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.

4 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. [1]

I once presided over a graveside service for the deceased mother of several adult children. I spoke very briefly about the woman I had known from her church attendance and our visits. After the service, her children thanked me and told me the woman I described was not the woman they knew as their mother. She was not nearly so positive and kind, they said, as my impression. They weren’t bitter or angry; they were amused that their mother had cultivated a “church personality” different from her “home personality.”

Paul is going to drill down past our church personalities this morning to the private levels we don’t show on Sunday mornings as he continues to teach us about the new humanity Jesus builds. Two weeks ago, Paul introduced the idea that Christ is re-creating each of us into a “new self” in a new humanity because Christ is all, and in all (people) within the Church.

Last week the apostle told us what the new humanity thinks and acts like, using descriptions like “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving …love …perfect harmony…thankful(ness).”[2] What we saw was that Jesus’ doesn’t begin to re-create us so that we can all become individual spiritual winners, but so that we can become a fully-integrated part of the new collective. Sanctification is personal, but it is not private.

God builds living stones up into one Christ-glorifying temple. If you find believers who insist upon their own spiritual maturity while spreading disharmony in the church, that person needs to be admonished for their attempted destruction of the new humanity God is creating. The peace of Christ is to rule in his new humanity.

The characteristics of the new humanity are not left at the church door on the way out. Paul now tells us how the new humanity lives in the home where all human beings are most likely to be who they truly are. Paul hasn’t abandoned the qualities that govern the church and moved on to new rules; he is giving simple household principles for how “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another …forgiving …love …perfect harmony…thankful(ness)” work out between husband and wife, parents and children, master and slave. All live in mutual deference to one another.

Paul wants the Colossians to know that the gospel really works in marriage relationships, really works parent-child relationships and really works in business relationships. It works far better than me-centered programs sold by the spiritual gurus. I can pretend for a couple of hours on Sunday; I can put on my holy face and look like a Christian. But my spouse sees the real me. Children see the real me. My employees, my boss or my customers or clients or patients see the real me when I’m not in church mode.

This text shows how God gives his people an amazing opportunity to speak powerfully into our most intimate and basic relationships about the life-transforming power of the gospel of Christ Jesus. “These terse sentences focus on …how to be truly oneself, in the Lord, as a member of the new humanity—and how to set the other members of one’s family free to be truly themselves.” [3]

MARRIAGE (3:18-19)

Wives (18)

First, Paul addresses wives and calls them to submission. In Ephesians, Paul places this command of wifely submission into the broader command that all believers are to submit to one another, “Be subject one to another in the fear of Christ—wives [in particular] to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:21–22).[4]

Pagans had similar household rules based upon their observations of the law of nature. All human beings are created in God’s image and God’s law is written on all human hearts. But what makes Paul’s household commandments specifically Christian is the idea of mutual submission in Christ for the glory of Christ. An orderly home is not the point of the passage; the glory of Christ is the point. In the Christian household, stronger parties have duties and weaker parties have rights and all mutually submit to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember when Adam failed to exercise his role as God’s ordained priest in the Garden-Temple of Eden? One of the results of sin, God said to Eve, was that the woman’s desire would be to “master” her husband (Gen. 3:16). That’s the most basic desire of both genders: to rule over everyone and everything around us; our sin nature, the Old Adam, believes EVERYTHING is about me and for me. The sinful flesh longs for its own sovereignty. The Old Adam longs to be like God.

But in the new humanity, God calls us to fit in with one another to honor Christ not in self-assertion but in self-giving. Neither wife nor husband is to be the slave or doormat to the other. Both submit to the total sovereignty of Christ in all things with the husband having a greater responsibility before God as the “decider” of things.

Husbands (19)

Does the wifely submission Paul commands mean that women are to work only inside the home? Does it mean they are prohibited from holding certain kinds of employment outside the home? Does it mean that in order to be a Christian manly man, no man should run the vacuum cleaner, wash the dishes, run a load of laundry, or iron his own shirts? No. There’s nothing in the text to suggest such things. Submission has nothing to do with which gender does domestic chores or whether a woman can work outside the home or whether a man ought to cook dinner.

