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Relationships in Christ


May 15, 2022 | In Christ Alone | Relationships in Christ| Colossians 3:18-4:1

John Cutler

Senior Pastor


(Click here for the sermon audio)


This is who you are in Christ. (wk 1- Identity in Christ)

This is who you should be becoming in Christ (wk 2- Maturity in Christ)

This is how you came to be in Christ in the first place. (wk 3- Reconciliation in Christ)

This is what your leaders and assembly ought to look like. (wk 4- Together in Christ)

This is what happened to you when Christ reconciled you. (wk 5- Alive in Christ)

This is how you live out your new identity. (wk 6- Life in Christ )

These are the things that do not fit with your new self (wk 7- New Self in Christ)

These are the things that do fit with your new self (wk 8- New Self in Christ II)


As we continue to work through Paul’s letter to the Colossian church we come to some verses that have the potential to cause the strongest reaction in today’s world. Paul is going to get into how being in Christ affects our relationships with one another, specifically, those with the people closest to us. It is amazing to me that in the letter that Paul gives us the highest view of Christ, that we saw in chapter 1, Paul now spends time dealing with our seemingly mundane everyday relationships.


This is where we can tend to get a little uncomfortable, right?


“Like I get that Christianity ought to deal with my relationship with Christ, I get Paul giving instructions on how to behave in church, on the ordinances we practice, on evangelism and worship, even what I should focus on, but stay out of my home life Paul! That’s off limits.” “Especially if you are going to throw around words like submit, obey, work heartily, etc…”


And.I.get.it.


Some of you have either watched these verses be used as weapons against ones you love or maybe you have lived with someone who used them that way. As a wife, the word submit might as well be a four letter word because of your experiences. But here is where we have to lean in and allow God’s word to cut through, just because someone has misused these scriptures, doesn’t negate the responsibility or the truth of these passages. The problem is that too often these passages are divorced from their context and whenever you do that, you run this risk of mishandling the word of God. Since that is the case, and the way these passages have been used in the past, we are going to spend a little more time up front this morning than we maybe normally do, so that we can establish the context of these instructions, because I believe they have as much potential to harm in the wrong context as they do to bless in the right context.


I want to point out two things that will help us deal rightly with it.

The first is to understand that in dealing with the way that being in Christ should affect your relationships, Paul in Colossians gives an abbreviated and condensed treatment of the topic that he elsewhere gives a more developed treatment. We have already previously noted the similarities between the letter to the Colossians and his letter to the church at Ephesus. In the ESV translation this is clear when you compare just the amount of words used. It translates to 143 words in Colossians vs 401 in Ephesians. All that to say, although I believe Paul's treatment of the subject is complete here and enough for us to understand, I want to bring some of Ephesians into our teaching this morning to enrich our understanding.


The second thing is I want to back up and help you understand that how Paul transitions into this subject is as important as what he says about it. So I want to read to you how he transitions both here in Colossians and in Ephesians.

Colossians 3:16-17 (ESV) 6 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Ephesians 5:18-21 (ESV) 8 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.


Those passages immediately preface our text today and I believe they help guide us into our text.

Notice Paul says whatever you do, do in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him and give thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.


Here is what I hope you see, Paul is still dealing with the supremacy of Christ, here specifically in our closest relationships. How we treat our spouse, our kids, our parents, our employers, our employees, all of it falls under the category of things we should be doing in the name of Jesus and doing it out of reverence for Christ. This is not just a domestic issue, this is a discipleship issue.

This is not just a domestic issue, this is a discipleship issue.

Parents, how you raise your children should change when you are in Christ, students, how you obey your parents should change when you are in Christ, husbands and wives, how you interact in your relationship should change when you are in Christ, workers and bosses, how you work and how you manage your employees should change when you are in Christ.


Here is the truth that not understanding holds many of us back from obeying these passages. Our motivation for obedience to these instructions is not necessarily to the worthiness of the recipient of our actions, but the worthiness of the one who commands our ultimate allegiance, Jesus Christ.

Our motivation for obedience to these instructions is not necessarily to the worthiness of the recipient of our actions, but the worthiness of the one who commands our ultimate allegiance, Jesus Christ.

With those things in place as our foundation, let’s dig into this passage. Colossians 3 at verse 18.


Colossians 3:18 - 4:1 (ESV) 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.


I want to share three observations that will help us understand not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ we should obey.


Three observations

Reciprocal Responsibility-

It is important to note that Paul addresses 3 pairs of people here and none of them independently of the other. Right?

Paul doesn’t say, wives you need to do this, or kids you need to do this.

He says wives this is what you need to do and this is what your husband should be doing. Kids this is what you should be doing and this is what your parents should be doing.

That is to say no relationship is one sided and each one has a responsibility towards the other. Husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants.

Being in Christ, being made new, brings new standards of living that touch all aspects of our lives, from home to work.


Why is that important to understand? Because husbands this is not about you being in control, or getting your way, or any of that nonsense. Wives, this is not about you being inferior or less than. Same for the other relationships mentioned here. It’s not about superiority of one over the other, in fact the only superiority Paul deals with is the supremacy of Christ.


