Colossians 3:17-4:1: Living together at home and work - 22nd March 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Colossians 3:17-4:1

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Don’t confuse the good news of Jesus with ‘traditional values’. The two may sometimes overlap. But they are definitely not the same. Don’t confuse the gospel with ‘progressive values’ either. The two may sometimes overlap. But they are definitely not the same. To put this in political terms, the gospel of Jesus is not right wing. Nor is it left wing. It’s different.

God’s challenge to you is to believe the good news of Jesus. In any and every situation. That’s what will change your life. Because the gospel of Jesus is different to the story that the world around us tells.

It’s really important we grasp this if we’re going to understand and apply this part of God’s word that we’ve just heard (Colossians 3:17-4:1 p.1184). You see, as we read those verses and we heard about wives & husbands, children & fathers, slaves & masters, the chances are that the world’s story was ringing in your ears. Our culture in our part of the world tells a very clear story about all these relationships. It’s basically a story which says that the main purpose is to achieve freedom. The story goes that we have come out of a time when people were held down and trapped by authority but that bit by bit that authority has been thrown off, and so the right thing for us to do is to throw off that authority and achieve our freedom so that we can make more of ourselves. It’s all about liberation; progress.

So if that’s the story that’s going round your mind, when you hear these verses they may sound to you like quite a shocking blast from the past. Wives submit? Slaves? Is the Bible here really saying that women ought to be pushed back into their place? That slavery ought to be reintroduced? Is this just an extreme version of traditional values?

The answer is no. Because while the gospel is not the same as the world’s story of liberation and progress, it is not the opposite of that story either. This has nothing to do with pushing anyone back into their place. Nor is it about changing the law to reintroduce former evils. Slavery in this country was ended by Bible-believing Christians because they were Bible-believing Christians. Because they believed the gospel. When we see people freed from oppression, whether it be women or children rescued from exploitation and abuse, or slavery ended, that is something to be thankful for. Paul is not saying we need to wind back the clock and go to the past. The past, like the present, is a mixed bag. You might prefer to go backwards in time, or you might hate the very idea. But to go back to the past would not be good news. It would not be the gospel.

The gospel story is that if you believe in Jesus Christ then God has made you free. Not that you have to free yourself, or make your own identity, you have been freed from sin and death and raised and exalted and welcomed into the family of God. You are secure and free in Christ. You are resurrection people, heavenly people. You have a whole new glorious identity in Christ, your future is secure in him. That’s been the big message of Colossians. If you don’t get that, or you missed it, go back and listen to the last few talks on the website, because today really only makes sense against that backdrop.

If you’re not a believer, I don’t expect you to get this or to do this. Look down at the verse – can you see how Paul says “in the Lord” so many times? It’s all about how we live if we’re in the Lord. In Jesus. It’s about putting on that new self that we’ve been given, as believers. It’s not meant to be laws dictating how other people should live. If we believers live like this, then just like with the stuff earlier in the chapter, we’ll end up looking pretty different to the world around us. Good. That’s how it’s meant to be. That’s actually one of the most attractive things about the Christian gospel – how people live whose lives have been transformed by Christ. It’s different.

Because if we are believers then we live as heavenly people, Christ people, in the middle of the real world. You see today really is about where the rubber hits the road in real life, most of the time. Two weeks ago we were thinking about how seeing who we are in Christ together transforms the way we live together as a church family. But in a way that’s all a lot easier because church life is only life some of the time. Today we’re talking about life all of the time. Home life and work life. The real nitty gritty. How can we believe the gospel of Jesus in the midst of this day to day living? And what difference will Jesus make to us if we do?

Well let’s zoom in on each of these relationships – we’ll look at the slave/Master relationship first in verse 22 – because this is where we see lots of the key ideas that apply to the other relationships too.

1.  Work hard for Jesus, because you are rich in Jesus

Slaves were people of no status at all. They were owned, they were seen as inferior beings, they had no rights, they did what they were told or else. But here Paul is talking to Christian slaves who have been raised with Christ. These slaves, Christian slaves, are people of status. They are, in Christ, members of God’s royal family – in no way inferior. Paul underlines that doesn’t he, in verse 24 where he says “you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” These slaves are inheritors of Jesus’ kingdom. They will one day reign with their Lord Jesus. This was unheard of. They are not owned by their masters any more, they have a new Lord. Interestingly that word “master” that comes up in these verses, that’s actually exactly the same Greek word as the word “Lord”. Paul is underlining the change – they are now servants of a different master; the Lord Jesus, the master who made himself nothing to save them and lift them up to the highest place. Everything has changed for these Christian slaves.

But here’s the surprise. Instead of this creating an opportunity for them to inflate their importance, it creates an opportunity for them to humble themselves. From the heart. Not forced down, squashed into place by their masters, actually from the heart. Look at verse 22: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men”.

