Families and Work
Series on Colossians #7
For many of the past few Sundays, we have been considering the New Testament Book of Colossians. In our considerations, we have thought about many things. How Paul, the author of this letter to Christians in the city of Colossae complimented them for displaying faith, love, and hope. How he described Jesus to them. Things like Jesus being the one who created the universe and holds it together and that He is the head of the church. How Paul told the Colossian Christians he worked hard in his ministry so they would be encouraged to be rooted, built up, and established in Jesus. How he warned them about the dangers of false teachers. How he encouraged them - challenged them - to rely on Jesus and Jesus alone, something they could do by seeking and setting their minds on the things of God.
Most recently we considered some specific things Paul taught. That we - and yes, that is the correct word because it was not just the Christians in Colossae who were to abide by Paul’s words, but we, too, are to abide by them - are put to death bad things of the world. Things like fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. That we are to put away anger and wrath, malice and slander, foul talk and lieing. And that we are to put on the things of God. Compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love.
Putting to death and putting away what is bad and putting on what is good are all important. In fact, doing those things will show we are seeking and setting our minds on God, making it easier to rely on Jesus alone, which will lead to growth in our faith and love and hope.
Now we get to a passage in Colossians that contains instructions about the most intimate part of our lives. Instructions for families.
Let me mention that while not everyone has a spouse or children, we have all been children at some time or other. Maybe we can think of how we did as children, and some in this congregation are children.
Plus, I dare say we all know people in all the kinds of family positions we will talk about. Maybe we can share with them what the Bible says, even if we are not ourselves in some of the positions mentioned.
The passage begins with verse 18 of chapter 3 of Colossians. That verse speaks specifically to those who are wives. “Wives, be subject to your husbands.”
I have done a bit of research on what it means for wives to be subject to their husbands. What I have found is that the wording could be, “Wives, respect your husbands.” Respect him as a person, as a husband, as a father if that fits him. Respect his opinions and his talents.
I do not read that it means wives are to be doormats. That wives are never to have a say in the relationship. It means respecting. That a wife is to realize her husband has ideas and goals. The reward for him is that if he is respected, he will feel valued.
“Wives, be subject to - respect - your husbands.” That is verse 18. Listen to verse 19. “Husbands, love your wives.” What does that mean? “Do not be harsh with them.” Do not be bitter toward them. Do not treat them unkindly, including with harsh language or severe treatment. Instead, be kind.
Let’s think for a moment how revolutionary verse 19 was.
Under Jewish law, a woman was a thing. If married, the possession of her husband. As a wife, she had no legal rights. For instance, he could divorce her for any cause, but she could not initiate divorce proceedings.
In Greek society, a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. A respectable woman never appeared on the streets alone, even to go to the market. She could not join the men in her family, even at meals. She was expected to display complete servitude, but no chastity was required of men.
In both Jewish and Greek teachings at the time of Paul, all the privileges belonged to the husband. All the obligations were expected of the wife.
But, Paul wrote, that is not the way it should be. Both the husband and the wife are important. As it might be worded, there is to be a partnership so both the wife and the husband can find new joy and new completeness in each other.
Do we catch a very important point that is at least suggested? When a wife respects her husband, he will be more likely to love his wife. When he loves his wife, she will be more likely to respect her husband. What an interesting circle it is. As each partner in a marriage does what he or she is supposed to do, it is easier for the other partner to do what he or she is supposed to do.
Another point that must be made is that verses 18 and 19 are not to be just nice words. They are not to be theories that it would be nice to do or see. They are instructions that are to be lived out.
So, at a recent Wednesday evening Bible study, I invited each of those who attended to write, if they are or were a husband, of a time when they felt respected, or a time, if they are or were a wife, when they felt loved.
I did not ask the ones showing respect or love to give examples. I am not sure anyone would have wanted to be thought of as bragging. I was looking more for good times represented by being respected or loved.
As promised, I will not give names. but here are some of the responses.
From some of the wives at that Bible study session - remember wives are to be loved by their husbands - these comments were shared.
I was loved by my husband when he helped me with my housework.
When our children were all home and we were parenting them, I know we were close.
I feel loved by my husband when he takes care of me when I am ill. He is loving, sensitive, and patient. It makes me feel like I’m loved and very important to him.
I feel loved when he makes my lunch.
