Beyond The Church Walls:
Honouring The Lord In All Things
When I shared with Allie which text I was going to speak on today—Paul’s instruction to husbands and wives, she gave me this look that suggested that I was entirely crazy.
If you have some familiarity with the text I plan to unpack, you may have some appreciation for why Allie responded in the way she did.
As I bring you to Colossians 3:18 and following, I want to assure you that the last thing I want to do is court controversy.
To the contrary, my aim is to bring clarity with regard to how Paul’s inspired instruction applies to our lives.
The late Pierre Elliot Trudeau once remarked,
“The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”
I’m not here to challenge that. Nor am I here to say that the church has business in the bedrooms of the nation.
However...it is abundantly clear from the Scripture passage before us that God has business here.
Moreover, by every appearance, Paul’s grand point in this section of his letter is to remind you and I that no part of our life is untouched by the Almighty.
Paul wants us to know that no aspect of our life is off limits for the Lord Jesus Christ. If Jesus is Lord in our life, He is Lord over all of it.
I realize that it has been a number of weeks since we last studied Colossians. You may recall, however, that Paul’s emphasis at the outset was to have us note the supremacy of Christ over all things.
As Paul did this, he spoke about the ‘big’ things—he spoke about how Christ created the Universe and all that it contains (1:16).
Paul went on to explain that, not only is Christ our Creator, but He is also our Sustainer—“in (Christ) all things hold together” (1:17).
Now, here we are in the latter part of Colossians 3 and Paul wants us to know that the supremacy of Christ and His Lordship is not just for the ‘big things.’
The supremacy of Jesus Christ extends to the everyday, practical, details of our life.
This is an important point to bear in mind. It is an important point to bear in mind because some might read Colossians 3:18-21 and conclude that, since they’re not married, or since they’re no longer married, or not yet married, that this text has no relevance for them.
Such a conclusion misses the central point that Jesus Christ is Lord of the domestic. Jesus is Lord of the details. Jesus is Lord within every human relationship.
That’s probably a sufficient preamble. What, specifically, does Paul say? Let’s read Colossians 3:18-4:1.
I think we can all identify the part where many get hung up. We’re uncomfortable with the word “submit.” For many of us, the word “submit” holds negative connotations.
I’d like to offer 3 observations, which I hope will allow us to regard Paul’s instruction with new eyes.
Firstly, the word “submit” is an English word. Paul didn’t write in English—he wrote in Greek. The Greek word, Paul uses, literally means “to show deference to.”
In other words, put the other person first.
If that doesn’t allay your uncomfortableness, perhaps this 2nd observation will. When Paul offers the same instruction to the Ephesians, he begins with this statement:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
You see, wives aren’t the only ones required to show deference. Husbands, likewise, are to put the interests of their wives before their own: “submit to one another”, Paul says.
I’ll get to my 3rd observation in a moment.
In Paul’s instrcution, what I hear him saying is that insisting on our own way isn’t going to work.
In this series, entitled, ‘Let’s Be Different’, this is a key point. Innately, human beings look after themselves, we seek our own comfort, and we govern ourselves according to personal preferences.
This is natural and normal...but Paul wants Christian relationships to be different. Mindful of what the transforming power of Christ’s Spirit is capable of, Paul wants us to assume a posture that eagerly seeks the welfare of the other above our own.
Of course, this works best when each person in the relationship assumes this posture—which is what Paul is calling for.
Maybe you’ve been in a relationship where the deference is one-sided. Perhaps you know what it is like to put the needs of another above your own and not have that reciprocated.
And some of us, if we’re honest, might remember occasions when we insisted on our own way, forcing another to bend to our wishes.
I don’t want to pretend that this act of deference and accommodation is easy. I have trouble imagining how I would cope if I never had a say in:
- what I would eat - what I would watch on TV - where I would travel
- how I would spend money
- how I would use my free time
- how household chores are divided
Can you imagine a scenario where someone else makes all those decisions for you?
Thankfully, the Bible prescribes a balanced approach: “submit to one another.”