Do you see how this works? In a sense, everything about their situation has changed. But they are still in the same place. They are new people, with a new status, living in the same old place. But the way they live there is very different. Believing the gospel, remembering who they are in Christ, will actually make them much better workers than they were. Because they are in Christ Jesus. Think about Jesus and what he did. Let him define service. He made himself a slave for us, he humbled himself to die for us. Not because he was forced to, he did it from the heart. Humbling ourselves from the heart, not because we are forced to but rather because we are free to, that’s a very Christlike way to be.

Now as we know, by the grace of God, slavery has ended, but there is a really clear application of this to how we work now, isn’t there? Slave masters were, after all, the principal employers of their day. How we relate to our employers is different, but not very different. Just look over those verses and think about the work you do, whether it’s paid or voluntary, at the workplace or in the home. “Not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

How does your workrate when nobody is watching compare with your workrate when the boss is watching? Companies spend vast amounts of money creating open plan offices, not because they are nice, but because people work harder when they are watched. Is that you? Do you cut corners when you can? When the boss’s eye is off you, are you straight on to candy crush or Facebook? This is perhaps especially an issue for people who work at home. Do you only work hard when you are watched?

For Christians this can be different, can’t it? We’re not working to pacify our boss, to look as busy as we can for him or her. We want to please the Lord. Not to keep him off our back, as if he were trying to catch us out. Not because we have to prove ourselves to him – we don’t. No, actually to please him. From the heart, not forced upon us. Because he has been so wonderful and generous to us. Even if our earthly boss has been lousy. Even if our job feels like a thankless task, well still believe the gospel. Trust Jesus Christ – you have a master who will reward you. That’s assured.

That’s got to make a difference, hasn’t it? People often worry a great deal about which job we should do, but for the Lord far more important is how we do whatever it is we do. For Christians our job doesn’t give us status. The status we have in Christ transforms the way we do our job. Wouldn’t it be great if our bosses and colleagues were able to say “those Christians are such good workers. It seems to come from the heart with them.” It should, shouldn’t it?

And of course, this has a direct application for the bosses too, doesn’t it? Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” If you’re a Christian master or boss, those slaves, or employees, they are not beneath you just because you have been given a position of authority over them. If you want to see a concrete example of that, just read the very short Bible book of Philemon, which was written by Paul to one of these Colossian Christian masters, Philemon about a runaway slave, Onesimus. There Paul invites Philemon to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. An equal.

Everything has changed because you are in Christ. You have a master now. You’re not monarch of all you survey, he is. And He has shown you what it looks like to be a proper master, a real Lord. Real masters are servant leaders, because that’s who Jesus is. Providing your employees with what is right and fair isn’t easy. It’s costly and hard work. And just in case you are thinking “I’m not a master or an employer” this applies whenever someone comes to work for you, be it a plumber or phone technician or whoever. Being a neglectful and harsh boss is a much easier option. Actually taking time to listen to your employees, thinking not only of the company’s interests as if the company were an impersonal thing but actually thinking of your employees; praying for them. It’s no wonder that Christian bosses have made some of the best bosses. They should do, shouldn’t they?

So if that’s the workplace, what about the home?

Well again, it’s the same. Believe the gospel of Jesus. Know who you are in Jesus. You have nothing to prove. Let his character shape your character in whatever role you are in.

So, wives and husbands, believe the gospel about your roles. You have roles that interlock, that are different but complementary, and they make sense, in fact they are wonderful, only when we see them through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Christian marriage is not a competition. One of the sadnesses about the way our society talks about gender is that whenever we think about different roles it so often comes down to a contest. Our secular culture can only think in terms of equality or difference. It can’t handle the two together. The great Christian writer GK Chesterton wrote a wonderful poem called comparisons, which put it very well. He said:

If I set the sun beside the moon,

And if I set the land beside the sea,
And if I set the town beside the country,
And if I set the man beside the woman,

I suppose some fool would talk about one being better.

Before God the only thing that gives us status is the fact that Jesus has given us his own status. We are one in Christ. Whether we are male or female makes no difference at all in terms of value or status or importance. Christian marriage is a partnership of equals. Of course it is.

The beauty of it though is that is a partnership of different equals. That’s the unique glory of Christian marriage. Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Submission is something a Christian wife does in the Lord. That means we let Jesus define for us what it means. Well what did it mean for Jesus to submit? Who did Jesus submit to? He submitted to God his Father, didn’t he? Does that mean that Jesus is inferior to his Father? Not at all. They are equally God. But Jesus, willingly, without compulsion, unforced, submitted to his Father. Perhaps the most extreme example of that was the garden of Gethsemane, wasn’t it? Think of that garden. Jesus on the night before he died, knowing what lay ahead, on one level not wanting it to happen, prayed “Father not my will, but yours be done.” Nobody forced him to – he was very, very clear about that. He could have called the angels in. But he didn’t. He entrusted himself to God the Father. Knowing that ultimately the Father would raise him to everlasting joy. Knowing that his Father really did, ultimately, have his best interests at heart.

