongside to speak into that.

Okay, that’s all I’m going to have to say on submission. I know it’s taken a long time. If you have any more questions on it I would ask you to direct your emails to all the other elders in the church, and they would be happy to hear those!

Let’s get into husbands. It says this: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”

Again, it is interesting that this directive is even given to men in that day and age, and I think it should shine very brightly out of the passage that husbands do not just have rights in the family but they also have duties the way anyone else would. This primary duty that husbands are called to here, in most places where this comes up, is love. It’s really love that is distinctly grounded in the love that Jesus showed when he gave up himself as a sacrifice for his people. We see that in Ephesians 5. It says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Here’s the interesting thing about this directive given to men and this love that men are called to give. It’s that it involves a heart disposition of submission and humility and deference for the sake of the other. It’s very similar to a lot of the things we just said to wives, and the thing is it’s not the same as submission, but it’s really not altogether that different, as well.

John 15 says, “This is my commandment, that you love another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Husbands, that’s the primary thing you’re called to focus on. “How do I lay down my life for the sake of my wife and my children more and more and more? How do I go to bed a little bit more tired tonight because I have laid down myself more and more in self-sacrificial love?”

Philippians 2 says this: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . .”

Listen, it’s not about your selfish ambitions, it’s not about where your conceit might lead you. No, you’re supposed to conduct yourselves in humility, counting your wife and your child as more significant than yourself, and what they are seeking and what would fulfill them and what would build them up as more significant than what might fill you up and build you up in a moment. You’re supposed to be mostly concerned about that. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

This is the good news of the gospel, that Jesus humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross, for us. In that he showed his great love for us, and it’s because of that that we have life and we have hope and we have joy and we have this promise of being able to walk in newness of life. He’s saying, “That’s the kind of thing that brings life, and that’s the kind of thing that brings joy, and that’s the kind of thing that makes you the person you’re supposed to be. Have that mind in yourself.”

What I want us to see here is that, husbands, this is the thing that we’re supposed to be focusing on. Our plates are full with this responsibility. More and more, day after day, for the rest of our lives, we need to root out more and more pride in our hearts and we need to seek to kill it and to lay it down for the sake of others. We need to figure out how to love the way Jesus loved those he’s put into our lives.

This is the thing that we can spend all of our lives focusing on, and this should absorb your attention. You don’t need to go start worrying about what is happening elsewhere. You focus on that, you give yourself to that for the rest of your life, and you’re not going to hit it, but you try to hit it more and more and more and more until the day you see Jesus face to face. Then you can trust God and trust your wife to take care of the rest. I think that’s what this Scripture calls us to.

It says, “Don’t treat your wives harshly.” This word carries the nuance of bitterness or sourness, the way it tastes, and it applies to the soul or to the human heart in a number of areas. Where it’s used it indicates someone who doesn’t have a proper fear of God in their life. In Hebrews 12 it says that this bitterness is something that leads to defilement. It’s a defilement of the heart that leads to others being defiled as well. So to treat your wives harshly in language, to think of them harshly in your mind, when you’re with your friends and you’re just venting and you start to speak of them harshly in some ways, those aren’t just insignificant things. They’re an indication of a bitterness of soul that you have in you and one that doesn’t have a proper fear of the Lord and one that is defiling your soul and will defile others.

4. Children and Fathers

Really quickly, let’s deal with the other relationships in the passage. We see children and fathers. Now, this is children and parents, of course, but I think Paul focuses on fathers here to, again, really get at the point that he’s trying to draw these men to a responsibility, to make them pay attention in this passage.

It says this in verses 20-21: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

Let me speak to children really quickly. I don’t know how many children we have in the audience, but this is your verse. This is for you. If you are 18 and under—you don’t feel like a child if you’re really close to that, but you’re still in your parents’ household, so you’re in this. But especially children who are a little bit younger, here’s what this passage has to say to you: that you are supposed to have a heart of obedience towards your parents. Not just that you kind of do what you’re supposed to do but you get away with it if your parents aren’t looking. No, you have a heart of obedience to your parents.

This is why this is important: because when you are doing that, God is shaping in you a heart of obedience toward him. Here’s the thing: when you get out from under your parents’ household you still have an authority in your life that you are called to be obedient to day after day, and to respond to God as your authority is to walk in the path of life. It’s to walk in the path of blessing. It’s to walk in the path of goodness and joy and peace and hope. That’s what God wants for you. He wants you to be able to walk with him like that and to know him like that, so he’s given you your parents to be these instruments in your life, to start shaping in you what it means to be obedient to these things.

