There is no secret in the fact that America’s families are changing. We are changing the definition of family, and we are changing the expectations that are packed into the word “family. Here is the question: “Does God have clearly defined expectation of how people should relate to one another both in the context of the family, and in the context of the community?” The Scripture text for our lesson today clearly demonstrates that He does.
Key Principle: God has clearly defined His expectations of behaviors in our relationships as Christians.
The small letter of Paul included three parts that can help us recognize God’s plan for our growth and influence on the community:
• In Colossians 1, God revealed that He has both GOALS for believers and the RIGHT to demand our obedience – because of what He has done and because of WHO He is.
• In Colossians 2, God revealed some of the OBSTACLES that hinder us from following Him in obedience.
• In Colossians 3 and 4, God revealed the BENCHMARKS of transformation. We looked at a list of them in the previous lesson, and preserved only one for this week – the transformation in our relationships, found in the final part of Paul’s letter to Colossae.
The last section of the letter can easily be divided into two simple parts – instructions on the transformation of relationships by Jesus (3:18-4:6) and information concerning Paul’s affairs and companions (4:7-18). Take a few moments and examine what Paul wrote, under the influence of God’s Spirit concerning relationships we have as we are sculpted by Jesus into a new man or woman. Paul began with the married women in the Colossian church…
Colossians 3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Despite our culture’s criticism of their concept of Biblical injunctions in this area, we would do best to look carefully at this command and not tune it out. Remember, it is the work of the church to carefully point to those things that will help us be effective in following Jesus and coming obediently under the scalpel of our Master Surgeon as He cuts away the “old man’s influence” on our decision making. The world has no interest in distinctions between men and women – and sees any Biblical statement about them as increasingly hostile to their militant and exclusive indoctrination of all that any distinction in role is tantamount to inequity in value. Our world seems to plead for a family that is not led by anyone – a government of the home is as paralyzed in leadership as in every other institution. There was a time when it appeared they feared MALE leadership, but there is ample evidence that they fear leadership of ANY KIND – as children are increasingly being made equal to parents. These are the times that require we hit the “reset” button and return to God’s stated intent if we are to be an example of His transforming work in our midst. Don’t shy away. Look carefully. God has our best in mind in every command of every relationship.
First, the terms for wife and husband help define the context of the command. The word “gun-e” is a generic term for women unless used more restrictively (as it is here) with reference to a specific man as husband. In the same way, the term “andros” is a generic term for man – but when used together in this way the term is more defined by the relationship. This woman and this man are connected by relationship and covenant, and in that context the command is given. This is not a statement that women are to place themselves in subjection to men outside of the context of marriage. It offer no command on workplace relationships or other contexts.
Second, this specific direction of the command is not given to men, but to women. The term “hupotasso” is a well-known Greek term (from “hupo” which means “under” and the verb form of “tasso” or to “arrange”. A painfully literal translation instructs a woman to “thoughtfully arrange herself under her husband in rank”. The Biblical story of her origin as his “help-meet” appears in view here. This should press us to recall two important corollary truths. Remember, the issue of subjection is not personal worth or value, but of function. In armed services, a rank insignia affords a marker of respect, but does not mean that the person of rank is personally of higher value as a human being. The issue is function and role, not intrinsic value. In addition to that, also note that the woman is called upon to choose to see her husband as leading in the family; it is completely beyond his ability to force her to do so. This is something a godly woman chooses to do, not something her husband MAKES her do.
Third, the purpose of the command is to “bring something to completion” or “due what is suitable” in God’s arrangement. The term “aneko” is translated “as is fitting”, but the expression is derived from a compound word from “ana” or “completing a process” and “heko” or “come”) – roughly to “do what is appropriate”. The woman was to choose to see her husband as leading in the family because it was appropriate to do so. The word used here is in an “imperfect tense” and can be translated “was fitting”. I mention is because grammarians such as J. B. Lightfoot have noted, this “implies an essential (a priori) obligation” of what was “owed.” This means the woman has a choice, but the right one is unambiguously give to place herself in this functional position in keeping with her obligation to her husband and to the Lord.
