When a person has committed himself to Christ, when a person has been buried and raised with Christ, when a person has put his old life to death, when person has put on a new man and does all things in the name of Christ, that person will see a great change in every aspect of his life. This great change, this transformed life, may be most evident in their interpersonal relationships. It is true that the gospel reaches down to affect the way we deal with people. As the third chapter of Colossians closes, the inspired writer turns his attention to those close relationships that his first century audience would have enjoyed from day to day. There is much for us to learn from this section of Scripture.
The list begins with wives and husbands. The wives (vs. 18) have an obligation to submit or “order themselves” under their husband. This is less forceful than the commands to “obey” in vs. 20, 22. Women who choose to marry must put themselves under the headship of their husbands. If this is not acceptable to women, then it is better for them not to marry. However, the motivation for ordering herself under her husband is not the greatness of her spouse but the greatness of her Lord. In a similar fashion, husbands (vs. 19) are commanded to love their wives and not to be bitter against them. To love here is the selfless love (agape) that God demonstrates to us through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 5:8). This is the kind of love that is embodied by God himself (1 John 4:6-7). Love is to be put on by every Christian (cf. Col. 3:14), the bond of perfectness. Each husband is to direct this selfless love to his wife. When done genuinely and completely, Christian wives should find submission easier. Further, the husband in loving the wife who is submitting to his headship should not treat her with harshness or bitterness. The marital relationship is meant to be joyful, and each spouse should work to this end because they are Christians (cf. Pro. 5:18).
The next pair is children and parents. Children (vs. 20) are commanded to obey their parents in all things. Of course, this would not be sinful things (cf. Eph. 6:1; Acts 5:19). We should note that these children would be those who could listen and understand the public reading of this epistle. Babies are not under consideration here. Children, as they reach the age of accountability and go beyond that age are probably the primary “children” under consideration here as the Greek word (tekna) does not denote a specific age. However, parents should be training children to obey them long before the child reaches an age of accountability. In doing this, parents set the foundation for children to respect authority; to understand sovereignty, accountability, and responsibility; and to view God in the proper light. When children of any age obey their parents, their God-assigned leaders, God is pleased. Corresponding to children, parents (vs. 21) are the next group of characters considered by Paul. The word in vs. 21 could be translated either “fathers” or “parents.” While Paul could be tilting to the job of ruling the house which belongs to the father, it is more likely here that both parents, mothers and fathers, are addressed as both have unique roles in raising godly children (cf. Pro. 1:8). Children have a zeal for life. Christian parents should encourage and direct this energy in a productive and Christ-like manner. This is done through teaching and admonishing, through training and discipline. In raising children, parents must make sure not to become a source of discouragement to their children. The command here is to “not provoke” children or not to stir them to negative action (i.e., rebellion). Parents should never encourage rebellion in children. This can be done through certain actions where parents push children into rebellion because the parents do not act wisely (cf. Genesis 27 when Rebekah pushed Jacob to deceive Isaac). On the opposite side though, it might be more likely that parents encourage rebellion by inaction (cf. 1 Samuel 3 and Eli’s sons who were not restrained by their father). Parents, and especially fathers, must be balanced in our training and discipline because we love our children and want to be godly examples in their lives.
The final pair of relationships is that of bondservants and masters. Over half of this section is dedicated to the responsibilities of slaves (duloi). History testifies to the great number of slaves in the Roman Empire, and it is possible that a great number of slaves were a part of the congregation in Colossae. However, there is another possibility: remember that the epistle to the Colossians was sent with the epistle to Philemon. That short epistle deals with a runaway slave, Onesimus, from Colossae who was going back to the congregation and his master, Philemon (cf. Col. 4:9). The duty of the bondservant (vs. 22-25) was to obey their master in the flesh, but each one also had a greater responsibility to their Master in heaven. Therefore, slaves could not work half-heartedly, nor could they only work when others were watching, nor could they view themselves as hopeless because God is their Master. Even slaves had and have an inheritance in God’s kingdom who views each and every person equally. Slavery is a very difficult subject to discuss in the USA because of the horrid past of men-stealing, slavery, and racial prejudice. While colonial slavery and Roman slavery were not the exact same thing, to seek to apply this passage by using the current corporate model of boss and employee is also not the direct parallel that some among us make it out to be. In fact, there is not a slave-master relationship currently in America. However, Christians can see the principles of obedience to those who are over them. Principles of hard work still apply in the family, the church, the community, and the workplace — even though those are not the primary places that Paul had in mind when he wrote to first century slaves in the provincial city of Colossae. Masters (4:1), those who had slaves, were commanded to grant to their bondservants those things which were just or righteous and to grant them fairness (cf. Matt. 7:12). Why should masters who were Christians act differently than the other masters of their day? The answer was and is a simple one that carries implications far beyond the master-slave relationship: “ye also have a Master in heaven.”
With each relationship, we Christians are to base those relationships in our relationship with God first. This leads to viewing our homes and lives very differently. I am not just a husband but a Christian husband. It is this identification that changes everything. When we live transformed lives, we will have transformed relationships – relationships that keep eternity in mind. When we express our faith in God through our interpersonal relationships, it is fitting in the Lord, God is pleased, we extend the love of Christ, we give godly examples to those around us, and we look to an eternal inheritance as part of the household of God. May the gospel shine through in our lives and in our relationships every single day.