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Colossians – Exhortations about family relationships

Posted by on Feb 18, 2011 in scripture | 0 comments

Colossians – Exhortations about family relationships

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life

This next passage continues from – and is part of – Paul’s previous exhortations to “put on” Christ as a new way of life. Furthermore, this is all part of a teaching / paraenesis passage in Colossians 2:6-4:6. Here is the passage for this post:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, 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. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:18-4:1 ESV)

In this passage, Paul deals specifically with familial relationships (physical family) among those who are believers. Just as the person’s personal characteristics and relationships among the body of Christ will change, their relationships with their spouses, children, parents, masters, and/or slaves will also change when they “put on” Christ.

These three relationship pairs (husband/wife, parent/children, master/slave) are common delineations of family relationships in the ancient world. In fact, one ancient philosopher once argued that these people/relationships make up the family, but that the family did not include property and possessions (which tells us something about what the ancient world thought of slaves).

Paul begins by saying that wives should submit themselves to their husbands in whatever way that is proper in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18) Similarly, and perhaps more strongly, husbands are commanded to love their wives and to not make them bitter or angry. (Colossians 3:19) Interestingly, both commands call for actions from one part to the other, (i.e. wives to husbands, or husbands to wives), however, only the husbands are called to be responsible for provoking the actions and attitudes of the others (wives).

Unlike wives to husbands, children are told to obey everything that their parents tell them. Paul says that this kind of obedience by children pleases the Lord. (Colossians 3:20) Paul exhorts fathers (or perhaps parents) not to irritate or provoke their children so that they are not discouraged. (Colossians 3:21) In context, he probably means discouraged against the Lord.

Paul covers the master/slave relationships in more detail. Perhaps, in the new life in Christ, this relationship requires the most care (i.e., is the most different from societal norms). As with children,he tells slaves to obey earthly masters in everything. (Colossians 3:22) The slaves are not to obey simply to attract attention to themselves or even to please other people (masters), but they are to obey out of the sincerity of their heart because of their fear of God. Paul emphasizes this point by instructing slaves to work hard for their earthly masters as if they were working for God (because they are!), knowing that God himself would reward them for their hard work. (Colossians 3:23-24)

The final statement to slaves is probably meant as a warning to both slaves and masters, and connects the two instructions together. (Colossians 3:25) Paul says that whoever does wrong will be punished (presumably by God), and God punishes without partiality (i.e. slaves and masters).

Finally, Paul directly addresses earthly masters (slave owners), and tells them treat their slaves with justice and fairness (equality). (Colossians 4:1) He says that the masters are to remember that they are also slaves, and that they serve a heavenly master. This could be a warning (like Colossians 3:25), or it could be an exhortation to be the kind of master that God is.

What would you like to add to my discussion of Colossians 3:18-4:1?


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