You Are Serving the Lord Christ
Colossians 3:18–4:1 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
12th Sunday after Pentecost – August 12, 2018 (am)
In Col.1:28 Paul stated pretty clearly the purpose not only of his writing to this church but of his ministry. Having just revealed the (greatness) of the riches of the the glory of (God’s) mystery as being Christ in you, the hope of glory (1:27), he wrote: 1:28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it: to be (presented) to God as mature in Christ? It was so important to Paul that he said: 1:29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
What brings you to church today? Is there nothing better to do on a Sunday morning that to get up almost as early as you do during the week and gather in something like a lecture hall to sing and pray and listen to someone talk?
If you’re visiting with us today, just know that here at GCD we don’t dread coming to church. In fact, we delight in it! We look forward to being together. And we actually believe that God has called us here—that He’s set us apart as His people, and that He wants to meet with us all together each Sunday to reaffirm that we are His, and that He is at work in us and among us to accomplish His will, to (renew) us in knowledge in the image of (our) creator (3:10), to make us more like Jesus in this world, to present (us) mature in (Him)! (1:28)
That’s why we’re here. We want to receive that work and help one another respond to it in the strength of Christ. Paul said that (he toiled and struggled) with all the energy… that (Christ) powerful (worked) within (him) (1:29). That’s what we want to do in our response to what we learn here week by week. That’s what we want to do in response to the Word of God as it is preached. That’s why we come to church. And that is a delight!
The passage before us this morning helps us a great deal. It tells us what it looks like to live and act in Christ’s power at home and at work. It gives us target examples, and it gives us an overarching principle. So, we have the big picture and we also have specific instruction here. It covers us all; no one is left out. This is the Christian community, even the Christian household we might say. This is the family of God (living) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work (1:10).
In our immediate context, this is what happens to those who’ve died with Christ (2:20) and are raised with (Him) (3:1). They’re changed front the inside out. Their desires are transformed. They begin to love what is good, beautiful, and true. They begin to love God and long to please Him, to live like Jesus lived. They set (their) minds on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (3:1). They clothe (themselves) with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience—forbearance and forgiveness—and they wrap it all together into one harmonious whole as love (3:12-14). This is what Christians long to do!
They love for the peace of Christ to rule among them (3:15). Whatever disagreements or mutual suspicions occur in the church, they are to be dealt with at the deepest level, by (each one) allowing the fact of their unity in Christ to settle the issue in their hearts (Wright 148). That’s an amazing gift from God!
They love for the word of Christ to dwell in (them) richly and show itself as mutual instruction and correction and corporate worship and thanksgiving (3:16). They love it!
They love pressing themselves to do everything they do and say everything they say to honor and exalt the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God… through him and for him (3:17).
We’ve seen a bit of what this looks like in this letter, both in the church and in the community. But today we get to see what it looks like in the home and at work. Let’s dig into this passage under three headings that should help us appreciate what it’s teaching us.
Living Like Christians at Home – 3:18-21
3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. That’s what it looks like when the word of Christ (dwells) richly (3:16) in the heart of of a married woman. She honors and respects her husband as expression of thanksgiving to God, not so much for her husband as for her salvation that enables her to relate to him honorably—to think about him, respond to him, treat him in a manner worthy of the Lord (1:10). This phrase as is fitting essentially means as they ought to in the Lord. Because she is in Christ, this is how she acts toward her husband. Peter gives more attention to the wife’s role elsewhere (1Pe.3:1-6), just like Paul does to the husband’s (Eph.5:25-32). But here he just gives quick and singular instruction, staccato reminders of the distinctive qualities of a truly Christian marriage.
3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. If v.19 here got as much press as v.18 these days, there’d be far fewer headlines about Christian marriage every time the SBC has another denominational meeting. This is the complement to the wife’s instruction. Husbands, don’t take advantage of the authority you’ve been given. Exercise it as Jesus does. Use it to serve and support and strengthen your wife. Love (her). (Don’t) be harsh with (her)—don’t be bitter; don’t display that wretched irritability of a supposed absolute… authority (Moule 131). That would miss the whole purpose of your relationship, of your union. We’re not told here about marriage being an imitation of Christ and the church. We’re just told what it looks like to do (it) in the name of the Lord Jesus (3:17), in a manner worthy of (him) (1:10). When husbands do this, they look like Jesus. They live with their wives in an understanding way. They (show) honor to (her) as the weaker (partner in this authority structure). They’d never lord it over her, since (she is an heir) with (them) of eternal life in Christ (1Pe.3:7).
Paul’s next word of instruction is pretty interesting: children are recognized as a meaningful part of the church, worthy of targeted instruction. Kids, don’t ever be tempted to believe the lie that church is only for your parents, that God only calls adults into corporate worship and fellowship. You are part of this body as well, and God has something to say to you from His Word: 3:20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Isn’t that amazing? God has told you exactly what He expects from you, what you can do that pleases Him. And, no surprise, it is obedience! The very thing He calls for from your parents, He wants to see you demonstrate from your earliest days. You get to practice for your obedience to Him by obeying them. Yes, it pleases your parents when you obey them. But it also pleases God because He knows how hard it is for us to obey, to honor the people who have authority over us. Most of the problems we face in this life result from not wanting to, or not knowing how to, obey our authorities. So, it is really important for us to learn how to do this when we’re young. It will make our lives so much better. And it will help us truly enjoy our relationship with God.
