*This blog post was adapted from Pastor Jason’s sermon on 5/8/2022. You can find the sermon video below.
If Paul were to summarize Colossians in a single sentence, it would go something like this: “Jesus Christ is the fullness of God and the all-sufficient Savior offering new life to men and women.”
In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul uses rich and provocative language to describe Jesus. He says that Jesus is supreme, He is the image of the invisible God, and the firstborn of all creation. He also says that “He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
In Colossians 2, Paul drops some warnings on the people. He tells them to be careful of unhealthy mindsets, religious fundamentalism, and false piety.
Then, in chapter 3, Paul offers the believers a new identity. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” (Colossians 3:1) He uses clothing imagery to encourage them to take off their old selves and put on their new selves, which is the renewed image of our Creator.
As the letter to the Colossians progresses, it becomes more and more practical. In today’s passage, Paul is answering the question “How do we live out our new identities in our daily lives?”
Here is the full passage:
“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 provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 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. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 3:18-4:1)
At first, we might think this passage doesn’t stand up to the test of time. We might read it and think of a number of different issues, including abuse and neglect in the household, between races, and between social classes.
If we look deeply enough at this passage, though, we can see that the church is beginning to reorder and rework crucial relationships. The household codes mentioned in this section of scripture are wonderfully complicated, culturally transformative, and mission driven.
First, the household codes laid out in this passage are wonderfully complicated. Here are some baselines we must consider before going forward:
Our mindsets are shaped by where we are in history. When we read 1st century passages with 21st century eyes, we can get some wrong impressions. To combat this, we should try to understand its original context and its original audience. Here are some question we should consider:
Another point to consider: If you see something in the Bible, it does not mean that the Bible is endorsing it. So, when Paul mentions slaves in this passage, it does not mean that he is endorsing human oppression. Rather, what we see here is that God is working out His purposes within a sinful and broken culture.
In Rome, it was assumed that men had authority over their households. They could dominate their wives, children, slaves, and anyone else in the household. Their power was absolute.
This context is where we find Paul instructing believers about how to engage in their own households. He tells them how they should live a radical life in the surrounding culture. His words are not the fist-bounding of patriarchy or racial segregation – they are a type of gospel-oriented reformation that puts Jesus at the center of all relationships. These codes are transformative.
At the beginning of Colossians 3, Paul tells us our identities change when we submit our lives to Christ. So, it stands to reason that Christian households would be changed as well.
Paul expects that the gospel is going to reconcile households, which will in turn change churches. These churches will then build some serious gospel movement in the culture.
If you look at this passage deeply enough, you can see that – yes, Paul is promoting male headship – but he is not giving absolute power to the man in the household. Instead, Paul is creating this code of love between husbands and wives that is reciprocal.
The term “submit” does not mean slavery or servitude. He is not calling for the husband to make his wife submit. Instead, he’s telling the husband to love. The type of love that Paul calls for is sacrificial love.
When wives serve their husbands and husbands love their wives sacrificially, there are no battles for power. There is no notion of superiority. When this works as it should, households begin to take on the shape of the cross.
Covenant marriages are meant to be lights that shine in darkness. Marriages are supposed to be a reflection of God’s love to the surrounding world that’s struggling. Marriage is meant to be mission-oriented.
In this passage, Paul also addresses parent-child relationships. First, he addresses fathers and tells them that – for the sake of the gospel – they should not be heavy-handed with their children. He is encouraging fathers not to be authoritarians, but to use their headship to develop and disciple their children.
Paul also speaks to children in this passage, urging them to obey their parents. By speaking directly to children, Paul is acknowledging that they have agency in the church. He tells them to obey because “it pleases the Lord,” which challenges them to do their part for the Lord and not only for their parents.
Children are not the future church. They are part of the church right now! That means we need to be investing in them, not only loving them deeply but pouring into them as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Paul also addresses slave-master relationships in this passage. He tells slave to work with all their hearts as if they’re serving the Lord. He tells masters to create a standard of justice so they could be fair because God is watching! This code would have been radical to the Roman mind.
This code addresses who the gospel was advancing to at the time. The gospel was advancing to the elite, to the slaves, and to everyone in between. Slaves and masters were worshiping under the same roof, which would’ve been very strange to them in the beginning. Paul is creating a system of integrity within that context. This system was meant to be one that protected the vulnerable and reminded the “powerful” that they too had a Master.
Lastly, the household codes found in this passage are mission driven. When marriages and relationships are reconciled and households are able to work together as cohesive units, then the gospel is able to go out more effectively and more lives are changed by Christ!
For example, during this time, Christians were able to positively affect the culture around them by serving the poor and sick and stopping common evil practices like infanticide.
If we want to be part of a movement that creates change, we need to work together as gospel units. Lone rangers do not make a lasting impact in the kingdom of God. They may be able to kick up a lot of dust but they cannot maintain momentum alone. We are designed to work together in community, which includes households and churches.
So, if you want to actively participate in God’s work, you need to start by getting your household in order. That is where it all begins.