Colossians 3 – Put Off, Put On
A. Put off the old man.
1. (1-4) The basis for Paul’s practical instruction.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
a. If then you were raised with Christ: Paul here begins a section where he focuses on practical Christian living, with the clear understanding that practical Christian living is built on the foundation of theological truth. Because we know that Jesus is really raised from the dead, then our identification with Him becomes real. It is only because we were raised with Christ that we can seek those things which are above.
i. The idea of being raised with Christ was introduced back in Colossians 2:12, where Paul used baptism to illustrate this spiritual reality. Now, seeing that we are raised with Christ, certain behavior is appropriate to us.
ii. “The opening verses of chapter 3 sustain the closest connection with the closing verses of chapter 2. There the apostle reminds the Colossians that ascetic regulations are of no real value in restraining indulgence of the flesh. The only remedy for sinful passions is found in the believers’ experience of union with Christ.” (Vaughan)
iii. Because we were raised with Christ, we should act just as Jesus did when He was resurrected.
· After His resurrection, Jesus left the tomb. So should we – we don’t live there any more.
· After His resurrection, Jesus spent His remaining time being with and ministering to His disciples. So should we – live our lives to be with and to serve one another.
· After His resurrection, Jesus lived in supernatural power with the ability to do impossible things. So should we – with the power and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
· After His resurrection, Jesus looked forward to heaven, knowing He would soon enough ascend there. So should we – recognizing that our citizenship is in heaven.
iv. To emphasize it even more, Paul added the phrase, sitting at the right hand of God: “This phrase, particularly in its allusion to Psalm 110, focuses attention on the sovereign rule which Christ now exercises. The command to aspire to the things of heaven is a command to meditate and dwell upon Christ’s sort of life, and on the fact that he is now enthroned as the Lord of the world.” (Wright)
b. Set your mind on things above: The best Christian living comes from minds that are fixed on heaven. They realize that their lives are now hidden with Christ in God, and since Jesus is enthroned in heaven, their thoughts and hearts are connected to heaven also.
i. “The believer is to ‘seek the things… above.’ The word ‘seek’ marks aspiration, desire, and passion… In order to seek these things the mind must be set on them.” (Morgan)
ii. “Love heavenly things; study them; let your hearts be entirely engrossed by them. Now, that you are converted to God, act in reference to heavenly things as ye did formerly in reference to those of earth.” (Clarke)
iii. “‘Earthly things’ are not all evil, but some of them are. Even things harmless in themselves become harmful if permitted to take the place that should be reserved for the things above.” (Vaughan)
c. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory: The promise of the return of Jesus is not only that we will see His glory, but so that we also will appear with Him in glory. This is the revealing of the sons of God mentioned in Romans 8:19
i. Christ who is our life: In another place, Paul wrote For me to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). Here he shows that this idea was not just for special apostles, but for all believers – Christ who is our life. Sometimes we say, “Music is his life” or “Sports is his life” or “He lives for his work.” Of the Christian it should be said, “Jesus Christ is his life.”
ii. On that day, all will see the saints of God for what they really are, not as they merely appear to this world. “Paul, the prisoner, an eccentric Jew to the Romans and a worse-than-Gentile traitor to the Jews, will be seen as Paul the apostle, the servant of the King. The Colossians, insignificant ex-pagans from a third-rate country town, will be seen in a glory which, if it were now to appear, one might be tempted to worship.” (Wright)
2. (5-7) Put to death the things that are against God and part of this world.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
a. Therefore put to death your members: Therefore points back to our identification with the risen and enthroned Lord Jesus mentioned in Colossians 3:1-4. It is because we understand this fact that we can put to death the things in our life that are contrary to our identity with Jesus.
i. “The verb nekrosate, meaning literally ‘to make dead,’ is very strong. It suggests that we are not simply to suppress or control evil acts and attitudes. We are to wipe them out, completely exterminate the old way of life.” (Vaughan)
ii. We put to death in the sense of denying these things and considering them dead to us and us dead to them. “To gratify any sensual appetite is to give it the very food and nourishment by which it lives, thrives, and is active.” (Clarke)
iii. There is importance in listing and naming these sins as Paul does in this section. “It is far easier to drift into a sin which one does not know by name than consciously to choose one whose very title should be repugnant to a Christian.” (Wright)
b. Fornication, uncleanness, passion and evil desire: Each of these terms refers to sexual sins. Covetousness is simple, but insidious greed, and nothing less than idolatry. There is no way that Jesus would walk in any of these sins, so if we identify with Him, we won’t walk in them either.
