Monday, February 6, 2012

New Life in the Home

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.

Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.

Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:18-4:1)
When the word of Messiah is at home in us, it fills us with His abundant wisdom. Paul shows us now what this wisdom looks like in our domestic relationships. The form of instruction he uses here is that of the “household code.” This form was a common feature of Greek and Roman teaching on ethics. They outline the duties and responsibilities members of a household owed to one another and especially to the paterfamilias, that is, the father of the family, the head of the house. In other words, they define how wives should act toward their husbands, children toward their fathers and slaves toward their masters, and it was all rather one-sided.

What Paul does with the household code, however, is unexpected, unheard of, even revolutionary. Household relationships in this new life in Jesus is not a one-way street — it runs both ways. We see this here in his letter to the believers at Colosse and also, more extensively, to in Ephesians 5:21-6:9 (Peter has a similar code in 1 Peter 2:18-3:9).

Wives are to submit to their husbands. This is “fitting,” or appropriate for our new life in Jesus. Indeed, submitting to one another appropriate for all of us. In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, Paul prefaces his household instruction with the words: “Submitting to one another” (Ephesians 5:21) That is, every believer is to submit to each other.

This is revolutionary! For husbands, it means that they are now to love their wives and not be bitter or ill-tempered toward them or provoke them. This love is not just a matter of having kind affections toward them. No, this is the kind of self-giving love Jesus has for us. Indeed, in Ephesians, Paul adds, “Just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus submitted His whole life for the sake of the Church, and that is how husbands are to love their wives, submitting themselves for the sake of their wives. Note also what Paul does not say. He does not say, “Husbands, rule over your wives,” or “Husbands, make your wives submit.”

Children are to obey their parents in all things. This pleases the Lord and is, indeed, in keeping with the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

But now there also is a word to fathers: “Do not provoke your children.” Do not be quarrelsome or contentious. Do not push them to anger, for example, by continual fault-finding or dealing unfairly or unreasonably with them. This is so that they do not become discouraged and no longer willing to try. Or they dishonor their parents instead of coming to maturity and walking in the favor and blessing of the Lord. The love of King Jesus expressed through fathers has much influence over this.

Now Paul speaks to the relationship between bondservants and masters. In his letter to the believers in Galatia, he said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In other words, there is full equality for every believer in Jesus, regardless of ethnicity, social stature, or whether one is a man or woman. For servants and slaves, this was a new reality, one that undermines abusive institutions. Though they were still servants according to their present social structure, the old system that operated according to the principalities and powers, it was now King Jesus they were really serving. Just as Jesus came to be a servant and offer His life on the cross, and in so doing disarmed the powers, in the same way, those who belong to Him overturn corrupt institutions and power structures by serving as He did.

How much more true this was for masters who took Jesus as their own Master. They were now answerable to Him for how they treated their servants. Realizing that Jesus came as a servant Himself for their sake would present a tension that eventually pulls down the walls of corrupt systems. This would be heightened for believing masters who had believing servants — how could they now continue in a system in which they made slaves of their own brothers and sisters? Treating them justly and fairly must ultimately turn out to mean giving them their freedom.

Focus Questions
  1. How does the new version of the “household code” Paul presents demonstrate the “disarming of the powers”?
  2. How does it demonstrate the new reality of who every believer now is in Jesus?
  3. In what ways do these actually change societal structures?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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