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Colossians 3:18-4:1
The last set of relationships is that of slaves and masters. And this could be a minefield!

Let me make a couple of preliminary comments. First, the absence of any strong disapproving statements about slavery does not mean the absence of condemnation - the mere fact that slaves and masters were treated equally within God's people, and the mere presence of Onesimus with Philemon in the gathering, both suggest a certain view of slavery. Second, the very language of this section (and it is a larger focus than the household list in Ephesians because of the context) places masters under a much higher authority, and answerable to God in a unique way. Third, we must remember the central role of slavery within the Roman Empire - and time and space does not permit a detailed analysis. But at least this much can be said - whilst the 'American slavery' type covered a section of such slavery under Rome, it was not the typical type. Whilst this does not condone slavery, it does explain its key role, even as a voluntary state for some.

Slaves are commanded to obey their masters, not because of their earthly power but because they served the Lord Jesus. Moreover, this service had a larger context of the judgement day to come and the surety of right and fair judgement.

Masters were to supply what is right and fair to their slaves, again in the context of serving the Lord.

In both instances, the key currency is grace - giving to someone else what they do not deserve. It is to be the currency of Christian community, and the reputation of Christian employers and employees, because we have a Lord in heaven who has lavished such grace upon us. Such grace can be extended not just because we experienced it ourselves, but also because of the day of accounts that will happen in true justice.

Collect:

Father, your judgements are just and fair, with no favouritism, transparent and right. Enable me to live now with grace because of the bookends of your grace and justice in my life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Colossians 3:18-4:1
The second set of relationships examined here by Paul and Timothy are those of children and fathers (or, just as easily, 'parents' - Heb.11:23).

I think we often miss the most obvious part of this exhortation: the words of verses 20 are addressed to 'children', NOT to parents to communicate to children. In this sense, we are given a glimpse into the gathering of God's mob: everyone is present (an even more striking example is that of slaves and masters, especially when we realise the presence of Onesimus (4:9) and Philemon!!).

In an echo of verse 18, children are told to 'obey' their parents, for this is pleasing in the Lord'. I say 'echo' because obedience is not optional, whereas submission is opted into. There are limits for children - after all, abuse is completely opposed and so too is encouragement to ungodliness. But, as the 'peace of the Messiah rules' in the hearts of God's people, God's design is restored and the right child-parent relationship is established, for the benefit of the child.

Fathers (parents) are commanded 'not to exasperate your children, so they won't become discouraged' (vs.21). In this sense, the parenting of the fathers (and parents as a whole) is to bring children to an understanding of life that does not discourage or embitter. Simply put, fathers (and parents) are to so parent that children are introduced to Jesus as he is - the gracious and sufficient Lord, who extends grace and life to sinners. In this way, children are encouraged, to know Jesus as he is and to have 'fullness' of life.

I suppose, at my age, I reflect back on being a child and give thanks that my parents did do this - and God has used it. I also reflect on my own parenting under this command and continually ask God for the wisdom to be a grace-exhibitor, not a discourager, as a father!

Collect (Ps.131):

LORD, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too difficult for me.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
like a weaned child with its mother;
I am like a little child.
Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.
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Colossians 3:18-4:1
Well, we are finally diving into the 'individual IN community' relationships that Paul and Timothy are focussed on, relationships and roles which involve doing 'everything in the name of the Lord Jesus'.

All of these relationships are part of the household - hence, Luther calls these kind of lists 'household lists'!

The first relationship is the one at the heart of the household: wives and husbands - look at verses 18-19...

Wives are spoke to first. The command to them - and it is an imperative in the Greek - is 'be submissive to your husbands'. We need to remember the backdrop to this kind of command - men and women are equally made in the image of God and equally valuable to God; the word translated 'submissive' is connected to role not value or worth (cf. Luke 2:51); and, this is a position voluntarily entered into (unlike the term 'obey' in verses 20 and 22).

Lying behind this, too, is the return to the 'peace of the Messiah' - the restoration of the fullness of the design of God, as set out in Genesis, as being renewed in each person (Col.3:10) and which involves order. That is why such a command is seen as 'fitting in the Lord'.