i. Fornication: “The word here translated sexual immorality refers to any intercourse outside marriage; in the ancient world, as in the modern, intercourse with a prostitute would be a specific, and in a pagan culture a frequent, instance of this.” (Wright)
ii. Uncleanness: “A wider range of meaning than fornication. It includes the misuse of sex, but is applicable to various forms of moral evil.” (Bruce)
iii. Morgan lists three ways that covetousness is terribly destructive:
· “First, it is idolatry, in that it only obtains when man thinks of life consisting in things possessed, rather than in righteous relationship to God.”
· “It is also a sin against others, for to satisfy the desire, others are wronged.”
· “Finally, it is self-destructive, for these wrong conceptions and activities always react upon the soul to its own undoing.”
· Morgan added: “And yet, what ecclesiastical court ever yet arraigned a church-member for covetousness?”
iv. “Every godly man seeks his happiness in God; the covetous man seeks that in his money which God alone can give; therefore his covetousness is properly idolatry.” (Clarke)
c. Because of these things: The sins mentioned previously are part of the way the world lives and not the way Jesus lives. Every Christian is faced with a question: “Who will I identify with, the world or with Jesus?”
d. The wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience: These sins invite the wrath of God. Because the world loves this kind of sinful lifestyle, they don’t come in humility to Jesus. As they continue in these sins, it adds to their condemnation. One sin is enough to send anyone to hell (James 2:10), but there are greater levels of condemnation (Matthew 23:14).
i. In part, the wrath of God comes as God allows men to continue in sinful – and therefore self-destructive – behavior (as in Romans 1:24-32).
e. In which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them: These sins may mark a world in rebellion against God, but they are in the past tense for the Christian.
i. Simply put, the Christian should not live like the sons of disobedience. A true Christian can not be comfortable in habitual sin.
ii. Paul says that Christians once walked in these sins. It is possible – though tragic – that these sins should occasionally mark a Christian’s life, but they must not be a Christian’s walk, their manner of living.
3. (8-9) Removing other traces of worldliness.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
a. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: The sins Paul next lists (anger, wrath, and so forth) are regarded by many as “little” sins that Christians may overlook with little danger. Paul challenges us to put off the old man in every area of our lives.
i. “Put off all those old habits, just as you would discard an outworn suit of clothes which no longer fitted you.” (Bruce)
b. Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie: Each of these sins are primarily committed by what we say. When Paul calls the believer to a deeper obedience, he tells us to bridle our tongue (as did James in James 1:26 and 3:1-9).
i. Nevertheless, it is also possible to lie to one another without words. “It is easy to distort the truth; an alteration in the tone of voice or an eloquent look will do it; and there are silences which can be as false and misleading as any words.” (Barclay)
c. Since you have put off the old man with his deeds: The more notorious sins of Colossians 3:5 are easily seen as incompatible with the nature of Jesus. But these “lesser” sins are also incompatible, so put off these sins also.
i. In this section (Colossians 3:5-9) Paul showed two high priorities in Christian living: sexual morality connected with a right attitude towards material things, and simple getting along in love with one another. It is easy for a Christian community to compromise one for the other, but Paul (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) insisted that they both have a high place in Christian practice.
ii. You have put off the old man with his deeds means that in Jesus Christ, the saints of God are different people. Therefore, “When a tide of passion or a surge of anger is felt, it must be dealt with as the alien intruder it really is, and turned out of the house as having no right to be there at all, let alone to be giving orders.” (Wright)
B. Put on the new man.
1. (10-11) As we put off the old man, we must put on the new man.
