Introduction: Day-to-day spirituality
Today we will conclude our series on Colossians. A few of you have kindly shared with me that it has not been an easy series to follow, because each week, there seems to be so much to digest. So I want to take opportunity to thank you for patiently enduring through this series. Just one more, and it’ll be over :)
But I do hope that, while it may have required some work, this series has helped to enlarge your vision of who Jesus Christ is, and helped you realise that “just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord,” what you really need is to “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, [that you may overflow] with thankfulness.” (2:6).
We do NOT need any extra “spiritual health supplements”! What we do need, however, is to continue the lifelong process of growing to think and act more and more like authentic people of God.
Last week, Paul showed us what authentic Christian spirituality looks like: Being spiritual is about keeping sexual purity, managing our anger, wholesome speech; it’s about coming together to serve others, not to promote your own agendas. Col 3:17 summarises it well, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
In our text today, he continues by showing what this looks like in our day-to-day relationships.
Affirming the lordship of Christ within (3:18-4:1)
Paul begins with relationships within the Christian household. Scholars have pointed out that household instructions like verses 18 and following were quite common back then – Jews and even Greeks had very similar instructions. They all mention the same three categories: husband/wife, parent/child, master/slave. And the roles they assign to each of them are also very similar: wives submit to husbands, children obey parents, and slaves, masters …
Because of this, some people accuse Paul of suffering from some kind of moral or cultural blind-spot. “Shouldn’t the church be different and champion equal rights for all who are in Christ?”
“Why still ask wives to submit to husbands?” “How come Paul didn’t teach the church to set Christian slaves free?”
But friends, when you look more closely, you will see that Paul does expect Christian households to operate quite differently – different and more meaningful in at least two ways!
1) Their starting point is different: Christians are people whose minds are set on things above. Our identity (future and present) is fully secured in Christ Jesus the Lord.
2) Because of who we already are in Christ, our objective is different. We come together not to promote or even protect our own interests, but to serve others and work for the well-being of the body of Christ. And since we are all full members of the body of Christ now … we all can and must all do our part.
I believe that’s why Paul deliberately highlights the role of wives, children, and slaves. In those days, they are mostly expected to be seen but not heard! But in the body of Christ, their contribution is every bit as valuable and as spiritual to the Lord as everybody else’s. How can they contribute? Let’s look at what Paul says about each of them.
On wives and husbands
Col 3:18, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Is Paul saying that submission to husbands is the main thing wives are supposed to do? First thing each morning, ask “Lou Kong, how can I obey you today?” Of course not!
But I do think Paul is saying that this is a primary way Christian wives can contribute to the peace and well-being of the Christian household. You see, ever since sin entered the world, marriages have been ruled by conflict and fear. Some wives submit out of fear of losing her husband; others refuse to submit out of fear of being taken advantage of. And the feminist agenda of “everything a man can do, a woman can do better” is not helping!
But under the rule of the peace of Christ, the heart that fears and resents and rebels against her husband's headship is gone – replaced by a voluntary & cheerful submission, as her spiritual worship to her Saviour and Lord!
As for husbands, they are to exercise loving and caring headship (Col 3:19). Having been married for some years, I find I’m often tempted to flip-flop between two states: 1) to be the domineering husband who expects to be served & followed with no questions asked, or, 2) be the totally passive husband who lets his wife make all the decisions. But Paul says, neither are fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, let us not shrink from our God-given role, but exercise headship out of love and lots of gentleness.
On children and parents
Now, to the children who are here with us today, Paul says you have just as important a role in the church as your parents in God’s kingdom. Children, church is not only for grown-ups! What’s your role? “… obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Col 3:20)
Now children, this may not be what you wanted to hear, but let me ask you one question: Do you know anyone who always obeys his Father? That’s right: Jesus!
Jesus always obeys his heavenly Father. He even obeyed his earthly mother Mary when she asked him to do something he didn’t really want to do – even though he is the Son of God!
It’s important to keep this in mind because, children, when you obey your parents in everything, you are showing everyone that you belong with Jesus! No wonder Jesus is pleased when you obey your parents in everything.
Now parents, especially fathers, please don’t get too carried away. Paul says in Col 3:21, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Our role is to encourage our children to remain rooted and built up in Christ. So in every situation of potential conflict, remember this: The priority is not to show who’s in charge! Rather, we are to exercise self-control and consider: “what would be most helpful to encourage my son or daughter to know and trust Jesus more and more?”
On slaves and masters
Finally, Paul devotes the largest portion of his instructions on slaves, probably because they are a large part of the society in those days. It is not easy for us to identify with them, because slaves are not common in our society. And the ones we do hear about today are quite different from slaves back then.
Scholars remind us that in those days, the entire economy is build around the slave system. Back then, being a slave is actually not always a bad thing. Many volunteered their service as slaves to secure income and protection. And many slaves had what we call “white collar” jobs:
A well-known silver mine in Athens was managed by a slave
Most Roman navy ship captains were slaves owned by the Emperor
Farm managers, CEOs of primitive banks ... there were many “white collared slaves” back then, and many were actually doing rather well!
