Firm Foundations – Study 7 – Colossians 3:18-4:1

The new you: Put on faith

Topic covered: Making godly decisions
Glossary: submission; good works; favouritism.

Discussion Question

The gospel is about the forgiveness of my sins and should not impact my lifestyle. Discuss.

Context

The letter to the Colossian church is an encouragement to all its readers to continue in the faith that they received when they put their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Jesus is the creator of all things, the saviour and foundation of the church, and the point of the whole bible! You see, the great mystery of God is revealed in Christ. We grow up, or mature, in the faith by increasing our grasp on who Jesus is and learning to trust him with everything. This is life changing and it is the firm foundation of our faith. That is why the gospel is powerful, because it produces change in people.

We pursue faith and love by putting to death sexual immorality and putting away the misuse of our mouths. Everything we do and think from now on must be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. Not to earn his love and acceptance but because we are already loved and accepted. The gospel, you can say, restores humans back to the image of God. As we continue in Colossians, we will see what looks like rules for Christian living. What follows are not rules but illustrations of how the gospel is powerful to restore our relationships with one another. The gospel of grace restores humans back to the way God meant for us to be.

Read Colossians 3:18-4:1

18 Wives, submit yourselves 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 embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. 

22 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. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. 

4 1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Family relationships (18-21)
    • To wives (18)
    • To Husbands (19)
    • To Children (20)
    • To Fathers (21)
  • Business relationships (22-4:1)
    • To Slaves (22-23)
      • Because you trust God (24-25)
    • To Masters (1)
      • Because you know God (1)

Family Relationships (18-21)

As inferred in the CONTEXT, this is not a list of commands that are to be obeyed or else you will not be saved. That is not how grace works! We respond to the gospel because we understand a) God is our creator and so we need to listen to his wisdom b) God is our saviour who has given us eternal life, therefore, we no longer fight for self because we’ve already been given the kingdom! But c) because we are made in the image of God and although sin has produced hatred and quarrelling and disharmony in this life, the gospel of grace will defeat it!

“Wives…” Let’s be clear: this is a message to wives and not to husbands. Let wives read these words and meditate on the purpose and the reason and the implications of it. Let the men read it with understanding but with no desire to enforce it! Likewise, this is not a line for all women, but to wives. The greek word here can mean woman or wife but the context makes it clear that it is about wives.

“…submit yourselves to your husbands…” Please refrain from a knee-jerk reaction and meditate on what is being asked. The word does not mean to be put into submission by someone else by order, but is a directive (imperative actually) to submit yourself. That is, in the marriage relationship, the wife is asked to approach her relationship to her husband as not someone fighting for control or domination. It is not a competition. It helps to recall that God himself, the most powerful being in the universe, submits himself. The Son, submits himself to the Father, although they are both equally God. The Son submits himself to death, even though he is eternal! Submission is not about weakness or inability or small capacity. The bible does not teach that women are less than men, only that there is a relationship in marriage where the woman places herself under the headship of the man. Next comes a further qualification…

“…as is fitting in the Lord.” Some may object and say that Paul is talking about the culture of the time and that if he were writing this all over today he may not include this section, or write it differently. But ‘as is fitting in the Lord’ suggests that Paul is promoting a Christian culture that reflects the goodness of God. To best understand the point of the submission passage here, we should remember (or learn) what it is that the gospel is correcting here. We’ll do it in brief bullet points.

  1. Genesis 1:1 – God is the creator of heaven and earth – we exist only because he first created.
  2. Genesis 1:27 – God created mankind (in his own image) being male and female.
  3. Genesis 2:15 – God instructed the male to take care of the world.
  4. Genesis 2:18 – God observes, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” We see that men and women are both created in God’s image and they are created for purpose and that they are created to have a good relationship. The woman is not placed to compete but to help.
  5. Genesis 3 describes the moment when the male and the female consciously acted in rebellion against God. It was such a small act but a giant moment for mankind.
  6. Genesis 3:16 is part of a longer curse as a result of sin now in the world and it describes the relationship between the male and the female in terms of desire and rule rather than as help and cooperation.
  7. In Christ, and by the grace of God, we can see relationships afresh. You see, in Christ, it is possible to remove the language of ruling over one another. It is fitting, in the Lord, for the wife to not be threatened by her husband but to willingly submit to a man who also, in the Lord, will choose to love his wife. 

