Friday, August 29, 2008

Colossians 3:22-4:1

22Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. ... 1Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

As mentioned earlier, the distinction of slave and free was important to Paul, especially in this letter, which was likely delivered by Tychicus and Onesimus, the former slave of Philemon, along with Paul’s letter to Philemon, who was from Colosse. Paul elaborates more on the treatment of slaves here in this letter than he does in other letters, primarily, it is thought, because Onesimus and Philemon were involved. Perhaps Paul, who wrote a brilliant letter specifically to Philemon, includes some extra teaching here, just to show that the whole church has a responsibility in this matter, not he alone. Slaves receive extra attention here (v22-25), not just because they might have to endure much suffering, but since they could be prone to be lazy, dishonest, and resentful. God does not grade on the curve pending your social class. You will never convince God that you are a victim. Thus, even as a slave, you are held accountable for your behavior.

And let’s acknowledge that Paul is not condoning slavery as we think of it from colonial American times. This type of slavery was not like that kind. For all intents and purposes, Paul is speaking of the right kind of relationship to have between employers and employees. The slave was simply an employee; the master, an employer. He is saying to both groups, “Christ is Lord over your work and over your management of those who work for you.” The Christian should do all his work as if he were doing it for the Lord. And freedom in Christ is Paul’s motivator. Christian liberty strengthens our motive to work; it doesn’t weaken it. Like wives, slaves might have been thinking, “We are free in Christ, so we no longer have to obey our ruthless masters!” Paul says, “No. Christian liberty has freed you to work more effectively. You can give yourself to your work, because your master is the loving Lord Jesus.”

Employees aren’t to brown-nose, working hard only when the boss is looking. The tendency of underpaid and under appreciated people is to give a minimalist effort at work. As long as the employer is watching, they may try and look like they are working hard, but when the employer is gone, they do only what is necessary to get by. As far as Paul is concerned, the Boss (the Lord) is always looking; and we ought to fear the Lord on this account (“with reverence”). Sinclair Ferguson said, “Man was made to work, because the God who made him was a working God.” We ought to work sincerely, whole-heartedly, and joyfully for the Lord, since He cares for us. All work done well has dignity and it is valued in the sight of God. Because of that reality, you can be sure of a reward. In fact that reward will be “an inheritance,” which comes through sonship – in this case by adoption. You may not receive the reward you want in terms of wages on earth, but your reward will be far greater than you can imagine – an imperishable, eternal inheritance from your Father in heaven.

Finally, looking at the first verse of chapter 4, masters of slaves (employers) are given instruction as well. They are to treat their employees with what is right (justice) and fair. It is impossible to overemphasize how much God detests unfair wages, or the withholding of earned and promised wages (James 5:4-5; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). Both groups are instructed to keep the focus of heart and mind on heavenly things; both groups will give an account before the Lord. Paul is dealing with life on earth but in the kingdom of heaven. Work relationships are part of the “already / not yet” Christian life. Thus a focus on spiritual things leads to right application here on earth. When we pick up with v2 or chapter 4, we’ll continue with two more characteristics of spiritual maturity: prayer with thanksgiving and living a life of witness, or being a light in the darkness.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Colossians 3:18-21

18Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Paul issues brief teachings on relational aspects of the Christian life. He reflects on these relationships more completely in Ephesians 5:22-32, 6:1-4. As mentioned earlier, these relationships are grounded in the redemptive pattern of Christ’s love. For example, in Ephesians 5:25, Paul says that husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. So the reason, the basis, the motive, the grounds for Christian living is the work of Jesus Christ. In the doctrine of the atonement of Jesus Christ, husbands find reason to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the Church. Biblical knowledge is practical; experiential knowledge of Christ breeds love for one another.

In v18, Paul’s instruction starts with an attitude but includes actual behavior as well. The idea is about obedience and a genuine desire to obey, which is exactly what God wants from us as the bride of Christ. Paul calls wives to a practical recognition of the divinely given order of the household. Wives are to know that God made things to be this way for their good. Do wives trust God in that? His is the divinely given order of the household, and when His order is reversed, when these roles are reversed, just like with Adam and Eve in the fall, it always results not only in the destruction of the man, but in the self-destruction of the wife. Paul also wants wives to recognize the husband’s authority under God; the man bears certain responsibilities before God, and he will give an account before God for his household management. Paul’s call for submission entails the wife’s sacrificial self-giving loyalty to her husband. He calls her to show the type of sacrificial loyalty that Christ Himself shows to His people. But why does Paul, if husbands are the head of household, begin by speaking to wives first? First, Paul’s word to the wife first is designed to protect the order and structure of the home. He speaks to the place where, perhaps, the first reversal may occur. Paul also speaks first to the wife, because one might be tempted to draw from biblical logic the conclusion that since we are free in Christ, since there is neither male nor female in Christ, wives no longer have the responsibilities for submission to the head of the household because they are free and equal in Christ. Biblical logic, however, doesn’t work that way. Freedom in Christ means we are now free, with the right motives, to follow God’s principles for the life of the family, including a loyal recognition of the headship of the husband in the home.