You see submission in the Lord is trust. It’s trusting your husband to lead you, to take responsibility for you, even if his will on this or that doesn’t match up with yours. It’s trusting him. Trusting husbands is not easy; I speak as a husband. I know I’m not always worthy of trust in and of myself. But submitting to your husband is also trusting the Lord, isn’t it? It’s trusting the Lord who has said this. Like Jesus, it is not compelled or forced. It’s from the heart. Wives, you know your security is in Christ. You are raised and seated and glorified with Jesus in heaven. You are inheritors of his kingdom – along with your husbands. You have no need to compete. You have nothing to prove. You are free to submit from the heart.

And husbands, you are free to love like Christ. Love your wives. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, aren’t they? On the surface of it that doesn’t sound as hard as submit, but again, what does that mean in Jesus? We need to let Jesus define love for us. For Jesus love meant choosing suffering for the good of his people. It meant choosing to serve them, giving himself sacrificially for them. To rescue and protect and bless. Leading them, yes. But doing so through sacrifice and self-giving. That’s Christlike love.

Christlike love kicks in when there are sacrifices to be made. When the baby wakes up in the middle of the night and one of you has to get up. When you’re going on a long journey and one of you has to drive. When getting ahead in your career is going to make big demands on your wife and you have to choose. When spending proper time with her will mean sacrificing that sport or that hobby or that time with your friends that you love. When a difficult decision needs to be made though neither of you wants to make it. When caring for her and supporting her through the illness will shut down the rest of your social life. That’s when Christlike love kicks in. When there are deliberate, costly sacrifices to be made.

And do you see the little tester Paul adds on? “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” That’s the test. When the disagreement happens, there can be no trace of harshness. Jesus with his disciples was strong, he spoke clearly, at times he confronted them, but he was never harsh. The secular world sees the word ‘submit’ and it thinks ‘abuse.’ Sadly because it’s so common. There can be no place for abuse in Christian marriage. If it’s happening in your marriage it is not right, it is not to be tolerated. If you are abusing or abused there is help to be given. Don’t just leave it and hope it’ll go away.

Children – obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Children, this is you too. Do you notice how the children are included? All the stuff about being raised in Christ and inheritors of his kingdom, that’s believing children too. You don’t have to be a certain age before you achieve the status of a full believer in Christ. Christian children too are assured of their status in Christ. Christian children do not lose any of their dignity or honour when they are go to bed when told. They are free to obey, from the heart.

Learning obedience as a child is a good thing. The aim of parenting is to produce men and women who will flourish in the Lord, isn’t it? Parenting is not a permanent state, as much as parents like me hate to admit it, our children will grow and move away and stand on their own two feet. Parenting is aiming at the future. To use one biblical image, it is launching arrows that will fly far and true. It’s not just flicking them out in any old direction. Part of flourishing in the Lord is obedience. Obeying parents while you are a child is about learning lifelong obedience to the Lord. That needs saying because our culture especially here in North London is not one that values obedience in children very much. Our advertisers market their products at children because they know that if they can hook the kids, the parents will give way sooner or later. For children obeying your parents in the Lord again is about believing the gospel. Believing what the Lord has said about your parents, believing that they are a good gift from God to you. It is ok for them to tell you what to wear or not or when to go to bed or who to hand out with. You need to trust the Lord on that. You will one day get married or move away and you will be independent and responsible for yourself before the Lord. But for now he has given them to be responsible for you. That’s a good thing. Your future is secure in Jesus. So now, learn obedience. It will prove its worth in the long run.

Parents, as you teach your children amongst other things, obedience, make sure you don’t embitter them. To embitter a child is to squash them. To defeat them and leave them without hope. Discouraged. Disciplining children is meant to correct them and change their direction but never to squash them. Never to satisfy that urge to compete with them. When the confrontation is going on, as they do, and the tempers flare, and you want to win, that’s when you need to remember Jesus. Remember Jesus with his disciples. He was patient. He told them when they were wrong. But he didn’t squash them. He was aiming them like arrows to fly far and true. You may win the argument, but if you’ve embittered your children, you’ve lost sight of what parenting in Christ looks like.

Fathers, this is for you. The word fathers here can mean just fathers or it can mean both parents, but either way fathers are included, aren’t they. Don’t leave raising your kids to mum. It’s your job too. It’s one of the ways you can love your wife. Who should take the lead in making sure that family Bible time happens? Who should want to be responsible for making sure that there is proper discipline in the house? All this in partnership, of course. But don’t stand aside from carrying what the Lord has entrusted to you.

This is all big stuff. It’s the nitty gritty. There are endless issues I could have touched on but haven’t. For that reason I’ve cobbled together bunch of helpful books which are over there. Take them, read them, bring them back.

Believe the gospel of Jesus at home and at work. Remember what he has done for you. Remember who you are in him. Remember where he’s taking you. Remember that the power for change is in him. I’ve got two coffee questions to think about. Let’s talk about them together. Talk in couples too. None of these things are meant to be just faced up to on our own. We are the family of God in Christ. Let’s help one another and pray for one another so that in Christ we might live as that family in the day to day.

How has this challenged you in the relationships you are in?


How can what you know of Jesus help you in these relationships?