And have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
a. Put on the new man: The phrase Paul used was commonly used for changing a set of clothes. We can almost picture a person taking off the old and putting on the new man in Jesus.
b. Who is renewed in knowledge: Because the new man is renewed in knowledge, he is hungry to know what God says in His Word.
c. According to the image of Him who created him: Paul is clearly alluding to Genesis 1:27, where it is said that God created Adam in His own image. Nevertheless, now that the first Adam is regarded as the old man who should be put off and discarded, because now we are created after the image of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.
d. Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free: The new man is part of a family, which favors no race, nationality, class, culture or ethnicity. It only favors Jesus, because in this new family, Christ is all and in all.
i. This work of the new creation not only deals with the old man and gives us the new man patterned after Jesus Christ; it also breaks down the barriers that separate people in society. Among new creation people it doesn’t matter if one is Greek or Jew or circumcised or uncircumcised or a Scythian or a slave or a free man. All those barriers are broken down.
ii. “He therefore adds to barbarian the Scythian as the extreme example.” (Peake)
iii. All of these barriers existed in the ancient Roman world; and the power of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ broke them all down. Especially powerful was the barrier between slave and free, but Christianity changed that.
iv. “In times of persecution slaves showed that they could face the trial and suffer for their faith as courageously as freeborn Romans. The slave-girl Blandina and her mistress both suffered in the persecution which broke out against the churches of the Rhone valley in A.D. 177, but it was the slave-girl who was the hero of the persecution, impressing friend and foe alike as a ‘noble athlete’ in the contest of martyrdom.” (Bruce)
v. “In the arena of Carthage in A.D. 202 a profound impression was made on the spectators when the Roman matron Perpetua stood hand-in-hand with her slave Felicitas, as both women faced a common death for a common faith.” (Bruce)
2. (12-17) Life of the new man.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
a. Therefore, as the elect of God: The new man is elect of God. This means that God has chosen the Christian, and chosen him to be something special in His plan. “Elect” is a word that frightens some, but it should be taken both as a comfort and as a destiny to fulfill.
b. Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility: Each one of the qualities mentioned in this passage express themselves in relationships. A significant measure of our Christian life is found simply in how we treat people and the quality of our relationships with them.
i. “It is most significant to note that every one of the graces listed has to do with personal relationships between man and man. There is no mention of virtues like efficiency or cleverness, not even of diligence or industry – not that these things are unimportant. But the great basic Christian virtues are those which govern human relationships.” (Barclay)
ii. Tender mercies: If something is tender, it is sensitive to touch. “The apostle would have them to feel the slightest touch of another’s misery; and, as their clothes are put over their body, so their tenderest feeling should be always within reach of the miserable.” (Clarke)
iii. Kindness: “The ancient writers defined chrestotes as the virtue of the man whose neighbour’s good is as dear to him as his own… It is used of wine which has grown mellow with age and lost its harshness. It is the word used when Jesus said, ‘My yoke is easy.’ (Matthew 11:30).” (Barclay)
iv. We can say that humility (which was not considered a virtue among the ancient Greeks) is the “parent” of both meekness and longsuffering. Meekness shows how humility will effect my actions towards others; I will not dominate, manipulate, or coerce for my own ends, even if I have the power and the ability. Longsuffering shows how humility will effect my reaction towards others; I will not become impatient, short, or filled with resentment towards the weaknesses and sins of others.
c. Forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do: We are told to live forgiving one another, after the pattern of Jesus’ forgiveness towards us. Understanding the way Jesus forgave us will always make us more generous with forgiveness, and never less generous.
i. When we consider the staggering debt Jesus forgave for us, and the comparative smallness of the debts others have toward us, it is base ingratitude for us to not forgive them (as in the parable Jesus spoke in Matthew 18:21-35). “The forgiveness they have received is used to enforce the duty of forgiving others.” (Peake)
ii. When one thinks of how Christ forgave you it should make us much more generous with forgiveness.
· God holds back His anger a very long time when we sin against Him. He bears with us a long time, even when we sorely provoke Him.
· God reaches out to bad people to bring forgiveness to them; the habit of man is to not reconcile if the offending person is a person of bad character.
· God makes the first move towards us in forgiveness; the habit of man is to only be reconciled if the offending party craves forgiveness and makes the first move.
· God forgives often knowing that we will sin again, sometimes in the exact same way. It is the habit of man to forgive only if the offending party solemnly promises to never do the wrong again.
· God’s forgiveness is so complete and glorious that He grants adoption to those former offenders. In the habit of man, even when forgiveness is offered, he will not lift again the former offender to a place of high status and partnership.
· God bore all the penalty for the wrong we did against Him. In the habit of man, when he is wronged, he will not forgive unless the offender agrees to bear all the penalty for the wrong done.
