Serving Others as We Serve Christ

Colossians 3:18-4:1

November 5, 2023

Lead Pastor Dr. Timothy Melton

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Imagine that one night a group of people broke into one of the big stores like Best Buy and instead of stealing things, they changed all the prices. Can you imagine the chaos the next morning? 98" Class LED 4K UHD Smart TV for 10 dollars. A USB cable for $2,000. An iPad for $6.00. A $25,000 88TB Movie Server for $14.99. That is the equivalent of what the Apostle Paul was trying to do as he wrote to those in the church in Colossae.

It was the affect that the gospel was to have on the lives of those in the church. It was to rewrite the value of the things of this world. The values of their pagan society and the cultural norms had reversed the values that God intended. Following Christ was to bring a drastic change in how Christians related with other people.

In the previous verses Paul had exhorted the Colossians to do everything in the name of Jesus Christ. That is quite a challenge, but that was the goal. He was not teaching them the truths of Christ so they could merely be more religious. He was teaching them about Christ so that they might learn to walk with Him and become like Him. 

Like one who has been in prison for the last 40 years, or one rescued from human trafficking, it is not enough that they now have freedom. They must also learn to walk in it. So, it was with the Colossians. All had been slaves to sin. Many had come from a pagan or legalistic Jewish background. They had found freedom in Christ. Now Paul was teaching them how to take hold of this freedom and to live like Christ in their daily lives. 

In Colossians 3:18-4:1 the Apostle Paul made his teaching very practical. He applied the Christian faith to the most personal of relationships. In Paul´s day, relationships were often one-sided, and those of less power were often abused and taken for granted, but the Christian ethic was different. Husbands had responsibility just like wives. Parents had responsibilities just like children. Masters had responsibilities just like servants or slaves. This was a totally new way of living that the Christians had to get used to as they began to live out their faith in their most personal of relationships. 

Paul wrote these words in Colossians 3:18-19,

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 

The word “submission” has taken on a negative meaning in our day.  We see it as inferior and weak. We see it as forsaking our rights and letting another rule over us as they please, but that was not what the Apostle Paul was referring to in this verse.

In scripture we see that Christ submitted to God the Father. Christ was not weak or inferior in any way. He yielded to God the Father as an equal, which is fitting in the midst of their relationship in the Trinity. Jesus was God and yet understood the importance of submission. As Christians we are called to do the same. Paul, in Ephesians 5:21 tells us all to, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

Philippians 2:5-8 says this, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 

Christ´s was a willful submission so that the purposes of God would be accomplished.

In this verse where wives are instructed to submit to their husbands we see purpose as well. It is a submission between equals for the sake of carrying out God´s purposes. God has established different forms of authority in our world. God established governments to enforce justice and to provide protection in a society. God established pastors and elders to lead and shepherd churches. God established husbands to lead, love, protect and nurture their families. God established parents to raise and direct their children. In each case God-honoring leadership and submission work together to accomplish god´s purposes.

God created marriage as a spiritual analogy of Christ and the church. For help understanding marriage’s role we can look to Hebrews 8:5 where it talks of “a copy and the shadow of heavenly things.” God has created certain realities in this life to help us begin to understand the reality of heaven and our eternal relationship with Christ. Marriage is an earthly copy of a spiritual and eternal reality as well. Marriage is an example of our relationship with Christ and His relationship with the church, as His bride. 

Paul then continued by speaking to the husbands in Colossians 3:19.

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 

To us this seems like a logical idea, but in Paul´s day it was not. According to marriage customs and laws of ancient times the husband was the unquestioned ruler of the home and the wife was the servant to bring up the children and cater to the husbands needs. The wife was considered a possession, much like flocks and material goods.  A Jewish women had no legal rights and Greek women rarely even left the home, living almost totally in seclusion. It was even the norm for husbands to be unfaithful to their wives. In both the Jewish and Greek cultures the privileges belonged to the husband and the duties belonged to the wife.

The Christian faith changed all of that. Marriage was now a partnership where both were to be made complete in one another. The woman was now to follow her husband´s leadership as an equal and the husband now was to love his wife as Christ had loved the church. It was through sacrifice, servanthood, courage and gentleness that Christ had loved the church. This was drastically different from the harshness and bitter resentment with which husbands treated their wives of Paul’s day. 

Christ submitted first to the Father. Now He was calling Husbands to submit to Him as their Head (1 Corinthians 11:3) and to be the men and the husbands that Christ requires. Only then are they prepared to lead their families.

Pray that we fathers would lead, not out of brute strength, but instead out of wisdom, humility, and godliness. For this to happen husbands must submit to Christ as their Head. Pray that we will not be husbands who are lazy, selfish, angry, lustful, bossy, irritable, greedy, abusive and prideful. But instead, as we submit to Christ daily, we would be servants. That we would lead by going first. By apologizing, first. By serving, first. By forgiving, first. By speaking a kind word, first. By being patient, first. By praying first. By encouraging first. By having faith, first. Only then will our families be drawn near to us and be prepared to follow our lead as we follow Christ.