I suspect this is at least one of the reasons why the apostle Paul, or even the Lord Jesus himself, why they were in no big hurry to abolish slavery in their ministry. They were much more concerned about setting people free from their slavery to sin!
Keeping this in mind, much of what Paul says in Col 3:22ff can actually apply to how we think about our work.
Firstly, Paul tells slaves to “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything” (Col 3:22). Even though they are now fully qualified members of God’s kingdom, they are to remain as faithful slaves to their earthly masters. Indeed, Paul wants them to not only continue serving but to excel in their service: “not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Is Jesus your Lord? Then, says Paul, show it by working in a manner that is fitting for a 24x7 servant of the Lord!
In Col 3:24, Paul also addresses motivation for service. We do not serve with eyes fixed on things of this earth. We serve knowing we “will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
Friends, what motivates you to work, or to stay in your job? Interesting work? Good pay? Recognition? If that’s why we work, the moment a better offer comes, we will hop! And when boss says, “no increment”, our energy level also drops!
But as Christians, we are to set our minds on the things that are above! So let me ask you: Are you actively looking for ways you can make the gospel more attractive to people you work with? When you set goals or evaluate your performance, will you include also goals and evaluation on how you perform as a “slave of Christ” at your workplace?
Let us always be clear about this: “It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col 3:24)!
Likewise for bosses, “You know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1). Whether you are employees or bosses, we are all to keep our eyes on the big boss!
Now, please forgive me for highlighting an important implication of this verse: The one who pays our salary doesn’t own us, for we belong to Jesus! This means we will not always give our earthly bosses priority.
Friends, I say this because I think we need to be constantly reminded about these things. Isn’t it interesting that we have no problem saying to church leaders: “Sorry, I can’t help in church, because I need to work!” Or “Sorry, exam is coming, I cannot come for youth class”. But when was the last time you told your boss, “Sorry, I cannot to do this for you tonight, because I need to prepare for Bible study”? Why is it that when we plan for church camp, it must always coincide with long weekends or public holidays, because it’s too much to expect members to take leave to attend church camp, even though church members never seem to have problems taking leave to take advantage of the latest Matta Fair holiday deals?
Friends, it is so easy to forget who we are actually serving, isn’t it?
“It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Col 3:24) So let us make sure his priorities are our priorities – even when we are at work!
Proclaiming the lordship of Christ beyond (4:2-6)
In 4:2-6, Paul shifts his focus from to how God’s people are to act towards outsiders.
In Col 4:3, Paul urges the church to contribute not just to their own households, but also to the wider body of Christ, by praying for the spread of the gospel. Remember that Paul was in prison then. But notice what his prayer request was: not for God to open the door for him to get out of prison, but that “God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3). Friends, I put to you that here is a man who has set his mind on the things that are above! What about you? Is this what you pray for?
But that’s not all. In Col 3:5-6, Paul points out that the task of spreading the gospel belongs not just to the missionaries and gospel workers out there – it is something we are all called to do: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col 3:6).
Malaysians love to talk about food ... because we are proud of our food! Okay, maybe nowadays we still like to talk about 1MDB or Donald Trump! But Paul reminds us, we’re no longer just Malaysians, or Americans, or British, or wherever our home country is – we are Christians! We have been raised with Christ, and our lives are now hidden in him. So let us show it in the things we love to talk about ... and also in the way we talk about these things!
Surveys upon surveys reveal that most Christian conversions are not the result of missionaries conveying a new message, but by rank-and-file members who share their faith with their friends and relatives, who backed their conversations with a lifestyle that demonstrates the vitality and power of one’s faith. Friends, your conversations and your lifestyle – that’s the most effective evangelistic tool the church possesses. Will you ask God to bless your conversations in such a manner that makes the gospel attractive?
Conclusion: When the right person is in charge …
Some time ago, my wife forwarded me an article about how a new school principal brought about total transformation in the school. For many years, SMK Tropicana in Petaling Jaya was considered one of the worst schools in Malaysia, ranked in the bottom 12% … until when Puan Ruth Cheah became principal! Amazingly, within the same year of her appointment, the school was already recognised as a most improved school, and within 3 years, climbed 1,202 spots in national ranking!
How did she do it? She maintained the same teacher and staff team. And no, she didn’t ask to change all the students. She focused on changing their mindsets:
how her staff and teachers felt about working there;
how students felt about going to that school …
even how the parents felt about sending or keeping their children in the school.
And the result is absolutely outstanding!
Dear friends, someone far greater than Puan Cheah has stepped into our lives – the One who is Creator and Lord over all things: Jesus Christ! And he has enlisted us on his mission: to transform not just a school, but the whole world! His primary strategy is this: members of his household, the Church of Jesus Christ, with transformed mindsets that is clearly seen in how we affirm his lordship in our relationships, and how we proclaim his lordship toward outsiders. Now, if a new principal can transform a school with transformed minds, imagine what the Lord can do in and through us, with the Lord himself fully in charge!
Remember, friends, we all have a part to play! In whatever we do, in word or deed, may God help us to truly do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus! And may the results of his work in us be so obvious, so glorious, leading to the praise and glory of Christ Jesus our Saviour and King!