June 23, 2010 David Balzer

Colossians 3:18-4:1: Subversive Submission

Listen to these words from “A couple’s guide to communication”;

“The most consistent research finding about what’s different between the communication of strangers and married couples is that married people are RUDER to each other than they are to strangers. They INTERRUPT their spouses more, put their spouses DOWN more, and are less COMPLIMENTARY to each other”

It’s those who are closest to you who know the “real you”. It’s easy to bluff people you don’t see often. To put on a good front. But your family is completely different. You can’t fool THEM for very long.

And I reckon that’s why Paul puts this next section where he does in the letter.

We’re coming back to Colossians after a couple of months off. And we’re picking it up at v18 of Ch 3. Paul’s just finished talking about how the Christian is part of A WHOLE NEW HUMANITY. And how he needs to put off the old nature. And put on the new. About being clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. About how we’re to let God’s word dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.

And he finishes in 3:17.

“And WHATEVER YOU DO, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The huge panorama of the Christian life. Work, politics, mission, the church.

But then, to make sure we don’t walk off with our heads in the clouds, and then trip over the next bump we walk on, he brings us crashing back to earth.

He moves to THE CHRISTIAN HOME. Because that’s where THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD. That’s where you see how SERIOUS someone is about change. Whether, or not, it’s all just talk.

And that’s why this section is so CHALLENGING for us. Because it gets to the heart of WHO WE ARE.

Paul’s message is that MUTUAL SUBMISSION are the clothes that God’s people are to wear. It’s their UNIFORM. He’s given us all the DETAIL. But now he puts it SIMPLY. Within our most BASIC relationships. Submit. Put the other person first. It’s that simple.

And do it, not because you’re WEAK, or SPINELESS. But because it’s really JESUS you’re serving. In whatever relationship you’re in, your submission TO EACH OTHER is because you’re submitting TO CHRIST.

Jesus said it himself. Following him means IMITATING him. Mark 8:34

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

The target for Jesus’ whole life was his death. And OUR focus is the same. To be denying self. Serving others. If it was good enough for OUR MASTER, why would we think it was beneath US to live serving others? A couple of chapters further on, Jesus says, (Mark 10:43)

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And that’s what Paul’s on about. WHATEVER you do, do it in the NAME of Jesus – by his authority. In his power. And do it out of GRATITUDE to God for all he’s done for you.

And that denying self. That following Jesus. Is A SUBVERSIVE SUBMISSION. Submission that turns what the world says ON ITS HEAD. It’s counter-cultural. Upside down.

It looks like WEAKNESS. But it’s really the way of STRENGTH. The way of THE CROSS.

And it’s SUBVERSIVE. Because it’s Jesus’ way of challenging and changing and affecting the culture around you. Influencing a selfish world for Jesus.

And Paul teases out SIX DIFFERENT CATEGORIES of subversive submission.

1. Wives – offer your submission (3:18)

First category. Wives. You’re to offer your submission. Verse 18. A verse that’s been abused. And misunderstood. And taken out of context for centuries.

(Col 3:18 NIV)  Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

The world said wives had no choices. “Whatever your husband says, goes”. But Paul says, “Make it your CONSCIOUS DECISION to GIVE your submission. Not because you’re FORCED to, but because it’s service to Jesus.”

Submit sounds very passive. Just give in. But it’s more like “Offer your submission”.

When submission is given freely, it becomes an empowering thing, rather than something that DISempowers. Paul empowers wives by giving them the choice.

Submit to your husbands. Let go of control. Take the back seat. “Different” to the way YOU do it  isn’t necessarily “wrong” or even “second best.”

And not just in the decisions you make AS A COUPEL. What about offering your submission in front of OTHERS. When all the wives are having coffee, and bagging out their husbands for not mowing the lawn, or being inconsiderate in other ways. Why not STAND UP for yours. Why not say, “Actually, mine’s pretty good. He makes an effort to do this or this.”

There might be a deathly silence in the conversation. But it shouldn’t last more than a few seconds.

And if you’re thinking this is too hard, if you’re thinking your husband is not WORTH your submission. And it’s just too difficult. Don’t forget the second half of the verse. We almost miss it because the FIRST half catches our attention. “Submit … as is fitting IN THE LORD.”

The power to CHOOSE submission comes because you’re IN THE LORD. It’s part of what it means to be put on the new self that’s being renewed in the image of Jesus.

The way to be WALKING IN THE LORD. The sphere of living in a relationship with Jesus as your Lord. Is to SERVE HIM  by submitting to your husband.”

2. Husbands – offer your love (3:19)

What sometimes makes this such a difficult thing for wives to do is that husbands love to read this section, but they lose interest after one verse. They stop before they get to v19.

