Christian Households

by Gabe Bernal

Read Colossians 3:18-4:1

Reread it again.

Have you ever been to a different home during a holiday, Easter or Christmas? Or even been with another family on their holiday?

Have you ever noticed how other families do things differently than your family does on those days? They have different customs and traditions. Things you thought were normal that your family did, is something this other family doesn't even do, or some tradition they are doing seems absolutely normal to them, but is a bit strange to you.

I was made keenly aware of this just this past Christmas as it was my first Christmas here in the UK. In the States, there is no traditional Christmas meal that most families have. My family will sometimes have different main meals on different years.

But here in the UK, turkey is king when it comes to the Christmas meal. It is so ingrained that I'm the weird one for not having turkey every year (which is fine, I'm usually the weird one wherever I go!)

But being here I quickly realised that I had to get used to a new normal. A new practice.

This is not that different from what Paul teaches in this next passage. 

The church in Colossae lived in a context where the Roman household was managed a certain way, and that was 'normal' for them. But Paul shows there was another way a household was to be structured. One that was more in line with what verse 11 in chapter 3 from last describes is more in line with.

Family Roles

The world has some pretty diverse institutions when it comes to family roles. Husbands, wives, children, all have a specific place depending on the culture.

Most of the Western world is trending towards egalitarian principles, maybe (in some families) even an upside-down order. Men and women are more equal, and even in some cases, the women end up being the head of households. In other cases, some families have made children primary, treating them as idols and the ones whom families should bend over backwards for or revolve around.

On the other hand, there are still many parts of the world that the structure of the household is still very much patriarchal. This is a place where the man is the dictator of the household, what he says goes.

In the Roman household, which was the context in which this letter was written, was very much like the second. The head of the house was the husband and father, and he dictated everything for everyone. He even held the power of life and death over this household.

But Paul flips the script when he lays out what the Christian household is supposed to look like.

Instead of a person or persons who are the head of household, he shows what a household should look like when Jesus is the Lord over all.

He looks at three specific relationships in the household that we will examine more closely. The one between wives and husbands, the one between children and parents, and the one between slaves and masters.

Wives and Husbands

Verses 18 and 19 are always difficult passages to unpack. Paul also talks about husbands and wives in Ephesians as well, and that passage is notoriously difficult for preachers to interpret.

We (this is a general we, as in the church) get this wrong oftentimes. We take a verse like 18 and take it not only at face value, but quite literally.

"Wives submit to your husbands."

We interpret it as the wife needs to completely abide or acquiesce to the husband's every command. Or that they need to be passive and compliant to what the husband wants no matter what. But that's just not the case.

Remember, in this new humanity that we are given when we receive the fullness of God, Christ is the head of the household.

I've mentioned before that I played a lot of sports growing up, and although I am quite athletic and skilled in many ways, I was often never the best player on the team. But there were many times I was the captain of the team. In fact, whenever I was the best player, I was never captain; but when I wasn't the best player, that is when I found myself in a position of captain.

This isn't because the best player on a squad can't be a good captain. This is simply because talent, skill, or intelligence don't matter. When the captain is selected, I submitted to his leadership, not because they were the best player on the pitch, but because they were the captain. And it always required a willing submission, or else we may lose the match.

  • What do you think of when you think about the idea of submitting?

  • Do you think it is hard to submit to others? Why or why not?

To submit doesn't mean to subjugate yourself or obey blindly. It isn't about hierarchy or rank. Instead, it means to willingly put another person's interest above your own.

In fact, the word that Paul uses is translated from "hupotasso" which means to willingly subject or subordinate, notice there is nothing about rank or authority there. Another time we see this word used in the New Testament is in Luke 2:51. In fact, in that passage in Luke, it is Jesus we see submitting to his parents.

Seeing Jesus, Author of Creation and King of Kings, "submit" to his parents should put in perspective what it really means. Jesus submits because he knows his parents love Him.

In the same way, wives submit because husbands need to love. Agape love. Unconditional and intentional.

  • If men were to love their wives this way, what do you think would be the result?

  • Men, what would you lose if you started loving in this way? What would you gain?

Husbands aren't to be tyrants or know-it-alls. In a world, where men have all the power, all the privileges, all the rights, Paul is saying God is calling them to have a love that is sacrificial, giving, and absorbing to their wives.

Talk about a radical kind of love and reshaping of the marriage. But it doesn't stop there.

Children and Parents

Paul continues in verses 19-20 about children and parents (specifically fathers)

First, let's stop and think about what type of children Paul is talking about here. Is it small children? Primary age children? Teenagers? Adult? At what age does this apply?

Usually, all unmarried children lived in their father's house. So certainly then, this applies to young children. But also any adult children who are unmarried were still in their parent's household and thus be under their authority.

Children are called to "obey" their parents, other translations say "honour." Whatever the English word is, this meant to echo the second commandment to "honour your mother and father."

But when we see the why in Paul's language, "because it pleases the Lord," we begin to understand that in this new home, by obeying their parents they are also respecting the authority of God over their household.

On the flip side, fathers are called to not provoke their children. This can mean many things: too demanding, too unforgiving, too harsh, too controlling, and much more. Remember what I said about Roman households, the father has complete control over everything. Even on things like what their children will do, pursue, or marry.

Paul reminds the father that "provoking" their children would discourage them. This more than just a short-term demoralisation, or a quick dampening of spirit. This is the type of discouragement that makes children feel unloved and can even lead them astray from not only the family but from God's calling on their life.

  • When have you felt discouraged like this?

  • Is this the type of discouragement you would want anyone to feel?

Just a side note before we move on - Even though this would apply to both parents, Paul reminds the father specifically because of the culture of the time.

Slaves and Masters

This last part, while the longest in our passage today, might be the shortest in the blog today. This is because before I finish this last passage in Colossians, we are going to take a quick detour into the book of Philemon, where we will delve into this much more in-depth.

This is also a difficult passage for us to understand in the modern-day West because we have abolished slavery in our part of the world. The concept of owning slaves is utterly foreign to us. And even more so, ancient slavery is not the same as many of us understand the institution of slavery.

Because of this, we need to be careful not to try to apply what Paul is trying to teach us here to another part of our life that is similar. The most common way I have seen this is comparing the slave and master relationship to the employee and employer relationships.

Those aren't one to one. It really is comparing apples to oranges, and it falls into the second trap from earlier blogs:

> We are more likely to accommodate Scripture to our cultural expectations.

But no matter how much you dislike your job, your work relationship is nowhere close to what a slave and master relationship is like, it's just not.

So if it's nothing like anything we have today, what can we learn from it?

I see two things we can learn

1) "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." (v23-24)

2) No matter what circumstance we are in, we can still experience the fullness of God in Christ Jesus.

While we may not be able to know what it is like to be a slave, we all know what it is like to feel like you are in an inescapable situation. Whether it's a toxic job or relationship, in the midst of abuse, feeling trapped in sin or a bad situation.

Christ is with us, and your reward will be waiting for you on the other side, whether you get out of that situation or not.

Wrap up

Paul writes all this to show that the household, not the church, should be the primary place of spiritual formation.

He reinforces that how we live in our family say a great deal about our faith.

The new life that Paul talks about in the previous passage begins in the home, and with our familial relationships.

  • What sticks out to you?

Once again - If there is anything during your discussion or journaling as you went through those questions that you found encouraging... let me know! I'm no expert, and this blog is definitely not exhaustive. I am learning as much as you and would love to hear how God spoke to you through this passage.

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