Serving the Lord at Home, Colossians 3:18-21

What act of worship do you think God desires most? What offering, what sacrifice, what gift, what service pleases Him most? Is it singing praises to Him from our hearts? Is it thanking and asking His grace and help in prayer? Is the sharing in the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus? Is it putting big chunks of our money in the collection plate? Is it paying attention to what He has to say to us in His word? Did you know there are other acts of worship that God desires that normally take place outside of church buildings? Hebrews 13:16 says, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” The doing of good, the treatment of other people as we would want to be treated, because of our trust and reverence and love for God, is a sacrifice, an offering, worship that pleases God. And I think it is those acts of worship that normally take place outside this building that are the acts of worship God most desires. Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come to the Lord And bow myself before the God on high? [In other words what could I do that would most please and worship God? What would mean more than anything else to Him?] Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? [What a contribution that would be! Is that what He wants most?] Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” What God wanted of the Jews most was not anything that they did down at the temple, though those things were important. But what He wanted most they had to do away from the temple at home and at work and the other places of their everyday lives. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23:23), “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin…” When it came to temple worship, the sacrifices, the rituals, they’d get an A+. They tithed what they had even down to the spices in their cupboards. “But,” Jesus told them, “you have neglected the weightier [the more important] provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” They majored in minors by being real committed to the equivalent of church attendance and to tithing and temple worship, but neglecting the things God wanted of them in their everyday lives.

You know, when we talk about going to church, often we speak of it as going to worship. We say, “I’m going to worship,” meaning, “I’m going to go and do some things at church that are honoring and pleasing and glorifying to God.” And that is what we do here. But do you ever think of going home as going to worship? Do you ever think of going to work as going to worship? Or going to the Lion’s Club meeting or a get together with folks for dinner as going to worship? In those places with other people we have the opportunity to offer to God the worship that He most desires. And really, a main purpose of what we do here on Sundays is to better equip and motivate us to worship God everywhere else we go throughout the rest of the week. When we leave here this afternoon hopefully we will be going to worship in our homes or wherever it is that we’re going.

We’ve been studying the New Testament (NT) letter of Colossians. We’ve come to a section about what the Lord’s will of us is in our homes and in the work place. I think we could call these responsibilities, “Major acts of worship.” And for time sake we’re just going to look at the part about how we’re to be in our homes, Colossians 3:18-21.

Wives, be subject to your husbands (v18).

That’s the admonition to wives every time you see wives addressed specifically in the NT. Hupotasso in the Greek text, a compound word. Hupo means under or beneath. Tasso means to place or arrange. So it is to place or rank yourself underneath your husband. It is to surrender your will to his. It is to be yielding, cooperative, supportive, not controlling, not demanding your way, but prioritizing his wishes in your decisions.

The rest of v18 gives the reason. It is not because he’s a good husband, although, fellas, that makes it a whole lot easier for her. It is not because he’s earned it or is worthy of it. But it is because it is fitting in the Lord. It is the will of the Lord for wives.

It’s unwelcome idea in our culture for sure. Many women abhor the suggestion that wives should be submissive, seeing it as chauvinistic and as implying that women are inferior to men. But the command has nothing to do with inferiority or superiority. Some of us men know that, while we may be able to bench press more than our wives, we have married someone superior to ourselves intellectually and maybe even spiritually. Think of the command in the Bible to servants to submit to their masters and the command to citizens to submit to the governing authorities; it doesn’t mean that masters and governing authorities are superior people. It doesn’t have anything to do with that. It just has to do with the different roles that God has assigned to us.

And this command to wives to be submissive was not just based on 1st century social customs and culture. Paul in I Corinthians 11:8-9 and I Timothy 2:13, when he’s talking about men having the leadership role and women the submissive role, he appeals to what took place back in the beginning in Genesis to substantiate that these are the roles God wants us to be in. He appeals to the fact that God created man first. And then God said “It is not good for man to be alone, I will make for him a suitable helper.” And taking a rib from man, He designed and created woman to be the helper of man. It’s what He’s intended from the beginning.