Listen, your parents have been given you as a responsibility before God. Your parents will stand before God someday and they will give an account for how they parented you. Here’s the thing: your parents are probably just trying their best. They aren’t going to be perfect. They’re on the journey as well to be more like Jesus and to grow in wisdom and understanding, but listen, you have been given to them as a responsibility, and they would love to do this with joy. We see that in the language of Hebrews 3. “Let them do this with joy instead of with groaning.”

I think as children, if we have this in us, bring your heart to where you let your parents parent you and lay out rules. Let them do it with joy instead of something that brings them groaning.

There’s a simple scene in The Lord of the Rings where Gandalf is supposed to get the ring from Bilbo. When it comes to the point, right, Bilbo, entranced by the ring, brings it back and seems to indicate that Gandalf is trying to steal it. Gandalf looms large over him and then he says, “I’m not trying to rob you, I’m trying to help you.”

Here’s the thing with your parents’ instructions: they’re not trying to rob you of joy and life and goodness and all the fun things to do in life. They are trying to help you, and they’re trying to do this before the Lord. Let them do that as they seek to honor the Lord in how they’re parenting you.

Parents, it’s important that you teach them this obedience, like we just talked about, but not as an obedience to you, mostly as an obedience to the Lord. That’s the focus of this passage. Everything is unto the Lord, before the Lord, to be pleasing to the Lord.

Here’s the thing: your job is not primarily to try to make sure your children are happy in as many circumstances as they can be happy, it is to put them on the path of lifelong happiness, or, in the language of Scripture, blessedness. That is by helping shape this obedient heart in them.

Also it says to parents, fathers in particular because of that focus, but parents, don’t provoke your children to where they thereby become discouraged. It’s tough to know what that involves. I just listed a few things here. Some of these might hit for you, some of them might not. I’ll go through them and see if they do. Here’s what provocation might look like that would discourage your children.

It might look your sinning or messing up in your response to them, even before your wife and your relationship there, or maybe even in conversation with other people. It might look like you doing something that you know is wrong, but you don’t go and confess it to your children and ask for their forgiveness. Listen, you are called to represent to your children that you are a person shaped by the gospel and who are walking in the truths of the gospel, and that means when you sin you confess that and then you ask for forgiveness and you seek to walk in repentance as you walk in something new.

Your children need to see that. If they’re going to be a people who walk before the Lord like that, they need to see you doing that. If you’re calling them to do that when they mess up, then they better see you doing it when you mess up in life as well. It’s provoking if you don’t have that pattern with your children.

It might look like getting on their case constantly and just not allowing them to be kids. N.T. Wright says it like this: “Paul refers to the constant nagging or belittling of a child, the refusal to allow children to be people in their own right, instead of carbon copies of their parents or their parents’ fantasies.” I think that’s good.

Provoking might look like having arbitrary rules that aren’t adequately explained or that aren’t very reasonable. Here’s the thing: “Because I said so,” is a legitimate thing that you can say as a parent to make sure you get through a situation, but it is not legitimate to leave it there, or it’s not enough to leave it there. You need to be able to help shape them and help teach these things into them so that they understand why there’s a rule, that they understand why there’s a boundary, that they understand why that’s consistent with the word of God. There is a discipleship and mentoring aspect that you have to have a part of that as well. It’s provoking to have these arbitrary rules where kids don’t know where the lines are and it’s disorienting for them. They feel unsafe.

It might look like inconsistency. Certain behaviors from your kids you don’t mind so much and you just let them go on sometimes, or maybe you even think they’re funny, but when the situation changes and you’re a little embarrassed or you’re tired, then you lash out at them and that’s something that you don’t like to happen, and you come down on them hard for it. That’s an inconsistency, and it can provoke your kids to be discouraged in the Lord.

It could like always being quick to point out when they’ve messed up, coming down hard with the hammer, while you’ve neglected to notice and celebrate all the times that they’ve done well and that they’ve walked in what you’ve called them to.

It could look like patronizing them, treating them inappropriately to their age and capabilities.

It could look a lot of different ways, but here’s the thing. As parents, you’re supposed to see in this passage what the key emphasis of the whole passage is: that you are to parent unto the Lord. It says in verse 17 something that’s supposed to shape this whole passage of Scripture, that we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here’s the thing: you have a stewardship over your children that God has given you for only a little time in this life. You have a stewardship, and you are supposed to be examples of the Lord’s truth and love and you’re supposed to lead them to love the Lord’s truth and to receive Jesus’ love and to love others in the same way. You’re called to encourage them in this and build them up in this in every way you can, and not conduct yourselves such that they would be discouraged or dispirited or even disillusioned by these things, so that they walk away from them when they’re out from under your house.

