Opening thought: Today’s passage is not an easy one to preach. We all live here every day, and we all succeed and fail here every day. It is the area of the family.
Pray and Read: Colossians 3:18-21
Contextual Notes: Colossians is about one important thing: growing deep as a disciple of Jesus Christ (Col 2:6-7). Since the beginning of Colossians 3, Paul has taught that setting one’s heart on things above where Christ is seated involves putting off sins of the body, mind, and spirit and putting on the garments of Christlikeness both outwardly and inwardly with thanksgiving. In fact, in whatever we do, whether in word or deed, he says (3:17), we should do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus with an attitude of thanksgiving.
Without a real transition, Paul charges into the importance of being a Christ-centered family. The Bible teaches us that God has established three institutions: government, the church, and underlying both of them the family.
Notice that from 3:18-4:1 there are three pairs. The first two pairs involve family, and we will look at them today. Note that each group is addressed, then an imperative command, then a motivation for each one. Note also that Paul begins with the closest and most important relationship and moves outward to other relationships, ending with slaves and masters. Each one of these three pairs do not stand independently but should be interpreted with its pair.
This section demonstrates that to set one’s eyes on things above means not to separate from the world but to have a wholehearted commitment to the daily duties of this world for the sake of the Lord.
Key Truth: Paul wrote Colossians 3:18-21 to teach the Colossian Christians to be Christ-centered families.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about Christ-centered families.
- Christ-centered wives are submissive (Col 3:18)
- Christ-centered husbands are loving and tender (Col 3:19)
- Christ-centered children are obedient (Col 3:20)
- Christ-centered fathers are encouragers (Col 3:21)
Exposition: Note well,
1. CHRIST-CENTERED WIVES ARE SUBMISSIVE (3:18).
a. Hupotasso: “be subject”: be submissive
b. This apostolic command does not imply inferiority of the wife (see O’Brien 220-222), Ephesians 5:21 commands mutual submission within the church. Here is a case of voluntary submission in recognition of the God-appointed leadership of the husband and the divinely ordained order in creation (1 Cor 11:3, 7-9; Eph 5:22-24).
c. Actually, because Paul followed Jesus in believing that women were equal in value and responsibilities to men (Col 3:11; Gal 3:28), it is good for him to bring clarity to God’s ordained function for the family.
d. As is fitting in the Lord: there is a limit. That is, if there is physical or other abuse, then that submission is not fitting in the Lord.
f. APPLICATION: Wives, how are you doing in this area? Do you run your household? Or do you voluntarily, lovingly submit yourself to your husband’s leadership? Do you have enough security in yourself to do that?
g. Notice also that there is a limit to submission. It is “as is fitting in the Lord.” Some limits of submission are not fitting in the Lord. Wives, if you are being abused physically or verbally by your husband, there is a limit to submission for you and your children. If your husband is such a man, then let me tell you what you should do when the threat presents itself. You pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1. Let the sheriff’s deputy come and arrest him. Let him sit a night at taxpayer expense to think about what he did. Let his name and picture be in the paper on Monday, and in most cases he will come home with an attitude adjustment. And men, if you are unwilling to be a decent husband and father, that is the least that you are due. If you are too sorry to take care of your home and love your family, then you should pay the consequences.
2. CHRIST-CENTERED HUSBANDS ARE LOVING and TENDER (3:19).
a. “Maintain the habit of loving,” “make it your practice to love.” Paul has already referred to putting on love as a garment (Col 3:14), so in this context husbands should love their wives.
b. ἀγαπᾶτε: not affection (phileo), not sexual attraction (erao), but selfless love, unceasing care and loving service for her entire well-being. It is a love that is sacrificial, that disregards itself, defined by the way Christ gave Himself for the church. This is a shocking thing to say considering the fact that in Greek society wives were chattel property. Love your wives? Amazing. God must really value women.
c. “do not embitter them,” “be sharp,” “show bitterness,” Or likely “stop being embittered,” “avoid bitterness toward them.”
d. If a husband follows this command, he will not behave in an overbearing manner. All areas of his married life will be characterized by this self-giving love and forgiveness.
f. APPLICATION: Husband, are you embittered by your wife? Are you loving her sacrificially, or are you tolerating her hoping she will forget about those things you have not done or will not do or have done. She won’t forget. Choose to love her. Love her sacrificially. Be tender toward her. Your job is not to be overbearing and dominate her. If that is your brand of husbandry, you aren’t much of one. If you will simply love her and be tender toward her, she will serve you and love you and be committed to you.
3. CHRIST-CENTERED CHILDREN ARE OBEDIENT (3:20)
a. “obey,” “be subject” “in all respects”
b. It is pleasing or acceptable to the Lord
d. APPLICATION: Children and teens, are you obedient to your parents? Are you constantly looking for an opportunity to outsmart them and circumvent their boundaries for you? Don’t you realize that they love you more than life? Your parents do not hate you. They are looking out for your best interest. Honor them by being obedient. Your level of obedience is an objective indicator of the level of Christlikeness in your life.
e. Some of you did raise your children well, but their behavior does not indicate that you did anything right. You did everything you knew to do to rear them well, but they did not respond well. Today they live lives in rebellion to God. That is not ultimately your responsibility. Each child is responsible before God for their actions, and the environment you provided for them you are responsible for. You cannot carry false guilt for the willful disobedience of your children. You can pray for them and continue to love them, but you cannot make them be obedient to Christ.
4. CHRIST-CENTERED FATHERS ARE ENCOURAGERS (3:21)
a. “do not arouse, excite, provoke, irritate, exasperate.” (1 Cor 9:2 only other NT use)
b. May be “fathers” or by synecdoche, “parents”
c. In order that they might not be “discouraged, despondent, lose heart, lack spirit. Literally: no-spirit, desire.
e. APPLICATION: Fathers have authority. They can use it through their own insecurity to hammer their children into submission, or they can be encouragers, giving their children a wonderful place to grow up. Perhaps your children are having a hard time being obedient because you have beat the life out of them. You don’t use your authority to provide a safe, encouraging place to grow up. Your home is an overbearing prison that stifles the life out of your kids. Make your home a place that they can be who God created them to be, and they can grow up healthy and focused on Christ. Then you will have done well.
Invitation: Today the Holy Spirit may be working in your heart and teaching you, encouraging you, rebuking you, or training you in righteousness. Will you respond to Him today? Will you make a commitment to be that wife, that father, that mother, that child that is Christ-centered?
Murray J. Harris, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.
Peter O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol 44: Colossians, Philemon. Waco: Word, 1982.
 This is the most ancient list in NT and pagan Greek literature of what Martin Luther calls, Haustafeln, or household rules, so the argument that this is a list brought over from Stoicism does not hold water. It does, however, have links to OT teaching. After all, Paul was a rabbi.
 Murray Harris, 178.
 O’Brien, 223.