This passage and others in the New Testament have been used by some churches to teach a theology that makes women inferior to men and children to things that need to be dominated, rather than nurtured. From conversations I have had, some of you have come out of churches like that. Let me say as clearly as I can, that is not what Paul is teaching here.


One of the interesting things when you study this passage in Ephesians is that the verb submit is not in Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Rather the verb is introduced in the previous passage that says, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Then he says, wives to your own husbands.

The most important understanding that you can take away today is that submission is a reciprocal responsibility.


Yes, he says, wives submit to your husband, but it is implied that the husband will submit himself to the loving and nurturing of his wife and her good. Yes, it says children obey your parents, but it is implied that the parents will submit themselves to bringing up their child in a loving Godly way. Yes, it says bondservants obey your masters, but it is implied that masters will submit themselves to treating them appropriately. There is no relationship described here that has one way responsibilities. Which, by the way, is revolutionary in the context that Paul is writing to. Women had very little rights and children less and bondservants even less. But Paul elevates them when he highlights the responsibilities of those who could treat them harshly.


All that to say this- when you read or hear this passage, your primary response should be your own responsibilities, not those opposite of you. That means, husbands, we don’t focus on the wives’ responsibility and say ‘yeah, the bible says you are to submit to me’, or parents focus on the child’s responsibilities and say ‘ the bible says you are to obey me.’ It is important we understand what God requires of us and those around us, but our foremost responsibility is to say ‘what does God desire of me in this relationship?’.


Now that we understand how to rightly respond to this passage, let’s turn to Paul’s instructions under the heading…


Observable Order-

That is, Paul is laying out the way God expects us to act in each of our closest relationships. These are not just things we mentally agree with, but that produce observable actions in our respective responsibilities.


Wives submit to your husbands.


Submit- (Olive Tree Enhanced Strong's Dictionary) A Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader". In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".

Even the tense of the verb implies a voluntary action. It is in what is called the middle voice.

In Biblical Greek there are three possible voices connected to a verb. Active, middle, and passive.

‘When the subject of the verb does action unto itself, or for its own benefit, the middle voice is used.’

It is not active so the husband cannot say, you must submit to me. It is not in the passive, so the wife cannot say, I am forced to submit to you. It is in the middle voice. Which further highlights submission in this way must be voluntary.

This is further highlighted in Paul’s treatment of the subject in Ephesians when he says-

Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Christ does not force the church to submit and the church does not submit because they must, we submit to Christ because it is for our good.


Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.


Love- to love dearly, to be fond of

do not be harsh- to make bitter (exasperate)

This is one of those passages that I point to when someone has a problem with this idea of submission. Men are given a much higher standard to follow here! Paul says in Ephesians, the standard of love we are called to love our wives with is modeled for us by Christ himself.


(ESV) 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church

The responsibility of the husband is to love his wife in such a way that she is cherished and nourished so that she would reach her full potential in Christ.


Paul summarizes this reciprocal responsibility in Ephesians before moving to the other relationships when he says Ephesians 5:33 (ESV) 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

If you are interested in diving deeper into that, let me suggest a book that was suggested to Brittany and I by a Christian counselor. It’s called Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Like any extra biblical source, it is not perfect, but it is well worth your time working through it together with your spouse.


Next Paul moves to the parental relationships.


Children, obey your parents in everything.


obey your parents in everything,- to be obedient to a command (all) (to listen with the intent to obey)

One commentator summed it up this way. At this age, this is the best thing you can do to demonstrate your love and commitment to God. He established the family, it is his design. But as we saw in marriage, it is not a one sided responsibility.


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


do not provoke- to stir up (especially to anger)prolonged form of contention

become discouraged. - disheartened, broken in spirit

When we are unnecessarily harsh or set standard too high and rigid, we not only make it more difficult for our children to obey, but worst we can damage their understanding of who God is.

How many people have struggled with approaching God as father because of their own parents? How many of our children leave home disheartened, broken because of our failures as parents?

Rather we are charged by Paul in Ephesians to..

but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Discipline- the cultivation of mind and morals

Instruction- literally ‘to call attention to’

Too often I find myself parenting based on what I want, or my expectations, or worse in response to the way I was parented, when I should be parenting by pointing my children to God’s expectations and desires.

The Bible makes clear that they are God’s children and we are tasked with stewarding them in his ways.


Next Paul moves to the relationships between bondservants and masters. It is important to note that Biblical scholars point out that at least ⅓ of the Roman empire fell under this category. This includes anyone that either voluntarily entered servitude or was involuntarily placed in it.

Notice Paul does not advocate for slavery here, but rather addresses how those who find themselves in it should respond.

It is not a far stretch to understand this instruction in light of our modern equivalents of employers and employees.


Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters.