Carol Mayhall, in her book, “Marriage Takes More Than Love,” says, “Submission! How I hated that word. When it flashed into my mind, all I could conjure up was a nonentity, a nothing sort of yes-woman. I didn’t want to be only a reflection of another person…Yet here I was faced with the no-nonsense command of God, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). I had argued with God and with everyone else that this verse could not mean what it looked like on the surface; that it was surely a cultural statement that had meaning only for Bible times. My next attempt was to reconstruct the verse to read, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as to the Lord WHEN THEY ARE ACTING LIKE THE LORD.” But I knew it didn’t mean that. As I searched the Word that fifth year of our marriage, I had to conclude that this verse meant I was to submit myself to Jack in the same free and “nothing-held-back” way that I wanted to submit to Jesus Christ. Up to that point I had felt that marriage was a 50/50 proposition, and if Jack would give his 50%, I would give mine. However, it seemed that frequently we would fight to determine whose turn it was to give that 50%. I had yet to learn that a happy biblical marriage is one that is a 100% proposition with each partner willing to give 100%.”

Let’s look real quick at a great elaboration on this command in the Bible, in I Peter 3. I Pt 3:1, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” One thing you see there is that a wife’s responsibility to be submissive to her husband is not determined by the character of her husband. He may be disobedient to the word, but her responsibility to be submissive is still the same. And Peter says there that this sort of unselfish admirable behavior on the part of a wife may touch and change the heart of disobedient husband. “Your adornment [in other words what you do to make yourself beautiful] must not be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dress; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” What will make you beautiful in God’s sight, what will please Him more than church attendance and participation, is adorn yourself with a gentle and quiet spirit. And “quiet” there doesn’t mean not talkative. If it did then about every woman I’ve ever met is in trouble. It doesn’t mean shy and introverted. But it means quiet in the sense of not self-assertive or argumentative or short fused or defiant. She’s not one to raise her voice and demand her way. But she’s peaceable, cooperative, tranquil. It’s a precious quality in the sight of God. v5, “For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; [and he gives an example] just as Sarah obeyed Abraham…” You know, Abraham said one day, “Honey, we’re moving.” “You mean to that nice house across town that we’ve been talking about?” “No, I mean like across the world. I mean to a land we’ve never seen before.” “And why are we doing that? All our family and friends and everything we have is here.” “Well, because God said to me ‘Go forth from you county, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you…” And she said, “Ok dear.” And Genesis 18 records the occasion when Abraham comes in the tent and says, “Quick, hun, make 3 big cakes of bread, and get out the milk and cheese. We’ve got visitors. And I’m going to go kill a calf real quick we’ll bring this great feast out to these visitors.” (Pretty extreme hospitality.) But Sarah said, “Ok dear.” And Peter says she would call Abraham “lord.” Whoa! I’m not saying and I don’t think Peter is saying that wives have to call their husbands “lord”. It was a more common expression of respect in ancient times. But he mentions that Sarah did this to illustrate the how respectfully she would talk to Abraham. And Peter is saying that God calls wives to talk respectfully to their husbands. Then Peter ends the exhortation to wives by saying, “And you have become her children [that is her blessed spiritual children] if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.” I can imagine submission to a husband could be very scary thing for a wife. Scary perhaps because others my make fun of her if she conducts herself that way. And scary also because it means giving control to someone else that she may feel is not as competent to handle things. But I hear Peter saying that you will have God’s favor and He will take good care of you if you do what He calls you to do.

That’s enough picking on wives. And before I get shot, let’s move on. Colossians 3:19, what makes it easier for our wives to do that difficult unselfish scary thing? Let’s look at it.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them (v19).

So the command to wives to be subject is not permission for husbands to boss them around. Love means her needs, her interests, her concerns are preeminent in your decision making. And it means you never just operate and ask her to cooperate. You consult with her. You get her input and prioritize her feelings and her preferences over your own before you make any decision involving her.

This love that is commanded here is the agape love in Greek text. It’s not the romantic kind of love that you fell into when you were dating. They had another Greek word for that kind of love, and it’s never commanded that you continue to have those same feelings. This kind love is a choice that you make. It is a love you can choose to have for somebody that you don’t even like. Jesus said, “Love [agape] your enemies.” It is a decision that I’m to take care of her, whatever it takes, I’m going to see that her needs, whatever they are, are met, and I’m going to do what is in her best interest.

