Some of the roles Paul names may sound familiar to us. We hear him talking about wives and husbands or children and parents, and we think, oh yeah, we’re in those kind of relationships too. Other roles, like slaves and slave-masters, immediately sound more foreign to us. I need to warn you, though, that even where we might see similarities, life two thousand years ago was very different from the way we live today. Marriage then and family then looked nothing like marriage and family today. If we want to apply Paul’s instructions to our lives today correctly, we must not forget about these differences over time.
Some Christians today look at passages like this one, where Paul lays out how believers then could have Christ-like relationships, and they jump directly to how people should live in our relationships today. They’ll point to v 18 where Paul tells the married Colossian women to submit to your husbands, and they’ll insist that it’s God’s will today just as much as then that all women do whatever their husbands demand of them. It’s good that they want to obey the Bible, but unfortunately they fail to pay attention to the particular details of the passages they’re trying to apply. If we interpret this passage this way, we miss out on how Paul tailors his instructions to the unique circumstances of people in that city at that time.
In these verses, Paul takes the general command to live “in the name of the Lord Jesus” and applies it to the individual, concrete circumstances of believers in the Colossian fellowship. He’s bringing the command to love home to the specific, historical situation in which they lived. It’s important that we remember that sin has broken everything--every relationship, every social role or structure. When Paul gave instructions these believers about how to live in their relationships, he was operating something like a doctor, prescribing therapy to people living with various illnesses. Married people need certain therapies, parents with children need others, slaves and slave-masters, still others. [. . .]
When Paul gave these instructions to the married Colossian women, he wasn’t giving them the keys to a happy marriage. This wasn’t advice to get their husbands to treat them better. No, instead Paul was giving them the basics of how to still love like Jesus even when they lived in a horrible situation. They couldn’t change anything, so they were to trust God to set things right, just like God did for Jesus. Paul expresses this outlook most strongly at the end of his instruction to the Colossian slaves. In vv 24 and 25, he tells them, You know that it is the Lord who will repay your [glorious] inheritance. You serve the Lord Christ. For the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrongdoing, and there is no favoritism [in this judgment]. God kept track of their suffering, of their selfless and often-ignored acts of love, and God would reward them. God also kept track of those who took advantage of this wicked system, and even if they seemed mighty and invulnerable at the moment, God would show no favoritism it came time to punish the wicked, even if the wicked had been powerful people.
Paul doesn’t ignore those people who could change these evil circumstances. Believe it or not, some of those husbands, harsh fathers, and slave-masters were part of the congregation. While there was undoubtedly the exceptional kind male head of house, like Philemon, the entire world these men lived in encouraged them to think of slaves, women, and children as nothing but tools to expand their wealth and political influence.
Paul’s command for them is brief and basic. While he honors the women, children, and slaves with six verses, he spends only three talking to these high and mighty men. But if the men were to follow these simple instructions, they would begin to undo all the injustice and abuse their wealth and power depended on. [. . .]
Our lives today would be unrecognizable to these believers living in Colossae. In fact, I’ve had several conversations with some of you about how different marriage and family life is today even than it was one or two generations ago. Our culture expects different things from marriage. We treat our children dramatically differently. Slavery is almost a curse word in this country. But just as much as those believers Paul wrote to, we need to discover what it means for us to live all of our lives “in the name of the Lord Jesus” within our own broken social relationships and structures.
Paul, in Phil 2, describes that church-community as “stars shining in a darkened sky,” and Jesus describes his followers as “the light of the world” causing people who see how they live to “glorify their Father in heaven.” This is what I want for our fellowship here. But if we are to shine, Jesus’ love must come home to where we live. It’s one thing to nod along with Paul’s exhortations to be compassionate, kind, meek, humble, and patient. It’s quite another to know what that means in our twenty-first century roles and relationships.
(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)