And our text that we are looking at today is one that honestly I kinda wanted to skip over and move past. The text raises a bunch of questions. Not only for me, but I believe probably all of us. And in fact this text probably raises questions in our world. Questions like, “Does the Bible actually condone slavery?” “Why doesn’t Paul tell slave holders to get rid of their slaves, and set them free?” “Is the Bible sexist?” “Does the Bible condone a male dominated society in which women should submit”? As I looked at this text, I could see where these questions stem from. I myself have some questions about this text, and honestly not sure I have a lot of answers to those questions. But as I have read and studied this week, I have come to some ideas and thoughts about this text and how it applies to our world today and how it applies to us who want to be missional disciples of Jesus living out Kingdom lives in the world.
But before I open up the text for this morning, I need to reiterate the 2 purposes of the book of Colossians. The main thrust, if you will, of why Paul is writing to the church at Colossae. Because, as I have said, each and every week, these 2 main points are foundational to understanding everything that is written in the letter. Without an understanding of these two things, and not just a mental understanding, but an understanding that comes from applying the 2 main points to your life, than what comes out in the letter (especially in this text) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The first purpose that Paul is writing to the church at Colossae is to share with them that Lordship of Jesus in every realm. King Jesus and his Kingdom rules and reigns and as a follower of King Jesus, we are called to live under his rule and his reign. When we live under his rule and his reign then all interactions we have are influenced by his reign in and through us. King Jesus is Lord over all other lords. King Jesus is Lord over Caesar, who was, as I mentioned before, called lord, savior, deliverer, liberator, and son of god. King Jesus is lord and king over all the other things that we seek to put in his place. In other words, he is supreme and preeminent. Knowing this will definitely come in to play in our Scripture text for today as the word Lord shows up at least 6 times in only 9 verses. So this text won’t make any sense without the understanding of the lordship of Jesus over all of life, and over all the relationships that we have.
Secondly, the other purpose of the letter is to unpack the true nature of the gospel. This purpose was because of the heresy called the Colossian heresy that was infiltrating the Colossian church. Paul, especially in chapters 1 and 2 lays out the true nature of the gospel (he doesn’t lay it out in its totality because the gospel is bigger and more expansive than mere words can contain). And then in chapters 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 begins to unpack what the gospel of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Jesus looks like lived out in relationships and in our own lives. So with that background in mind, and the questions that i asked at the beginning (that I truly believe are questions that the world is asking and if we are honest, that we ask ourselves), let’s look at Colossians 3:18-4:1.
Colossians 3:18-4:1 says, “Wives, submit yourselves 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 embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”
So do these verses condone sexism? Do they actually favor a male dominated hierarchy where women are subservient and are doormats to men? Does Paul condone slavery? A simple reading of this text might seem to support these assertions. A look at some of the views that have popped up, especially around verse 18, seem to support those assertions. (men treating women as subservient, and women letting themselves be treated that way). But let’s take a deeper look into these verses to see if there isn’t more to these verses and how they are more counter cultural and subversive and radical than what we see on our first reading.
First, we need to remember to read these verses in the context of the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus is Lord over all relationships, including wives, husbands, children, slaves, masters (employer, employee), etc.. Secondly the other week we talked about the idea of things that we think we’ll liberate us actually can lead to bondage. So we talked about the idea that some people think that absolute freedom with no rules and regulations will really set us free, but we just end up in bondage to to things. Or we get bound to a set of rules and regulations and a to do list that we think leads to freedom, but these things also lead to bondage. True liberation and deliverance is from Jesus and while the gospel isn’t primarily about a list of do’s and don’ts, there are some Kingdom rules that God is calling us to live under. Paul is offering these Kingdom rules for those who live in and under the rule and reign of God. These Kingdom rules, will actually lead to a more freeing life, than all the other things that promise true freedom.