5. Slaves and Masters

The last relationship—I think we can handle it quickly—is slaves and masters. You see this in Colossians 3:22-4:1. It talks about bondservants. That’s a word that just means slaves.

There was a spectrum on what this role would be in that day and age. It could be more of an indentured servant who was a well-respected member of the household and had a lot of responsibilities, or it could be someone who was subjugated into slavery in a really negative way.

I think what we tend to do is when we see these things in Scripture we read in our understanding of slavery from our history in the United States and our history in western culture, especially more recent history. I think there are some similarities that we can understand as we try to understand what things looked like in the ancient Near East, but also there are some differences. I think it helps to be aware of those differences so that we don’t read our situations onto it and misunderstand Scripture.

Some similarities—I think in many cases slaves were seen and treated as subhuman, and that was either ontologically, where in and of themselves are a subhuman type of being, or it’s just in their status. “As long as they’re in this status we can treat them in a subhuman way.”

Oftentimes people were born into slavery and remained in there and there was no option for them to get out. Also, there were many dehumanizing abuses that took place in these institutions of slavery, and they were committed against these slaves in lots of ways. I think those are similarities that track, and there are more.

But there are some key differences. A big one is that it wasn’t race-based, and I think that matters, because in that day and age, the types of slaves there were, they could have even been extended members of your household. They could have been people who were your kinsmen; you knew their family and they knew yours. They would serve in this role for a while. They could be people who were conquered enemies of war, but it wasn’t necessarily race-based, it was more based on war relations. So I think that’s a little bit different.

Also, it wasn’t always seen in a negative light. Sometimes slavery was a holding pattern for someone who would actually sell themselves into slavery so that they could get their feet back under them financially or they could make sure their family was in a better situation than they would have otherwise, where they were down and out without any resources. That would be more of an indentured servitude. Sometimes they could even have a wage rate.

Another difference is that sometimes slavery was only for a length of time. There was, “You’ll serve for this many years, but then you can get out from under that and you can be a little more stable and establish your own family and your own life from there.”

Also, I think it’s important to know that oftentimes slaves in that day and age could be understood as very valued members of their household. Many slaves had a higher education and more capabilities than the people who were in the master role over them, and they would actually go and conduct business on behalf of the family in the public sphere. That happened.

However, it’s a mixed bag. There were some awful instances of it and there were some that were probably not best but they weren’t what we would read into it from our point of view.

Here’s what I want us to see. Paul does not directly overthrow the entire institution of slavery. Some of us might be disappointed in Paul, but like I said, he’s not mostly trying to be a political revolutionary—nor was Jesus—and they’re not trying to overthrow all these things. What Paul does in this passage is severely undercuts and redefines the master and slave relationship in the kingship of Jesus and under the kingdom of Jesus. What it does is it leads one to see their slaves as equal in dignity and value and access to God and to see them as brothers and sisters in Christ if they are in the Lord.

Here’s what’s really interesting. In this letter, at the end of this letter, Paul’s going to sign off and he’s going to say, “Hey, I’m sending this letter to you, church in Colossae, and here’s someone who’s going to bring it, a guy named Onesimus.”

Onesimus we hear about elsewhere in Scripture, in the book of Philemon. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon, who was a believer, who was a leader in a church. This slave ran away from him, and while he ran away he actually met Paul in his journeys and came to faith. Then he stayed with Paul and helped minister to Paul. So what Paul does is he writes this letter to Philemon, and he doesn’t absolutely say, “You need to release this guy from slavery,” but he kind of says it in every way but that. It’s really interesting, if you see it in the letter, how it is.

Here’s what’s probably happening. Onesimus is not only bringing this letter back to Colossae for the church in Colossae, but he’s bringing another letter with him from the apostle Paul to give to Philemon, and he’s going to say, “Hey, sorry I ran away, but here’s this letter from the apostle Paul, who has an authority over your life. I’ll just let him say what needs to be said.”

So Paul, in all these ways, he’s trying to redefine who Onesimus is in relationship to Philemon, and he does this in a cool way. He says, “Listen. Perhaps this is why Onesimus departed from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant or slave, but more than a bondservant; instead, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Then he says this from his apostolic authority, but very subtly. He says, “Confident of your obedience, Philemon, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

“Confident of your obedience, I write to you and just put these things before you. I’m confident that you’ll do even more than what I say in this letter.”

