the household of Christ /// 3:18-4:1
I have learned that only two things are necessary to keep one’s wife happy. First, let her think she’s having her own way. And second, let her have it.
Lyndon B. Johnson
“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids.
Their behavior is always normal.” Bill Cosby
The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office. Robert Frost
We are now in the 9th week of our series – with one week to go – and as we’ve been looking at the book Colossians Paul starts us off about as high as we can get. We are way up in the heavens where Christ is presented to us as a cosmic god-man who created all things through himself and for himself and to himself and holds all things together. Paul goes from this picture of Christ’s to a clear presentation of the Gospel – that this God, who holds the universe together, came down became a man to die on a cross and save us from sin and death and to purchase us from the kingdom of darkness. Next Paul instructs Christians. If you believe the gospel and raised to a new life with Christ, then this is how you should live. We should stop pursuing God through religion, stop chasing shadows, and instead pursue Christ, the Substance. We should put to death certain wicked things in our lives, and we should put on certain characters of Christ – like kindness and compassion and humility.
Now, today, Paul is going to bring it from way out there in the heaven to way down here. He is going to bring the Gospel up close and personal. You might say he is going to bring all of this theology home. It’s time to bring it all home, and that means we must talk about our marriages, our children or more specifically – parenting, and our work.
And it’s interesting because , and I’ll be honest about this, I enjoy – really enjoy – talking about Christ with all of the mystery and awe and wonder. And throughout this series we have brought in some mathematics and biology and astrology in order to really get at the awesomeness of Christ. And so, I’ll admit, that it seems to me a little anti-climactic. I mean, we’re almost at the end of this book and we’re going to end way down here, at home, talking about husband and wife, and mom, dad and the kiddos, and even about our jobs.
Well – I’ll tell you, it hit me square between the eyes this week in my study when I read this quote from a well respected commentator.
“If a sense of anti-climax is felt when moving from the sublime picture of the worshiping church to the almost mundane instructions of this section, that is perhaps a sign that we have not fully integrated belief and practice.” NT Wright
He goes on to say that from all the literature, whether it be Jewish, Christian or even non-Judeo-Christian, it is clear that people in the ANE took very seriously their personal lives as the reflection of what they believed about God. In other words, in the culture that Paul is writing to, there did not exist the compartmentalization that is so overwhelmingly common in our culture today. In that culture – if you were a believer those believes transform your home. In our culture – if you are a believer it doesn’t necessarily transform anything and sometimes the last place it transforms is your home.
So, if you feel anti-climactic it is because you have missed the point. Oops. We do not yet understand the glorious beauty of the Gospel. If any transformational change is going to happen because of the Gospel, that change will be seen and felt and expressed mostly in our homes.
I think most every human being shares these same priorities. For Christians our first priority is be to Christ. Our highest priority in life should be to worship, pursue, know and have intimate communion with Christ. Now, if your not a Christian, that’s obviously not your first priority. However, I’m sure that you would agree that the second highest priority, outside of Christ, goes to your spouse or marriage. The third highest priority goes to your children, educating and raising them in a healthy environment, and then your fourth priority should be your work or career – your job. It is absolutely amazing to me how many people literally invert that. That might be exactly why the Bible frequently deals with this issue in this order. First Christ, then your marriage, then your children and finally your work. In fact the passage that we are studying today (Col 3:18ff) is almost a mirror of a passage in Ephesians and another in 1st Peter. We get this list more than once, almost verbatim. Lets look at it.
 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. [4:1] Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Before we break these into three different sections I want to see in this overall picture that Paul starts with the weaker vessel. He starts with the woman then ends with the man, starts with the child and then ends with the father, starts with the slave and ends with the master. And then in each case he points to Jesus. It is fitting to the Lord, it pleases the Lord and it is for the Lord.
The first thing Paul wants us to look at is marriage and it is clear from what Paul is saying that within marriage there is structure and order. Specifically that the husband is the head of the wife — and I know that I am going to have explain that.