A forty something year old man suffering from the classic “mid-life crisis” sat down with a preacher one time to talk about his marriage problems. He explained how his marriage of twenty years was no longer satisfying or fulfilling. Finally, he reached the “bottom line.” “I just don’t love her anymore,” he said, “What can I do?” After a brief moment of reflection, the preacher said decisively, “As I see it, you have only one option.” The man perked up with anticipation. Was the preacher going to suggest divorce? Would he finally be free to pursue the thrilling life-style he wanted? Would this be his chance to regain his fleeting youth? The preacher said, “… seems to me that the only thing for you to do is REPENT and start loving your wife again.” I think that’s right. This love is a choice God commands. As a wife’s responsibility to be submissive is not determined by the character of her husband, neither is a husbands responsibility to love determined by the character of his wife or whether the feelings are still there.

A great elaboration on this is Ephesians 5:25. “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her“. So we love our wives sacrificially, give ourselves up for them. I think we know how to apply this. Let me know afterward if you don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

  • When you’re feeling like Chinese for lunch, but your wife wants Mexican, if you love her like Christ loved the church and gave herself up for her, guess what you’re having for lunch?
  • When you come home from work and you’re tired and you just want to turn on the TV and vegetate for a while not talk to anybody, but your wife needs to talk to somebody, she’s craving some adult interaction, guess what you do when you come home from work?
  • When the kid or the dog makes a mess and somebody has to clean it up, guess who hops up to do it if you love her like Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her?
  • When you have enough money saved up for a new hunting rifle, but the washing machine has been giving the wife fits and she’s frustrated everyday with the thing, guess what you buy if you give yourself up for your wife?
  • Maybe you’ve never been a touchy feely PDA person, but your wife really likes it if you just hold her hand when you’re walking together, guess how you walk through the store and the mall or wherever, if you give yourself up for her?

Then look down at Ephesians 5:28 says, “… husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” And in v29 he mentions how we nourish and cherish our bodies. Those terms  nourish and cherish refer to taking care of something so that it not just survives, but thrives. We don’t just keep our bodies alive, do we? We keep our bodies well feed and rested. We dress them in warm comfortable clothes.  We don’t want them to experience any unnecessary pain or discomfort, so we sit on cushions, we take ibuprofen when our back aches, we adjust the thermostat so that the temperature just right for our bodies. If we’ve got some weird growth or spot we go get it checked out at the doctor. We nourish and cherish our bodies. And we’re to love our wives like that. We’re to see to it that all her needs physically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way, are met, that she’s comfortable, that we eliminate any pain that she might be experiencing emotionally or physically that we can. We are to nourish and cherish her.

And Paul adds in our text in Colossians 3:19 to husbands, “and do not be embittered against them.” NIV and ESV translate it “do not be harsh with them.” It’s just literally “do not be bitter toward them.” The word means to be like you have a sour or bitter taste in your mouth. You know, we call our wives, “Honey and sweaty and sugar and gum drop and cupcake,” and our tone of voice and the way we talk to her and treat her is to be like she brings a sweet taste like that to our mouth, not like she’s vinegar or cough syrup. What’s that mean? Well, look at Ephesians 4:31 where you find the same word “bitterness.” And then I think you find the expressions of bitterness, the kind of stuff that Paul says Christian men must engage in especially toward wives. Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [shouting, screaming in somebody’s face kind of stuff] and slander [talk intended to hurt or insult or belittle someone] be put away from you…” That’s what it is to be bitter toward someone. Do you ever yell at your wife? Do you ever call her names? Do you ever tell her to shut up? Do you ever push her out of your way? Are you harsh with her? Paul, as a messenger of the Lord, just plain says, “Don’t!” without any qualifications; not “Don’t, if whatever she did was an accident or if she’s apologetic,” but just, “Don’t be bitter toward her, period. Don’t yell at her. Don’t call her names, period.”

