As we continue our series in Colossians, we navigate a difficult teaching that was used to make a case that slavery was OK with God. In this sermon, Greg shows how this passage was a cultural teaching designed to teach about relationships that were never meant to promote slavery.
This section of Colossians was an ethical teaching on how to function in a household. Last week, we had seen how the author, Paul, was trying to show how a Christian marriage should function in that context of the Ancient Near East. In today’s passage, Paul is telling the Colossians about how Christian relationships should work.
Everything we do should be done to please the Lord, not ourselves. This is a Kingdom motivation, and this passage does not condone slavery. God’s ideal is that there is no slavery or subjugation of others. However, God doesn’t trump people’s choice. God entered into solidarity with people to bring them to his ideal, even if it appears he is condoning less than his ideal. And this is the case in this passage because it appears on the surface that God is giving the OK for slavery. However, this reflects the best that God could shoot for at the time.
We treat the ugliness of the stooping of God like we treat the ugliness of Calvary. Calvary makes God look like a crucified criminal because he takes on our sin. We can say parts of the bible are gross because the cross has gross parts to it. We can call something ugly, like slavery, when we see it as ugly because we know that it wasn’t God’s ideal for humanity.
The passage begins with a command for children. Children should obey their parents appears to be a timeless teaching. Children should obey the rules. Ones without restrictions grow up to be little monsters. We see it all the time. When a child lacks discipline, they often end up without the skills to live an adult life. However, Paul doesn’t just tell children to please their parents by obeying them. The new part is that it should please the Lord, not because your parents deserve it, or the culture expects it. The sole motivation for obeying parents should be to please the Lord.
Parents have authority in light of Christ. As parents, we need to teach children that our authority over them isn’t our authority, but God’s authority. Children should submit to Christ, and Christ points the children to obey their parent’s authority.
The second command is that father’s shouldn’t embitter their children. During this time in the Ancient Near East, the Father had all the authority and power to discipline in the family. Paul was saying to the father’s to not be too harsh to their children in their discipline. In today’s world, this command applies to both parents and not just the father.
Embitter means to exasperate or to discipline in a way that leads to frustration, discouragement, and despair. It makes the children want to quit. Children need support from their parents and they also need firm boundaries to help raise them into mature adults. When we discipline in a way that embitters our children, children will then get their life from other things, like their peers.
For instance, don’t call them to do something that they can’t do and shouldn’t do. Johnny gets straight A’s while Susie gets C’s. Susie will get frustrated if you discipline her for not getting A if she’s not capable. If she really isn’t geared to get straight A’s in life, find the things that she is good at and encourage her in those. She should always try her hardest to get A’s, but don’t discipline her if she can’t reach that expectation. Otherwise, she will become embittered.
Children need to feel worth from us no matter how successful they are. Affirm what you can affirm. Your children are like a bank account. You want to keep a positive balance sheet. So, treat an affirmation as a penny and a rebuke discipline as taking out a quarter. Make sure you are giving more affirmations that discipline, and in that way you will not embitter your children towards you and God.
The third teaching is slaves obey your master in everything in reverence for the Lord. Slavery was different in 1st century, more like indentured servants with a minimum wage where they could buy themselves out of slavery. It was not like the slavery that happened in America. Since we don’t have slavery nowadays, it can seem like this teaching is out-dated and not for us. But, this teaching can apply to all of us that work.
We worship Christ when we work diligently for Jesus. We need to tear down the wall between the secular and the non-secular. Many people separate their work life from their Christian life, but we are called to invite the King into all parts of our life.
When we treat each other as we would treat Christ, we would have a completely equal community. In this passage, Paul is accepting the fallen structure in his time, but he plants the principle of doing what we do for the Lord. This would eventually abolish slavery. There are timeless teachings in that our relationships should always be done for Jesus and not for what we get in this life. When we do this, we reflect the household rules that will govern the Kingdom.
Hide Extended Summary