We are now most of the way through our “walk about” in Colossians. This is talk number nine of eleven in the series, “Dear Least Important Church…”
And after reading today’s section, Colossians 3:18-4:1, I thought to myself, “Finally Paul is getting practical.” Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not suggesting that everything that preceded this section wasn’t useful. However, when I read these verses they seemed pretty simple “dos” and “don’ts”…without being wrapped in deep theological thoughts. Let’s see if you agree as we review them together. Please turn with me to Colossians 3:18 and we’ll read through the first verse of chapter 4:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
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 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (Colossians 3:18-4:1).
See what I mean? Statements like “Wives, submit to your husbands,” “Husbands, love your wives,” and “Children, obey your parents” don’t require a lot of cross referencing, understanding of the original Koine Greek, or a masters of divinity to understand. Additionally, they don’t take a lot of effort to figure out how to apply them in a modern context. The span of 2,000 years and entirely different cultures do not change the meaning of “fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” It is impossible to use theological smoke and mirrors to get out of that command.
If anything, perhaps it is the way a couple of those simple statements offend the sensibilities of those who have grown up in a modern, Western culture that makes them more difficult to accept than earlier, beautiful verses from Paul that aren’t so blunt. But before we discuss them, let me tell you a story.
“We Are the New York Yankees!”
I spent half my working career with Tickets.com, a major competitor to Ticketmaster. I began it as the Systems Manager for the ticketing system for the Atlanta Olympics, and ended it as Vice President of Operation (with most of the company reporting to me).
Now, the ticketing industry is a thankless, unforgiving, hard one, and unless you are a behemoth like Ticketmaster, the ticketing company is at the very bottom of the totem pole. Everything is your fault, everybody wants you to provide your services for free, and often your clients only consider you a necessary evil.
It is in this context that a coworker of mine had the opportunity to approach the New York Yankees to see if we could convince them to use our services instead of Ticketmasters’. You won’t be surprised to hear he was not successful, but something he mentioned after his visit stuck with me. As he met with the team he was reminded multiple times by the club that, in their words, “We are the New York Yankees!” Of course, that fact was never under question, but they wanted to remind our interloping ticketing company how being the New York Yankees gave them greater import than the twenty-nine other teams…and than us.
Of course, being a Red Sox fan, it just confirmed my prejudice that they were a bunch of egotistical jerks. 🙂
But, in fairness to the Yankees, don’t we all walk around holding various degrees of self importance? Somebody does something that does not show they recognize our authority or position and we get angry…sometimes very angry? We worry about being “disrespected”? We fume if someone doesn’t recognize our rights?
Wives Submit to Your Husbands
And now I take the chance of irritating…perhaps even infuriating…half of my potential listening audience. 🙂
Perhaps the most difficult statement in this week’s verses…one that is just as clear as many others within them…is the first:
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Colossians 3:18).
If you are a female, non-Christian American that’s almost assuredly going to disturb you…and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same would be true for most women who identify as Christian.
“What?! Submit to a man?! How dare you?!”
Yes, there is a chance that Paul’s admonition was only in the context of earlier societies that saw men as leaders of the household and overall. However, I suspect if you try to study the subject as a blank slate…no self-importance or societal influence…then you’ll come away believing that, at least until Jesus’ return, God has given men and women disparate duties while on this earth. It is true Colossians 3:18 could just be applicable in the first century, but how about these words from Paul to his beloved son in Christ, Timothy?:
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:11-14).
In this case it is impossible to tie Paul’s call for a woman to “submissiveness” to the patriarchal Roman world since the apostle connects it all the way back to the fall. Additionally, it reminds us of words directly from the Most High’s mouth after Adam and Eve chose to trust the Devil more than the Lord:
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16, emphasis mine).
As offensive as it may be to 21 century inhabitants of the planet earth, yes…the husband is supposed to lead the household, and the wife is to “submit.”
And, ultimately, what is so offensive about that? We all understand that not all 318 million citizens of the United States can be President at the same time. We understand that ultimately there can only one person in charge in many situations…and that hierarchies are required unless we prefer anarchies. Is it really odd that God would choose to define different sets of responsibilities that, if followed, would keep families and churches humming along?
“That’s easy for you to say…you are a guy! Try being a woman and then be so willing to accept second class status.”
Well, a few things.
First, who said it was “second class”? God has not established a system where men are more important or more valuable then women. Quite the contrary:
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:27-29).
God sees all of us as equal…
Let me repeat that…
God sees all of us as equal…and it is our own fallible views that make, say, staying at home as a mom somehow “less” than being the CEO of a company. God, in His divine and infinite wisdom in dealing with a sinful situation we brought on ourselves in the Garden, established a hierarchy in the home and in the church that, when used as designed, works far better than anything our “equal rights” society has to offer.
I say “when used as designed” because with authority comes responsibility, and often men have abused their charge. That does not invalidate God’s wisdom or negate the command, it just further proves what a mess we have helped Adam and Eve make of this world.
Second, in none of this am I suggesting that what God has established for Christian homes and churches should be enforced outside of those two situations. If businesses and this nation were Christian, these words might have some applicability, but I am not 100% convinced of it. And, considering women are just as capable as men in leading in secular contexts, I not only have no problem with it…I encourage it. I have a great female boss right now, and I’d never tell her that her two X chromosomes means she shouldn’t be an Executive Director.
And I’m not just avoiding that because it could get me written up. 🙂
Finally, I am not saying that there aren’t women who are just as capable as men in leading in home or religious contexts. I am sure, in a case-by-case situation, many women are better suited.
Except for the fact that God has said otherwise.
