Christ our Ethic for the Home
February 10, 2019
Passage: Colossians 3:18-4:1

Audio did not record.  See transcript below:

The home is one of the more difficult places to be what God has called us to be; to be a place that upholds Christ to create an environment where God can change us, support us, and most definitely work salvation deep in our hearts. Out of such a heavy and dense theology of Christ, we get specifics on the home.  I find that telling at the outset, that God does indeed care about the family, and more importantly, it is on the finished work of Christ that the home life can thrive.  If we take the context of this letter and the deviations discussed in Chapter two, that were perceived as holy, apparently the home was left out, it was too mundane, not considered as significant.  So Paul seems to place emphasis on the home as of utmost importance and a place that puts on display the “setting of our minds on things above.”  The home is essential and a concrete place to see God at work.  

So let's look at the instructions God’s Word gives…

 Colossians 3:18-4:1

Notice the overarching emphasis of this entire section, the Lord.  The exhortations laid out in this text come from the Lord.  Paul is drawing all motivation to do the things in this text from the Lord…he says it is fitting and pleasing to the Lord to do these things!  This becomes a much better driver in the seat of family life than…say, neighbors, other family members, latest fads, what makes you look good in front of your friends or even church family.  

Handling our home life, especially kiddos, is a public display; so, at times, the motivation can be to not look so foolish, to be perceived as put together, so we grab our kiddos ear and whisper forcibly, “Stop that you are embarrassing me!”  Now sometimes parenting calls for the instruction of what you do affects a lot more people than yourself but we, or shall I say I, are way to worried about what others think rather than the Lord!  

So if you struggle with this text, keep in mind, these things are fitting and pleasing to the Lord.

Notice as well, the valued placed on the subordinate persons in the text.  We often get caught up in the smaller emphasis of submitting and obey, but as one scholar points out, “Probably the most significant discovery that emerges from a comparison of canonical and extra-canonical Haustafeln concerns the radical nature of the value the Christians placed on the subordinate partner in each relationship…They took submission for granted but were probably shocked to read of the strict limitations imposed on the authority of husbands, parents, and masters. Perhaps if the Church today paid more attention to obeying these latter commands, the former ones would not seem so oppressive.”(1)

You see when the Christian deals with everyday relationships within the home, things radical change and things such as love, grace, and consideration of others becomes the norm. 

Let's look at the particulars…

The Household

The structure of this section is first that it addresses the family member, then gives an imperative as to what they are to do within the home, within family life.  A few give the results of that action.  So let's work our way down the list.  First up, wives, a woman who is married to a man.  That might sound silly to clarify, but the text is working from that assumption.  The word for wife and woman are the same, you use context to determine if it is referring to a woman or a woman who is married to a man …now the command!

Submit to husbands as is fitting in the Lord.  Let's make a few observations here before we jump to any conclusions. Notice the text is directed at a specific relationship a woman has, to her husband, not every man.  It would be extremely foolish to see it as every man, and our translations make it plain what the intent was;  a wife and her husband.  The second observation is “as is fitting in the Lord.”  Now, yes, this does indicate that submitting would be the right response, that it would be the most fitting thing to do.  But what we cannot leave out is, right according to what…the Lord.  It is the Lord who would require such an action, and it is the Lord to whom the wife is to direct her attention. Implying that she is never obligated to submit to her husband when it would not be fitting, it would not be right in the Lord’s perspective.  So if a husband leads towards sin, she does not have to follow that fool.  Christ always wins in final authority. 

The counterpart to this text in Ephesians makes it a bit more understandable in connecting a wife’s submission as an example of the church’s submission to Christ.  She is first and foremost called to submit to Christ, He is greater, but she does that through voluntary and joyful submission to her husband.  But husbands, you play the fool, she plays the ultimate trump card…Christ!

The more difficult part is what does submit mean?  This is where the tension lives.  If there ever was a more polarizing subject, it is the discussion around this and other like texts.  We are wading into sensitive waters, so we must swim slow and not make outlandish splashes that will do damage to us coming underneath God’s good design.  

In this topic, we want concrete examples of how to follow out this instruction.  Let's start by examining the word all by itself before we make the application to Wives.  When you survey the entire use of this word throughout Scripture, it becomes apparent that two groups emerge for its usage.  First, submission to God and he has the power to submit (active), and secondly, submission of Christ to God, members of the congregation to one another, believers with prophetic gifts, wives to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters and the power to submit belongs to the individual (middle). (2)

This becomes the emphasis here, the individual voluntarily, willingly, and joyfully submits the leadership of someone else.  It is not a degrading pushing down of another but the willing choice to place oneself under another.  This is why it is used for human relationships, such as members of a local gathering, children to parents, master and slaves, and our particular concern this morning wives to husbands.  It would not be wise to make specific examples, but rather push you towards what the text says and ask the Spirit to guide you in applying this to your home life.

