The Christian Home
Key Verse 3:23
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”
The good shepherd Paul, whose heart was after the Lord’s heart did not hesitate for a moment to penetrate the Gospel teaching to the very heart of the family and family life of the Colossian Christians. False teachings were everywhere, the worst of whom were those whose philosophies depended on “human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (2:8) These are of the worst kind because while they have the appearance of being spiritual in nature, their foundations is worldly and therefore, have no godly characteristics at all. In other words, they bear the danger of deceiving even the Christian who’s heart and mind are not set on pleasing God, but rather set on pleasing him or herself instead. (3:1-2) False teachings were everywhere, dangerously attacking the very fabric of the Christian faith. And they had even found their way into the very heart of the Christian family and household as well. While the True Christian faith lays down some sacred and absolute teachings regarding the Christian family and household, the false teachings set out to undermine them or to offer a way to compromise them. For example, the Gospel teaching regarding “divorce” is “absolute”. The absolute in this case is “no divorce”, for all four gospels tell us: “… What God has joined together, let not man separate”. (Mk. 10:9) The false teaching does not negate or contradict the absolute. It just compromises it making it acceptable to divorce in some special cases.
This passage though is not about divorce. Its about absolutes. Its about keeping the absolutes absolute. Its about not allowing compromises to mitigate or corrupt any command that God had set for the family members which makes that family a mighty instrument of holiness in an unholy world. It is one thing that the Christian family has to live in an unholy world with twisted standards and be constantly at war with the rot and corruption around it. And another thing for the family to have to also war on the inside with teachings that scrape at the foundation of the Christian faith and the set absolutes that make it a true Christian family.
The passage we are studying today is unusual. It is unusual because it seems to be out of place in the general context of the Colossians letter. It is unusual because it addresses issues of extreme sensitivity to household members. It is unusual because it challenges the sinful human nature and imposes on it demands that are almost impossible to meet. It is unusual because it applies absolutely to men and women of every generation with no regard to time or place. The only common factor is Christ, and pleasing Christ and nothing more! This passage is then about the absolutes which God in his wisdom has set for us to obey without question. It is about the wife’s absolute duty towards her husband and family. About the husband’s absolute attitude towards his wife and family. About a son and daughter’s absolute responsibility towards their parents and family. And its about the absolute responsibility of the master and slave in the Christian home. What then are these absolutes which Paul commands and sets before us as a Christian family and household? When is a family a mighty instrument of holiness that accomplishes its purpose and honors God?
Read verses 18-21. “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 embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”
Let us also read Ephesians 5:22-33 as a supporting passage to the word Paul gave the Colossian Christians. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
First, wives submit to your husbands. It is a remarkable thing that Paul commands wives to do. It seems that it was as difficult a command to heed in Paul’s time as it is in our own time, otherwise Paul would not have set down this absolute command among the Christian believers in Colosse as well as in Ephesus and other places as well. It is a hard thing for a woman, created in the image of God, created equal to man, and comparable in intelligence and in abilities and more to submit to her husband. In almost any version of the Bible that we read the word “submit” seems to well define what Paul intended for the wife to do in regards to her duty to her husband. The word “submit” is the same as “to yield” or “to be subject to”. But this is not some mindless form of submission to the authority of a man. Paul compliments this command with the words “As fitting in the Lord” which defines the submission as being a submission done in the Lord. A submission based on the wife’s relationship with the Lord. A submission that carries with it all the maturity and wisdom of a wife whose purpose is to please the Lord in every way.
