Submit – The primary meaning of this word in the NT is to voluntarily “put oneself under” the authority or direction of someone or something else (see James 4:7 with respect to God, Rom 13:1 to government, and 1 Cor 16:16 to leaders). Paul uses the word obey when speaking of children and parents and slaves and masters but the less “authoritarian” and more “voluntary” word submit for wives and husbands. It is culturally subversive that Paul follows his instructions for wives to submit by calling husbands to love their wives which for Paul means always putting her interests first—as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25). In God’s kingdom, husbands and wives are equals (Gal 3:28), who are called to mutually submit to Christ as wives submit to their husbands and husbands sacrificially love their wives.
Bondservants – Bondservants are included in this list of “household instructions” because many 1st century households included slaves. 1st century slavery was unlike slavery in 19th century America in that it was not based on race, but similar in that one human being “owned” another and had control over him. There was often a component of working off a debt and eventually gaining one’s freedom.
Did You Know?
Aristotle wrote one of the earliest examples of a “household code” and mentioned the same three relationships as Paul. But, his guide reflects a pagan hierarchy only emphasizing the superiority of the one with the highest social standing.
Paul is continuing to write about what it looks like to live life as a follower of Jesus, which he begun back in verse 12. Following his instructions about how to interact in the church, Paul now moves to describe how Christians ought to operate at home. First he says, Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them (vv. 18-19). Following the example of Jesus, husbands and wives are called to lay down their own interests for the sake of the other. Next Paul says, Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (vv. 20-21). As with husbands and wives, there’s a balance. Children are called to obey their parents but parents are not to be too harsh and thus crush their children. Lastly, Paul addresses servant and masters, writing, Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters…Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (vv. 3:21-4:1). Servants are called to obey their masters and masters are called to treat their servants well. All throughout this section, the grounding for behaving in these ways is obedience to the Lord Jesus, as evidenced by Lord showing up 6 times in 9 verses. The way in which Paul addresses both sides of each relationship shows mutuality over hierarchy and is significant in a culture in which wives, children, and servants were often “second class citizens.”
Read Luke 22:24-27. How is Jesus’ depiction of authority and leadership different from the world’s? What would it look like for you to embody this teaching in your relationships?
Learning the Word
1. Read Colossians 3:11-4:1. What are the obvious cultural concerns that surface with this passage? How have these verses sometimes been misused or abused?
2. Colossians 3:10 says that believers are to put on the “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the creator.” How does verse 10 set the stage for everything that follows in 3:11-4:1?
3. In Colossians 3:18-4:1, why do you think Paul chooses to address these three particular relational pairs? Why is it essential to see these practical expressions in the context of the broader teaching in Colossians 3:1-17?
4. In verse 3:18, who is addressed? What is “fitting to the Lord”? What is not fitting?
5. In verse 3:19, who is addressed? What instruction is given about what things should be put on and what should be put off?
6. In verses 3:20 and 3:21, who is addressed? Why are these things emphasized?
7. In verse 3:22-4:1, who is addressed? What teaching is offered about our view of work? What motivations are given?
Living the Word
8. What does it look like for you personally to “let the peace of Christ rule in your heart” and “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”? How does this affect your ability to “put on love” in your relationships at home, at work, at church, and elsewhere?
9. Describe the kind of forgiveness we see in verse 13. Does this kind of forgiveness characterize the way you forgive others and your motive for doing so? How does love bind everything together in perfect harmony (verse 14)?
10. What is one practical step you can take this week to live out this teaching about Christ-honoring relationships?