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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Jesus Christ is your Lord, also when it comes to life in the home
Text:Colossians 3:18-4:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Marriage
 
Preached:2015
Added:2016-07-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 77

Psalm 119:58-60 (after the law)

Psalm 1

Psalm 112:1,2,5

Psalm 147:1,2,6

Scripture reading:  Philemon

Text:  Colossians 3:18-4:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Every day the Hamilton Spectator has a column entitled “Dear Ellie.”  Ellie Tesher is what’s called an advice columnist.  Every day people write in with their questions and then she tries to give answers.  The questions always have to do with relationships.  Many times the questions have to do with home and family life.  As Christians, sometimes we can see some truth and value in the answers Ellie gives.  At other times, we know that the wisdom from God’s Word says something completely different and better than Ellie’s “wisdom.”

Back in the days of Paul, they didn’t have newspapers and so they didn’t have advice columnists like Ellie.  But there were still those who wanted to give advice about relationships.  There were writers who wanted to instruct people about home and family life.  Pagan philosophers would write books where they would teach about how to have a well-ordered home.  These writings would be addressed to a very particular audience.  They would be addressed to the men, the head of the household.  Occasionally, from a Christian perspective, there was some truth and value in the advice given.  But at many other times, it was clear that God’s will is something completely different.

Like our congregation, it appears that the Colossian church was made up of all kinds of different people.  There were all these various people who had heard the gospel.  They had heard that Jesus Christ graciously saves sinners and they believed that message.  Then they all needed biblical instruction about how to live in union with Christ.  They needed instruction for their sanctification, about the process of becoming more Christ-like.  So, what does it look like when you are united to Christ and he is your head, he is the Lord of your life?   Most of chapter 3 addresses that in a general way, a way that speaks to everybody.  But then our text turns and becomes more specific.  Here we have instruction specifically intended for home and family life.  What does it look to set your mind on things above as a husband or wife?  What does it look like when you’re united to Christ as a parent?  What does it mean to have Christ as Lord when you’re a child?  How do you live as a Christian when you’re a servant or a master?  The Holy Spirit doesn’t want God’s people to fall back on the world for figuring those things out.  The world can only provide a mixture of truth and error, and most of the time the errors dominate.  Instead, the Spirit wants to give the people of God infallible and pure truth.

This morning I preach to you God’s Word from Colossians.  The theme of our text is:

Jesus Christ is your Lord, also when it comes to life in the home

We’ll see that Paul specifically addresses:

  1. Wives and husbands
  2. Children and fathers
  3. Servants and masters             

When pagan writers wrote the ancient equivalent of household advice columns, they always wrote for just one audience.  As I mentioned a moment ago, they wrote to the head of the household, their writing was intended only for men.  The men would be told how to keep order in their household and how to get everybody to behave the way they were supposed to.  So the pagan equivalent of verse 18 would be something like, “Men, make sure your wives submit to you.  Get them to obey you and do your bidding.”  A pagan Greek writer would never directly address the women of a household.

But that’s exactly what Paul does here in verse 18.  He’s writing to the congregation of Christ at Colossae and this congregation includes women.  The women there were fully members of Christ’s church and they could be and needed to be addressed as such.  So already here you see something of the counter-cultural nature of what’s in Scripture about family life.  Many in the world of that time said that women are incapable of understanding moral instruction.  But the Holy Spirit says, “No, Christ came to save women too and I live in the hearts of women as well.  They must be addressed as full and equal members of Christ’s church.”  Therefore, that’s exactly what Paul does.  The Holy Spirit inspires his words to the wives in the Colossian church.

The command he gives is for these wives to submit to their husbands.  What does it mean to submit?  This is actually not difficult to explain or understand.  The word “submit” here means to voluntarily yield your will to another.  It means to voluntarily place yourself under the leadership of another.  In this case, wives are commanded to do that with their husbands.  Christian wives are to recognize the leadership of their husbands and act accordingly.  As I mentioned, this was already counter-cultural in its own way in Paul’s day.  You would never directly address a woman and tell her to do this.  You wouldn’t treat her as a responsible person who could be encouraged or commanded to do this.  Instead, you would speak to her husband and tell him to get her to do this.  But in our day, these words are counter-cultural in a different way.  Today people are really offended at the idea of a wife being told to recognize the leadership of her husband and follow his lead, yielding her will to his.  If they’re not offended at it, they certainly find it old-fashioned and laughable.  Yet here it is in God’s Word – it’s given as timeless truth, also for our lives today.  In that connection, there are a few things to point out.