As in everything else in life and in the world we live in, a sense of order is imperative. Otherwise instability and chaos would break loose to bring ruin to any institution, even to the institution of marriage and the family. When God created the family, and established marriage, God intended the family to be God’s instrument to bring blessing upon this world. Even when sin invaded the human race and brought the world under the curse of sin, God’s purpose for the family never changed. And God’s intended role for the husband and the wife also never changed. But what changed is the hearts of men and women. Husbands and wives under the curse of sin lost the meaning and purpose of their lives. Wives could not possibly submit to their husbands’ authority mainly because there was no spiritual life in the family to bring about a meaningful submission. But with the coming of our Lord Jesus, the world changed yet again. Order was restored in the family. Christian wives now had a meaning to their roles as wives. They now served the Lord in everything. Their goal was no longer rooted in their own personal welfare but in what was best for the glory of God. Even if their husbands were not Christian men at heart, it did not change their resolve to honor and to serve God’s own purpose for them. As Christian wives, they now submitted to the authority of their husbands not because they were compelled to do so by human tradition, but by the will of God. In their submission, they brought peace and harmony to the household so that peace may reign in their family. What Paul under God’s directive was commanding the wives to do, was perfectly acceptable to Christian wives because it was fitting in the Lord to do so. In Christian history, wives have played the most important role of all by providing an environment for the husband to grow into the servant God intended for their husbands to be. How difficult it must have been for Christian wives to submit to the spiritual authority of husbands who lacked maturity or responsibility or a sense of duty, to husbands who did not deserve to be submitted to. But instead of relying on their own wisdom in what is best for the family and for the glory of God, they relied on the wisdom of God who commands them in the Lord to “submit” to their husbands.
Human tradition and the principles of this world may tempt Christian wives to do what they think is best for their own welfare and the welfare of their family, and in some cases to resist their husbands or to undermine their authority or even to bring their weak husbands to heel. But Christian wives must not rely on such things as human tradition and the wisdom of this world in doing things. Rather it is best to hold to the absolute in God’s command.
Second, husbands, love your wives. Verse 19 says: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” It is also a remarkable thing that Paul commands the husband to love his wife. And not to be harsh with her. Paul is not talking to non-Christian husbands who know not the Lord. He is not talking to non-believing husbands whose purpose in life is to satisfy their own desires, and to boost their own ego. He is not talking to husbands who care less if there is peace and harmony in their home; husbands who hope for a good relationship with their wives, but if not, then there are other alternatives to turn to. Although God’s command is good for all husband believers or not, he is not talking to men whose lives centers around themselves, whose love is self centered and whose purpose is selfish. There is not a shred of selfishness or self love in this command which Paul— under God’s directive— gives the husband who loves God.
Thus, he is talking to the Christian husband who wants to honor and serve God above all else. He is talking to the Christian husband who’s purpose is to surrender his family to the grace of God; The Christian husband who wants to please God in everything; who wants to fulfill his purpose to be a godly husband; a blessing of a man who would be the blessing God wants him to be to his family— to his church— to his society. Paul is talking to that man! To the man who knows the grace of God in his life so much so that he would do anything within his ability and more to make his wife the happiest and most content wife in the world— even if she were not a Christian wife. Of course, it is better that a husband and wife to both be Christian. But the command to the Christian husband stands absolute even if his wife is a non-believer. Still, the command is not easy to obey. Some wives are easy to love by virtue of their meekness and submission to the Lord and to the Lord’s will. Others are easy to love by virtue of their selfless behavior; others by virtue of heir genuine concern for their husbands’ spiritual well being; and others by virtue of their obedience to the Lord’s command to respect the husband even when the husband does not deserve any respect but rather contempt. Sometimes it is easy to love a wife whose lovely in character who reciprocates her husband’s love with equal love.
