Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands…. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything…. Fathers, do not embitter your children…. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything…. Work at it with all your heart…. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair…. [Colossians 3:18-23,4:1 (NIV)]
In a Christian household, the Apostle Paul instructs wives to submit, husbands to love and be gentle, children to obey, fathers to encourage, slaves to obey and work honestly, and masters to provide and do what is right. People often find these verses troubling for a variety of reasons. The word “submit” is a stumbling block for many and the mention of slavery is disturbing to us all. Unfortunately, slavery was a way of life in the 1st Century and quite different from the slavery found in our American history books. While not right, it was a part of the economy and social structure of the time so Paul addressed it. At the end of these instructions, Paul reminded the Colossians that God has no favorites and their Master was in heaven. In God’s eyes, slave, master, wife, husband, and child were all the same and it was to Him they all were accountable.
These verses, however, are not all-inclusive. While every action Paul mentions should be taken, he never said they were the only things people should do for one another. The Bible is the sum of its parts, not just a few select verses. Paul eloquently explained love in 1 Corinthians 13 and further defined a Christian household in Ephesians 5 and 6. After telling people to submit to one another and wives to submit to their husbands, he adds that men should love their wives as much as Christ loved the church. He tells children to honor their parents as well as obey them, fathers to discipline (not provoke) their children, slaves to respect their masters and masters not to threaten their slaves. In both family and work relationships, Paul makes it clear that we have a mutual responsibility involving submission, love, gentleness, honor, obedience, discipline, encouragement, respect, diligent and honest labor, fairness, and respect.
In Colossians, Paul doesn’t ask us to do anything in our lives and relationships that Jesus didn’t do or that Paul, who called himself a “slave of God” wasn’t willing to do. Did Jesus submit? He submitted to his disciples when He humbly knelt and washed their feet and to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. The one who raised the dead, stilled the sea, and healed the sick certainly could have struck down the guards mocking and beating him, but He didn’t. Instead, Jesus submitted willingly.
Did Jesus love? He loved us enough to lay down His life for us—people he didn’t even know and who were totally unworthy of such a sacrifice. He loved enough to suffer as a man although He was God and to ask forgiveness for those who crucified Him. As for obedience, Jesus was obedient to His earthly parents, Jewish law, and even paid the temple tax! He remained obedient to God’s word when tempted by Satan and was obedient to His Heavenly Father’s will all the way to the cross.
Rather than disparaging or demeaning the people He met, Jesus loved and encouraged them. He took every opportunity to tell his disciples not to worry, be anxious, or afraid. Rather than criticizing and shaming the adulterous woman, he forgave her and encouraged her to sin no more. From the time He was a boy in the temple, he went about His Heavenly Father’s business by learning, teaching, preaching, healing and miracle making. He neither ignored the needs of the people around him nor neglected the work God gave Him to do. He worked without complaint or resentment. Even though He wasn’t a slave, Jesus took on the role of one and did His work with sincerity of heart and reverence for His Lord.
Did Jesus provide? From wine at a wedding feast and food for a multitude to the gifts of salvation and the Holy Spirit, Jesus provided generously for his servants. We are called to follow the example of Jesus. To do that, we must conduct our lives the way Jesus did: by submitting, loving, obeying, encouraging, working for our Master and providing for His people.