Children, be obedient to your parents in all things (v20).

Nothing difficult to understand about that. “Children” here doesn’t mean just little kids. It means if you’re a dependant in your parents home. “All things” would be when the child agrees with what the parents require and when the child disagrees, of course assuming the parents are not demanding anything that would be sinful for the child to do.

And the motivation for children is not that parents always know best. It’s the same motivation for wives to be submissive to their husbands and for husbands to love their wives. It is because, “This is well pleasing to the Lord.” Disobedience to parents is disobedience to Christ for a young person.

Think real quick of the little glimpse we have into the adolescent years of Jesus’ life in Luke 2. 12 years old and His family accidentally left him behind in the big city Jerusalem. They found Him finally 3 days later in the temple, sitting among the rabbis listening to their teaching and discussing the Scriptures with them, and amazing everybody at His understanding of God and His word and His will at such a young age. Right after that story at Luke 2:51 it says, “And He [Jesus] went down with them [his parents] and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them…” Don’t you think if there was ever a kid who did not need the guidance and rules of a parent it was Jesus? At 12 years old He amazed people with His understanding of God and right and wrong. He was an unusually wise 12 year old and teenager. Yet He subjected Himself to His parents, not because they knew better, but because it is well pleasing to God. So when Mary hollered from down the street “Jesus, come in. It’s time for supper.” He wasn’t like the kid whose friend says, “You better go now. Your mom is calling you.” And he says, “Oh, I don’t have to go in just yet. She has only called me twice so far.” Mary and Joseph only had to tell Jesus one time to do things. “Clean your room.” “Yes ma’am.” “Do the dishes.” “Yes sir.” “Be home by 8.” “You got it.” And when He said, “Mom, Dad, I’m going to John’s house,” John’s house was not just the stopping off place to going to some other place He knew His parents wouldn’t want Him to go. He subjected Himself to them. He was obedient to them in all things. And that’s what a Christian young person does.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children (v21).

You might find it interesting that he singles out the fathers and doesn’t mention the mothers. Probably Paul speaks to them as the heads of their households, as the ones ultimately responsible for the proper raising of the children. And the principle would certainly apply equally to mothers.

It’s interesting to me that this is all he says to fathers. I would expect maybe also, “Love your kids,” or what you find in Ephesians 6:4, “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Paul seems assume that these Christians fathers in Colossae know that and they love their kids and they’re trying to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And so he just gives these fathers a warning about a particular problem that dads often have.

Do not exasperate your children. The word means to anger, to embitter, to provoke, to stir up feelings of resentment. I don’t think he’s saying, “Don’t ever make your kids angry,” because if that was the case then you’d have to do the worst thing in the world you could do for them and just always let them have their way. The tense of it in the Greek text is present tense and could be rendered don’t keep on exasperating or keep on provoking your children to anger. I think Paul’s envisioning a situation where a father is constantly correcting and criticizing and reprimanding his child for every little wrong or imagined wrong. He’s just constantly telling them what’s wrong with them. Like the father of the little boy who was asked at school, “What’s your name?” And he said, “Johnny Don’t.” “No, that can’t be your name.” “Well, that’s what daddy always calls me.” I think this is warning to fathers who love their kids not to be too strict, too critical, too hard on them. If we’re hard on them it’s probably because we love them and we want them to be the best they can be.

But there is a danger of causing the child to lose heart. In other words you may convince your kid that he can’t do anything right. He may feel like he’s incapable of making you happy, and he may quit trying. J.B. Philips paraphrase I think is a good here, “Fathers, don’t overcorrect your children, or they will grow up feeling inferior and frustrated.”

Let’s balance our correction and discipline with complimenting and praising every little attempt to please and kindness they do and bit of progress they make. Let’s regularly reaffirm to our kids that we love them how they are. Whether they get straight As or they’re all-stars in their sports or they meet some high standard or not, we will love them the same.

Let’s go to worship this afternoon. In our homes let’s give to God the sort of offerings He most desires: the decisions to be submissive to our husbands, to selflessly love our wives, to obey our parents in all things, and to encourage our kids.

– James Williams

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