You see how Paul is redefining the relationship here, and he’s actually going to send it. We actually see Onesimus mentioned in this letter, and we see what Paul is speaking into the relationship of that day.

Here’s where I think this brings home, and then we’ll wrap it up. It’s tough to apply this to our modern circumstances (thank God), but I think we can get some principles out of it in our work relationships. I think the boss and employee relationship is far from a one to one, but there are similarities that I think we can apply here.

In your work, you have a relationship with your boss. He is an authority figure over you in some sense, and though you stand before God equal in status he does have something of a say in what you are supposed to do in your day to day, and you’re supposed to follow those directives.

Here’s what we see from this passage if we just apply it. In your work—I don’t care how difficult this work situation is, I don’t care if your boss is a great guy or woman or a horrible guy or woman, I don’t care if your coworkers are terrible and the systems are terrible—here’s what you’re supposed to do in your work: you’re supposed to work as unto the Lord. You’re supposed to put your heart into it, you’re supposed to work heartily as unto the Lord, and you’re not supposed to just do the minimum to get by day after day.

Now listen, you can go to the Lord in prayer and you can say, “Lord, here’s my work situation. Here’s what’s tough. Here’s what I’m struggling with, Lord. Here’s why I want a different job.” Lay those things before the Lord. He wants to hear. Knock on doors of opportunity. Maybe he’s sending you somewhere else. But here’s what he especially wants you to do. No matter what, he wants you to come before him day after day and say, “Lord, I am here to serve you, Jesus Christ. You are the Lord of my life. You are the Savior and lover of my soul, and I want to live before you. So in this space today, how do I serve you and how do I love others in your name as I engage in this work and as I am in relationship with these people in this space?” I think that’s something we can apply from this.

Also, bosses. If you are a boss or a manager in a workspace somewhere, I think there’s something really strong for you to grab from this passage. It’s this: that you have been given a stewardship of your employees’ lives before God, and you’re supposed to care for them under the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to serve them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in your responsibilities there. You have a responsibility to, as you are able in your business and with the resources you have, care for the employee, but also to care for his family and to care for his well being as much as you’re able.

I think the question is, if you’re in one of these places of authority, ask this: How would your King Jesus want you to exercise your authority in this person’s life and to care for them? What injustices or unfairnesses do you need to get out ahead of and make sure aren’t happening, as much as you are able to, in your employees’ lives?

Ask yourself this: “What’s the maximum that I can reasonably do?” Given the constraints of the market, given our resources, given the fact that I need to make this business succeed in all these ways and utilize resources every way I can—given all of that, what is the maximum that I can reasonably do to make this person feel honored and dignified and supported in this job?

Listen, I think the approach that a lot of us take is the opposite of that. I’ve been at the table; I’ve had the conversations. Usually the question is, “What’s the minimum we can get away with? What’s the minimum we can pay them? What are the minimum benefits that we can give them? What’s the minimum that we can make sure they have time outside of work? What’s the minimum we can get away with and still keep someone employed and producing reasonably in this job?” I think we’re called to, from this passage, think in a different way. “As an ambassador of King Jesus and as his instrument in these people’s lives in this unique role, what is the maximum I can do, given the constraints I have, to honor them and to serve them and to care for them?” It makes a big difference in their lives and in their families’ lives.

Here’s what I want us to get from all of Colossians 3 into this. It’s this primary truth that we are a new people in Christ. The mystery of Christ has been revealed to us, and we are a new people, and we have new focuses, and we have new allegiances, and we are called to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to honor him as Lord in our lives and to reflect his love in every way we can to those who are in our lives, whether in the marriage relationship, whether with our children, whether with our coworkers or our bosses, whether with people in this church; that is the thing that we are called to give ourselves to day after day, because that’s what it is to be the people of Jesus in this world.

This is what it is to live in the kingdom of Jesus, that Jesus is on the throne, and we are under Jesus’ reign, and under the reign of Jesus there is love and life and joy and peace and harmony for all. This isn’t a superiority or inferiority where some people get more but some people get less. No, it is equal for all, and under Jesus there is no tyranny, there is no subjugation, there are no superiors and inferiors. What we are called to do is to appropriate these truths and live them out as fully as we can in our lives. Amen? Love you guys; praying for your families.