These are God´s guidelines, but oftentimes in our fallen world they are the goal but not the reality. In those times we seek God´s best in the midst of our situations.

There will be some homes where the men refuse their role of spiritual leadership. There will be other homes led by single parents where one parent has to be the head. There will be some homes where only one spouse is a believer and they have to prayerfully figure out how to live out their part of God’s calling in their marriage even though the other spouse does not share their faith. There will be days when we war with our own selfishness and pride and fail to obey God’s will for us in our marriage. In the midst of these different situations, the first step is to seek His good and perfect will for our families. 

Paul then continued by addressing children and fathers in Colossians 3:20-21.

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 

In the ancient world the children were under the dominant rule of the parents, especially that of the father. One example was that of the Roman “Patria Potestas.” It allowed the parent to do anything he wanted with his child. He could sell the child into slavery, make them a servant on his farm, or even condemn them to death. The power belonged to the parents and the duties to the children.

We can even see remnants of this low value of children in the words of Jesus´ disciples in Matthew 19:13-14, “13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 

Here, once again, the Christian faith gave a responsibility to both parents and children. The children were to obey their parents and the parents were to nurture and cherish their children. As scripture tells us, they were to raise them in the ways of Christ, so that when they were older, they would not depart from it. Parents were to nurture the children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). The parents were to pass on the faith to the next generation as we see in Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The parents were to bless and nurture the children as a living example, with words and deeds. The fathers were not to provoke their children, causing the children to resent the parents. Instead, like a stringed instrument, they were to gently draw the love and goodness out of them and not loudly force it into them through fear and intimidation. It would be a melody and harmony between nurturing and discipline. In the same way that God´s kindness led us to repentance (Romans 2:4), we earthly fathers should help our children been drawn to Christ through our love and kindness. 

At times, those we love most, we treat the worst. Behind closed doors, in private we treat our family more harshly than we do those with whom we interact in public. That should not be so. As Christians, it is with our families that we should be most like Christ.

We hear the stories of those who were discouraged because of their father´s treatment. John Newton, the former slave trader, who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace said this, “I know that my father loved me--but he did not seem to wish me to see it." What kind of love is it if it cannot be discerned by the child?

Martin Luther, the great reformer from the 1500s, wrote of how his earthly father was so stern and strict that all his days he found it difficult to refer to God as Father, even in prayer. When Luther thought of the word “father” he thought of nothing but discipline and punishment. Barclay recounted Luther´s remedy with these words, "Spare the rod and spoil the child. It is true. But beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he does well."

Paul then turned his attention to the bondservants and their masters in Colossians 3:22-4:1.

 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.

4 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

This word translated bondservant was also the word for slave. In the Roman society of Paul´s time almost 1/3 of the Roman empire were slaves and another 1/3 of the population had been slaves at one time or another. Many of them would be slaves for the rest of their lives. They were considered as the master´s property. Bondservants and slaves had no rights and could even be put to death if the master desired.

Some were highly trained as doctors, businessmen, or teachers, but had been defeated in war and taken as slaves and purchased by wealthy families. Convicted criminals became slaves of the government and worked in the mines or rowing big ships until they died. Others were slaves because of debt and other reasons.

Slaves were so normal in the culture that some of the Christians in the church in Colossae owned slaves and saw nothing wrong with it. The gap between freedmen and bondservants was so big that it was very difficult for even Christian freemen as they first heard Jesus´ and Paul´s teachings. Especially when Jesus said things like, “the greatest in the kingdom of God must be the servant of all.” Or when Jesus washed the disciples´ feet and then told them to do likewise. But that is what Christianity does. If goes against the current of the ways of man.

Scriptures describe us as either slaves to sin or slaves/bondservants of Christ. Romans 6:22 says it this way, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” This was such a humbling idea for especially the freedmen of that day, but that was what Christ demanded, total devotion and lordship. In that, believers found freedom and a burden that was light (Matthew 11:30).

Now imagine that you were a new believer in the church in Colossae who also happened to be a slave. You likely had been mistreated for years and were tempted daily to do less than your best to in some way get even with your abusive master. 

The slave had no rights and there were no written laws protecting their work and living conditions. When the slave grew old he could be put out to die. The slave was not able to marry and when they were forced to cohabitate for the sake of reproduction the child would become the property of the master. Similar to all of the previous situations mentioned in these verses the person in the position of authority held all the rights and the weaker was responsible for all the duties.

In the midst of this situation Paul writes to the bondservants and slaves in the congregation to work as unto Christ. Their work ethic was not to be based on the conditions of their workplace or the behavior of their master. As Christians everything had now changed. Jesus was their master. Doing everything in the name of Christ was their goal. Christianity was not a promise that life would be easy, but that you would never be alone. That God´s grace would be sufficient. That your work was now for more than just making money. It was now to glorify God, sharpen your character, and to be a testimony of Christ to the world. Work was now purposeful and even more so when it was difficult. In many ways it also applies to how we work at our job today.