I will say that again: It is fitting, in the Lord, for the wife to not be threatened by her husband but to willingly submit to a man who also, in the Lord, will choose to love his wife. Now, in this life, neither the husband nor the wife will always get it right. And in fact, there will continue to be the effect of sin in this world. But, the grace of God challenges us to live afresh, convinced by faith that we can actually begin to trust one another. See also Ephesians 5:22-24.

“Husbands…” See the note above on wives and apply it appropriately to the husband.

“…love your wives…” This is a message to all the husbands (plural) to love their wives (each husband has one wife!) If the wife is being guided to submit, how wonderful that all husbands are being guided to love! The Godhead expresses this nicely when we read that each ‘person’ of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) loves the others selflessly and so the Holy Spirit and the Son are delighted to submit to the Father in everything! What Paul is reflecting on in these verses is what a change the gospel makes to a life! It is by the power of the gospel of grace that we can learn to understand submission and love without importing danger and struggle into it. Men and women are created equal. Men and women, ideally, can move forward together in harmony without submission meaning repression and without love being a weakness. Husbands are to think about the needs and wants of his wife and to think sacrificially. Read Ephesians 5:25-33 for an expansion on this. God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

“…and do not be harsh with them.” If a wife is going to submit to her husband, then it is important for the leader to not abuse his position. Marriage is the union of two consenting adults where the wife will submit herself without any strongholds and the husband will choose to love always without harsh language or treatment. The bible never ever condones domestic violence. No person is compelled or forced to stay or put up with an unsafe relationship. In Christ, a man and a woman can possibly come together and voluntarily live with the other’s best in mind and this is the power of the gospel. In this life, it can easily be misapplied or one sided or simply abused. This is why we treat these verses, not as rules, but as a celebration of what can be possible by the power of grace. Can two people, inspired and taught by the grace and love of God, live selfless lives together? In Christ they can.

“Children, obey your parents in everything…” Yes, children should be taught to read the bible and learn lessons like this. I would add, though, that we are all to read these verses and ask, if it is God’s intent that a child obey their parents – but they do not – then this is a symptom of the child living in a fallen world. Sin is prevalent right from the birth of a child. We don’t have to be taught how to be selfish. We need saving and we need to learn what grace and mercy and love looks like – as is fitting in the Lord.

“…for this pleases the Lord.” Just as there is a godly approach for husbands and wives, there is an ordained and designed system for children and parents. In God’s design, he has given every child (unless tragedy occurs) parents (or singular) to have authority over them. Authority is about care and this is the job of the parent: to care for their child by teaching them and being people worth listening to and obeying.

“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Why mothers are not mentioned is unknown. Perhaps is it he men who need to hear this? It does elevate the place of fathers in that God sees them as a good source of encouragement and healthy growth. Just as a husband ought to have love and softness in his approach to his wife, so too, he ought to not create a relationship with his child that creates resentment from them. This will include patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control – all outcomes of the work of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). A parent, and here especially a father, is important for the good growth of a child. Parents have the potential to make or break their child. Be kind to yourself though since every child will need to grow up and probably forgive their parents for one thing or another.

We finish the section on family relationships and let’s conclude with something like: When someone is in the Lord (3:17) then the very relationships that they have in the family will change because their hope is in eternal things and their life is fixed and centred in Christ. Striving will cease. Love will grow and abound. Respect and obedience will flourish. These are words of a trusting relationship. Sin produced hatred and strife but in the end, grace wins.

Business Relationships (22-4:1)

Just as there are different relationships in the home (wives, husbands, children, fathers and mothers), there are also different relationships out in the workforce. In relation to the government, we must recognise their authority over us. In relation to employee and employer, we must recognise a hierarchy.