When I do weddings I always use Ephesians 5 as the text because it gives husbands and wives instructions and then explains that the purpose of those instructions is Christ. Christ is the meaning – the substance – behind what marriage is in the first place. But – every time I do a wedding and I read that text out loud at the beginning of the homily – I’m always worried and always internally kind of cringing because I know that, while I’m trying to communicate to people who are far from God about the mysteries and the wonders of Christ and how that relates to marriage, I just know that most of the people in the room are going to immediately be turned off when they hear the words of Paul that say, “Wives submit.” It is a very unpopular phrase in our culture.
One reason why it is so unpopular is because historically men have abused verses in Scripture like this one that suggests that men are in authority over the woman. So let me clarify what this means and what it does not mean.
First let me talk about what it does not mean. Let’s get this out-of-the-way. When the Bible talks about submission between a man a woman it is not suggesting that the man is the boss or the master over the woman and that the woman is the inferior employee. In the Bible there’s this theological concept that we call “headship”. The Bible tells us that Christ is the head of the church. Paul says that in this very letter in chapter 1. Christ is the head of the church – where the head goes the body will follow. If the church is in need of anything it goes to the head and says head please help me I’m hurting. Christ loves the Church and the Church is the bride of Christ. So, Christ is not ever seen in scripture as a master who whips the Church, his bride, into submission. The Church is always portrayed as the lovely beloved bride of Christ and Christ is the loving and cherishing and growing and nursing and providing and grace giving head. Our Lord, though he is Lord, is not a tyrannical boss who whips us and beats us into submission. He is our husband, our savior, and our priest who understands our needs, protects us, and cherishes us.
Let me dispel a few myths. Turn with me to Genesis 2:15-25. God created man and gave man work and authority over all the land and all the animals and all the vegetation. But – was it good for this man, who had this authority over the creation, to be alone? No, it was not good for him to be alone – he needed a helper. Now the word helper almost or might suggest someone to help out around the house. Someone to help out with the kids, someone to do the laundry and cook the food – I need some things taken care of and I need some help. I’ve got lots of important things to do and I need someone to help me do the little things so that I can do the big things. That is not what the word helper in the original Hebrew means. In the Hebrew language the word for helper literally means – well… “helper”. And so a helper is someone who helps someone. If you need help it’s because you’re helpless and you need someone to help you. It’s used other times in the Bible to talk about the king helping another king fight a battle. The king of Israel is fighting against the king of Babylon. Babylon is way bigger than Israel so he goes to another king of another country and he asks, “Will you help me fight this battle? I cannot do it alone I need your help.” It’s also used talk about God as he helps us in our time of need. And so the word helper literally means that the person who needs help – needs help. It has nothing to do with menial tasks, chores or lowliness. If anything it is the opposite. The helper is strong enough to help.
So lets be honest, guys – you and I need help. It’s not good for you to be alone. You know you did stupid and dumb things before you got married. Your wife is wise and smart and helpful – you need her.
So that is what it does not mean it does not mean that she’s a helpee but a helper. This does not mean that men are over women….or better than women. Not at all. The Bible says that we are one flesh. And that there is no partiality and that we are all equal in God’s eyes. So what does it mean. Well look at this – Genesis 3:1-9. Did you notice the last line, who did God call for? Who did God hold responsible? Who had the ultimate responsibility for not obeying God and being tempted by the devil? The answer: the man. It was the woman who sinned and it was the woman who gave the fruit to the man, but when God shows up in the garden he calls to the man. Where were you, what are you doing, what’s going on here – man?”
I think a really helpful way of looking at headship is to look at it in the view of responsibility. We see this in the chain of command in a company, or a country, or in the military. The head is ultimately the one who will be held responsible. If the company crashes, and people loss their jobs, it is the CEO’s fault. Even if it wasn’t his fault. If a platoon engages in illegal activities, the General is the one who is brought into questioning. It is ultimately his fault. “You want to know the truth, You can’t handle the truth.”
In the garden, who sinned, the woman, who did God call out, Adam, why because he is the head. And from that day on, still today, Adam is blamed for the fall. Not eve.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— (Romans 5:12 ESV)
Gee, thanks Adam. So, head does not mean boss – not delegating duties to our wife and children, instead we are the head like Jesus. Our headship is more like Jesus and the Church and less like a boss and employer. The head is the responsible one. He protects her and looks out for her best interests. Husbands you are Jesus to your spouse. You are her pastor.
