Responsibilities

 

Sunday School Lesson for November 30, 2003

 

Background Passage: Colossians 3:18-4:18

 

Focal Teaching Passage:  Colossians 3:18-4:6

 

This concluding section of Paul’s letter emphasizes the practical outworking of Christ’s Lordship in human relationships, particularly those within the family structure. The central truth of the lesson passage is that one’s commitment to Christ has a direct and profound impact upon all areas of life, especially in the most basic unit of society—the family.  This is indicated by the frequent references to the Lord that characterize Paul’s words (note: 3:18, 20, 22, 23, 24; 4:1, 3).  For all Christians, then, “human relationships must be considered from the standpoint of this basic relationship with Christ” [Carson, 92].

 

 

Responsibilities of Wives and Husbands (3:18-19, 21)

 

The Responsibility of the Wife: Verse 18

 

Employing the same basic terminology as in Ephesians 5:22-24, Paul exhorted wives to voluntarily place themselves under the leadership of their husbands.  The word “subject” depicts the humble recognition that God has established, in Creation, a fundamental structure and order within the family unit.  While both husband and wife share equal worth before God, the role of the wife is special and unique in that she is to graciously support and follow the leadership of her husband.  The phrase “as is fitting in the Lord,” means that her voluntary submission to her own husband (not to men in general) is to be conducted as an “outworking of the Lordship of Christ” [Melick, 312].  The wife’s motive for joyfully accepting and fulfilling this special role is to be her love for the Lord and the recognition of His authority over her. The kind of subjection the apostle had in mind would include such Christian graces as respect, appreciation, encouragement, and tender support of her husband as the God-ordained leader of the home. 

 

The Responsibility of the Husband: Verses 19, 21

 

The husband is exhorted to “love” his wife with the kind of self-giving, self-sacrificing love seen in the cross where Christ gave Himself for sinners (cf. Eph. 5:25-27). We might say, therefore, that the husband is to love his wife with total abandon. He is to fully treasure and delight in her, and seek to do whatever is within his power to promote her personal and spiritual well being [Melick, 313].  A husband who loves his wife in this way would never harm her or demand that she do anything that would violate God’s Word or compromise her commitment to Christ’s Lordship.

 

The negative side of this command is that the husband should not “be embittered against” his wife. That is, the husband has the responsibility of ensuring that he maintains a loving attitude toward his wife at all times and in all circumstances within the marriage.  Additionally, this prohibition implies that he is not to be a petty tyrant or self-serving dictator who relates to his wife with harshness and anger. Rather, he is to love his wife with a reconciling love that is characterized by endless grace, mercy, and unbounded affection.  In such a loving (and forgiving) atmosphere, her submission would be much easier.

 

In verse 21, Paul’s words to the husband included responsibilities related to his role as father.  Since the father was responsible for the development and discipline of the children in the home, Paul exhorted them to avoid crushing the spirit of the child by means of harsh or severe treatment.  To “exasperate” a child would be to irritate or nag the child by “constantly picking at them, [or] perhaps [by] refusing to acknowledge their efforts” [Melick, 315]. Again, the husband’s behavior and words are to constantly reflect the grace and reconciling love of Christ Himself.

 

 

Responsibilities of Children (3:20)

 

Next, Paul commanded the children to “be obedient” to their parents. Again, it is important to note that the motive for their obedience was to grow from their relationship “to the Lord.” The compliance they demonstrated toward their parents, therefore, would ultimately be indicative of their recognition of God’s authority. It follows, then, that the Lord is well pleased when loving and respectful obedience characterizes children.  The phrase “in all things” makes it clear that child’s obedience is to be total. It is “to be governed, not by the child’s wishes, but by the very fact of his position as a child” [Carson, 92].

 

 

Responsibilities of Slaves and Masters (3:22-4:1)

 

The Responsibility of Salves: Verses 22-25

 

In this section Paul turned to address the responsibilities of both slaves and their masters.  Generally speaking, first century slaves in the Roman Empire were usually the victims of war or other political factors. Many such slaves had become believers in Christ, however, and Paul’s commands were designed to urge them toward Christlikeness in their behavior. The basic responsibility of the slave was twofold:

 

·        First (v. 22), they were to display respect and obedience to their earthly masters. Note that Paul had much more in mind than mere outward behavior or “external service.” Rather, he called them to work and obey “with sincerity of heart” as motivated by the fear of the Lord. 

 

·        Secondly (v. 23-24), their work was to be done “heartily,” as if they were rendering their service to Christ Himself.   In addition, the slave was to remember his eternal “inheritance” which would be the “reward” for faithful work that was accomplished for the “Lord Christ.”

 

 

The Responsibility of Masters: Verse 1

 

For those believers who served as masters, the primary responsibility was to see that those under their command were treated with “justice and fairness.”  This language seems to indicate that the master’s treatment of the slave must go well beyond what was required by men. Ultimately, it should be fully acceptable to God whose standards of love and holiness must be maintained [Carson, 95].  Even more importantly, however, the slave master was to keep in mind that he too is a slave—a bondservant of Christ the King.  As a believer in Christ, he has “a Master in heaven” to whom he owes full devotion and love. 

 

 

Responsibilities of All Believers (4:2-6)

 

The Responsibility of Prayer: Verses 2-4

 

Next, Paul turned to address those responsibilities shared by all members of the body of Christ.  As a matter of primary importance, he urged his friends to “devote” themselves to “prayer” (v. 2). The essential meaning of the word “devote” is closely connected to the idea of diligence or persistence in a matter.  Here Paul meant that they should faithfully and tirelessly continue in prayer at all times.  Additionally, he stressed that such praying should be done while “keeping alert”—that is, being on guard for temptations that might arise—and maintaining “an attitude of thanksgiving”—that is, with the recognition of God’s gracious provision and sovereign power (v. 2).

 

In verses 3-4, Paul exhorted his brethren to pray specifically for his ministry, particularly that God would move to “open up to us a door for the word” (v. 3).  The apostle knew that unless God providentially granted him a clear pathway, he would be unable to “speak forth the mystery of Christ” with the degree of freedom and power that he needed (v. 3).  Note that Paul also encouraged his friends to pray specifically that, “I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (v. 4)—that is, for the ability to clearly and boldly set forth the gospel message, the “mystery of Christ” (cf. 2:2-3). Thus, the evangelistic ministry of the early church fully depended upon the faithful praying of God’s people.  

 

The Responsibility of Wisdom:  Verse 5

 

A second responsibility shared by members of Christ’s church was the application of “wisdom” to every facet of one’s conduct. Here, the apostle meant that wisdom provided the “proper environment for the Christian’s walk” [Melick, 323]. This was especially important in relationship to “outsiders,” or non-believers. Given the limited time and opportunities available to bear witness to the truth—“making the most of your time”—believers should seek to put God’s Word into action with all diligence.  In view of the certainty of Christ’s Second Advent, every second of life must be used to accomplish God’s will.

 

 

The Responsibility of Gracious Speech: Verse 6

 

Finally, Paul exhorted his friends in Colossae to relate to other people, both inside and outside the body of Christ, with gracious speech and proper responses.  To see that one’s words were always “with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt” meant that the Christian’s every word was to reflect the mercy, love, and longsuffering of Christ Himself. In other words, the believer was called to filter his every answer or response through the grace of the Lord. Such a spirit in conversations would serve as an effective ‘seasoning,’ and would not only make relations among Christian brothers more satisfying and God-honoring, but would also enhance the witness of the church to the world at large.