Honestly, men, if you can’t follow a recipe book and cook for yourself when your wife isn’t around, that doesn’t make you a Christian manly-man. It makes you lazy or delusional, or both. If you insist your gender prohibits you from participating in domestic duties, you really have missed something about how the self-giving Christ loves us! Listen again to who Christ is:

 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. [5]

This is God incarnate, wedded to humanity. Yet, this very same Person of God stripped down to wash the filthy stinky feet of 12 self-obsessed men busy arguing among themselves about who was most important. Foot washing is a domestic slave duty. And God did that as one of the last acts before headed to Calvary. THIS is how Jesus loved the church:

…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.[6]

19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh [embittered, sharp, pointed] with them.[7] Do you want to be the leader in your home? Then humble yourselves to serve your wives in loving forgiveness. The Christian home should look exactly the same as the church: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (3:12-13).[8]

You might say to me, “But you don’t know my wife” or, “you don’t really know my husband.” “She’s nuts.” “He has problems!” I may not know your spouse the way you do; but I DO know this: God has sovereignly ordained THAT person to be one flesh with you. Are you thankful for the spouse God has sovereignly given to you along with all their particular sins given for your sanctification? “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” (3:17). [9]

Paul wrote in Ephesians (Eph. 5:22-33) that one of the first models of the gospel is the relationship between a man and wife. That means if you have children, they should come to understand something of the gospel by how their mother and father relate to one another. Are both parents following Rule Number One? Are their lives individually and mutually “all about Jesus” or is there a power struggle over the idol of self-sovereignty?

What we said last week about the church applies in the home and in our work as well. If YOU are sovereign in all things, then you are perfectly justified to be as angry, wrathful, malicious, and as vocal as you need to be to get your way and accomplish the goals of your lordship. But if the Lord Jesus Christ is the absolute, total and complete sovereign ruler in all things, then you have no right to any of your sinful self-worship in thought, word or deed. Period.

That goes WAY deeper than who performs the domestic duties, doesn’t it? That pushes WAY past which spouse has a job outside the home or who earns the most money, or some spiritual guru’s program of “manly manhood” or “womanly womanhood” doesn’t it? It obliterates the idol of “I can only have a happy marriage when my spouse performs according to my standards.

PARENT-CHILD (3:20-21)

Children (20)

In verses 20-21, Paul moves from husband and wife to parent and child. First, he addresses the children, “20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.[10] Again, there is the sovereignty issue: who is the believer to please? If you read this passage, you will notice the apostle addresses six different classes of people (wife, husband, children, parent, master, servant). But Paul mentions the Lord seven times in nine verses (18, 20, 22, 23, 2 times in 24, 4:1).

The Lord Jesus Christ is supreme in the parent-child relationship. The new humanity, no matter what our age, is Jesus-focused (Rule Number One). If we’re spouses, we look beyond our husbands or wives to the Lord. If you are a child, you look beyond your parents to the Lord. That’s a huge challenge, isn’t it? Our flesh, our Old Adam, wants to rule its own life. It hates the very idea that anyone should be able to tell ME what to do.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ is breaking new ground here. In the ancient world, children were to obey parents simply to maintain the natural order of things. They were little more than slaves, property with no rights. The gospel gives both parents and children obligations and rights. Children are not property, they are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their primary duty is to glorify and enjoy Jesus.

Parents (21)

Parents need to know that. “21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.[11] The word translated provoke in the ESV means “to cause someone to feel resentment— ‘to make resentful, to make someone bitter.’”[12]  Your child’s duty is not to live out your greatest sports fantasies or artistic fantasies or academic fantasies to glorify you and show off your parenting skills to the world.

