This week I have talked about staying focused on the things of God rather than on the things of this world. I talked about how Christians are citizens of heaven and how to live a life focused on heaven while here on earth. Today I want to continue this idea and discuss how to remain focused on the things above within our family relationships. So we go back to Colossians.
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Colossians 3:18-25, (New American Standard Bible or NASB).
The Apostle Paul was not married (1 Corinthians 7:8). We don’t know if he was a widower or just had never married. He did not shy away from the family relationships though in his letter to the Colossae church. Women had few rights for independence from their family under the Jewish law. It wasn’t like most of the western world today where women can be property owners and heads of households and have careers in the workforce. I imagine, however, that if he were here today speaking to us that his narrative would be the same. The first woman, Eve, was created by God after the first man, Adam. Eve was created to be a friend, a helper, and encourager, and a wife to Adam (Genesis 2). They were the first marriage, one might say, and her role was to be a supportive role for her husband. That is how God made the family. God is first, then husband, then wife, and then children. In today’s message to women being submissive is a negative and an infringement on your rights as a woman. God’s message is different, husbands are accountable to God for their family and wives are accountable to their husbands who are accountable to God. It is the way God designed the family so if you want to argue with me on this issue you are really going to be arguing with God. I am just stating what I see from this and other scriptures.
Does this mean that husbands can be mean and neglectful? Never! Husbands are to love their wives. I always find it interesting that Paul didn’t tell women to love their husbands. Remember that during Paul’s era many marriages were arranged by the families and not by the two participants of the marriage. In fact today in many cultures this is still the tradition. This tradition could easily make the wife be a second-class citizen and one that could easily be victimized. And yet Paul tells husbands to love their wives and not to become bitter against her. Now that is still the challenge for marriages today as well. Believe me, I know what it is like to not be loved in a marriage by my husband and it is not a place I care to go again. Paul being single showed a good grasp on the problems in marriage when a husband loves himself more than his wife or his children and I, for one, am glad that he saw reality. So husbands, you are to love your wife and love doesn’t mean walking out with another woman and leaving your marriage. Bitterness has killed love in many marriages and having seen this in action and having lived in such a situation I really am thankful that Paul went to the heart of the matter.
And then Paul talks about the rest of the family which are the children. He tells children to be obedient to their parents. What a battle of wills this can become when a child does not obey their parents. I am thankful that my children were not disobedient or disrespectful as children in my home. I appreciate that they were a joy to be around while living in my home. Now that they have grown up and live in their own homes I hardly see them so I really don’t know much about their lives as they are busy. I think that is part of life in this world. We stay connected by phone and through the mail but time and distance has made it difficult to keep a strong relationship going. I think that is the way it should be though as it is part of the leaving and cleaving (Genesis 2:24). I also think Paul saw reality when he said: Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. In my experience it was the Dad that usually didn’t budge when he told his child to do something. My Dad didn’t ask me more than once to behave, Mom said it all the time but not Dad! I just knew instinctively that Dad would handle me if I pushed him too far. I am thankful that my Dad was kind and loving and not one of those men who used their children as scapegoats for their own problems. I had a friend who would get beaten by her Dad especially when he was drunk and that was so devastating for this girl. She lived in a world of fear and I felt so helpless to help her. Her father needed to listen to Paul!
And then Paul talks about slaves. Now why would slaves be grouped into the family relationships passage? First of all we still have slave situations today in some parts of the world, and so these words are still germane today. But even if you live in a country where slavery is abolished you can glean something here. Workers at a place of employment can also follow these guidelines set forth by Paul. Workers are in a family type relationship, don’t you think? In fact many workers spend more time with their co-workers than they do with their families. My ex-husband was in the military and he certainly spent long hours with fellow soldiers and then when he went into civilian life he was a physician and spent more time with co-workers at the hospital than with his family. It happens in almost all career paths that you often hear of office relationships that are sometimes stronger bonds than in marriages. We can debate whether this is a good thing but it is reality. So using the guidelines Paul sets down will keep you free from the pitfalls of sin in the workplace. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. If you remember this fact then you will do your best and let go of the petty things and know that you will be rewarded by Jesus if your boss doesn’t reward you in the workplace. You will set proper boundaries and keep your relationships free from sinful thoughts. Whether you are a slave somewhere in this world or an employee or employer my hope for you is the same, that you will find joy in your life as you focus on the things above rather than the things on earth.
With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. Ephesians 6:7-8, (NASB).
This passage in Ephesians echoes the same guidelines found in Colossians as the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to members of the Ephesus church. I want to end with it because I love the reminder to us all. Whether we are slaves or free persons we live a life focused on God’s way and not our own.