Husbands are spoken to next, and this is a unique command (alongside Ephesians 5) in all the 'household codes' discovered outside Scripture. Husbands were never told to 'love your wives' - and I think we forget how counter-cultural this is! Moreover, having entered into a marriage covenant of mutual love and commitment and promise, there is to be no bitterness towards your wife. Again, this is against the backdrop of the restoration of God's design, in a world broken by the curse of sin.

The model for love here is the same as that which expresses God's love for his 'chosen and holy' people (Col.3:12): it is the sacrificial love of Jesus for his people, which came at the ultimate cost.

So, husbands and wives (and those to-be), here is the walking with Jesus as Lord in marriage. Now, let me encourage you not to leap straight to the division of labour within the house - like, who washes up and who hangs out the washing! Instead, this command is to be applied in all areas - from parenting decisions through to conflict resolution and decision-making, into choices about discipline of children and into how leisure time is spent. It will vary throughout each relationship and person and circumstance - but the command is not complicated nor grey!

Collect:

Father, your revelation is clear, and my sin obfuscates it. Please give me clarity of mind and heart and desire, clarity that comes from the peace of Christ ruling my heart and the word of Christ dwelling in me richly. Amen.
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Colossians 3:18-4:1
Paul and Timothy look at three lots of relationships here, as they exhort God's mob as individuals IN community.

Before we move into looking at each of these relationships, and apply them (and we will from tomorrow!), it is worth moving back to get a big picture of what is going on here.

This letter would have been read IN the gathering of God's people in Colossae. So, as with the letters to the Ephesian, and Philippian, and Galatian Christians, all the people addressed in the letter would have been gathered. So, as you scan over this 'household list' in Colossians, you will see that wives and husbands, parents (fathers) and children, slaves and masters are all gathered in one community!

This is striking on a number of levels.

First, this is an expression of 'individuals IN community' - God's people are to be an expression of God's design.

Second, this is a wonderfully diverse and wholistic community, where the exhortation to children is heard BY the children as they sit gathered. And the same applies for each of these groups of 'individuals IN community'. There is role-specific teaching here, but no division of the community as it gathers!

Third, there is a wonderful equality (even egalitarianism) that comes from the nature of salvation and sin amongst God's people. All alike in sin, all alike in salvation, all alike bearing the image of God being restored, all alike in having 'fullness' in Jesus alone - there is no place for class, racism, sexism, or elitism (of any form) here.

Fourth, this is an expression of the 'peace of the Messiah that rules the hearts' of God's people. Remember how this is a restoration of the design of God for this world, amongst his people? Well, here it is - and we will turn to looking at that tomorrow...

Collect:

Father, this is a magnificent day - thank you for its provision! May what I do, say and think today reflect well of the interests and reputation of my Lord, Jesus. Amen.
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Colossians 3:18-4:1
As I stood and looked out over the front-lawn fellowship yesterday - gee, it was good to gather around God's word, with God and his mob - I was reminded that we are individuals IN community.

It is a helpful reminder because too often we try to describe society's base unit as either 'individual' or 'community', and we miss the design of God for both together. Humans are created to be 'individuals IN community' - we are each made individually in the image of God, to exist in relationship in community.

This is helpful because we don't exist alone - we exists as individuals IN relationship (however tenuous, strained, distant, or rich, enjoyable and full those relationships might be).

This is helpful because we don't exist only in community - we exists as individuals IN relationship (with all our unique personalities and individual natures, all equally created in the image of God).

This is helpful because it helps us grasp the depth of what it means to be made in the image of God (remember Genesis 1:26-27). God himself, in his Triune nature, is individual in community - 3 persons in 1, all equally God and all equally different. Humanity reflects this truth in God in an analogous manner, capturing the ideas but not exactly the same.

Now, you might wonder how all this ties into the Colossians passage before us this week. And that is a fair question!

However, if you look at this section - one of Paul's typical household lists - you will notice that it is addressing individuals IN community, in the communities of God's people and their own homes. We need to grasp this description carefully so that we don't lose sight of the consistency of God's design, and the goodness of its fullness regained.

Collect:

Father, your image is profoundly explanatory, giving substance and reason to the lives of your image bearers. Father, enable me to be remade in your image through the intervention of Jesus. Enable me to declare your nature in this town in such a way that many come to know you as Father. Amen.
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