· God keeps reaching out to man for reconciliation even when man refuses Him again and again. In the habit of man, one will not continue to offer reconciliation if it is rejected once.
· God requires no probationary period to receive His forgiveness; in the habit of man, one will not restore an offender without a period of probation.
· God’s forgiveness offers complete restoration and honor; in the habit of man, we feel we should be complimented when we merely tolerate those who sin against us.
· Once having forgiven, God puts His trust in us and invites us back to work with Him as co-laborers. In the habit of man, one will not trust someone who has formerly wronged him.
iii. “Suppose that someone had grievously offended any one of you, and that he asked your forgiveness, do you not think that you would probably say to him, ‘Well, yes, I forgive you; but I – I – I – cannot forget it’? Ah! dear friends, that is a sort of forgiveness with one leg chopped off, it is a lame forgiveness, and is not worth much.” (Spurgeon)
d. Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection: Love is the summary of all the things described in this passage. Love perfectly fulfills what God requires of us in relationships.
i. But above all these things put on love: “Upon all, over all; as the outer garment envelopes all the clothing, so let charity or love invest and encompass all the rest… Let this, therefore, be as the upper garment… that invests the whole man.” (Clarke)
ii. “All the virtues listed in vv. 12, 13 are, on the highest level, manifestations of love; but love is larger than any one of them, indeed, larger than all of them combined.” (Vaughan)
iii. “The other virtues, pursued without love, become distorted and unbalanced.” (Wright)
e. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body: The rule of the peace of God means that peace should characterize the community of God’s people, and that peace is a standard for discerning God’s will.
i. “The apostle says, Let it rule. The Greek word means arbitrate. Whenever there is a doubtful issue to be decided, and by one course your peace may be disturbed, whilst by another it may be maintained, choose the things that make for peace, whether for yourselves or others. Let God’s peace act as umpire.” (Meyer)
ii. “Let the peace of Christ judge, decide, and govern in your hearts, as the brabeus, or judge, does in the Olympic contests… When a man loses his peace, it is an awful proof that he has lost something else that he has given way to evil, and grieved the Spirit of God.” (Clarke)
iii. Wright sees the context of community: “‘Peace’ here is not the inward, individual peace of mind which accompanies humble confident trust in God’s love, but a peace which characterizes the community, the ‘body’ as a whole.”
f. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs: The new man walks in the word of God and in worship with other believers.
i. Dwell in you: “There appears to be here an allusion to the Shechinah, or symbol of the Divine presence, which dwelt in the tabernacle and first temple.” (Clarke)
ii. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs: This variety suggests that God delights in creative, spontaneous worship. The emphasis is more on variety than on strict categories. “We can scarcely say what is the exact difference between these three expressions.” (Clarke)
iii. “The word of Christ is to dwell in them so richly that it finds spontaneous expression in religious song in the Christian assemblies or the home.” (Peake)
g. Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus: The new man lives his life, all his life, for Jesus. He will only seek to do the things that he may do in the name of the Lord Jesus, and he will persevere in the difficulty of doing such things, knowing that he is doing them in the name of the Lord Jesus.
3. (18-19) The new man’s marriage relationship.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.
a. Wives, submit: The ancient Greek word translated submit is essentially a word borrowed from the military. It literally means “to be under in rank.” It speaks of the way that an army is organized among levels of rank, with generals and colonels and majors and captains and sergeants and privates. There are levels of rank, and one is obligated to respect those in higher rank.
i. We know that as a person, a private can be smarter, more talented, and be a better person than a general. But he is still under rank to the general. He isn’t submitted to the general so much as a person as he is to the general as a general. In the same way, the wife doesn’t submit to her husband because he deserves it. She submits because he is her husband.
ii. The idea of submission doesn’t have anything to do with someone being smarter or better or more talented. It has to do with a God-appointed order. “Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows that ‘rank’ has to do with order and authority, not with value or ability.” (Wiersbe)
iii. “The equality of men and women before the Lord, of which Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, has not been retracted: but neither does it mean identity of role or function.” (Wright)
iv. Therefore, submission means you are part of a team. If the family is a team, then the husband is “captain” of the team. The wife has her place in relation to the “captain,” and the children have their place in relation to the “captain” and the wife.