But just as he did with husbands to wives, Paul makes sure that parents, and especially fathers, don’t take advantage of their authority. 3:21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Don’t to anger or frustrate your children and so rob them of a sense of hope. That’s the picture Paul paints here. Don’t exercise your authority in such a way that your kids can see no way out, no path forward. Don’t dishearten them, but show them the way. Parents are the authority in the home, but their children aren’t their personal property, theirs to take advantage of or make fun of whenever they feel the urge. The thought here is that fathers are not to irritate or provoke their children lest they become discouraged or think that it is useless trying to please their parents…. There should be firm, loving guidance, but not slavery (O’Brien 1274-5). I’ve personally observed what I’m confident are well-meaning Christian parents who’ve (provoked) their children to (discouragement) using little more than Scripture itself as a goad: quoting verses with a finger wag to confront or condemn rather than lovingly shaping the principles of the Word to encourage and instruct their children. But this is our calling!
Living Like Christians at Work – 3:22-4:1
That’s the home; and in the 1st century we’re likely not leaving the home when we move into vv.22ff. But in our day the nearest parallel experience to this next instruction happens in at work. 3:22 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.
Let me first say a quick word about bondservants, δοῦλοι. In (first century), a δοῦλος is often best described as a “bondservant”—that is, as someone bound to serve his master for a specific (usually lengthy) period of time, but not like a slave in the way we understand that word today. A 1st century δοῦλος might… own property, achieve social advancement, and even be released or purchase his own freedom (ESVSB Preface, edited). Some hear passages like this one endorsing slavery as it was practiced in 19th century America and Great Britain. But that’s not so, especially among Christians. We’re going to take an extra week at the end of this series in Col. (2 September) to look into a companion letter, Philemon. There we’ll dig into 1st century slavery a bit more.
But today I just want children to notice that here is some of that obedience I was talking about that still needs to happen when you’re an adult. Here we learn that it’s not enough just to obey. It’s also important how and why you obey. V.23 tells us we work for the Lord, not for men, because, v.24, we should know that ultimately our reward is from the Lord, not from men. When we try to be people-pleasers in the workplace, we’re forgetting who we are and why we’re there. We’re forgetting that advancement doesn’t come from pleasing people, but from pleasing God. V.25 then issues a warning. God can’t be fooled like a human boss. So, one more reason to remember that we’re working for Him is that He sees what human eyes can’t see. He’s always watching. And just as He will issue an inheritance as (a) reward when this life is over, He will also mete out judgment: 3:25 … the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and with God there is no partiality. He sees all, and He will reward, (pay) back, all.
Finally, just as with marriage and parenting, Paul has a word for the person in authority at work. 4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven—knowing that you, too, will stand before God someday. And if children are not the property of their parents, whose union gave them life, then surely bondservants are not the property of their masters, regardless of how they came into their service. Rather, masters should be trusted to exhibit (justice) and (fairness), two great words. Christian masters (bosses) model righteousness and equality.
Further Reflection on the Heart of the Matter – 3:23-24
This is the Christian household and, in our day, the Christian in the workplace. This is what it looks like to let the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly (3:16) at home and at work. This is what it looks like to do (marriage, family, and job) in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (3:17).
But the instruction to bondservants and masters is wrapped around a central, overarching principle that’s worthy of a bit more attention: 3:23 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.
First, do you hear the beauty of this word to so-called (slaves)? Paul doesn’t get distracted by the call to address a social institution, but gives instruction to the church that is rooted in truth and shining with clarity and offers much broader instruction than he could have given with a diatribe against slavery. The (bondservant) is an image-bearing creature! He works for the Lord. He answers to the Lord. He (fears) the Lord in the sense that he’s aware moment by moment of the (Lord’s) presence and watchful eye, on both himself and his (master). And both he and his (master) will answer to the Lord on Judgment Day; they will receive an inheritance either in heaven or in hell! So, they are on equal footing before God. 3:11 Here there is not… slave or free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Second, this is a word from the Lord for every worker and every boss, every woman and every man, indeed every wife and husband and child. Whatever you do, (do it) heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, (because you know) that your reward comes from the Lord (3:23). You are serving the Lord, the true Master (Wright 154), Christ (3:24). In your work, in your home, in your marriage, and even right here at church, you are serving the true Master, Jesus.
Life is not primarily about advancement at work, or satisfaction at home, or joy in our marriage. It’s about serving our true Master with a whole and undivided heart—letting His peace rule in our hearts (3:15), and His word dwell in us richly (3:16), shaping our character in His likeness and awakening within us a heart of thankfulness (3:17) that shows itself in our relationships at home and at work in the way Paul has described here.
We gather Sunday by Sunday worship the true and living God Who enables such service, such obedience, and to help one another hear and respond to the call of His Word to worship Him by living in this way. If this is why you’re here today, you’re among friends. And if these are not the reasons you came, we look forward to talking with you more about why it is such a delight for us to gather here each week, and be in such close fellowship throughout the week.
But for now, we invite those who know and love and serve the true Master to join in a remembrance of His death that has reconciled us to God and one another.