Summary: #12 in series. How to get along with others.
Colossians 3:18-4:1 – JOYful Relationships
Rabbi David A. Nelson likes to tell the story of two brothers who went to their rabbi to settle a longstanding feud. The rabbi got the two to reconcile their differences and shake hands. As they were about to leave, he asked each one to make a wish for the other in honor of the Jewish New Year. The first brother turned to the other and said, "I wish you what you wish me."
At that, the second brother threw up his hands and said, "See, Rabbi, he’s starting up again!"
Today, as we continue our journey through the book of Colossians, we look at a section about getting along with others. This passage contains practical ideas for specific relationships, and it touches on a concept for all of us in all our relationships. Let’s read Colossians 3:18-4:1.
So in this quick list of how to get along with people in your life, we start out with what some consider controversial. Wives, submit. Now, let’s clarify a few things.
It does not say, wives, submit to every man on the planet. That’s been a misinterpretation over the years, that somehow all women are lower than all men, so all wives must submit to all husbands. That is wrong.
It also doesn’t mean that women are less important than men. Certainly not. It probably doesn’t surprise you that this church is quite approving of women in ministry, as deacons or pastors. Though many well-grounded and sincere Christians disagree on this issue, I believe that the Bible allows for women to serve God in all the same capacities as men.
And this passage also doesn’t mean that a wife always has to obey the husband. There was a stink back in April about Kate Middleton’s marriage vows to Prince William, that she wasn’t going to say “obey”. She chose instead to say, “love, comfort, honor and keep”.
But this idea of submitting is not about someone being better than someone else. This word was a Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader". In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden". The same word is used about the 12-year-old Jesus letting his parents take Him back to Nazareth.
Submission is about letting someone lead, and following them in that, not grudgingly, but willingly and respectfully. Wives submitting is about respecting the husband, and loving him, and not always resisting every idea he has. Wives are not slaves, but partners and helpers.
The next idea speaks to the men, when it tells husbands to love. The similar passage in Ephesians tells husbands to love as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. All kinds of men want submissive, obedient wives, but not enough are willing to love their wives so much that they would give themselves up for them, to be willing to die for them, to bring out the best in them, as Christ did. I’m not sure what more I can say about this is that a husband really needs to make sure his wife knows how much he loves her. Not a “I told you once that I loved you, and I’ll let you know if that ever changes” kind of love, but a warm, affectionate, compassionate, self-giving love.
The next relationship idea is that children should obey. This is about honouring parents. That doesn’t mean that parents are always correct. I have had more difficulties with this command as an adult than I ever did as a kid. Does a person outgrow this? I don’t know. I do know that treating parents with respect, whether they deserve it or not, is honouring to God. Hearing what they say, and holding their suggestions in high opinion… this is good.
But the flip side of this is that fathers specifically, and parents as a whole, are told not to aggravate, or exasperate. It means madden or annoy or enrage. It means not to make them bitter against you. So even if parents are given the right to tell their kids what to do, that doesn’t mean advice should always come in the form of a command. At some point parents should treat their roles as advisor, not bosses. I wish it weren’t true, but at some point, we have to let our kids make their own decisions. Ask me in 15 years what I think this verse means, OK?
The next idea on the agenda is that slaves should obey and serve willingly. Please understand that slaves in Bible times were not how we picture slaves: the blacks before the American Civil War. Slaves in NT times were servants to Roman citizens. Paul told them to work for their masters, yes, but picture it as working for the Lord. For us, no matter what our jobs, we need to treat those jobs as if they are from God Himself. We need to work as if God were our Boss.