The Christian slaves were surely familiar with abuse and unfair treatment. The worldly way to respond would be to steal, escape or at least do poor work in keeping with how they had been treated, but Paul wrote a new ethic for them as Christians. Let´s look again at Paul´s words in Colossians 3:22-25.

 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.

These words must have sounded so “wrong” to their ears at first. Did Paul have any idea of their situation? How could Paul says things like this? Was this all Christianity had to offer? But then Paul´s words began to take hold. 

Stop working just to please your earthly master and from now on work for your Lord with a sincere heart. Fear the Lord. Whatever you do, do it for the Lord and not for men. No matter how your master treats you, he is not ultimately in charge. Work for Christ, the One who sees all things. From Him you will receive your inheritance and reward. You are serving the Lord. Also, know that the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong that he has done. Christ does not play favorites as earthly men of power do. 

Think from a heavenly perspective. Work as unto Christ in whatever you do, knowing that He will reward those who do good and He will bring justice on those who do wrong.

Paul then turned his attention to the slave owners in the church in Colossians 4:1. 

4 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Some would argue that Paul should have condemned slavery and slave owners immediately. From scripture we can see that Paul did not approve of slavery, but in this moment he wanted to call the Christian slave owners to accountability and instruct them how their faith was to affect all relationship, even those with their bondservants. 

Some will ask, “How can they be Christians and slave masters at the same time? In the same way that a Christian can have an anger problem, a lust problem, a drinking problem, and any other sin. In time, if a person is truly in the faith our confidence is that the Holy Spirit will convict them of more and more sin in their lives. That is our confidence. If a person claims to be a Christian but is never convicted of sin and does not grow in godliness then they may not be a true believer, but if person is young in their faith let´s restrain from judging their spiritual condition and give them time to be conformed into the likeness of Christ. 

The law was on the sides of the masters. They were free to do anything that they wanted to their bondservants, but Paul calls them to a higher standard. In Christ, they, too, now served the ultimate master. The same master as the Christian bondservants. Together, they now were to serve the Lord, do everything in the name of Jesus Christ, and love their slave and bondservant as themselves.

Paul was familiar with the affect that Christianity was to have on slaves and their masters. In this very letter, in chapter 4 verse 9, Paul was sending Onesimus, an escaped slave back to his master, Philemon, in the church in Colossae. We have the whole explanation in the book of Philemon. 

Philemon was a slave master in the church of Colossae. Philemon had a church that met in his house. Onesimus had been his slave who had escaped and run away to Rome. There Onesimus had encountered Paul, in prison, and had come to faith in Jesus. Onesimus´ faith was now motivating him to return to Philemon, his master, who legally could have had him beaten or even killed. But Philemon was a follower of Christ. Because of that Paul appealed to Philemon´s faith pleading with him to receive the “transformed” Onesimus back, not as a bondservant, but now as a brother. 

Faith in Christ was to impact both Onesimus´ and Philemon´s responses to the situation. This was the change that Christianity was to bring. A new perspective. A new ethic. A new way to live where we no longer take advantage of others but live in partnership, submitted to one another under Christ.

We are now to work as unto Christ in all things. Whether we be at home, work, or play we perform for an audience of one. We have one ultimate Lord and Master who sees all things and will reward all things. 

All relationships, are lived in the Lord. Christ is ever-present as we relate with others. May we be aware of His presence and His Spirit within us that empowers us to live and love like Christ. 

Let us close with this prayer written in the style of the Puritans.

Sovereign King and Loving Father, we come before your throne with confidence only because of the work of Christ which has torn the veil and invited us into your presence.

Give us compassionate hearts that see the needs of others and open hands ready to bear one another’s burdens. Teach us the art of forgiveness and grant us the humility to seek reconciliation when discord seeks to wreak havoc amongst the brethren.

Teach us to be patient with one another’s weaknesses, quick to forgive offenses, and eager to build each other up in faith. 

As we seek to flesh out the gospel to those with whom we share life, we ask you to grant us attitudes of submission, hearts of love and a spirit of humility. Help us to follow Christ before we seek to lead others. Help us to be familiar with the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in theirs. Help us to be gentle yet brave, strong yet meek, convicted yet counted righteous, restful yet resolute.

Guide us into authenticity where we are the same in public as we are in private. Where those who know us best, believe in us most. Where our example is consistent and our apology is sincere.

Strengthen us to serve wholeheartedly, to shy away from glory, to be drawn to selflessness, and to do all things in the name of Jesus Christ. 

Help us find in the gospel all that we need and out of this abundance be prepared to wholly love God and our neighbor as you have commanded.

We ask all this to He who is able to give more than we could ever ask or imagine and in the name of our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.