v. “The form of the verb (hypotassesthe, middle voice) shows that the submission is to be voluntary. The wife’s submission is never to be forced on her by a demanding husband; it is the deference that a loving wife, conscious that her home (just as any other institution) must have a head, gladly shows.” (Vaughan)
b. Wives, submit to your own husbands: This defines the sphere of a wife’s submission – to her own husband. The Bible never commands nor recommends a general submission of women unto men. It is commanded only in the spheres of the home and in the church. God does not command that men have exclusive authority in the areas of politics, business, education, and so on.
c. As is fitting in the Lord: This is a crucial phrase. It colors everything else we understand about this passage. There have been two main “wrong” interpretations of this phrase, each favoring a certain “position.”
i. The interpretation that “favors” the husband says that as is fitting in the Lord means that a wife should submit to her husband as if he were God himself. The idea is “you submit to God in absolutely everything without question, so you must submit to your husband in the same absolute way.” This thinks that as is fitting in the Lord defines the extent of submission. But this is wrong. Simply put, in no place does the Scripture say that a person should submit to another in that way. There are limits to the submission your employer can expect of you. There are limits to the submission the government can expect of you. There are limits to the submission parents can expect of children. In no place does the Scripture teach an unqualified, without exception, submission – except to God and God alone. To violate this is to commit the sin of idolatry.
ii. The interpretation that “favors” the wife says that as is fitting in the Lord means “I’ll submit to him as long as he does what the Lord wants.” And then it is the wife’s job to decide what the Lord wants. This thinks that as is fitting in the Lord defines the limit of submission. This is also wrong. It is true that there are limits to a wife’s submission, but when the wife approaches as is fitting in the Lord in this way, then it degenerates into a case of “I’ll submit to my husband when I agree with him. I’ll submit to him when he makes the right decisions and carries them out the right way. When he makes a wrong decision, he isn’t in the Lord, so I shouldn’t submit to him then. It isn’t fitting to do so.” Simply put, that is not submission at all. Except for those who are just plain cantankerous and argumentative, everyone submits to others when they are in agreement. It is only when there is a disagreement that submission is tested.
iii. As is fitting in the Lord does not define the extent of a wife’s submission. It does not define the limit of a wife’s submission. It defines the motive of a wife’s submission. It means, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands because it is a part of your duty to the Lord, because it is an expression of your submission to the Lord.” They submit simply because it is fitting in the Lord to do it. It honors God’s Word and His order of authority. It is part of their Christian duty and discipleship.
iv. “The phrase ‘in the Lord’ indicates that wifely submission is proper not only in the natural order but also in the Christian order. The whole thing, then, is lifted to a new and higher level.” (Vaughan)
v. Therefore, as is fitting in the Lord means:
· For wives, submission to their husband is part of their Christian life.
· When a wife doesn’t obey this word to submit to your own husband as is fitting in the Lord, she doesn’t just fall short as a wife. She falls short as a follower of Jesus Christ.
· This means that the command to submit is completely out of the realm of “my nature” or “my personality.” Wives aren’t expected to submit because they are the “submissive type.” They are expected to submit because it is fitting in the Lord.
· This has nothing to do with your husband’s intelligence or giftedness or capability. It has to do with honoring the Lord Jesus Christ.
· This has nothing to do with whether or not your husband is “right” on a particular issue. It has to do with Jesus being right.
· This means that a woman should take great care in how she chooses her husband. Remember, ladies: this is what God requires of you in marriage. This is His expectation of you. Instead of looking for an attractive man, instead of looking for a wealthy man, instead of looking for a romantic man, you better first look for a man you can respect.
vi. As is the case in every human relationship, the command to submit is not absolute. There are exceptions to this command for a wife to submit to her own husband.
· When the husband asks the wife to sin, she must not submit.
· When the husband is medically incapacitated, insane, or under the influence of mind altering substances, the wife may not submit.
· When the husband is violent and physically threatening, the wife may not submit.