The clear instruction from the Lord concerning a wife is this: Choose to honor the Lord by serving your husband. Actively become his helper. Don’t tug for power – help him make good decisions and lead well. Acknowledge in front of him that God placed him in that position, and that you will both honor it and see it as part of your expression of love for your Lord and Savior.
Colossians 3:19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
Again we must observe the context of the command, and not that in addressing husbands, the same term is used of the man that was previously used – the one that is defined by the relationship. This is given to a man with a specific relationship to a specific woman in marriage. Though common etiquette can provide an opportunity to treat women with special care, this command to love is given in the context of one covenant couple.
Note that the command to the man is in two parts. The first of those is that a man must choose to “love” his wife. The term is a form taken from the word “agape”. It means “to prefer” as a means to choosing what God chooses for us and thereby obeying Him. We are to do what God prefers as He “is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16).
1 John 4:8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love…16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
Observing carefully, it appears the case can be made that LOVE of a husband includes actively demonstrating a servant relationship with the Lord. A man who loves God and obeys God loves his wife. Second, that love appears to be a response to what the Lord has shown us – we pattern our love after His kind of love. Our affection, our deliberate choice and selection appears to be part the signal that Christ is living His life through us – and that we are examining His work closely to gain our understanding of how to live. It also appears to bring us specific confidence that when we are called to account before Him at the time of judgment (the Bema seat) of our life’s work, we will be commended for such a choice.
The second part of the command is “do not be embittered against them” which requires some explanation. The term used here is found four times in the New Testament – three of them in the context of making something bitter. One appearance revealed wormwood that embittered the water it struck (Revelation 8), and two concerned upsetting a prophet’s stomach in Revelation 10. The term was used in Greek literature as a metaphor for “becoming exasperated, irritated and grieved.” Perhaps a general term that captures the sense could be “frustrated” – i.e. Don’t be frustrated and irritated in your dealing with them.
Why would Paul add this warning? Concerning her book The Male Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine quipped: “When I came up with the idea of writing on the male brain, nearly everyone made the same joke: ‘That will be a short book!’ It seems that our culture has come to believe that men are rather simple creature, biologists tell us nothing could be further from the truth. Her research as a neuropsychiatrist and professor of clinical psychiatry, convinced her of the unique brain structures of men that “create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one.” Geneticists are utilizing brain mapping technology, but we are at the beginning of this long road to understand the mind.
One area that was carefully studied was that of natural attraction. Men are naturally wired to spot any attractive woman that enters the room, and must carefully learn to redirect their attention from “autopilot” mode to deliberate focus on God honoring pursuits. He may not mean it as a threat to your relationship, but women will often interpret it in this way – and the line between the nature to “notice” and the fallen nature to “lust” is very thin. A good rule of thumb: the first look is a query, the second an invitation to sin in the mind. Don’t frustrate your wife by looking at other women – learn to control your mind and then extend that control to your eyeballs.
One classic complaint persists: men often accuse women of undue emotionalism while women retort that men aren’t thinking enough about emotional life. It may help to know that we were designed differently – our nature is not all nurture (we aren’t just how we were raised, though that did make a contribution. Dr. Brizendine pointed to research which suggests that our brains have two emotional systems that work simultaneously: MNS (which allows empathy with people); and TPJ (which seeks solutions to emotional problems, or cognitive empathy). In the limited studies we have, the male brain uses the latter far more – men want to find a solution to the problem presented. The direct extension into problem solving appears to hinder thought processes from seeking emotions to help them consider options as these appear to the mind to be a distraction from the task. That can make men appear uncaring.