Husbands, the same as before, a man married to a woman. These individuals are given two imperatives, actions that should define their role within the family.  Husbands often need a little extra instruction!  Well, husbands, what are we to do…love, oh my, what a clear and not so easy call.  The idea of love here is not a simple matter of affection or sexual attraction but rather, as one scholar put it, “…it involves his unceasing care and loving service for her entire well-being.” (3) The husband is locked in an epic battle daily for the well-being of his wife.  He talks kindly with her because it will feed her soul to have her man speak well to her and about her.  He gentle pushes when necessary because his wife is the apple of his eye, so he fights in gentleness, not abrasive snarky remarks.  He bears burdens that would be crushing to her, because oh he loves her.  He works hard to ease her anxieties while always gentle turning her eyes towards God’s great provision in Jesus.  He presents Christ before her daily in the sacrificial love he lays before her.  Colossians great counterpart, Ephesians, makes it understandable when it clarifies the love a husband gives to his wife, it states that he loves as Christ loved the church.  What high and lofty love we are to give husbands.  Sacrificial love gives of himself, his energy, his concern, his attention, his everything…ultimately, to see her love Christ more by his actions.  Husband, we should be the ones that our wives can look towards to see a Christ-like love in action.  We fight and continue to fight, and when we run out of energy, we stand up and fight more to love our wives well.  Paul gives the instructions to husbands in an interesting way.  The first is structured positively, love your wives, the second is the negative…do not be harsh with your wives.  We are not to unload on our wives all the inadequacies we feel.  If we, husbands, are honest, we worry, we are afraid we are letting down our families, we feel like failures, we don't provide enough, we don't act right, we don't show enough affection…oh, my dear brother husbands, we are not perfect, but that beautiful woman you sleep next to is with you despite you.  She has willingly and joyfully, as we saw above, placed herself in your life despite yourself!  Don’t unload on her for your shortcomings, but unload your love on her for her faithfulness to be beside you.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.  This is a great memory verse for your children.  One of my kiddos favorites verses!  I know there are no kiddos in earshot of my voice, but let’s unpack this for just a minute.  This obey is meant to be heard a little stronger than submit we explored earlier.  The command is to be completely obeyed.  This is reminiscent of OT scriptures that consistently charge children to obey their parents, for this pleases the Lord.  Now parents, upon hearing this verse I hope you hear a major responsibility you have rather than ammunition to make your kids listen to you. They are called to obey you because you are doing what is best for them like our heavenly father does for us.  The other side of the coin is if they don’t obey your instructions then harm would befall them because your instructions are designed to keep them safe.  Don’t play in the road?  Don’t touch the stove?  Choose your friend’s wisely?  Study?  Do your homework?  No, you can’t have donuts for dinner?  But be under control.  

Listen to the next verse…

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.  What a great guard for us dads.  If I corrected everything that I thought was wrong, it would crush my kiddos.  To make them feel like they cannot do anything right is sinful.  My job is not to critique and correct every slight mess-up.  Now, this would be extremely counter culture at this time.  Within Roman society, Fathers had unlimited power over their children.  They could pour out any degree of punishment for the slightest thing, and it would not be questioned.  This does not mean there was never tender love given, but the norm would be otherwise. The point is not to provoke, irritate, make angry because they will become discouraged. We could even say “make timid.”  Fathers, you will cripple your kids later in life, when you rail them about everything, so they grow so timid they will not attempt anything!  When they attempt and perhaps are not perfect, we celebrate the achievement and guide to better mastery.  Fathers, we are mentioned here specifically, because any way you chalk it up, you have great influence in the home!  Your father did his best, and even if he did not, you have a new opportunity guided by Christ to create confident, humble, godly children.  You do this by celebrating achievement and guiding towards better mastery.  

Most of you have grown children and feel some failure here, you are still breathing; therefore, it is never too late to celebrate with your kiddos and guide when needed.

Now the next section might feel a little odd in terms of household rules.  But this relationship between Bondservant and Master better resembles an employee and employer relationship, though let me be clear, it is not a full 1-1 comparison but similar.  The bondservant works for the master and gets paid, and can even buy his freedom, but, just like today, often that relationship is strained and difficult.  Now, why is this in the household rules, well, this relationship was and still is common within the house.  Dad works, mom works sometimes, children will eventually work, so it is fitting to address this significant relationship that will become a part, are is already a part, of these members of the house.  Also, there is probably particular interest for Paul to address those who have become Christians while in their roles as a bondservant.  They might have begun to believe they are free in Christ so why be a slave to man, so Paul address the right response.  

Come to find out, Christ so permeates our lives that he even affects our work relationships.  First,

Bondservant…are to obey earthly masters, listen and do your work that you have been given.  Though your work is determined by someone else, do it, and do it well.  Not to please man but with sincerity, the integrity of heart to please the Lord with a good days work.  Paul then makes a generic principle for all of life…Whatever you do work heartily as for the Lord…brothers and sisters whatever you put your hands to, do it well.  

What’s the motivation, knowing that today is not the final say of your life, but there is a future that awaits you, and inheritance that no earthly treasure or pain can overshadow.  And when treated unfairly, well, God will avenge and respond without partiality.  Don’t you love that final caveat, Paul is saying, “Oh don’t worry, he will not hold back!”

Masters…treat bondservants justly and fairly, if you ever find yourself in a position of authority over people, well you better treat them justly and fairly.  Some of you will be blessed with a role that puts many under your care and direction, use it to show your love for your heavenly Master.


The whole of life, both thought and conduct, is to be submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ.  No area stands outside his control and influence, there is no distinction between the sacred and secular.  Christ permeates all of life!  The home is no exception, it is a sacred place to display Christ to those around us.  Church we must care about and protect the family.  It is crucial and not to be altered from God’s good design.But lets be clear, a healthy family is best accomplished in our union with Christ.


(1) William W. Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 436.

(2) Peter O’Brien, Colossians-Philemon (WBC: 44), p 221.

(3) O’Brien, Colossians-Philemon, p 223.