So, now the we know what headship means. Men, you are the head of the home. And this is not a debate. You are the ultimate responsibility. You must take responsibility. Jesus the perfect man took the responsibility for all kinds of stuff that was not his fault and took it to the cross. He took responsibility for our sin because he is our head. It doesn’t matter what the world says – you are the ultimate responsibility for protection, growth, care and flourishing of your wife. Is she flourishing? Notice I did not ask, is she obeying, is she submitting, the question is – is she flourishing?
Women, did you hear what Paul said? Your husband is responsible for you and your home. He needs your help. And the best way to help him is to submit to his headship. The last thing he needs is a lack of submission where you continually try to over run, disrespect and go your own way. The Bible has a ton to say about that kind of woman. Paul tells women, “submit to your husband as is fitting in the Lord.” Do you love Jesus? Do you submit to Jesus. Then likewise love and submit to your husband.
Because the husband is ultimately the responsibility and because the husband is the head – I would like husbands to ask their wives 4 specific questions tonight. I want you to lean over and quietly ask your wife these questions:
1. “WHAT IS THE MOST ROMANTIC THING THAT I’VE EVER DONE FOR YOU?”
2. “WHAT IS SOMETHING FUN WE CAN DO TOGETHER?”
3. “WHAT IS ONE THING I CAN DO FOR YOU THIS WEEK THAT WILL RELIEVE STRESS FROM YOUR LIFE?”
- “HOW CAN I PRAY FOR YOU?”
Next Paul will deal with the issue of parenting, which I think for MISSIODEI church is probably the most critical of subjects due to our demographic which is so full of young couples with young children. And we live in a culture where it’s not uncommon for both the mother and the father to change diapers and play with the kids and worry about their education and to read books about how to effectively parent and raise your children. I think it’s a wonderful and a marvelous thing that our culture has put such an emphasis on the importance of the role of the mother and the father to parent their children. It has not always been this way.
Today there’s even an entire movement called “Grace-Parenting” and it is become the new rage, like Baby Wise or some of the others. Grace parenting is all about parents learning to use the gospel as the motive for disciplining their children. And I for one am very excited about this. I’m excited about training myself to speak the Gospel to my children as I parent them. What I mean by this is, if the Gospel, as we have defined it here in Colossians, is not about doing better, trying harder, and being gooder – but instead it is news about what good Christ has already done for us, then how do we discipline our kids through that lens? How do we discipline behavior without teaching them that they need to try harder, and do better, and be good for goodness sake? Are there more effective ways that we can speak the Gospel into their lives, rather than teaching them moralistic behavioral modification which in the end has no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. I really want to explore that.
Paul gives two lines for children and parents – one for children and the other, specifically, for fathers.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Real quickly, lets look at children, children obey your parents. That’s a no-brainer and it is the only commanded in scripture that comes with a really healthy promise if you obey your parents “it will go well with you and that you will live long in the land.” (Eph 6:2; Ex 20:12) Your parents were put in your life by God to help you, to nurse you, to grow you, to discipline you. So, children obey your parents – it’s as simple as that. (I’m not going to spend too much time on this because of our specific demographic.)
However, we do need to spend some time on this issue about fathers exasperating their children. I’ve always been fascinated by this verse because – well – I am quite certain that my father never understood this verse. And it is probably not a stretch for me to say nine out of 10 men alive today would shake their head heartily because our fathers were good at exasperating us. Am I Right? And so it amazes me that Paul warns fathers of the tendency to exasperate their children twice in Scripture. Once in Ephesians and again here in Colossians. It’s not something you would think Paul would normally talk about, but he talks about it twice. Fathers don’t exasperate your kids. That’s interesting. Especially, now that I have two young boys, I can no longer deny that I see a lot of my father in myself and that causes me to shudder.
This past week I was running some errands – I was in a parking lot of a store and as I was walking into the store there was a father and his daughter walking out – the daughter – probably six or seven – was just wailing and screaming and it was really annoying and she was sort of fake crying because she was still opening the door and she was still just being obnoxious. I made the huge mistake of looking at her and then looking at him because right when she got in the car he just wailed into her. And I could see through the windshield the father whacking her on the leg repeatedly – and it was all out of anger. My heart dropped into my stomach and I just look straight ahead and walked into the store. I didn’t know what to do and felt horrible that I might’ve even provoked him by looking? And then that reminded me of the kind of parenting my father ascribed to. So as I drove away I just began to pray that the Lord would give me grace and mercy. Because I know, “Yet by the grace of God, there go I.” I prayed that I would never lose control and do those sorts of things to my boys. Not the way my father did those sorts of things to me. It scars. Father’s, don’t exasperate your children.