· When the husband breaks the marriage bond by adultery, the wife does not need to submit to her husband being in an adulterous relationship.
vii. “If a Stoic disciple asked why he should behave in a particular way, his teacher would no doubt tell him that it was ‘fitting’ because it was in conformity with nature. When a Christian convert asked the same question, he was told that such behavior was ‘fitting in the Lord’; members of the believing community should live thus for Christ’s sake.” (Bruce)
d. Husbands, love your wives: Paul’s words to husbands safeguards his words to wives. Though wives are to submit to their husbands, it never excuses husbands acting as tyrants over their wives. Instead, a husband must love his wife, and the ancient Greek word translated love here is agape.
i. Significantly, this puts an obligation upon the husbands. In the ancient world – under Jewish, Greek, and Roman customs, all power and privileges belonged to husbands in regard to wives, to fathers in regard to children, and to masters in regard to slaves. There were no complimentary powers or privileges on the part of wives, children, or slaves.
ii. “Agapao does not denote affection or romantic attachment; it rather denotes caring love, a deliberate attitude of mind that concerns itself with the well-being of the one loved.” (Vaughan)
iii. Strictly speaking, agape can’t be defined as “God’s love,” because men are said to agape sin and the world (John 3:19, 1 John 2:15). But it can be defined as a sacrificial, giving, absorbing, love. The word has little to do with emotion; it has much to do with self-denial for the sake of another.
· It is a love that loves without changing.
· It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment.
· It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing.
· It is love that loves even when it is rejected.
· Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given. It gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive.
iv. We can read this passage and think that Paul means, “Husband, be kind to your wife.” Or “Husband, be nice to your wife.” There is no doubt that for many marriages, this would be a huge improvement. But that isn’t what Paul writes about. What he really means is, “Husband, continually practice self-denial for the sake of your wife.”
v. Of course, this agape love is the kind of love Jesus has for His people and this is the love husbands should imitate towards their wives (Ephesians 5:25).
e. And do not be bitter toward them: The implication is perhaps the wife has given the husband some reason to be bitter. Paul says, “That doesn’t matter, husband.” The husband may feel perfectly justified in his harsh or unloving attitude and actions towards his wife, but he is not justified – no matter how the wife has been towards the husband.
i. Agape loves even when there are obvious and glaring deficiencies, even when the receiver is unworthy of the love.
4. (20-21) The new man’s parent and child relationship.
Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
a. Children, obey your parents in all things: Paul has in mind children who are still in their parents’ household and under their authority. For these, they must not only honor their father and mother (as in Ephesians 6:2), but they must also obey them, and obey them in all things.
i. When a child is grown and out of his parents’ household, he is no longer under the same obligation of obedience, but the obligation to honor your father and mother remains.
b. For this is well pleasing to the Lord: This is one of the important reasons for a child’s obedience. When a child respects his parent’s authority, he is respecting God’s order of authority in other areas of life.
i. This idea of an order of authority and submission to an order of authority are so important to God that they are part of His very being. The First Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Father; the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Son. Inherent in those titles is a relationship of authority and submission to authority.
ii. The Father exercises authority over the Son, and the Son submits to the Father’s authority – and this is in the very nature and being of God! Our failure to exercise Biblical authority, and our failure to submit to Biblical authority, isn’t just wrong and sad – it sins against the very nature of God. Remember 1 Samuel 15:23: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.
c. Fathers, do not provoke your children: Children have a responsibility to obey, but parents – here, put into one as fathers – have a responsibility to not provoke their children. Parents can provoke their children by being too harsh, too demanding, too controlling, unforgiving, or just plain angry. This harshness can be expressed through words, through actions, or through non-verbal communication.
i. In most parenting problems, the parent blames the child. It is easy to do because the problem is usually most evident in the bad behavior in the child. But Paul wisely reminds us that the bad behavior may actually be provoked by the parent. When this is the case, it doesn’t justify the bad behavior of the child, but it may explain part of its cause. It is commanded of parents to do everything they can to not provoke their children.
ii. Provoke: “Irritate by exacting commands and perpetual faultfinding and interference for interference’ sake.” (Peake)
iii. “Parents, and specially fathers, are urged not to irritate their children by being so unreasonable in their demands that their children lose heart and come to think that it is useless trying to please their parents.” (Bruce)
iv. “The word ‘fathers’ can refer to parents of both sexes, though it may well have an eye to the importance of the father’s role, within God’s created order, in the upbringing of children.” (Wright)
d. Lest they become discouraged: Children who grow up with parents who provoke them will become discouraged. They will not feel the love and the support from their parents like they should, and they will come to believe that the whole world is against them because they feel their parents are against them. This reminds us how important it is to season our parenting with lots of grace. Perhaps we should be as gracious, gentle, forgiving, and longsuffering with our children as God is with us.
