Two weeks ago, John began studying the revolution in relational thinking that Paul presents in Colossians 3. Last week, he considered God’s call to mutual relationships. This week, John will explore relationships through the lens of service and discipleship.
This command of mutuality leads us to a second feature that we find in this passage. Paul’s emphasis throughout his instructions is not on authority in relationships or on rights, but on serving. He does not give permission to a husband to go to his wife and tell her, “It’s your duty to submit to me,” or to parents to demand obedience from their children. Instead, he tells husbands to love their wives. The term he uses is agapao, that wonderful word denoting a love that gives itself in practical action. Elsewhere, in Ephesians 5:25, he instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. As Jesus went all the way to the cross for you and for me, so husbands are to go all the way in love for their wives.
The same is true of parents and children. Parents can try to demand respect from their children. But isn’t it much better if they earn it by being gentle and patient with them? Under Roman law masters had the right to do anything to their slaves, including put them to death. Not so for Christian masters, who were to regard their slaves with dignity and respect, and to treat them as fellow human beings worthy of honor as men and women for whom Jesus himself gave his life on the cross. And so Paul speaks, not about the authority that one might have over the other, but about God’s call to serve one another in Christ’s name.
Most importantly, all of our relationships are to come under the lordship of Christ. Notice how many times Paul brings the Lord into what he is saying: seven times in just nine verses. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord… Children, obey your parents…, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord… Slaves, obey your earthly masters…, fearing the Lord… Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Lord in heaven.” What Paul is saying here, in no uncertain terms, is that all our relationships are to come under the sovereign rule of Christ.
Relationships—especially in families and households—can be challenging. Yet as we learn to bring them under Jesus’ lordship I don’t think that there is a more powerful witness to his love and grace. We can (and should) read our Bibles. We can (and should) spend time in prayer. We can (and should) join other believers in worship. But as we bring Christ into our relationships as husbands and wives or as parents and children, we will bring glory to God.
Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg has written that Paul,
like Jesus, was concerned primarily with fashioning a countercultural community of disciples who did not directly challenge the state but modeled better lifestyles for a watching world… But Paul sowed the seeds for a revolutionary alternative in Christ which in time could only but threaten social institutions of oppression. (Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 148)
My prayer is that families may be characterized by that beautiful mutuality that Paul expresses in this passage, that we may undertake the call to serve one another that is given to us by none less than our Lord himself, as wives and husbands, children and parents—that we may bring all our relationships under the loving dominion of Jesus Christ.