First, elsewhere in Scripture, it’s clear that this is the way things were designed from the beginning.  In other words, what’s in Colossians 3 is not a cultural thing.  It’s not as if we can say, “Oh, that’s just the way it was in those backward times.”  No, this is rooted in creation and therefore goes beyond culture.  Adam was created as the head of his wife.  The man was created to be the head of his household, including his wife.  This is not something that appears later, after the fall, or suddenly in the New Testament.  This is what we call a creation ordinance.  God designed this idea of wifely submission from the beginning.  This was part of what he called “very good” in Genesis 1:31.  If someone bristles at this idea of submission in Scripture, they are saying that God is a liar in Genesis 1:31 when he said that it is “very good.”  Calling God a liar is never a very good idea.

Second, this passage doesn’t say that every wife is to submit to all husbands.  It’s not as if Scripture is saying here that a woman is called to submit to the leadership of someone else’s husband.  The submission of a Christian wife is to the leadership of her own husband.

Next, we need to remind ourselves that this submission is never absolute.  No human authority in Scripture is absolute.  Only God’s authority is absolute. What that means is that no human has the right to tell another to do something contrary to God’s Word.  In this case, no husband has the right to tell his wife to do something that goes against the Bible.  No wife is under any compulsion to submit to a husband who is urging her to do something ungodly or wicked.  There are limits.

Finally, note the last words in verse 18, “as is fitting in the Lord.”  What that means is that Christian wives submit to their husbands because this is the thing that’s appropriate for those who are united to Christ.  This is the thing that goes with acknowledging that Jesus is the Head, he is Lord.  After all, our Lord Jesus was involved with establishing the created order where the husband is the head of his wife.  John says that all things were created through him.  Christ stands behind it.  It’s his will that wives submit to their husbands, and it’s fitting for those who love him and say that he’s their Master, that they go and do what he says.

Verse 19 sees the husbands of the church being addressed too.  Note again what Paul doesn’t say.  He doesn’t say, “You husbands, get after your wives to submit to you.”  Scripture never, ever says that.  Brothers, it’s not our calling to enforce submission, or make it happen through nagging or what have you.  Scripture never calls Christian husbands to do that and we have to resist the temptation to think ourselves wiser than God.

Instead, the Holy Spirit says here that husbands are to love their wives.  Again, this was quite counter-cultural in the days of Paul and the Colossian church.  Love in marriage happened, but it wasn’t expected or encouraged.  There were pagan husbands who loved their wives, but this wasn’t the norm.  You took a wife so that you would have a woman to work in the home, someone to have children with, and someone to raise those children.  But love?  No, that wasn’t necessarily part of the equation.  Yet that’s what the Holy Spirit commands husbands to do here.  The love that’s commanded is the same self-sacrificial love showed by Christ when he gave himself for his people on the cross.  It’s the love that puts the other person first and is even willing to die for the other person.  This love is about commitment and sacrifice.  It’s not self-centered, but other-centered.  In that way, the love that’s commanded here is also counter-cultural in our day.  There are unbelievers who love in a self-sacrificial way, but it’s not the notion of love that’s typically encouraged and celebrated.  In our world, love is either romanticized or sexualized.  It’s either made to be all about feelings or about lust.  But that’s not the love Christian husbands are to have for their wives.  Brothers, our love for our wives is to be modelled on Christ’s love for his people.

If you’re going to be loving your wife in that way, then the next part of verse 19 follows from that.  “Do not be harsh with them.”  Remember 1 Corinthians 13?  Love is patient and kind.  The harshness here in verse 19 is about treating your wife in a bitter and nasty way.  You look down at her and cut her down when she expresses herself.  There’s always a sharp edge, you’re spiteful and surly.  That doesn’t fit with the love that Christ has for his bride.  If our love is modelled on Christ’s love, we would not be harsh and cruel with our wives.  In fact, being harsh is the complete opposite of the love shown by Christ. 