He shows love when I am in a bad mood and when he doesn’t agree with me
By the way, do you notice what I notice? Very little in those statements has to do with big, important, life-changing things. Parenting is of course a big deal, but most of what was listed are day-to-day things - housework, making lunch, being tended to when sick, understanding bad moods.
Husbands, are we hearing that?
From some of the husbands at that Bible study - remember husbands are to be respected by their wives - these comments were shared.
She worked to put me through school and was willing to relocate through occupations. I have always felt her support through all decisions.
We discussed important things before we made decisions. We respected each other very much.
When I went into the military and when our first child was born, I felt respected.
I feel constantly respected, and treat her respectfully.
Again, verses 18 and 19 are to be more than just nice words. They are to be more than theories. They are instructions that are to be lived out by those of us who are Christians. How good it is to know that is happening in our congregation. The challenge is for that to continue.
But of course it is not just wives and husbands in family relationships. In some families there are children. Paul went on to instruct the proper child-father relationship.
What Paul wrote in this section of Colossians 3 was also revolutionary. Remember the comment earlier that women had no rights in a marriage in Jewish and Greek cultures? The situation was even worse for children. Under Roman law, children of any age were at the complete mercy of their fathers. For instance, the father had total power to do whatever he wanted with his child. He could sell his child into slavery or, even at home, force him to work the farm. He had the right to condemn his child to death and carry it out. I suspect that last example rarely happened, but it could legally have happened. All the privileges belonged to the fathers. All the duties belonged to the children.
With that in mind, Paul instructed fathers a different way to treat their children. He did that right after he instructed children how to behave.
Verse 20. “Children, obey your parents in everything.”
Obey. What does that mean? How about respecting their parents? Submitting to their commands - their position of authority.
“Obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” That is so much the case, there is a promise related to it way back in the Old Testament. Remember the Ten Commandments. Remember the one that says to honor your father and your mother. Remember the promise associated with that commandment? “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
At the recent Bible study, when I asked husbands to share a time when they felt respected by their wives and wives when they felt loved by their husbands, I also asked, as many as wanted to, to share a time when they obeyed their parents, again, to give some specific examples of doing what is taught in today’s passage.
There were two times shared of children obeying their parents.
I studied hard in school. [I assume that was taught by that person’s parents, which means that person’s hard study was obedience to his or her parents.] My parents were pleased. I felt good because they were pleased.
I was told, “You will finish college this term.” I said, “It may take another semester, but I will do as you say.” And I did.
I said I would not mention names, but this one was not shared at that Bible study. It is one I have heard Lynna Gene tell about. One time, when she and Alice Ann and Arch and Rollie were quite young, they and their parents, Leonard and Vera Gene, were trailering somewhere. They had stopped for lunch along a roadside.
While outside the trailer, another vehicle drove up and stopped. Inside the other vehicle were some unsavory-looking individuals. Lynna Gene recalls Leonard saying, “Get in the car now,” which they all did, right away driving away from that spot. They were not followed, and maybe the unsavory-looking people were the nicest people around, but a command was given. There was immediate obedience. The result was that everyone was safe.
“Children, obey your parents in everything.” That is verse 20. But also important is verse 21. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
As it is with wives and husbands - as it easier for a wife to respect her husband if he shows her love and it is easier for a husband to love his wife if she shows him respect - so it is with children and parents. It is easier for a child to obey the father if he does not provoke him or her, and it is easier for him to not provoke his child if he or she is obedient. Again, what an interesting circle. As each child and each father does what each of them is to do, it is easier for the other part of the relationship to do what is supposed to be done.
I came across this story, which, as I read it, seems to fit this part of today’s passage.
Back in 1944, a British general, famous as a disciplinarian, was observing a practice for D-Day.
During the practice, a young soldier, still sea-sick from the voyage to the practice shore, came struggling along, trying to keep up with his comrades in front. He tried hard to hide his distress, but when nearing the general, the young soldier tripped and fell flat on his face.
Half sobbing, he forced himself up. Dazed, he started marching again, but the wrong direction.
The general went to him. With a friendly smile, he turned the young soldier around. ‘This way, son. You’re doing well. Just don’t lose touch with the man in front of you.”
What a good story about encouragement. In the case of the story, a young soldier. In the context of verse 21, any young person. Of course a young person’s struggles might be rebellion, but maybe he or she is trying to keep up and go the right direction and just having trouble and getting frustrated. In such cases, can those who are fathers give a few words of encouragement and then remind them the correct way to go? I think that is what it means to not provoke.