In v19, a husband is to love his wife, and this refers, as Vincent Cheung says, “to something much greater than a feeling of affection, since biblical love is defined as obedience to God’s law in our relationships.” You can’t command someone to love another, but Paul does. He’s not speaking of romantic love, though that is nice. He is speaking of agape love, self-giving sacrificial love. Martin Luther once said, “The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.” “The woman takes her being from man,” Thomas Adams said, “but man takes his well being from woman.” The test of a husband’s love for his wife is his attitude toward her. The text speaks of being harsh toward her. It might better be translated, “embittered.” If a husband is truly engaging in agape love toward his wife, then he can’t possible be bitter toward her, holding a grudge in his heart and externally hiding it.

Likewise, in v21, fathers have the responsibility to raise their children properly, as Ephesians 6:4 states, bringing “them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Paul is calling fathers to rear their children in such a way that they will not feel only the rebuke of God, but they will also feel His approval. Notice that both here and in Ephesians, the father is given the parenting responsibility. Too often in our culture, the mother handles that alone. Paul’s command here is for fathers, specifically that they would not dishearten and discourage their children in the context of discipline.

Going back to v20, children are instructed to obey their parents in everything. Paul is saying, “A Christian child expresses his or her desire to serve the Lord by obeying his or her parents.” God takes this command very seriously. Notice the cause of it, the sins lumped with it, and the just penalty for it in Romans 1:28-32. We cannot say Christ is Lord, and live perverse lives of continual disobedience. But as Ephesians elaborates, this is especially for parents “in the Lord.” Honoring one’s father and mother is a lasting command, but never at the expense of honoring the Lord. Non-Christian parents must not be obeyed if their commands are specifically against sound Biblical doctrine and principles of Christian living. Now, why should we obey? Because it pleases the Lord; that’s our motivation to obey. In Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddel explained to his sister that he ran because God made him to run; when he ran he felt God’s pleasure, because God had made him to run. He took pleasure in the pleasure of God in doing what God had made him to do. And Paul says, “God takes pleasure when you obey your parents.” And finally, Ligon Duncan points out, “Education is rooted in deference to authority. If we do not defer to the authority of our parents in the home, and those other people in the world that God has put over us, we ultimately rob ourselves of the ability to grow, because God has made the world such that we grow through obedience.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Colossians 3:15-17

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And 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 v15, Paul points out the peace of Christ, which is bridging the gap between heaven and fractured humanity on earth. The kingdom of heaven comes with Christ and is now here. That’s the peace of Christ. Vincent Cheung writes, “The verse is talking about the relationships between believers, and this peace is referring to an objective and relational peace. It is the opposite of hostility and animosity between people, and not the opposite of unrest and turmoil within a person’s mind.” This kind of peace is impossible between bunches of “old selves” pretending to be “new selves.” This kind of peace, to which we are called, comes only when groups of people as a whole diligently work to grow in Christ by the Spirit through ridding themselves of their “old selves” and putting on their “new selves” by the grace of God (Galatians 5:16-17). Some people are concerned that the “new self” eliminates their personality, but that’s wrong. Rather, putting on the “new self” is enhancing the qualities and personality traits with which God designed you. So the “new self” is who you are meant to be. Paul says that’s who you are in Christ, so be who you are in Christ. We weren’t free to be who God made us to be apart from Christ, but now we are!

V16 mentions the word of Christ dwelling in you richly. Keep the gospel close at hand, in your heart, and in your mind. Think of Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Having God’s word in us keeps us from sin; reading and studying God’s word sanctifies us in Christ. Do you love the word of God? How much? Can you quantify it? Do you crave it? We all should. “Let the word of Christ dwell is you richly.” Believers are sustained and grow by God’s word – the gospel.

How do we let that happen? Paul says it happens as we “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts.” Paul tells us that we ought to sing because we are thankful; we have “gratitude in our hearts.” He indicates here that the spiritual relationship among believers is to be an intellectual one: “Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” Vincent Cheung says, “The content of our conversation is to be the word of Christ, the mode is to be teaching, and the quality is to be wisdom. The relationship is thoroughly intellectual. And if we are not saying it, then we are to be singing it.” Paul continues, speaking of singing psalms (Psalms), hymns (Biblical songs like Hannah’s, Mary’s, Miriam’s, etc.), and spiritual songs (Tunes inspired by the Holy Spirit, such as Philippians 2:5-11). There are all kinds of songs throughout Scripture. The Greek words Paul uses are synonyms, but they convey a wide rage of music expressions. Whatever the sound, song lyrics ought to be edifying. V17 may or may not be alluding specifically to the worship of God or the relationship we have with one another, but the point would be aligned with 1 Corinthians 10:31. As you keep your mind and heart on heavenly things, the things done on earth ought to be “heavenly,” for God’s glory, as Romans 14:23 says, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”