Children who are given the burden of becoming carbon copies of their parents, who are made to fulfill their parents’ dreams become embittered and discouraged when they realize their primary value to their parents is in their parents’ idolatrous wish-fulfillment. The parents’ primary duty is to assure their children they are loved perfectly and accepted eternally in the Lord Jesus Christ – not for who they ought to be, might have been, or could become, but because they are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (3:12).[13]

Parents, almost any sentence that begins with “When I was your age…” is invariably a set-up to some self-justifying statement demanding your own wish-fulfillment out of your children. Your children don’t need to be like you; they are being re-created into a new humanity that looks like their Lord and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

You love and honor your spouse because God has given you that person to love. You love your parents because God has given them to you to love and honor. You love your children because God, in his absolute sovereignty has given them to you to love. Whose sovereignty in all things wins the day, yours or God’s? Ultimately, that is the totality of sanctification – submitting to the total, complete, individual rule of God in your life and resting in his goodness.


And that submission to God’s complete sovereignty in every particle of your life applies to master-servant relationships in verses 22-4:1.

Slaves (22-25)

The apostle writes, “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.”[14]

Why doesn’t Paul encourage slaves to revolt against the injustice of their situation? First, because rebellion is a right-handed, direct-power action and Paul knows God’s present earthly kingdom is primarily a left-handed (indirect, upside down) kingdom. He wants Christians to demonstrate the truth of the gospel works in even the worst of all possible human circumstances as well as the best of all possible circumstances.[15]

If God is absolutely sovereign, then even the situations we consider as the worst possible storyline for ourselves are situations God has ordained for our good, his glory, and our joy. Jesus came from outside the world to build his kingdom from the inside out. Submission to his sovereignty is an inside-out proposition. It’s not first about changing our circumstances as it is about submitting to His will.

So even in the worst of all possible human environments, believers are to obey those in authority over them because they are actually working for their REAL owner, the Lord Jesus. Consequently, those who follow Christ must give their whole self to every task, rather than merely working for the “eye approval” (3:22) when they’re being watched. Do you see this? Even the worst possible work situation (slavery) is to be an act of worship. Why? Out of thankfulness (3:15, 16, 17) for the inheritance we receive – union with Christ.

Did you know it was legally impossible for a slave to receive an inheritance? Slaves were property, not people. It was as legally impossible for a slave to inherit from a master as it is for a sinner to stand on his or her own merit before the Holy God who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). In Christ, both slave and free have an equal status; both inherit a new humanity in a new heaven and earth where the Lord himself (Emmanuel, Isa. 7:14; 8:8; Matt. 1:23) is their portion forever.

Therefore, the Christian master is to treat his brothers and sisters in Christ (be they adult or child slaves) justly and fairly (4:1). Both the master and the slave have been purchased out of bondage to sin and death and delivered into a life of union with Christ. And when we are united with Christ by trusting into his perfect law-keeping life and sacrificial death, it is his resurrection power that provides us the ability to carry out what he commands as our new and true master.

The new humanity in the home submits not to the earthly father as some kind of patriarchal prophet-priest-king. The new humanity submits with thanksgiving to the Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus no matter the story line he has written for us in this moment of our lives.

Is your story line not to your liking? Is your spouse not living up to your expectations? Are your children failing to fulfill your dreams? Is your work oppressive? Do you feel afflicted by the situations into which Christ has placed you for his glory and your good?  So, dear hearts did the apostle Paul. And yet, he wrote:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. [16]


Communion talking points:

  • The Lord’s table is precious to us as we hear God’s law for families because we all know we have failed the Lord so badly.
  • We need pardon and restoration and hope. The table reminds us that Jesus died for all my failures. That’s why we need to take in our hands the symbol of his broken body and taste on our lips the symbol of his shed blood.
  • As we come afresh to Christ, we find in him cleansing from all our shame; and we find the beginning of a new future — an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.



[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:18–4:1.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12–14.

[3] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 150.

[4] F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 161.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:15–20.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:5–8.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:19.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12–13.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:17.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:20.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:21.

[12] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 760.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:22–24.

[15] Sinclair Ferguson, “Home Sweet Home?” (Col. 3:18-4:1). Accesses 12/17/16 at: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=fpc-100106am


[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 4:16–18.