For reasons scientists cannot yet truly understand, the female brain remains fixed in empathy mode much longer, and her presentation to a male can appear to him to be unduly wallowing in anguish while he is seeking a practical solution to relieving the pain. He thinks he IS caring for her by finding a resolution while she interprets his lack of desire to dwell on the emotional aspects of the problem as a sign of an uncaring and unemotional nature. Don’t get frustrated with her, understand her and SLOW DOWN when it comes to solving presented problems. Listen to her and allow her to echo her frustrations and emotions. Learn to use her ability to feel the problem to bring more sensitivity to your solutions. Learn to hear the heart of your wife if you want to invite her into respecting you and following you.
The clear instruction of the Lord to you, husbands is this: Choose to demonstrate loving preference for your wife above all others. Be patient with her and listen to her heart. Take your time in considering solutions to problems in the home, and don’t try to solve the issues too quickly. Let her emotional warning bring you to a place of greater sensitivity as you solve issues you face. Provide an atmosphere where her value to you is unquestioned.
Colossians 3:20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.
The first thing we see in this command is the addressee – and that defines the “scope” of the command. As with the term for wives and husbands, so here Paul uses the generic term for “children” “téknon” used in the Greek language with frequency. There are three senses the word is used in the New Testament. The most common is the term for a son or daughter not yet of adult age – a boy or girl is a child, and man or woman is not. The second is a figurative use for anyone living in dependence upon our Heavenly Father and illustrates a believer’s need to draw guidance from God – a believer is to be “God’s child”. A third use emphasizes an adult that learns “a childlike” of trust and joyfully submits to the Father’s plan – have “a child’s trust” as we seek the Lord’s will. In this case, the grammar and context appear to completely favor the first definition – that of a “boy or girl”. The text demands obedience, but does not appear to have in mind an adult son or daughter – only a child still under the parent’s care in the home. The term we would apply to the adult child would be to “honor” or “respect” a father or mother – as opposed to OBEY. At fifty-three years of age, I honor my father’s wishes and try not to offend him in any way – but he does not command obedience in my home.
The direct command was for a child to “obey in all things” – a direct and broad-encompassing directive. The word hupakoúō is an intensified form of the verb “to listen” and means to carefully observe the instruction of one and act under their authority with precise accord to what they instruct. Unless the instruction is illegal or immoral, children need not wonder if they are to follow it.
The last part of the instruction offers the underlying purpose – to live a life that is “well-pleasing” to the Lord. That term, euárestos means gratifying and fully acceptable behavior – because it denotes the way of living God mandated for a child. Some choice came from a response to the Fall in the Garden – but not this. God’s plan was always, from the beginning, to have children understand the idea of authority by beginning life with parental authority. It is that area that was first inhibited in our society, and that lack of clear authority line has left us with intensifying rebellion. In societies where authority and obedience to it is not stressed, rebels will flourish. Eventually the society loses both the benefits of order that come from the knowledge of authority and the ability to recognize the root cause of many surface troubles. To have a peaceful society, people need to recognize authority and be prepared to yield to it. People trained to disregard authority are not innovative, they are ultimately destructive.
The clear instruction to children is this: know that God placed you where you are, and that His intention is that you would obey your parents. Unless they direct you to do something that is illegal or immoral, you should simply accept their right as your authority to instruct and direct you for the years you are under their care.
Before we leave this aside, let me say this: some people have the right to be wrong. I don’t mean they have the right to harm you or cause you to do wrong – I mean they have the right to tell you to do it in a way that you deem the wrong way. The coach on the basketball team may not desire your advice from the bench in the last minute of the game – and as the recognized authority of the team he doesn’t have to listen to your brilliant insights. Your boss may tell you to do something in a very inefficient way, simply because he wants you to do it his way – and that is his right. Your parents may restrict you from going somewhere because they don’t have a good feeling about it –that is their prerogative. Obedience for a child isn’t a luxury – it is the foundation of that child’s understanding of authority.
Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
The fourth instruction is to fathers – those who had inordinate power under the Roman system. A Roman father in an equestrian or patrician home was considered the “paterfamilias” of the family. He was the legal authority in the home over women and children – but also over the slaves. When a baby was born it was placed at his feet – and he could accept the responsibility for that child or order the child left exposed until dead outside the village. He could beat slaves even to the point of death – and there was no reprisal in the courts. Yet, if he did so in a house full of slaves, he probably should sleep with one eye open and have someone test his meal before he eats… Here is the point: because of the apparent absolute nature of his authority under Roman law, it was easy for him to forget the proper limitations place upon him. Here God made a limitation clear: don’t exasperate your children.
The word “exasperate” erethizó (er-eth-id’-zo) which means to stir up, arouse to anger, or incite. It is possible to stir up a child, and it is possible to break the spirit of that child – if you do not handle the child with understanding. Children are not simply “little adults”. They do not possess the necessary experience to process your stress from work – they think it is about them, something they did to make you mad. Many of them don’t possess the emotional means to process disappointment. When we set the bar high, we can help them. If un-affirmed, that same bar can be used to frustrate them.
The simple command to fathers is this: handle your children with extreme care and understanding. Set goals that are high, but realistic. Not all students are “A” students, but most all can be trained to get all their assignments in on time. Not all can rake a huge yard at the stage of responsibility they are at, but all can be encouraged to do a part that has been selected with care and consideration of their abilities. We must communicate an unbreakable bond of love while creating an expectation of good behavior – all with sensitivity.
Colossians 3:22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who [merely] please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
American Christians are not comfortable with passages on slavery. Some think it embarrassing that the Apostles didn’t try to overturn the slave system. In our activist culture, it doesn’t occur to people that while they were facing the need for the first generation of Christ followers to reach a lost world, the economic reality of slavery wasn’t their first priority. The leaders of the Christian movement obviously recognized the danger of attempting to dislodge a system that was approaching 50% of Rome while 99% of the Roman world was still lost. They had other fish to fry.
At the same time, what slaves were called on to do in this passage is instructive – not only to cultures that allow such servitude – but to all of us. The attitudes are important, and the commands can be attained only when these attitudes are in place.
• First, they were called to heart obedience – not simply external obedience in appearance. They were called to serve sincerely (not hypocritically) and to remember than Jesus is watching.
• Second, they were told to do work with great intensity (heartily is from the word pseuche – or soul as in “put your heart into it!”) and do it all for Jesus.
• Third, they were admonished to recognize that their true reward didn’t need to come from their earth master, for their Heavenly Master would one day reward them adequately!
• Fourth, they were warned that if they didn’t do these things – work with a right heart, doing their best, seeking no earth reward – they would be truly chastised when they stood before the Lord.
The clear command to the servant was this: serve your best as though you are serving Jesus by serving others. What a great work ethic!
I was blessed to hear a story at a banquet some time ago. A man sitting beside me shared his testimony, how he came to know Jesus Christ as Savior. He told the most remarkable tale. He shared that he was a vile man with a terrible mouth. He was filled with racial hatred, obnoxious to the core. One day he got an employee transferred to his department who was a Christian. The man was quiet, respectful and hard working. The man I was speaking with told me that he knew he hated the man. He was the wrong color and on top of that he was a “religious nut”. The Christian worked for this man for months. He took everything his boss threw at him. He gave him the worst jobs. He taunted his faith. He called him racial epithets and openly smeared him at every opportunity. One day on the shop floor, one of the men was badly injured. Blood was everywhere as the man was pinned beneath a piece of fallen equipment. The Christian man got on the floor next to the man who was hurting, held his hand and prayed for him while the paramedics came. He helped them pull the man from beneath the machinery, and then stayed and cleaned up all the mess. When the boss looked at his time card, the Christian man had “clocked out” early – before going to the man’s aid. When questioned, the Christian employee replied: “I didn’t want to presume that you would want to pay me for helping the man or cleaning the mess, so I clocked out and went to help.” That changed the boss. It took some time, but it was that day he decided this man had something in his life he couldn’t understand.
We need to remember that Jesus’ hands are most often shown before His voice is heard. When believers act as Jesus instructed them – they can often earn a hearing in the ear of an unbeliever.