5. (3:22-4:1) The new man’s servant and master relationship.
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
a. Obey in all things your masters according to the flesh: As Christians put on the new man, they will show a properly submissive attitude towards their masters – in a modern context, towards their employer or supervisor.
i. This is another sphere of God’s order of authority. Employees have a God-ordained role of obedience and submission to their employers or supervisors.
ii. “It will be noted that this section is far longer than the other two; and its length may well be due to long talks which Paul had with the runaway slave, Onesimus, whom later he was to send back to his master Philemon.” (Barclay)
iii. “More than half the people seen on the streets of the great cities of the Roman world were slaves. And this was the status of the majority of ‘professional’ people such as teachers and doctors as well as that of menials and craftsmen.” (Vaughan)
b. Not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God: We are always tempted to work just as hard as we have to, thinking we only have to please man. But God wants every worker to see that ultimately, they work for Him. Therefore, they should do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men. God promises to reward those who work with that kind of heart.
i. The Christian who is a dishonest, lazy or unreliable worker has something far worse to deal with than a reprimand from his earthly supervisor. His heavenly supervisor may prepare a reprimand as well.
ii. “Far more culpable is the attitude of modern ‘clockwatchers,’ who have contracted to serve their employer and receive an agreed remuneration for their labor. But Christian slaves – or Christian employees today – have the highest of all motives for faithful and conscientious performance of duty; they are above all else servants of Christ, and will work first and foremost so as to please him.” (Bruce)
iii. The reward of the inheritance: “One should properly read ‘the inheritance’; the reference is clearly to the life of the age to come. This is ironic, since in earthly terms slaves could not inherit property.” (Wright)
iv. For you serve the Lord Christ: “The force of this unusual phrase (Paul nowhere else allows the titles ‘Lord’ and ‘Christ’ to stand together without the name ‘Jesus’ as well) could be brought out by a paraphrase: ‘so work for the true Master – Christ!’” (Wright)
c. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done: When a Christian worker does poorly in his job, he should not expect special leniency from his boss, especially if his boss is a Christian. Being a Christian should make us more responsible, not less responsible.
i. “It is possible for an unfaithful servant to wrong and defraud his master in a great variety of ways without being detected; but let all such remember what is here said: he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he has done; God sees him, and will punish him for his breach of honesty and trust.” (Clarke)
ii. Will be repaid… and there is no partiality: For ancient Christian slaves and for modern Christian workers, there is no guarantee on earth of fairness of treatment from those whom they work for. Sometimes partiality means that bad workers are unfairly rewarded and good employees are penalized or left unrewarded. Paul assures both our ancient brethren and us that there is a final rewarding and punishment, and with this there is no partiality.
iii. In Ephesians 6:9 Paul addressed masters and warned them that there was no partiality with God. Here, he warned servants that there is no partiality with God. “In Ephesians masters are not to think that God is influenced by social position; in the present passage, slaves are not to act unscrupulously just because they know men treat them as irresponsible chattel.” (Vaughan)
d. Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair: As Christians put on the new man, they will be just and fair to those who work for them. It is a terrible thing for a boss to cheat or mistreat his workers, but far worse for a Christian to do it.
i. Just and fair: This is even more powerful than a command for masters to be kind or pleasant to slaves. One can be kind or pleasant to animals or pets; but we are only just and fair to fellow human beings. Paul asked masters to make a recognition that would undermine the very foundations of slavery.
ii. Through the history of Christianity, there have been some who used these passages where Paul speaks to slaves and their masters to justify or even promote the practice of slavery. Others have blamed these passages for the practice of slavery. Yet one can never blame Christianity for slavery; it was a universal practice that pre-dated both Christianity and the Jewish nation. Instead, one should see that the abolition of slavery came from Christian people and impulses, and not from any other major religion and certainly not from secularism.
iii. Without making an overt protest against slavery, Paul seemed to understand that if he could establish the point that slaves were equals in the body of Christ, full human beings with both responsibilities and rights (that they should be treated in a manner both just and fair), then in time the whole structure of slavery in the Roman Empire would crumble – and it did.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission