Living for the Lord - Not as People Pleasers: Col. 3:18-4:1

COL 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 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. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Col. 3:18-4:1 Paul continues the exposition and application that he began in the previous section: Because our relationship with God has changed through Christ, our relationships with those around us must change for Christ.

Previously, Paul wrote about our servanthood to one another as the body of Christ, as we "put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" and "let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts" (Col 3:12 -- also, cf. Eph. 5:21Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”). When the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, He mediates our interactions with one another. Our testimony to the watching world in this way glorifies Christ:  "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35)".

Now, we see Paul moving along to focus particular attention on how freedom in Christ also affects the other relationships close to us—in our homes and our work. Since we have experienced the grace of Christ, Paul calls us to likewise be gracious to one another in our day to lives - in our vocational callings.

Note first how many times Paul reminds his readers and us that in each of these relationships “the Lord” is present. It is not human or man-made rules to which Paul appeals, but rather how we were originally created to relate to one another as His image-bearers. These are not "traditional roles" but rather "biblical roles" we are to walk in by faith. 

  • wives submit fittingly
  • husbands love sacrificially
  • children obey rightly
  • parents discipline unprovokingly
  • workers work diligently, and 
  • bosses act justly

Notice how these verses in Colossians mirror the same teaching Paul gave to the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:22-6:9:

wives submit fittingly (cf. Eph. 5:22–24), 
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

husbands love sacrificially (cf. Eph. 5:25–32), 
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

children obey rightly (cf. 
Eph. 6:1–3), 
6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

parents discipline unprovokingly (cf. 
Eph. 6:4), 
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

workers work diligently (cf. 
Eph. 6:5–8), and 
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, aspeople-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 

bosses act justly (cf. 
Eph. 6:9).
Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

This is the beauty of the life into which the gospel of grace calls us. It is a life we can now live as new creations in Christ, glorifying Him as His image bearers in our various callings, as we growing in grace.

Related link: Five Things to Avoid When Discussing Gender

Additional notes on the text: 

Col. 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands
Instead of telling wives to “obey” (Gk. hypakouō), as was typical in Roman households, Paul appeals to them to “submit” (Gk. hypotassō), based on his conviction that men have a God-given leadership role in the family. The term suggests an ordering of society in which wives should align themselves with and respect the leadership of their husbands (see Eph. 5:22–33). Paul is not enjoining the wives to follow the prevailing cultural patterns of his day but to live as is fitting in the Lord, thus stressing the importance of evaluating everything in light of Christ and his teaching. A wife would not submit to her husband in a way that would be disobedient to the Lord or that would enable her husband to willfully sin against the Lord.
  • Have you ever noticed? Directly after Paul’s teaching in Ephesians on marriage and family, Paul instructs the church to “Put on the Full Armor of God”. I don't think this is a coincidence!

Slaves and Masters
The kind of servitude practiced in the first century was seldom in keeping with God’s will; the Scriptures regulate the institution without commending it (see notes on 1 Cor. 7:21; Eph. 6:5; 1 Tim. 1:10), and the evil of trafficking in human beings is condemned in the NT (1 Tim. 1:10; cf. Rev. 18:11–13). As in any other city or village in the Roman world, there would have been many slaves (or bondservants) at Colossae; Paul treats them with dignity and appeals to them directly to honor Christ in their hearts, work, and behavior. Philemon (see the book of Philemon) was a wealthy Colossian who benefited from the labors of his bondservant, Onesimus. Paul later writes to Philemon, compelling him in love to “do what is required (v.9)”, "that you might receive him back forever, no longer as a bondservant, but more than that, as a beloved brother. (v. 15b-16)” 

* Today, we typically view the principles of slave and master as they might apply to employers & employees. It's important to understand the cultural context in which the Colossians lived. Slavery, just like other institutions referenced in the Old Testament (such as divorce and polygamy) were given certain boundaries of practice among the Israel nation, but these were never God's original intent or design for human relationships, as the Genesis creation account attests.

(Attribution: Many of the above notes were paraphrased from text notes found in The Gospel Transformation Bible and time spent in Bible study preparation)


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