On the other hand, the truth is that not all wives are easy to love. God made both man and woman equal in all things. And God instituted order in the family such that there be harmony in the family for the work of God to be carried out unhindered. But it is not easy for a wife who is more gifted than her husband to submit to his spiritual authority. Creating conflict. And conflict creates friction. And friction grows into resentment and bitterness. In that situation, even a Christian wife who is touched by the grace of God is difficult to love, even by her Christian husband. Thus homes have been torn asunder because the Christian husband ceases to love his Christian wife. Loving the wife is critical to the wellbeing of a home. Otherwise God would not have made this an absolute command. There is a mysterious element in loving the wife. When a wife is loved as she should be loved, somehow the home is a haven where the husband and the children can grow in perfect harmony and peace. When the wife is loved genuinely from the heart, somehow all problems that assail the family in this world become manageable and not things that tear at the seams of the marriage until it is completely unraveled. Somehow when the wife is loved, there is a contentment for the husband and in the home where even the most harrowing of issues no longer bring anxiety and fear into their hearts but bring hands in prayer brought to the throne of God. when a wife is loved, she can rise above herself to become the giant that God intended her to be. When she is loved, her husband has peace and her children grow healthy in the Lord to be the Lord’s own servants.
Husbands love your wives and do not treat them harshly. Genuine love in the Lord is anything but harsh. Genuine love is gentle. When a husband loves his wife in the Lord, treating her as the Lord treated him, he cannot but be gentle and kind to her; patient and forgiving; gracious and sacrificial towards her in all things. If a husband is to be serious about recreating a home where Christ is the Lord of that home, then that husband must learn from Jesus how to love his wife. He must learn to deny himself. He must learn to think of her before thinking about himself. He must learn to bring her kind and gentle words, encouraging her and praising her for her sacrifices. To love his wife, a husband must learn from Jesus— and that is not easy— because in his love, Jesus was willing to die for us.
Today Christian husbands seem to be immature, selfish, demanding, irresponsible, not easily pleased, wanting love and respect when they refuse to lift a finger to give the recognition and respect and love that their wives deserve. Today, many Christian husbands rather rely on human tradition and the principles of this world in their relationship with their Christian wives than relying on the absolute truth of God. if the wife is harsh, they want to treat her harshly in fairness they say. If the wife is not giving, they withhold from her in retaliation, wanting to make her taste a bit of her own medicine. They squabble and argue, demanding from each other what they themselves should be the first to give and to sacrifice and to offer in the Lord and for the Lord’s sake. But a true Christian husband must not rely on worldly philosophies in treating his wife, whether she is Christian or not. A true Christian husband adheres to the absolute command of the Lord to love your wife, regardless, without conditions and without expectation. That is what is demanded of the Christian husband. In truth, that is fairness, because a Christian husband has been redeemed by the Lord when he was utterly unredeemable, when he was wretched and sinful and when his original destiny was Hades.
Third, Children, obey your parents. Read verse 20. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Why must children obey their parents in everything? Why is their obedience pleasing to the Lord? How can children obey their parents when their parents seem to be most unspiritual, and sometimes immature themselves, or even when their parents are harsh and unfair? Of course, there are parents and then there are different parents in this world. Likewise, there are Christian parents and then there are different Christian parents in this world as well. But it does not change some questions that children are bound to ask about this absolute command. But even if we are unable to answer many questions, we still have this absolute command to contend with. Children obey your parents. There is no stipulation added to this command such as, obey them if they are fair and good to you. Or obey them only if they do not prove themselves to be hypocrites who say one thing and do another thing. It is an obligation that children obey their parents. Why? There many be many reasons we know or may not know, yet there is one reason that stands above all else. Obey because it pleases the Lord. Therefore, children must be taught to live to please the Lord. And what pleases the Lord is that they live obedient lives to their parents. There is great wisdom in this! God himself is a parent. He is our original Father, whose love for us is unquestionable. In his love for his children, God has done things in history that make sense to us, and some things he has done that make absolutely no sense. There were times in history when the Father had done things that seem even cruel. As a parent himself, how could God ask of Abraham to sacrifice his son? How could God as a Parent, ask his Son Jesus to give his life on the cross? But he did. And while we may understand some things we will not understand other things. Yet we must learn to obey our parents.