So let’s look at verse 18 which says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” This translation has submit. And the images of downtrodden women, the victim of her husbands every whim, unable to be herself, to think her own thoughts, to make a grown up contribution to the relationship comes to mind. But that is not what Paul means when he says submit. You need to understand why this is radical. In Paul’s day husbands and masters could rule supreme and unquestioned. Women were property. Paul’s code of Kingdom rules for household living are remarkable for several reasons. Paul’s own fellow-workers included women and married couples, where it appears the women were “people in their own right”. he doesn’t just tell wives, children and slave how to behave (as Pagan moralists of his day would) Their duties are balanced by the corresponding duties of household, parents, and masters. Verse 18 actually brings women, in that day, freedom from being seen as property.
When you put verse 19 in with verse 18, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”, we see that both parties have responsibilities. Men aren’t just free to treat a women however he thinks she should be treated. Men have a great responsibility of loving their wives, as Christ loves his church. Meaning giving up your life for her. Paul has not retracted his statement in Galatians 3:28 about the equality of men and women before the Lord and under the head, which is Jesus. Neither party is to be arrogant or domineering. The wife must forgo the temptation to rule her husband’s life and the husband must ensure that his love for his wife, like Christ’s love for his people, always puts her interest first. It is when husbands and wives first submit to Jesus, that this reciprocal relationship can function. It is when husbands and wives understand these kingdom rules and live by the that they are truly fee; free to mature and develop, within the creative context of mutual love and respect.
Another relationship that falls under the headship of Christ is the role of the parent (in this text Father) and child. Paul puts it this way, “ Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Paul is no doubt referring to one of the ten commandments (“Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”) in this text. Again this text, when seen in context is radical. The Gospel is breaking new ground. Children were supposed to be not seen and not heard and they were also seen as property. Here Paul is saying that first, that children are a part of the church in their own right and that he is giving them responsibilities as well. Paul is saying children need discipline, but the parents aren’t off the hook. Parents need discipline as well. The parents role is to live out the gospel in front of their children. That is to assure their children that they are loved and accepted and valued for who they are, not for who they ought to be, should have been or might become. And obviously this all happens when both children and parents live under the Lordship and Headship of Jesus Christ.
So then Paul moves from husbands, wives, and parents to the role and relationship between Slave and Master. So the question becomes, why doesn’t Paul outright confront the institution of slavery and condemn it? And call for masters to get rid of their slaves? Also why does he include slaves in this text? The reason for including slaves is that Onesimus is the one delivering the letter. And again this statement that Paul is making is radical for it’s time. Paul never condones slavery nor sanctions revolts against masters. He calls for both slave and masters, under the headship and Lordship of Jesus to show christian principles in their relationship and thus to attempt to change the institution from the inside out. To blow it up from the inside. For masters to actually show their slaves love and respect is so upside down from what the culture told the Masters. The slaves could be killed, beaten, abused, and taken advantage of. Also slaves were unable to legally receive or pass on an inheritance and yet here slaves are equal recipients with their masters of this inheritance of eternal life. Masters and slaves are equal in the view of the Kingdom of God. And when masters view their slaves as equal in the Kingdom of God, you begin to realize that owning another person goes against the ethic of the Kingdom. And then the institution comes crashing down from the inside, and done from a heart of people committed to the King and his kingdom.
I want to end with this statement by Paul that should speak to us where we all are, in relation to our work, our schooling, or wherever we find ourselves. Paul makes this statement, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” As a means of being about the Kingdom of God and living a gospel centered life, we need to work, we need to study, we need to engage with all of our hearts and not just for the approval of our boss’s, or the good grade on the paper, etc… But do these things because we have a higher calling, a higher master and we seek to live under the rule, and reign of the King, and under his Lordship.
So let’s talk about what this text might be saying to us in all of our relationships, whether we are married, single, an employer, an employee, a student, etc…. What might be God saying to us in our relationships that we currently have? Where do we need to submit to the headship and lordship of Jesus in our relationships and our lives? And how might this text speak to us about living a missional, Kingdom life? Let’s unpack this stuff together.
1. What insights, questions, comments, applications, struggles, push back, etc…. do you have regarding the text and/or the message?
2. Where do you need to submit to the headship and lordship of Jesus? In a relationship? In another area of your life? What does it look like for you and I to submit to the headship and Lordship of Jesus in all things?
3. How might this text from Colossians speak to us as individuals and as a community about living a missional Kingdom life? What are the missional implications of living this text out in the world?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?