Paul was sending a slave back to his master, and he was concerned that Philemon's gracious treatment and this slave's escape and rebellion not be seen by other slaves as an opportunity to copy Onesimus' earlier, rebellious example. These other ideas are not big problems for the Colossians, but Paul briefly mentions and explains them.
What does a believer at home look like? First ask what is my primary identity or identities at home:
Then there is a basic guideline that applies to you because of that identity.
* Wives are in submission to their husbands
* Husbands love their wives
* Children obey their parents
* Parents do not provoke their children
* Slaves obey their masters
* Masters treat their slaves justly and fairly
Each of these guidelines are defined more specifically or given a rationale.
* Wives submit ... because it is appropriate
* Husbands love ... in spite of the temptation to fight
* Children obey ... because it pleases God
* Parents do not provoke ... in order to encourage your children
Introduce the elephant
There is a big thing here about slaves and masters and it raises several questions:
* Is Paul condoning slavery?
* Does it have anything to do with a society where slavery is not tolerated?
* Is there anything at all we can get out of it?
Paul is not condoning or condemning slavery. He is acknowledging it as a reality. For the most part, since it is not a reality in our world, some like to draw connections between Paul's instructions and employment. That is ok, as far as it goes. But at any given time, we may quit our jobs and go somewhere else. It has strong implications for people who have little flexibility or who have unusual power. Perhaps few jobs are out there. This gives bosses more power.
Here Paul has little to say to slave keepers. He says all that somewhere else. Mostly, he speaks to slaves like Onesimus, the slave who is delivering this letter.
So to slaves and keepers, Paul says:
Be fair and be just. Always be aware of the treatment God, your master, gives you. Don't be harsh, but treat slaves with respect. Some ancient writers took his instruction to mean that masters should provide well for their slaves, even paying them for their work. But none of us keep slaves. Suffice it to say that if you hold an unusual amount of power over anyone, it is wrong for you to exploit that power and it is right for you to treat him with respect and fairness.
The biggest point Paul makes in the passage is in the way a slave should behave. Again, none of us ever will be slaves, but every single person finds himself in the legitimate power of someone. This is not bad, it is real. So, how should we respond? With obedience.
What kind of obedience? The kind that has integrity. It does not matter whether or not the cat is away, the mice do not play. We work at the orders of others because it is right for us to do so. The quality of our work should never be dependent upon supervision.
Obey with sincerity and energy. It does not matter whether we like the work or not. We may not do it half-heartedly. We should do the whole job, we should do it well, and we should do it in good time.
Do it as if Jesus Himself was boss. Don't do it for the paycheck but for the reward He gives in eternity. God establishes the authorities in our lives. Even if we get away with shoddy, slow or grumbling work with our bosses, God notices.
Can you, and do you treat,
* every floor swept
* every gear shifted
* every shelf stocked
* every penny counted
* every customer served
As a stroke of work done for the kingdom of God?
Household operation, not employment is Paul's main concern. But whether in a home or a workplace, they are as much a witness as any religious word you speak. It is difficult to witness at home, and we must come to grips with the way a believer behaves at home.
Wives, submit to your husbands
This is not a popular word and more than one person has interpreted it as meaning that Paul hated women. and yet, Peter said the same thing.
It grinds against many women to hear this. Ladies, your impulse is part of the curse. One translation of the Bible puts the Genesis curse on the woman like this:
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you." (Genesis 3 NET)
In this passage we begin seeing that the harmony between the man and the woman was damaged in the fall. The power struggle between them arises from the curse. The raw dominance of men in their homes is not part of God's original design. As part of the struggle, women, it says, will desire control over their men.
But Paul says submission is more in keeping with God's plan. It is appropriate. It is fitting. But I don't believe that it is indiscriminate and unconditional. I don't believe it means that her submission in sinful things is fitting.
I knew a woman who was determined to submit to her husband in everything, and he wanted to swap her out for the wife of another couple. She believed that she was meant to submit to this. This was clearly not a situation where her submission would have been, to quote Paul, "fitting in the Lord."