It pleases God who is himself a parent. It pleases him when a Christian or non-Christian child alike obeys his parents. I can only say that obedience is sacred to God. it is sacred because obedience is relative to trust. God wanted Adam to trust him when he asked Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But when that trust was broken, betrayal set in and the world was plunged into the darkness of sin. Children must learn to obey their parents because parents, like God, have their children’s best interest in heart and mind. Obedience requires trust. And trust requires faith. Perhaps in commanding the children to obey their parents in everything, God had in mind to bless the children to grow in trust and in faith. And there is nothing more precious to children than to learn the essence of trust and of faith, the foundation of their own eventual relationship with God. So we must teach them obedience even if often obedience does not set will with them. we must also push ourselves to explain to them why they are asked to simply obey, rather than telling to them “because I said so”. Perhaps we must give them more credit than we usually do in explaining to them the sacredness of trust and of faith to the God who demands them without question. It pleases God that children obey their parents, as much as it pleases God that parents obey God absolutely in trust and in faith.
Fourth, fathers do not embitter your children. Read verse 21. “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Here are some other translations to the word “embitter”. Do not exasperate, do not provoke, do not aggravate, do not come down too hard on them, do not be hard on your children. It will discourage them. In other words, fathers have a duty to be a source of encouragement to his children. Especially a Christian father must make it a point to encourage his children. And one cannot encourage a child if one is too hard on them. a father must be patient and understanding. He must be ready to explain his behavior, whether he gives permission to something or withholds it. Most of all, he must be a haven for his children to find comfort and support in the things of life. Life is not easy. Christian life is definitely not easy. Children who grow up in Christian homes grow up under tremendous pressure to live up to their parents’ Christian expectations. If the child errs or rejects some Christian principle, some parents are too impatient and unkind resorting to enforcing that principle on the child. But Christian fathers must not do that. Christian fathers must entrust their children to God foremost. And then lead them in the gentleness of Christ to understand both the Christian and the worldly things they are bound to encounter as they grow up. Fathers do not embitter your children, is an absolute command even in a world that does not believe in Christian ideals but has a set of its own wisdom in the raising of children. Parents must understand that children will be exposed and influenced by such worldly philosophies. It is not a reason to embitter them if they raise questions or concerns about some of their parents’ Christian practices. But rather encourage them to understand, by gently teaching them the Lord’s teachings.
Fifth, whatever you do. Read verses 3:22-4:1. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win 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 men, 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 his wrong, 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.” Paul now turns his attention to other people that may be part of the household. In those times there were masters and slaves. And his concern is that harmony and peace rule the Christian household. It must have been a blessing in those days for a master and slave to both come under the grace of our Lord Jesus, being freed from their bondage to sin, and becoming one in the faith and in the body of Christ Jesus. in that household, slaves must continue to serve their masters as they would serve the Lord. And masters must treat their slaves as if they were their own brother and sister, because in the Lord, they are! Today we may not have a master-slave system as the Roman world did. But the world is such that it is divided in like manner. Masters may be the employers, and the salves may be those who are employed who in most cases are at the mercy of their employer, who has their life and future in his or her hand. As such the world is truly insecure and fear and anxiety reign everywhere.
But not in the Christian home, or the Christian environment or Christian community. In that household and community Christ Jesus reigns and he alone is the master of all, and we are all slaves to his glory and righteousness, and slaves to the Christian life and principles he called us to live by. And besides the absolute commands he gives us to live by as Christian fathers, and husbands and wives and children and slaves and masters, there is one rule that seems to bind all together in wisdom. He tells us, rather he commands again in absoluteness: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” This is the central command that seems to be at the heart of all that God would expect from us. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. The world has its own standards and ways of working, ways that may be very tempting for the troubled home or the antagonized husband or abused wife or the struggling children. But tempting as it may be to follow worldly rules in order to relieve ourselves from our troubles or the anguish of home, we must not yield to the temptation to do things according to the wisdom of the world. Rather we need to yield to the Lord’s wisdom. Do it all for Christ, for the Love of Christ, for his own glory. Do it because you love him, because you serve him alone. Husbands love your wives. Wives submit to your husbands. Children obey your parents. Remember it is the Lord you are doing it for. It is for his own glory. Amen.