(Col 3:19 NIV)  Husbands, LOVE your wives and do not be harsh with them.

The world said husbands can do what they like with their wives. But Paul says make it your conscious decision to LOVE your wife. To be kind, gentle, forgiving, and compassionate. Not because you HAVE to, but because you’re serving Jesus.

The LOVING thing is NOT to take. But to GIVE. Not to focus on your RIGHTS, but on your RESPONSIBILITIES. The world says, “DEMAND your RIGHTS”. Jesus says “Concentrate on your RESPONSIBILITIES”.

The world says the STRONG husband demands things HIS way. That HE wears the pants in the family. But Jesus says the LOVING husband, the REAL man, listens to his wife. And puts her needs before his.

The REAL man puts the toilet seat down after he’s used it. He goes with his wife when she’s shopping for shoes. He talks about his feelings. He LISTENS, rather than tries to FIX everything straight away.

Husbands, LOVE your wives, and do not be HARSH with them. A wife will find it much easier to offer her submission to a husband like THAT.

3. Children – offer your obedience (3:20)

Next, Paul moves onto children. Verse 20. It’s one of the few places children are specifically addressed. Because the assumption is, tell PARENTS what children should do, then the parents will make them do it. But no! Children are PART of church, so they get a command from Paul too. They’re not just the FUTURE of the church. They’re PART of the church. Verse 20

(Col 3:20 NIV)  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

The ability to make decisions is a sign of maturity. Of adulthood. But Paul’s telling children to make the decision to OFFER their obedience.

The world says that children are MADE to obey their parents. FORCED. Or else, the FLIP. Kids can do what they WANT. No one should put any limits. Let them go to bed when they want. Spend what they want. Eat what they want.

But neither of those extremes is Biblical, OR what’s best for kids. Paul says to children, “Offer your obedience because you WANT to. Not because you’re being FORCED, but because you’re serving Jesus”

Perhaps this has something to say about the way we discipline and correct our kids. Rather than, “If you don’t do this, watch out!” Perhaps we need to be emphasising “Jesus LOVES it when we do this, or don’t do that”. “You can make Jesus happy when you do what Mum or Dad says”.

Now I’m not, for a minute, suggesting this is always going to work. But I think it’s a useful emphasis to be pushing when we get the opportunity. Give kids the opportunity to OFFER obedience. Give them the chance to do it as service to Jesus.

It’s easy for us to be too harsh. Isn’t it? And once again many parents have loved v20, but forgotten v21. We’ve FORCED obedience, rather than allowing children to OFFER it.

4. Fathers – offer your understanding (3:21)

So in v21, Paul gives the other side of the coin. If children are going to offer obedience, parents need to show that they’re WORTHY of that offer. Verse 21

(Col 3:21 NIV)  Fathers, do not EMBITTER your children, or they will become discouraged.

I think what frustrates our kids most of all is when we DON’T LISTEN TO THEM. When we don’t UNDERSTAND them. When we’re so distracted, or think we know best. That we aren’t interested in hearing things from THEIR perspective.

I think that’s ONE way we can prevent embittering our children. Fathers, work hard at understanding your kids, so they don’t become discouraged.

Don’t make rules just for the sake of it. Put yourselves in their kids’ shoes.

Don’t be so unreasonable with your demands that your kids just give up trying to meet them. Or so quick with your criticisms, and slow with your compliments, that your kids give up trying to please us.

If you make a mistake, admit it and apologise. Kids will respect you MORE, not LESS.

The world says fathers should rule the house with a rod of iron. Paul says, “CONSIDER your children. Don’t make them bitter.” It’s not a sign of weakness.

Show your submission by considering their feelings. Offer your understanding. Do it because you’re serving Jesus”

5. Slaves- offer your obedience (3:22-25)

Next, Paul moves onto SLAVES.

Paul hasn’t suddenly moved from the home to the workplace. He’s simply moved to THE NEXT ROOM in the Christian household. And so I think the heading in the NIV is probably right. “Rules for the Christian household”.

While we find it hard to get our minds around slavery, – especially slaves with Christian masters – the very fact that Paul ADDRESSES slaves is extraordinary.

Slaves were part of the Colossian church, TOO. Probably sitting next to their masters who’d brought them. The amazing, life-transforming, power of the gospel was that it could even transform masters and slaves into brothers in Christ.

Two classes of people who wouldn’t have anything to do with each other, sat next to each other, in submission to God’s Word. They passed each other the cup and the bread of the Lord’s Supper. They prayed God’s blessing for each other as they shook hands. They gave each other a brotherly kiss.

And it’s THAT sort of peace the gospel STILL brings between people. Blacks and whites, Rich and working-class. Even American and Australian! The amazing transformation that the gospel can bring!