We need not go to extremes to clarify Paul's words. Our tendency to see things in terms of night and day can blind us to the beauties of the sunset. We forget that between black and white is not merely gray, but every color of the rainbow. When Paul says for the woman to submit, he is not commanding the ultimate and unquestioning submission due to a master or even submission that comes naturally because of strength or personality. He is encouraging a submission that is given for the glory of God.
Husbands, love your wives
The impulse to dominate can overwhelm a man. It can blind him to his own lack of gentleness. It can make him selfish and overbearing. Even around other men, a man's impulse to resolve all challenges with force is never far from the surface. Fighting does solve disputes, by turning overcoming problems into overcoming people. It is simpler. And any man who resorts to force to solve his issues is simple-minded. It proves only that he can indulge his own selfishness.
As much as a woman's desire to control her husband is part of the fall, a husband's urge to dominate her is. Husbands are meant to lead, not dominate. When a woman is being subjected to domineering physical, emotional or sexual abuse, her submission is not appropriate. Her protection of her health and safety and that of her children is more appropriate and fitting in the Lord.
Instead, men, love your wife. Do not allow the taming of your strength to make you bitter. Do not allow disagreements with her to sour your spirit. Do not be harsh. Do not be mean. Do not be abusive. Do not fight. These are not the features of love.
Both the love of the husband and the submission of the wife draw the other into their own example. Once again John Chrysostom says it better than I could:
"To love ... is the husband's part, to yield pertains to the other side. If, then, each one contributes his own part, all stand firm. From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband learns to yield" (Homilies on Colossians).
Men, love is not a power struggle or a declaration that you are the tie breaker in every disagreement:
Love is patient
Love is kind
Love is not self centered
Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13)
I am afraid, men, that we have allowed this description to fit women better than it fits us. And we are the ones given the command to love.
Children obey your parents
Children are not inclined to do this. But if a child truly wants to claim to be a believer, it is how he or she will behave. It is not always fun or in keeping with our image of ourselves, but as children, we are called to obey. It is pleasing to God.
If a child wants to please God, this is his or her first instruction. Our parents are our first, best teachers and pastors. If you do as they say, you are exercising your first and most immediate obedience. It is good.
But, Parents, Do not provoke your children
There is a fine line of wisdom in parenting. You can and should expect obedience from your children, but you should also be wise in what you require and how you treat and speak to them. Our tone and the character of our expectations upon children should avoid demanding, but should encourage them in their obedience.
Allow me to confess my ignorance. I am not good with children, largely because I do not have any. It is easy for me to become the unwitting victim of their manipulations. I will not pretend to be a child rearing expert and will not presume to give you too much advice. My purpose here is to attempt to interpret what Paul is saying about appropriate and fruitful parenting. It is not much, only one line, so I will attempt also not to over-do it.
Pay attention to the responses of your children. If they are prone to anger in response to your treatment of them, perhaps it is time to try a new approach. It is a path for them to walk and you are their guide.
Their path is obedience. Your guidance determines how they walk:
* In anger and resentment
* Or in courage, curiosity and enthusiasm
In other words, the fact that your children obey you is not as good a gauge of your parenting as the spirit in which they obey. We sometimes think that if we get compliance that is enough.
I like the story that Stephen Covey tells in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. His daughter has a birthday party. After she opens her presents the children want to play, but she does not want to share her gifts with them. So Dr. Covey tries everything:
* He tries appealing to her better nature: It is nice to share
* He tries appealing to her gratitude: They just gave you the gifts, they were nice to you
* He tries bribery (in a whisper): If you share, I will give you some gum (to which she loudly responds in the hearing of the other parents that she doesn't want any gum)
* He threatens: If you don't share, I will punish you
* Finally he uses force: Over her protests, he takes some of the gifts away from his daughter and distributes them to the other children
You may think he did the right thing, but Dr. Covey believes that in her frustration, that particular lesson of the value of sharing was stolen from his daughter. He could have been more understanding of her desire to explore her new toys before, with a sense of security and generosity, sharing them with others.
I will not question his wisdom. I will only say that our goals sometimes need to be adjusted. We need to have loftier and more positive goals in many things, including child rearing.
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