Colossians 3:18-25, “18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 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. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”
In Colossians 3:12-17, Paul lists some of the characteristics of the new humanity in Christ alone. This humanity according to Paul in Colossians 3:18-21 depicts what this means in family relationships. Living as new people, according to Paul, starts at home. After all, our families should see a demonstration of our new life in Christ, even if it is harder to be Christlike towards them than to others. Jesus calls us to put sin to death in all of our relationships.
Paul in Colossians 3:18-21 addresses wives, husbands, and children. Christian men must recognize that female oppression has been a practice for far too long among the people of God. After all, women have not been treated as equal in dignity and value, divine image-bearers as they are (Genesis 1:27). Napoleon Bonaparte once commented that “Women are nothing but machines for producing children.” This attitude reflects the sentiments of many, especially, in the West, sadly even those in the church. Even so, female oppression and the misuse of the Word of God to justify the abuse of women does not mean Paul’s rules were temporary. The Triune God defines equality differently than popular culture. The Word of God judges men, not men judge it. Husbands and wives are equal in dignity and value, but different in function and role. While Paul expands on this teaching on male and female roles in Ephesians; it’s important to note that does not mean that some household chores belong to wives only and others to husbands. Husbands and wives should share the load when it comes to chores and aim to love and serve one another.
In the 1st century, Roman Empire people were not equal. Male, property-owning citizens ranked first in the social order. They did not have to extend rights to their wives, children or slaves. The male head of the home determined whether an infant born into the family would live or die, or be left out in the cold. Slaves, even, were thought of and treated as machines to do the bidding of the male head of the home. While not uncommon for a Roman husband to love his wife, such love was not expected or demanded by Roman culture.
Now that these realities from a cultural backdrop have been explained, we can easily see how the revolutionary challenged Roman society in every way. The Apostle Paul addresses wives, children, and slavery directly which was to say; he treated them as equally important in the church. Paul appeals to wives, children, and slaves not as irrational but as rational, moral creatures who are and can submit to ethical imperatives in the Word of God (Colossians 3:18, 20, 22). Paul recognized a proper order to society and relationships and applied the gospel of the Lord Jesus to them to transform them, defining all members of the church as responsible beings regardless of gender or social demands. He demands that men not be domineering, abusive, and cruel, but loving, encouraging, kind, and just (Colossians 3:19, 21; 4:1).
Paul speaking about the master-slave relationship says Christian slaves must “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” (Colossians 3:22). Many in the Roman culture of Paul’s day thought slaves were lazy. Them working hard and with excellence demonstrated the power of the gospel which alone brings true transformation in all of life. The slave was to fear the Lord which also puts a limit on the slavemaster’s authority, since, the slave had but one real master, Jesus Himself. When the master’s commanded the slave to do something that would disobey Jesus, the slave then, had to disobey the master.
While there are differences between 1st-century slave-master relationships and modern-employer relationships, Paul lays out principles that apply to employees and the way they do their work. Christians are to be the best employees they can by the grace of God, and should work efficiently, be loyal, work hard, and seek to honor the Lord in whatever employment they have to be a good witness in the workplace.
Slavery is a tough issue for many people, and it’s not one that we can plunge ourselves headlong into in any depth in this short devotional. Even so, in the West slavery has been outlawed for 150 years or longer, depending on the homeland and its history. Even so, perhaps you might wonder why Scripture itself never outlaws the practice. Others despise the Christian faith on this point pointing out that the institution of slavery as one reason to deny the inspiration of Scripture. We cannot answer all those questions, nor, can we get into them in any meaningful way in this short article. Even so, we do not want to minimize these questions surrounding the practice of owning human beings. For a fuller treatment of these issues, consider studying Philemon.
Paul continues giving instructions to slave in Colossians 3:25 reminding them they will be repaid for any wrong they do. If not at the hands of their earthly masters then at the hands of the Lord Jesus, who is the Ultimate King who will right every wrong (Colossians 3:24). Even so, their tribulations and trials are not excuses for laziness, eft, or any other thing. The apostle Paul’s teaching here highlights how with God “there is no partiality” (v.25) reflecting the biblical teaching that laws apply across social, gender, economic, and race (Lev. 19:15).
Paul’s teaching was aimed to help readers understand, specifically slaves, here how the Lord shows no partiality. They are to work as unto the Lord and are promised an inheritance from Him (Col. 3:24). This is an especially important principle since, we may be laboring in what we think are unfair and intolerable settings, and yet, even there we are to work unto the Lord as a testimony and demonstration that we belong to Christ alone.
We may be tempted at times to excuse our behavior for a variety of reasons. Yet, we must remember that the Lord always requires for us to obey Him whether it’s costly or challenging. Are you making excuses for laziness or another failure in your job or in your life today? Let me encourage you to repent, and ask the Lord to help you to do what is right as you ever live before His face and aim to be a witness that works hard, diligently, all for His glory. Serve Him with gladness and integrity wherever you are, for wherever you are, and whatever work you have, you are to serve the Lord with excellence in all of our lives for His glory.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and is the Host for the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.