Wives, be subject to your husbands. Respect them. Husbands, love your wives. Children, obey your parents. Fathers, do not provoke your children. Those are instructions about the most intimate part of our lives. Instructions for families. And again, even if any of us happen to not be included in some of those groups, we know those who are. Perhaps we can teach them or remind them what the Bible says about family relationships.
Then Paul continues by giving instructions for the world of work. He uses the words “slaves” and “masters,” which we do not have today, but I think this applies to the employee-boss relationships that we do have today.
Verse 22 of Colossians 3 and verse 1 of chapter 4. “Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly,” paying them what they are due, requiring of them what they do well, things like that.
There is more involved in each of those teachings.
Slaves are to obey, not just “with eyeservice” - not just when the boss is looking - and not just to please the boss. Obedience is to be done as an expression of “fearing of the Lord,” meaning having a great respect for God.
Concerning bosses, why are they supposed to treat their workers justly and fairly? Because bosses also have “a Master,” that being God, who is pleased with bosses when they treat their employees well.
Do we sense the circle again? It is easier for slaves to be obedient when their masters treat them well. It is easier for bosses to treat their workers well when their workers obey. Yet again, what an interesting circle. As each person in a work force does what he or she is supposed to do, it is easier for the other part of the work force to do what is supposed to be done.
At the recent Bible study referred to already, I also invited those who attended that evening to share a time when they obeyed their bosses. Whether the bosses noticed or not, a time when they went above and beyond in their work.
Here is what was shared.
I stayed overtime and helped with a job no one else wanted to do.
I did events the boss did not know I did.
At my last job I worked full time hours and was only paid part time wages. I worked above and beyond every week.
I did reports with supporting documentation.
We changed locations several times. I designed my work area a couple times and designed the last small lab we moved to.
I resolved personnel issues with several staff in a major community.
Working with elderly and handicapped people took a great deal of patience. Knowing that God wanted me there made it much easier.
Here is a devotional I found. The life of slaves in the Roman Empire was not easy. They were regarded as things and they had no rights. Some had good masters and challenging work, but most were given menial tasks to perform. They worked long hours with little rest.
However, slaves who were Christians were able to catch a glimpse of glory, even in the grind of menial work. That happened when they did their work with dignity. Each one who saw himself or herself working for Jesus felt the Lord’s commendation, which makes every task important.
Here is how someone else worded it. If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted and Beethoven composed music and Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that the hosts of Heaven will pause to say, here lives a great street sweeper who does his job well.
Even if your work may be tedious and even if your employer or your teacher, if a teacher is your boss, is not good or easy to get along with, remember you are working for Christ. Do your daily work so that your Master in Heaven is pleased. Which makes verses 23 and 24 of chapter 3 very relevant. “Whatever your task [as a wife, a husband, a child, a father, a worker, a boss], work heartily, as serving the Lord, knowing you are serving the Lord, from whom you will receive a spiritual inheritance as your reward.”
Respect, love, obey, do not discourage, treat well. May those things describe those of us who are Christians as we live as families and at work.
Today’s closing song centers on the family relationships that are taught by Paul. It is A Christian Home. We will sing the first two verses and the chorus of verse 3.
O give us homes built firm upon the Savior,
Where Christ is Head and Counselor and Guide;
Where every child is taught His love and favor
And gives their heart to Christ, the crucified:
How sweet to know that though their footsteps waver,
Our faithful Lord is walking by their side.
O give us homes with godly fathers, mothers,
Who always place their hope and trust in Him:
Whose tender patience turmoil never bothers,
Whose calm and courage trouble cannot dim;
A home where each finds joy in serving others,
And love still shines, though days be dark and grim.
Be Thou the center of our least endeavor -
Be Thou our Guest, our hearts and homes to share.
Wives have a responsibility. Husbands have a responsibility. Children have a responsibility. Parents have a responsibility. Workers have a responsibility. Bosses have a responsibility. The Bible tells us what we are each to do. Let’s rely on the Lord for the strength and the discipline to do what we are supposed to do.
Let’s obey for the reward we will receive. The reward of a spiritual inheritance. More importantly, let’s obey for the benefit of those we love. More important yet, let’s obey because it will please our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.