And so Paul is calling on the slaves, as members of God’s people – just like wives and children – to offer their submission as a conscious act of obedience to Christ. V22 and 23

(Col 3:22-23 NIV)  Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. {23} Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,

There’s a great word there. (opthalmo-doulos) It’s literally “eye-service”. Don’t give “eye-service” Paul says. In other words, don’t do things just for human approval.

And it’s relevant for all of us who work for someone else. Don’t work just when the boss is looking. Don’t work to OTHER’S EXPECTATIONS. None of the public service motto – “Just LOOK busy!” The Christian worker is not to be a “clock-watcher”.

Do things WHOLE-HEARTEDLY because you’re working for a DIFFERENT master.

It’s the sort of attitude that can transform our work. Even mundane jobs get a whole new meaning when we have the right perspective.

A journalist was interviewing workmen building St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It was designed by the famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren.

The journalist asked three men, “What are you doing here?”

The first replied, “I’m cutting stone for three shillings a day”

The second answered, “I’m putting in ten hours a day on this job”

And the third replied, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build the greatest cathedral in Great Britain for the glory of God”.

Who do you think got the greatest satisfaction out of their job? The THIRD worker. Because he was working for something GREATER than the mundane tasks of bricks and mortar in front of him.

And it should be the same with US, TOO. WHATEVER our work. Because we’re serving a master who SEES EVERYTHING. Everything is eye-service for the Lord. Whatever we do, Jesus is watching.

A 6 year old girl was walking home from school. And a thunderstorm was brewing. Lightning arced across the sky. Her mum was worried that she’d be scared. So she went to meet her on the way.

But when she saw her, the girl was happily skipping along the footpath. Not a care in the world. Whenever the lightning would flash, she’d stop and smile.

When she saw her mum, she ran up and said, “All the way home, Jesus was taking my picture”.

And that’s the attitude we need to have. Wherever we are, Jesus is taking our picture. In every situation. Always work with THAT THOUGHT in mind.

Would we always be happy to SMILE while the flash went off?

The clock-watcher has one eye on 5 o’clock. But the Christian worker has one eye on judgement day. Because on that day there’ll be rewards and judgement. Bouquets and brickbats. Verse 23 –25.

(Col 3:23-25 NIV)  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, {24} since you know that YOU WILL RECEIVE AN INHERITANCE FROM THE LORD AS A REWARD. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. {25} ANYONE WHO DOES WRONG WILL BE REPAID FOR HIS WRONG, and there is no favoritism.

Pay-day’s coming. Not just next FORTNIGHT. THE HEAVENLY, ETERNAL payday. But for the lazy worker it mightn’t be what he’s expecting. For those of us who work, our responsibility is to our employer. It’s a judgement issue. A good day’s work for our EMPLOYER, is a good days work for the Lord Christ. Verse 24. “It is the Lord Christ we are serving.”

It’s an unusual title for Jesus. The Lord Christ. In fact, it only occurs TWICE in the whole bible. Once here, and once in Rom 16:18. And both times the reference is to SERVING the Lord Christ.

(Rom 16:18 NIV)  For such people are not SERVING our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.

(Col 3:24 NIV)  It is the Lord Christ you are SERVING.

Paul’s emphasising the TITLES of Jesus. Emphasising his POSITION OF AUTHORITY. He isn’t just Jesus. He is the Lord Jesus. THE Lord. The Lord of the Universe. That’s the one you’re serving.

And he’s Christ. Your Messiah. Your ANOINTED King. The one who died to save you. All you are and have is because of him. So serve the LORD CHRIST. Focus on THAT, rather than your earthly bosses. And your work will be MUCH more effective.

6. Masters – offer justice (4:1)

And then, once again, Paul moves to the flip-side. Wives, then husbands. Children, then fathers, Slaves, and now Masters. Chapter 4 v1.

(Col 4:1 NIV)  Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

The world says, slaves are to do all they can to look after their masters. But Paul says that masters are to PROVIDE for their slaves. To offer what’s just and fair. Why? Once again, the Christian is to respond because he serves Jesus. “Be a just Lord on earth, because you have a Lord in heaven”.

So there it is. Right through the Christian household. Serve each other. Offer subversive submission.

Ask yourself. How can you do that in your various relationships?

As a wife, how can you offer submission? As a husband, how can you offer love? As a child, how can you offer obedience? As a parent, how can you offer understanding? As a worker, how can you offer obedience and hard work? As a boss, how can you offer justice?

Whatever we do. Whoever we work for. Whoever is watching, or not watching. It’s the Lord Christ we’re serving.

Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, has this plaque above her sink. “Divine service rendered here three times daily”.

That’s the attitude God wants as we live as his servants – his slaves – in the world. Divine service rendered here.

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