“Slaves…” Also could be translated servants. There is no room for slave trading in this section. But the position is of a person who has submitted themselves to someone else in order to have a living. I don’t want to waste space here on this but I see a link between slaves and employees here. An employee agrees to submit to their employer in order that they get paid. They will agree to work so many hours per day and per week and agree to deadlines etc. In exchange, the employee gets paid. As soon as the employee no longer needs money, then they would stop working for the manager in a snap! We submit ourselves to masters all the time. It’s called a job!

“…obey your masters in everything…with sincerity…and reverence for the Lord.” Verse 22 is pretty easy to understand. We need to stop being grumpy and whiny employees. Get on board and serve your boss because that’s how God intends the human race to be! We are made for relationship and for working together as helpers and not as a burden to others. Imagine when heaven comes that all the saved ones in heaven will work together without gossip or bickering or slander or revenge or powerplay. And there will never be a shoddy job done.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…” The gospel shifts our priority. We are not becoming perfect employees because God tells us to, but because we are doing everything in the name of the Lord. 

“…since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” By faith we believe that there is an inheritance coming for us. We don’t need to be bitter that we are not the boss here on earth because one day we will have way more than a business of our own but we will have the kingdom of God. It is our trust in God that will produce a change in our family relationship and our work ethic.

“It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” If only Adam and Eve had kept that in their heads and owned it when the serpent spoke to them in the garden. Forget what the world says and forget selfish ambition and gain – serve the Lord. Have faith in God and let go of all the striving that comes from our desperate desires to be important or noticed or a somebody – you are a somebody in Christ. Do you believe it? Then live it!

“Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favouritism.” By faith we will let things go in this earth because we know that God is just and everyone will get what is coming to them! If you believe this, then you will learn to overlook a lot of wrong-doings. This is not the same as forgiving. It is trusting that God will judge justly and righteously. Nobody will be let off for their wrongs. Those in Christ will rejoice because Christ has paid for their wrongs. Those in Christ will also be progressing in their faith and going from bad to good.

“Masters, provide your slaves…” I happily read ‘bosses’ and ‘workers’ into these words.

“…provide your slaves with what is right and fair…” The master is not to be harsh. Give the people working for you a good treatment. Be reasonable and considerate. If a job will take a day, don’t force them to get it done in half a day. If the job costs $1K, don’t force them to do it for $400 and then yell when they failed. Treat your employees with fairness across the board. Just as God does not show favouritism, don’t give one person all the benefits but be fair.

“…because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” Bosses of this world are not the ultimate Boss. The Prime Minister or the President or the Queen or King are all still subject to our God and creator.

What did we learn?

The gospel has the power to transform our relationships back to the way they were designed to be. But only when we put on faith. It is by faith that we trust God’s way as the best way. It is by faith that we act graciously and in love even when others wrong us. Sin produced hatred and strife in relationships but in the end, grace wins. 

Now what?

Topic A: Putting on faith in the home. Sin twists our relationships and stands us against one another. We fight for control and are opposed to submission. Faith that flows from the kingdom of God, from the eternal hope that we have, gives us courage and freedom to show grace toward one another again. Grace teaches us to love others ahead of ourselves. Faith in the home means learning to trust one another again as we learn to trust our creator. This is a huge concept to grasp. The lesson here is not about dominance, equality or submission – rather, it is about worship and love that come from truly understanding the gospel.

Topic B: Putting on faith in the workforce. The faith and love that spring from the eternal hope will shape the way that we do business. Even if you have no earthly hope for a good inheritance and luxurious retirement, we already know that God has given us his kingdom. Or if you are responsible in the workplace, be ever so conscious that you also work for the Lord. We all work for the same boss in the end.

Topic C: Leaving evil for God to take care of. Colossians 3:25 gives us the pathway to let evil go in our lifetime. Whenever an injustice has been dealt, if it is not exposed and punished in this lifetime we can be sure that it will be dealt with in the next. This is the logic behind Jesus teaching us to turn the other cheek.