Isn’t that the crux of it all? Even if God’s home/church division of duties did treat women as unequals (it does not); even if I am just a man who is okay with the set-up because it “benefits” me; even if the hierarchy is meant across the board (and not just at home and in the church)…if you trust God then why do you fight it? Where is your faith in Him if you cannot accept everything He says, not only that which you understand and/or doesn’t offend your sensibilities.
Why You Believe Is as Important as What You Believe
I should also note that even though I have come down on the “complementarian” side of this debate based on my thorough studies, I do believe Christians can disagree and still be Christians (and that there is a chance egalitarians are right). However, it is important that what they hold is truly biblically-based and not because their cultural prejudices have caused them to read doctrine into scripture instead of out of it.
That is, often why you believe something is as important as what you believe. If you are a Christian and you believe women should be able to be pastors and could lead (or co-lead) families…more power to it. But, let it be because that’s actually what God has said and not because that’s all you are willing to accept.
Don’t be the New York Yankees. 🙂
Ready to move on? 🙂
I can tell you I had no intent to spend so much time on that one verse, but…as is also true with any discussion of homosexuality…it’s almost impossible to touch on the topic quickly. Hopefully what I am about to say will be a lot less controversial, especially since this is the area I wanted to focus on. A couple years back when I first divided Colossians into sections for preaching, it was verses 22-24 that stood out to me, and that led to the title, “Eye-Service and the Fear of the Lord”:
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 (Colossians 3:22-24).
And as you consider those words, don’t forget the ones we read during the previous sermon…back just five verses in Colossians 3:17:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Now, if you are a woman and took aversion to Paul (and me) telling you you should be submissive to your husband in the home…
(Although, I might note, I didn’t take the time to define what “submissive” would mean…so please do not assume too much…)
If you are a woman who took aversion to being told to be submissive to your husband, how do you think a slave would take to being told to obey their “earthly masters”? Any form of slavery is repulsive to us, as it should be. However, Paul doesn’t tell these slaves to find the earliest opportunity to escape…instead he thoroughly commands them to completely obey…and not begrudgingly…not with just “eye service, as people-pleasers”…”but with sincerity of heart.”
Now, I don’t know about you, if I was unjustly forced to provide service to someone, I would find it very difficult to do it with “sincerity of heart.” Yet, Paul is not alone in exhorting slaves to act this way:
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:18-19).
And, for that matter, this is not a thought that only comes once to Paul’s mind:
5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free (Ephesians 6:5-8).
Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved (1 Timothy 6:1-2).
9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:9-10).
The sum total of all those references is almost worse than what we first read in Colossians, isn’t it? One can understand Paul not recommending a Christian slave to try to escape from a non-Christian owner, but in his words to Timothy Paul doesn’t even command the Christian master to free their slaves.
Instead…in 1 Timothy…he tells the Christian slave to serve the Christian owner “all the better since those who benefit from their good service are believers and beloved.”
I’ve said that when Bible studying you should always ask two questions, “What does this tell us about God?” and “What is God trying to tell us?” I am not going to attempt to answer the former here, but let’s try to figure out what God is trying to tell us.
Is He trying to tell us slavery is okay?
Just because the Bible does not outright condemn a practice and gives guidelines around a behavior does not mean it is condoning it. Instead, it’s much more likely our Lord is meeting us where we are (well, in this case, where we were). Slavery was common throughout biblical times and, let’s be honest, still is common. Obviously less so in the United States (thank God), but it may be the second oldest profession and it continues rampantly today. Although I wish Scripture outright condemned it, I am thankful the Most High at least set humane guidelines around it. When we hear stories about what our country did to those we brought over here as slaves, it’s pretty clear that they weren’t following Paul’s commands, isn’t it?
Also…don’t forget that the Christian ethic was, in great measure, responsible for emancipation. An explicit “you shalt not have slaves” would have been great, but it can be gleaned pretty easily from a couple of other verses, for instance:
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40, emphasis mine).
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).
I think we can all agree it would be hard to completely follow Jesus’ words and own slaves.
So…if God isn’t trying to tell us slavery is okay, then what is he trying to tell us? Earlier on I said that Paul’s practical statements in this section of Colossians didn’t take work to apply them 2,000 years later and in a different culture…and that is true with things like “husbands, love your wives”…but what Paul is saying in Colossians 3:22-24 is applicable for more than just slaves.
What is God trying to tell us here? I would suggest a few things:
First, simply enough, obey those in authority over you.
Why? Because it reflects on the Lord and you fear the Lord…and…heading back to Colossians 3:24…that ultimately you are not serving your master as much as you are serving the Lord. Don’t reflect bad on God’s name. Don’t forget who exactly God is. And don’t ignore who, even in your menial day-to-day job, you are actually serving.
Obey those in authority because it reflects on the Lord, because you fear the Lord, and because you are serving the Lord.
Second, when you obey those in authority over you, do it sincerely. Both in today’s verses in Colossians and in the section we read in Ephesians, Paul especially emphasizes this by saying it shouldn’t be “eye-service, as people pleasers.” Don’t fake it…have it be real!
Now, when your boss is an unreasonable jerk, I know this can seem near impossible…but I am reminded of an incident where a man who wanted his child to be healed realized he was short on faith:
And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24).
Go ahead and fake it for now…but pray to God He change your heart to it is real!
Finally, follow God faithfully in whatever situation you are. The majority of us are stuck having to go to work most days, and as much as it might be nice to be independently wealthy…we should accept our state. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24:
20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Brothers…and sisters…in whatever condition you were called, remain there with God. Don’t just do eye-service, as people pleasers…fear God…reflect well on His name…and serve Him.
Whether you are the President…
A ditch digger…
Wherever and whatever you are…
Dear least important church, let the way you obey reflect who your Lord is…