Lets look at both of those verses together and then unpack some of the terminology.
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21 ESV)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)
The Amplified Bible’s says,
“Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or fret your children-do not be hard on them or harass them, lest they become discouraged and sullen and morose and feel inferior and frustrated,- do not break their spirit.” (Colossians 3:21 AMP)
In my experience there are 2 kinds of dads. The pacifist and the perfectionist. The pacifist leaves their children always wanting and hungering attention from dad. The perfectionist always makes their kids feel like they’re never good enough. What kind of father are you? I really hope that you and I are neither. I want to shepherd my boys. I want to disciple my boys. I want my boys to feel the unquenchable ferocious love of a god who would die for them. I want my boys to know that I would die for them.
The Bible teaches that this Gospel truth that we’ve been learning in Colossians must enter into our homes. It is where the rubber meets the road. It is where these theories need to become realities. So how do we raise our children, not passively and not too aggressively, so as to – as Paul says. “bring them up in the discipline and instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
We must preach the Gospel in everything that we do. Sometimes, more times than I’d like to admit, I have to go into Josiah’s room and tell him that dad was wrong. “Josiah, I am sorry that I yelled at you earlier.” I believe that he needs to hear me say that. I never heard my dad say it. I believe that he needs to hear me acknowledge that I too need Jesus. In fact, I had to apologize so many times that now every time I raise my voice, and sometimes I need to, Josiah will whimper and say that I need to say “sorry”. Then I get to say, “No, I don’t need to say “I’m sorry” because I was doing my job in protecting you – but sometimes I have to say, “You’re right, I do need to say “I’m sorry” and repent for my bad choices. Being the head doesn’t mean you’re always right – it means you shepherd, and fertilize and prune, and grow your children towards Jesus.
“DON’T BREED DESPAIR IN YOUR KIDS
Every way we try to make our kids good that isn’t rooted in the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law. We won’t get the results we want from the law. We’ll get either shallow self-righteousness or blazing rebellion or both (frequently from the same kid on the same day!). We’ll get moralistic kids who are cold and hypocritical and who look down on others, or you’ll get teens who are rebellious and self-indulgent and who can’t wait to get out of the house. We have to remember that in the life of our unregenerate children, the law is given for one reason only: to crush their self-confidence and drive them to Christ.” (Give them Grace)
One of the most wonderful aspects of this grace centered movement is that it is open and honest about a ton of imperfections and failures. Parenting is an adult sport, but the more I do it the more I feel like a child. Bill Cosby said,
“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.”
What I want to say to you is this. You are going to fail. Fathers you will probably exasperate your kids. But don’t do it. And when you do it, run to Jesus. You need grace too. And when you run to Jesus, let your kids see you week before the cross of Christ.
How does the grace God has shown us completely change the way we parent?
How does the grace God has shown us help us in our failures as parents?
How can you now partner with your child in the gospel?
The last down home reality deals with work. And I should note that it is the longest section. And, I don’t want to gloss over the reality that Paul is literally talking about slaves and masters. So, quickly I want to speak to the issue of slavery. Since our mission here is to reach people who are far from God, I think it is important that we deal honestly with slavery as it is portrayed in Scripture. In short let me say this, slavery in the ANE was nothing like the slavery we saw in this country and the civil rights movement etc… Slavery in the ANE (ancient near east) was a normal way to pay off off debt. And there were all kinds of laws or codes surrounding that kind of slavery that protected the dignity and rights of those slaves. So, the Bible may seem to condone slavery or never condemn slavery, but the Bible is also clear about human rights. If you just look at history you will see that the earliest champions against slavery in our world were Christian men.
So, with that out of the way – we will look at this text as it applies to us. The Bible is true for all people, in all places, and in all times. So, how does this passages effect us? I am sure that you will agree – contextualizing this text is easy. For us – it means work for your boss as to the Lord and if you are a boss, be careful how you manage your people knowing that you have a master in heaven who knows how you treat others. Our command, whether you are a blue collar laborer or a brain surgeon, is to do all that we do for the glory of God. We are his image bearers, and we bear his image by working – just as he works, by creating – just as he creates, by fixing – just as he fixes, and might I add, by resting – just as he rests. Work is spiritual.
Do you view your work as an act of worship – glorifying God? If you don’t, it might be because you have been taught a false theology of work. In the system of theology there is actually an entire school on the theology of work. Work is given to us by God, and it was given for one purpose – so that we may exhibit the glory of God through the work of our hands.
I want to show you that work itself is an inherently spiritual thing. And I want you to see that glorifying God in the marketplace goes far beyond witnessing to your co-workers or hosting a Bible study over lunch. You are fulfilling God’s design when you do your job well – no matter what your job is.
Lets go back to Genesis:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)
The word keep (shamar) – means to care for, watch and protect. God put Adam in the garden of Eden to work it and to care for it – and all of this was before the fall. So, work is not our curse – work is a calling. In fact, the root of the English word vocation is the Latin verb voca, which means “to call.” So, what ever you do, do it to the glory of God. It is your voca-tion, it is your calling. Imagine how your life would be different if you saw your work as a calling by which you glorify God.
You see, most non-Christians see work simply as a means to an end: it provides beer money or a fat retirement pension or a better life for my kids. And many Christians see work in exactly the same way. Perhaps we’re pursuing holier ends: money to tithe or an opportunity to witness to a co-worker, for instance. But our view of work itself is still fundamentally unchanged. We are still using work as a means to an end. We are putting up with work for what it gets us. So God may be glorified in the ends, but he is neglected in the means. He is honored in the results of our work, but he is not supreme in our view of work itself.
Bob Thune. A Theology of Work
Now, it is important to note that work was cursed after the fall. I say it is important because I don’t want you to think that I am saying, “Go therefore into your places of work and see it not as a means to an end but go skipping and whistling and glorify God with your eagerness to do your very best!” That sounds wonderful, but it is completely unrealistic. Not to mention sickening. You need to know that work has been cursed.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)
Doesn’t that just make you feel like singing? Essentially God says to Adam, “You are going to work your fingers to the bone until you die.” And I don’t have to preach this, because, even if you love your job, you know this is true. Work is hard, but – despite the fact that it is hard – work is ordained by God and you have been called to glorify Him and to reflect his character through your work. “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.”
How will the theology of work change the way you work? How will you apply this next week?
Well, Paul says, “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.” I want to conclude as we should, directing each of these three household responsibilities to and through Christ.
Chances are pretty high, I actually believe they are probably like 100% that every person in the room tonight, at certain times have nodded your head. You may have given a hearty “amen” to something that was said. “Amen preacher, preach it, my wife does need to submit, my kids do need to obey.” Or you might say, “Thank-you pastor, my husband needed to hear that about not exasperating our kids.” And then, there were probably even more times that you nooded your head the other way. Head held down, recognizing your failure. We have all failed at being Christ to our wives. We have all failed at being perfect parents. We have all had horrible attitudes at work.
That is why we need Jesus. Even if you haven’t failed. Lets say your kids are awesome – and they all want to grow up to be missionaries, your wife is Miss Proverbs 31, and your work is such a joy that you don’t even need coffee because you are constantly invigorated by all the compliments you get from your co-workers and you are satisfied that your efforts will have lasting value for a 1000 generations to come. If that’s you, then give thanks to God. Never forget that Jesus is the one who is holding all things together. Don’t for a second, believe that you have actually done something right. Give thanks to God. And for the rest of us, we know we have done very little right, and even that little we have done is grace. We need Jesus.
Wives submit, as to the Lord. Children obey, as is pleasing to Jesus, workers work for Jesus, and husbands/fathers/heads – remember that you have a master in heaven so lead with the grace and mercy that he offers you and commune and rest in him so at learn better how to lead like him. All of this cosmic wonder and theology must radically change our homes. And if chasing after shadows does not transform our hearts, because we need Jesus – then we are going to need Jesus to change our homes too.