And again, we should think about how this teaching goes against the grain.  In Paul’s day, husbands were usually the tyrants of their homes.  They were the lord, the ultimate master.  To tell a Christian husband to not be harsh would be surprising to pagan ears.  In our day, these words are still counter-cultural, but in a different way.  Today relationships are often about “meeting needs.”  If you’re in a relationship, you’re often in it for you.  If the relationship is no longer meeting your needs, then you end it.  That includes marriage relationships.  Naturally, that has an impact on the way people treat one another.  If your love is merely romantic or sexual, then it is very easy to get to harsh dealings and eventually curtains on a relationship.  However, if your love is modeled on Christ’s love, if your love is this self-sacrificial, other-centered commitment that Christ has shown, then you can start to see how harsh and bitter dealings are out of line.  Then this Christian approach to marriage holds out hope and promise for the long-term future of this relationship too.

Now we come to verses 20 and 21 and the relationship between children and parents.  Children are addressed directly in verse 20.  This is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.  First, again in Paul’s day, this just wasn’t done.  You would give advice or orders to the father.  He would be told to get his children to obey.  But second, in our day this is noteworthy too because the children are addressed as members of Christ’s church.  There’s no getting around this.  Many today say that the children of believers can’t be church members, at least not until they come to faith and make a decision for themselves to be baptized.  The Holy Spirit says differently right here in Colossians 3:20.  The children are part of the Colossian church – and they’re part of our church here today as well.  You kids are all already church members.  You don’t become church members when you do public profession of faith.  You’re already members, all of you.  And God’s Word speaks to you too. 

God’s Word says that Jesus Christ is your Saviour and Lord too.  You’re called to believe that.  All you children are called to say that Jesus is Lord, that means that he is your Master, he is the one who owns you.  He has a right to your life and how you live.  You should want to please him.  Why?  Because not only do you belong to him, but he has already shown you so much grace and mercy.  Jesus has been kind and loving to you.  He has made you part of his church where you can hear the gospel of salvation – that even though you are a sinner, when you believe in Jesus, you are accepted by God.  He has baptized you, officially telling you that you have been given great promises.  You should want to believe him and please him. 

How do you please the Lord?  The Holy Spirit tells you:  “obey your parents in everything.”  When your parents tell you to do something, you do it because this pleases the Lord.  You don’t argue, you don’t talk back, you simply obey.  You don’t take your time and do what they tell you when you feel like it – no, you do it right away.  “Delayed obedience is disobedience” (Spurgeon).

Now verse 20 says “in everything.”  We need to add “in everything that fits with God’s Word.”  As I said earlier, no human authority is absolute, and that includes the authority of parents.  Parents have no right to command their children to do something that is evil in God’s sight.  Children are under no obligation to obey parents who command them to do something wicked.  But if you are a child and your parents tell you to do something that they have a right to tell you to do, your calling is to do it, to obey them.  You need to do it because, as our text says, this pleases the Lord.

Fathers are addressed in verse 21.  You may be wondering:  why “fathers” and not mothers too?  Again, biblically speaking fathers are the head of the household.  When it comes to the raising of children, the buck stops with dad.  But you can certainly look at verse 21 and include mothers in the picture.  What’s said here is directed first at fathers as the head of the house and at fathers as the ones most likely to need this instruction, but it’s not meant to completely put mothers out of the picture.

The command is for fathers not to provoke their children.  What does that mean exactly?  It means to arouse a negative reaction in your children, to irritate them.  How might one do that?  There are various ways.  Let me mention two.  The first is through harshness and being over-bearing, overly strict.  When a child does something wrong, the parents come down hard every single time.  There’s no grace, it’s all justice all the time.  You do something wrong, you get punished swiftly and harshly.  Instead, of dealing with your children in the patient and loving way that our heavenly Father deals with us, you deal with them like Islamic sharia law was in place in your home.  You go out of line, you get punished – bang!  No room for warnings, no room for grace, no room for growth, no room for patient teaching and gentle leading.  That’s harsh and over-bearing.  That provokes children and backfires on what parents should be trying to do.  That was the way that pagan fathers were told to raise their children in Paul’s day.  Sadly, there are many Christians today who think that their children have to be raised in the same harsh way.  No, that’s provoking your children.  It really doesn’t fit with what the Bible teaches.    

The other way that children can be provoked is through outright hypocrisy in the home.  Children see parents who pretend to be God-fearing Christian people at church and with church people.  But at home, when nobody’s looking, they live like the world.  Or at work, when they’re with unbelievers, they just fit right in.  Such parents might think that their children are too young to pick up on this and don’t notice, but the reality is quite different.  Children, and especially teenagers, have very acute hypocrisy detectors.  They pick up very quickly when their parents are acting one way on Sunday and acting another way on Wednesday.  That provokes children too. 