My 3rd observation has to do with what should motivate our deference to our spouse.
What does the Bible say here?
‘Allie, submit to Bryn because he is such a fantastic guy’?
‘Allie, defer to Bryn’s interests because he’s worthy of such deference’?
No! Paul sets before us an unassailable motivation—he says we ought to defer to one another “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
This leaves all of us without a ‘loop hole’ when it comes to showing deference within our relationships. Because, as the Scriptures reveal, the grounding of our deference isn’t tied to the other person’s worthiness—our deference is tied to Christ’s worthiness.
The practical outworking of this means we can never get into a scenario where we are saying,
“I will, if she will. And I won’t, if she doesn’t.”
If the condition for deference lies in our human performance, we have a recipe for disharmony. Thankfully, Paul prescribes something better: “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
We then move to Paul’s exhortation to husbands, “love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”
At this point, we should stop and ask:
“Are wives not required to love their husbands?”
I’m confident you will all agree that wives should love their husbands even though it’s not commanded here.
I wonder—I wonder if what is happening here is Paul is tailoring his exhortations around tendencies.
Paul doesn’t instruct Colossian husbands to submit to their wives, nor does he encourage Colossian wives to love their husbands. But we know from looking to other passages of Scripture that deference ought to be mutual, and love ought to be mutual.
Could it be then, that Paul’s specific instructions represent his tailor-made response to behavioural patterns that he has discerned?
Again, one need not be married to benefit from the principles presented in this passage, for there is an overarching principle that is hugely relevant for every Christian: Christ is to be honoured in every human relationship.
More than that, the reverence we owe Christ becomes our impetus for how and why we treat others the way we do.
We see this transcendent principle as we wade into the section where children are instructed to obey their parents, and parents are cautioned against exasperating their children.
Our motivation for heeding this instruction is that it “pleases the Lord” (3:20).
This same impetus comes into play as Paul counsels slaves and masters.
Now, some have stumbled over this text out of concern that Paul is condoning slavery here. What we need to realize is that, in Paul’s day, nearly half of the people within the Roman Empire—some 60 million people—were slaves (Hughes, Colossians an Philemon, 129).
The social and economic conditions of Paul’s day are difficult for the modern person to fully appreciate.
Paul’s main point, however, is not difficult to discern:
If you were a husband,
If you were a wife,
If you were a child,
If you were a parent,
If you were a slave,
If you were a master...
As a Christian, you were to follow a different standard for personal conduct.
Friends, our application is clear:
The way you treat your spouse,
The way you treat your children,
The way you treat your parents,
The way you treat your employers,
The way you treat your employees...
Is to be hugely impacted by your relationship to Jesus Christ.
In other words, your domestic life and your vocation matters immensely to Jesus, who fills all things and is supreme over all things.
The Bible leaves no room for an approach that compartmentalizes the different areas of our life.
On one level, that’s a bit intimidating. But, on another level, I see an opportunity for us.
With the love of Christ as our chief motivation, and with the strength of Christ as our primary means, we have the opportunity to model for the world what a healthy, loving, God-honouring family looks like.
Motivated and strengthened by the same, Christians ought to be the most diligent and balanced employees.
Christians ought to be the most fair and gracious employers.
One could argue that the Christian Church hasn’t excelled here.
You could argue that we haven’t stood out as shining examples of domestic stability and vocational excellence.
But, perhaps the Christians in Paul’s day weren’t excelling in these areas either. And maybe that’s why Paul exhorted the Colossians the way he did.
If nothing else, I want to leave you with one point, which I regard to be Paul’s chief point:
Jesus Christ ought to make a difference in our lives.
His presence ought to change us...day by day...month by month...year by year.
I’m confident that you already realize that the Christian Church is supposed to have a transforming effect on this world.
To that end, and for the sake of Jesus, who fills all things, I implore you:
Let Jesus in.
Give Jesus His rightful place as Lord of the details.
Friends, let’s be different and let’s make a difference. Amen.