22 Bondservants, - voluntary or involuntary servant

obey in everything- same command as children

earthly masters,- lower

not by way of eye-service,- only used here and in Ephesians, literally sight labor

as people-pleasers,- same 2 uses- courting the favor of men


The responsibility of the follower of Christ who is working for another is to work in such a way that they work diligently and efficiently, without resentment or scorn, and whether they are being watched or not.

Yes, God cares about how you work Monday through Saturday.

Christian laborers ought to be the best employees at any company they find themselves at.

But again, Paul is not only concerned with bondservants, but with those who are in charge of them as well. They bear an equally important responsibility.


Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly.


Treat- to be the authors of or to cause one to have

justly- what is right

Fairly,- what is fair, equality

Master in heaven.- someone you belong to

If someone works for you, it is your responsibility in Christ to treat that person rightly in God’s eyes and to deal with them fairly.

Christian employers ought to be the best people to work for.


Now that we have dealt with the context of and the exercise of these responsibilities, let’s spend some time looking at the ‘why’ we should obey these instructions. All of this comes from our relationship with Jesus, what we are going to call a sanctified submission.


Sanctified Submission-

What you will find over and over again in this short passage is the idea that we do this because we are in Christ. Paul adds to almost every responsibility, a modifier that involves the Lord or as we saw in the case of the husbands’ responsibility his example.


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

as is fitting in the Lord. - proper, or this is in harmony with God’s will.


Children , obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

this pleases the Lord.- pleases(same word as is, were, are) I think it could be translated as this is from the Lord.


Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

fearing the Lord. - reverence

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord

You are serving the Lord Christ.

You are serving the Lord Christ.- you are bound to him

When we work, we work with sincerity of heart because of our reverence for Christ as well as the understanding that in being obedient to his will, we are actually serving the Lord.

Don’t miss that. Whatever your job is, it can be a way of serving the Lord. Whether you are a nurse, or an office manager, or a police officer, whatever you do to earn a living, if you approach it this way is a service to the Lord.

But notice, Paul adds this additional detail, which I think, can be applied backwards to everything he has said so far. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord.

Wives, submitting to your husbands is serving the Lord, husbands loving your wives is serving the Lord, children obeying your parents is serving the Lord, parents bringing up your children in the Lord is serving the Lord.


FInally, Paul reminds those in power that they also belong to another. No matter how high up you are on the proverbial ladder of success you are never at the top.

Masters treat your bondservant justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a master in heaven.

Master in heaven- someone you belong to

As we make our way through each one of these, Paul points out that it is our relationship to Christ that should be the motivating factor in our submitting.


This is so freeing. It takes us back to what we said at the beginning.


Our motivation for obedience to these instructions is not necessarily to the worthiness of the recipient of our actions, but the worthiness of the one who commands our ultimate allegiance, Jesus Christ.


Husbands, you do not have to wait until your wife voluntarily submits to you to love her in this way. Wives, you don’t have to wait until your husband loves you this way to voluntarily submit to his leadership. Children, you don;t have to wait for your parents to get everything right before you obey them. Parents, you don't have to have perfectly obedient children to be patient, loving, and kind to them. Employees, you don’t have to have perfect bosses in order to work this way. Employers, you don't have to have perfect employees before you treat them this way.


Your responsibility is to submit first to Christ and his instructions here through the apostle Paul.


This is not just freeing, this establishes necessary boundaries in these relationships. Wives, you are not bound to submit to your husband if he is leading you into sin, because your first submission is to Christ. Children, you are not bound to obey your parents if it causes you to disobey Christ. Right?


This not only frees you to uphold your responsibilities regardless of the other person in the relationship, it establishes the boundary of your responsibility to the other person.


One of the things I often say at weddings after I read from Ephesians 5 is to the wife, wouldn't it be easy to submit to your husband if you knew that he loved you and he was dedicated to your spiritual good? Of course she says. To the husband, wouldn’t it be easy to love your wife if you knew she supported you and was dedicated to following your spiritual leadership. Of course he says.

It’s beautiful when these things come together, but it is also important to remember that Paul doesn’t say, husbands love your wives this way, if she submits to your leadership, or wives submit to your husbands if he loves you this way.


As we come to a close I want to give you one encouragement and one challenge.


The encouragement is this, it is never too late to align your life with scripture.

It doesn’t matter how the last forty years of your marriage has been, it can, by Christ’s power, change today.

It doesn’t matter if your kids are grown with kids of their own, you are still their parent.

It doesn’t matter if you have long since moved out of your parent’s house, you are still their child.

It doesn’t matter if you have been a less than stellar employee or employer, today is a new day, this week is a new week.

It doesn’t matter how you came in here, you can leave with a new understanding of your responsibilities to those closest to you as a follower of Christ.


Here is the challenge. If you are a follower of Christ, take this as seriously as you have taken every truth we have examined in Colossians so far. Because God does care about how you love your spouse, how you parent your children, how you obey your parents, and how you conduct yourself in the business world, as a laborer or as a manager. When you were made new in Christ, there is not a single aspect of your life that was unaffected. If your life doesn’t align with the things we talked about today then decide today that you are going to live out your new life in accordance with God’s design.



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