What’s the result when children are provoked, whether through harshness or hypocrisy, or other things?  They can become discouraged.  What that means is not only that they can have a feeling of discouragement or being dispirited, but that they just give up.  They just throw in the towel and say, “What’s the use?  I can never be good enough, I can’t measure up for dad or mom, so why bother trying?  Forget it, whatever.  I’m not even going to bother anymore.  Who cares?”  Worse, that can have an impact on how they view God and how their faith develops.  It’s a fact that children’s relationship with their parents often has an impact on how their faith develops.  If dad and mom are harsh and judgmental, children often come to view God in the same light.  If they’ve never experienced grace and mercy from dad and mom, they find it more difficult to understand the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ.  Parents:  you have to see that when you’re disciplining your children, you’re also discipling them.  You’re shaping and moulding them spiritually, for better or for worse.  So take what the Holy Spirit says here seriously:  do not provoke your children in any way, lest they become discouraged.  They’ve been entrusted to you by the Lord so that you would disciple them and lead them to a healthy relationship with him – not so that you would drive them away from him.

Everything up to this point in our text has been counter-cultural in some way, but probably the most shockingly counter-cultural thing is in verse 22.  Paul writes directly to servants within the Colossian households.  That would have been totally unthinkable in the ancient world.  Servants or slaves were scarcely regarded as people – more often, they were just regarded as property.  You wouldn’t dream of writing to them and addressing them as people who could be responsible for their own behaviour.  Yet that’s exactly what Paul does here – he goes totally against the grain of his culture and regards servants or slaves as human beings.  They are humans created in the image of God and capable of being given salvation through Jesus Christ. 

That’s confirmed in what we read from Philemon as well.  That letter is often connected with Colossians.  Philemon is thought to have been a member of the Colossian church.  Onesimus had been one of his slaves and he ran away.  This slave became a Christian and Paul sent him back to Philemon.  It’s readily apparent that Paul regarded Onesimus as a human being, as a fellow Christian.  He implores Philemon to look at him the same way.

This is an important point to understand.  In our passage, Paul is not endorsing slavery at all.  He’s not saying that this institution is good and should be maintained.  He simply addresses those who are caught up in this and teaches them the appropriate Christian response.  But the seeds for doing away with slavery are here with his humanizing of slaves.  Slaves are not property – they’re human beings who should be addressed as human beings. 

For us today here in Canada, slavery is a thing of the distant past.  That can make it difficult to take what we read in verses 22 to verse 1 of chapter 4 and apply that to our lives.  However, we can look at these verses as providing us with the basics of a Christian work ethic.  That’s essentially what this is about:  it’s about how to live as a Christian in terms of work.  It just so happens that the work described here is that of a household servant or slave.  The person of a household servant or slave belonged to the master and it was typically not a voluntary arrangement.  Today, our time and effort belong to our employers and it’s always a voluntary arrangement.  Yet, when you enter into that arrangement with an employer, there is a sense in which you commit yourself to the authority of that employer.  That’s the nature of the employment relationship.  So, we can take what we read in these verses and we can apply it to our Christian work ethic today. 

Verse 22 speaks of obedience.  Servants were to obey their earthly masters in everything – again, not an absolute obedience, there is always a limit.  They were commanded to do their work in a certain way:  with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  There are those who work as people-pleasers.  When they’re being watched, they act a certain way, make it look like they’re working really hard.  But when the boss isn’t watching, and if they can get away with it, they get lazy and do the bare minimum.  The question is always:  what can I get away with?  How little can I do?  That’s what “eye-service” means in verse 22.  The Holy Spirit says that this doesn’t fit with having Christ as your Lord.  Not for servants back in Paul’s day, not for us today either.  As those who have Christ as our Ultimate Master and Lord, we do our work honestly and wholeheartedly, whether the boss is watching us or not.  We want to be known as dependable and trustworthy people in the workplace, because we bear the name of Christ everywhere we go.