Colossians 4:1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
Though it is true that we are reading another’s mail from long ago, and that mail is set in a cultural context that is different than mine – we mustn’t see the instructions as entirely worthless. A good case can be found in that of the “master’s commands” in the opening of chapter four.
Note the values that were communicated in words like “justice” and “fairness”. Slave owners were to “grant” (parecho is to provide) an environment of “justice” (dikaios is judicially approved by God) and “fairness” (isotés or “ee-sot’-ace”) is proportionality and equality of treatment. Note also that masters were told to see themselves as having a shepherd, or Master themselves. No one is above civility. No one is above the law. No one should consider themselves without accountability for how they treat another. It may not be apparent right away – but people are God’s creation – and He alone gets to be ultimately in charge of all.
The clear instruction to these slave owners was to provide an equitable living situation for their people – a situation which seems to have been reasonably rare in antiquity. Dr. Robert S.J. Garland, Professor of the Classics at Colgate University. shared this about common Roman slave conditions:
“Imagine working down a mine 10 hours a day and then being shackled for the other 14 as you try to catch a bit of sleep or simply huddle with your fellow slaves to keep warm. Or, if you happen to be in a more “favorable” situation, imagine hearing with unimaginable dread your master’s heavy tread and knowing that he is about to force himself upon you yet again, as he has four nights in a row. Or, imagine you’re feeling sick, too sick to get up. You know, however, that if you don’t get up and do your job, your master or your supervisor will leave you to die, whereas if you do manage to struggle up from the ground, he’ll have you beaten yet again for failing to do your job properly. Your bruises haven’t properly healed from last time.” (Lecture: “Being a Roman Slave”, The Great Courses).
All the Church Family:
Colossians 4:2 [All Church Family] Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with [an attitude of] thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. 5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, [as though] seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
Finally, Paul’s injunctions were to all the believers of Colossae. He told them:
• Devote yourselves to prayer.
• Put energy in keeping a positive and thankful tone.
• Keep prayer flowing for the mission beyond your four walls.
• Pray for those who are hurting because of the Gospel.
• Pray for the vigilance and clarity of those believers in peril and captivity.
• Watch out for your testimony before the world.
• Remain open to spotting opportunities to share Jesus with others.
• Speak in loyal ways about other believers and be gracious!
• Let that grace and loyalty instruct you as to how to speak of others.
Look at that list for a moment. Churches are to be about prayer – devoted to it. It cannot be a marginal pursuit if we are devoted to it! Believers are to be positive and thankful in their foundational tone. When hard things must be said, it should pain them – and be unusual. Some people think God has literally called them to complain incessantly about our world, our government, our youth… on and on. That isn’t so! Believers are supposed to care about THEIR CHURCH but also about the church around the world! Those who are suffering persecution should get our prayer attention. Believers are supposed to be seeking ways to share Christ. Believers need to be careful about how we speak of one another.
God has clearly defined His expectations of behaviors in our relationships as Christians.
Instead of a cute story to end, I want to offer a few words of practical wisdom that I think apply some of these truths to each of the people mentioned in the list we have studied:
• To wives: Work hard to show respect to your man – it is what he most needs in a world that makes him feel small all the time.
• To husbands: Thank God daily that He gave you a woman who thought you were good enough to marry. You probably weren’t. If you are smart you intentionally married up. If you are not, don’t worry. She is still smart enough to make you think it was your idea.
• To children: Don’t feel it is your job to evaluate why your parents told you what they did – you don’t have enough experience to understand the command – but someday you will.
• To parents: Don’t feel betrayed when your children become their own people – that is what you were raising them to be! They may not show how much like you they are – but if you get to stick around for a few decades – you will make a comeback in their looks, and probably some of their values and attitudes.
• To workers: Remember that your time has been bought at the job – so give your boss the best you have. Don’t try to run your busy personal life on his or her time.
• To bosses: You aren’t there to make work easy and fun – but you can make the atmosphere enjoyable while everyone works very hard.