In whatever work we do, we do it knowing that we’re not working for people, but for our Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s the essence of a Christian work ethic.  We’re not serving ourselves, we’re not serving our employer, we’re serving Christ above all.  That’s why we work hard, that’s why we work honestly, that’s why we work with all our heart.  And as we work like that, we know that there is the gracious promise of a reward.  As children of God through Christ, we have an inheritance waiting for us.  Our inheritance is the new heavens and new earth, it’s eternity in blessed communion with God.  We don’t earn this inheritance through our efforts – this is a gift that God has graciously decided to give to us through his Son.  He doesn’t have to give it to us, and yet, he does.  Because we know that this gift is ours through grace, we strive to please our Lord and Master.  We show him our love and gratitude by honouring him in the workplace.                 

Verse 25 reminds Christian slaves of the past and Christian workers of today that wrong-doing will not go unnoticed.  If you’re ripping off your boss, he might not see you, but the Lord does.  If you’re claiming that you worked 50 hours that week when it was only 48 hours, maybe your boss won’t catch it, but the Lord does.  If you fail to put in a full effort, or do anything else lacking integrity in your work:  “the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done.”  If you claim to be a Christian, but unrepentantly live in sin in the workplace, there will be consequences.  There is no partiality.  God doesn’t play favourites.  He doesn’t say, “Well, he had a bad boss or a bad workplace environment, so that justifies his poor work ethic and lack of integrity.”  No, this verse told Christian slaves that they were responsible for how they conducted themselves in their work no matter what the situation.  Today, this verse tells us today too that in our daily work, we are responsible for living with Christ as Lord, for honouring him with an honest and God-glorifying work ethic.

But masters don’t get off the hook here.  Translating 4:1 to today, we would say that this is about employers.  In the ancient world, it was all about getting as much as you could out of the servants or slaves you had.  There was no thought to treating them like human beings, to treating them justly and fairly.  But that’s what we find here.  Through the Spirit, Paul encourages them to look at the servants as fellow human beings with dignity, worthy of justice and fairness.  For Christian employers today, employees can never be just a means to an end.  God’s Word calls you to justice and fairness.  Why?  Because you are not the ultimate boss.  Your boss is the Lord in heaven.  As a Christian, you’re under him and you’re in him.  If our Lord Jesus is just and fair, then as an employer you need to be just and fair too.  That’s when it comes to wages, to hours, to workplace conditions, to allowing employees time to take care of themselves and their families, to absolutely everything.  Your employees are human beings created in the image of God – you certainly can’t treat them like slaves in the ancient world, nor can you just do the bare minimum required by modern labour laws.  We answer to a higher standard, to a higher Master.       

Having Christ as Lord of all is meant to change everything.  That’s really the point of our text this morning.  Nothing can remain the same when you start having your mind set on the things above, when you focus on Christ.  Specifically, we’ve seen how that plays out in the home and workplace.

In conclusion, I want to point out something that I hope is obvious.    What we’ve been looking at in this text is about sanctification, about life in Christ.  It doesn’t assume the gospel, because the gospel is clearly announced before this in Colossians.  This text is not a legalistic substitute for the gospel, but it lays out our response to the gospel, how the gospel should end up transforming our lives.  As we look to Christ as our Saviour and as our Lord, life in the home changes.  How?  Like here in our text.  Wives submit to husbands, husbands love their wives, parents don’t provoke their children, and children obey their parents.  In the workplace, our lives are transformed as we strive for a Christian work ethic that honours Christ as Lord.  But none of this is an alternative to resting and trusting in Christ alone for salvation.  That must always come first.  We should never forget that.  Then let’s also not forget that true faith in Christ always results in a life lived in union with Christ, recognizing him as Lord and bearing fruit to his glory.  AMEN.

Prayer:

O Lord in heaven, our Master,

Thank you for your great love for us.  In your love, you’ve given us your Word showing us how to esteem you as the Lord of our lives.  We want to do that.  We acknowledge you as the Lord of our marriages, of our families, of our life in the workplace.  Everywhere we go and all we are is under your Lordship.  We pray that you would help us with your Holy Spirit so that that the way we act shows that you are our Lord.  Help wives to submit to their husbands because this pleases you.  Help the husbands to love their wives and not be harsh with them.  Lord, please give grace so that the children of our church would obey their parents.  We pray for fathers and mothers that you would help them so that they wouldn’t provoke and discourage their children.  Please be with us in the workplace and help us all to have the highest degree of integrity in how we do our daily work, whether as employees or employers.  Lord Jesus, please help us all in everything to honour you as Lord, living in union with you, to your praise and glory.                                                                          




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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