The Way He Chose
Text: Colossians 3: 18-25
Proposition: The structure of relationship that God chose for our lives goes against the grain of our sin nature creating opportunity for faith, hope and love.
Introduction: Have you ever played a game called Pick Up Sticks? These sticks look like shish kabob skewers, just skinny little things. You hold them in one bundle, about 25 sticks all together. One end of the bundle is put on the floor and then you simply let go of the sticks and let them fall where they will. The game is in picking up the sticks one at a time without moving any of the others around it. If you do move one while trying to pick up a stick then your opponents get to try their skills. It’s really a game about Structure and Balance, what’s leaning on what and how to preserve that. Structure and balance are seen in how God created the world from the planetary systems to the ecosystems. You could even say that God Himself has structure and balance, the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have a structure of order and at the same time there is the balance of perfect equality among the Three. This morning let’s look at the way God designed relationships with that very same concept of balance upheld by supporting structure. Turn with me to Colossians 3:18-25.
I. The Structure of Marriage Requires Balance.
When you first read this passage two things kind of jump out at you: 1. Why does he start with women when he is about to say that men are to be the leaders? 2. Why would he need to tell women in such a dominant Patriarchal society to submit to their husbands, wouldn’t they already be?
So what is Paul getting at when he says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Well firstly he assumes that marriage is God’s building plan for family and that men and women are building blocks. If we throw away the blueprints, if we reject marriage as being the plan and men and women as the only building blocks in that plan for marriage and family then essentially we will live as a society without a plan, without direction without purpose. A prolonged trial of just living together seeks to cut God out of the relationship. Do you just let the sticks fall where they may? If the relationship will endure, if the family that is built upon it will be stable then the commitment to marriage between a man and a woman is where it begins. Marriage is a commitment that is relational, physical, financial and yet higher than all of these, spiritual. More than anything else marriage has spiritual design inherent in it. This is where Paul is going to go as he talks about structure and balance in marriage. So he says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” But why does he start with women? I think it’s probably because that’s where the supporting strength comes from. Think of an arch, the only way that the upper stones can resist the forces of gravity are because of the supporting stones. In the language he uses Paul chose the word ‘hupotasso’, it’s what we see translated as the word ‘submit’. It can often be used in a military sense to describe one who is in the ranks of an army. Without the ranks there is no structure nor balance. Without the subordinate ranks there can be no captains. It begins with submit as one who is in rank separate but in value or equality equal. So Paul begins with wives who submit to their husbands, without which there can be no leadership by the man. If there is no leadership balance falters, structure is weakened and the relationship is likely to fail. But why does he say to wives to submit when they are already in a male dominated culture? Perhaps the reason is that this is a matter of choice not an imposition of inferior status. The thought behind this is that it would be a voluntary action that goes against my own sin nature and by doing so a woman submits not only to her husband but also to the Lord and the blueprint He has in marriage. “As is fitting in the Lord”, points to that higher understanding a woman has as she enters into marriage. Submitting to your husband has nothing to do with his intelligence, looks, wealth or even faith, it has to do with agreeing with God’s blueprint for marriage. So women must choose wisely the man they will marry.
The infrastructure of marriage is all about balance, so look at what he then says to the men in a marriage relationship. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.” Again it begs the question, why would Paul assume that men would likely be bitter towards their wives. He could have said many things that men do… forgetful, lazy, distracted, even unfaithful… why the word ‘bitter’, which has the meaning of being exasperated or indignant towards their wives. Is it possible that here too men are called to go against their sin nature as they too submit to Christ’s blueprint for marriage. We get exasperated or indignant when we feel someone is not doing what we thought they should. In such times our focus is often more on what I want or what I think is right rather than on how our wives are feeling or how they are doing some task or even what God is doing through both of us. So he says “Husbands love ,‘agapao’, your wives.” That same word is used in John 3:35, “The Father ‘agapao’ loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” Or John 3:16, “For God so ‘agapao’ the world that he gave His only Son…” Husbands love your wives, love with a heart to sacrifice, love in a way that goes against the grain of your sin nature, love your wives dearly. If the husband will do that there will be balance in the marriage, if the husband does that there will be a structure upon which great load can be placed.
II. The Structure of Family Needs Balance.
The thing about sin nature is that it doesn’t wait until you’re an adult before it kicks in. In the very moment of conception sin is intertwined with every self survival instinct. It becomes so innate in us that in the early development stages children don’t even know it is something to be controlled. So Paul exhorts them, “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” The word obey has the idea that you need to listen and then be ready to respond. Look at this verse in Acts 12:13, “And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer.” The same Greek word we translate ‘obey’ that Paul used to exhort children to obey their parents is in this verse too. She came to answer or to obey the knock at her door. When you check out the word ‘obey in other areas of Scripture you see the wind and waves obeying Jesus, demons obeying Jesus and the command that we obey Him too. It begins with children listening for direction, the knock on the door from their parents and from the Lord. It is a spiritual call to the children, not just a domestic call. Their obedience affirms the structure and balance of God’s plan for marriage and family and it is well pleasing to Him. So fathers, which also implies mothers, don’t mess that up by being too demanding, too rigid in how you relate to these little ones. Don’t hold them at arms length from you, don’t raise the bar of expectations too fast or you will anger them and they will be discouraged, disheartened and feel alone.
III. The Structure of Work Depends Upon Balance.
In these closing words Paul exhorts every Christian who is an employee to recognize that what is happening at work has a spiritual dimension to it as well. How you do what you do will speak about what you believe. The masters or employers have an authority over us that also is God ordained. But note that they are only masters according to the flesh. If your boss wants you as a teacher to teach what is immoral or inappropriate they have gone beyond their jurisdiction. If they are looking for a quality of work from you then that is a just expectation. The emphasis is put upon the sincerity of your effort, doing it as unto the Lord, in sincerity of heart, in the fear of the Lord. The understanding here is that there is more than a paycheck on the line, there is a reward that God intends for those who labor with that kind of grace, generosity and perseverance.
The last verse is a little enigmatic. It can refer to the employer who is unfair, unjust and therefore unworthy of your best efforts. The implication here would be that we work irrespective of their poor performance knowing that justice will meet us both at the end. It can also be an exhortation for the Christian to work with integrity knowing that if we choose not to there is also accountability for us as well.
In all these areas of wives, husbands, children, parents, employees and employers there is structure that is meant to create balance. The balance will be good for us, all will benefit in the way it works but higher than that is the statement that this brings pleasure to God. It’s brings Him pleasure for a couple of reasons:
1. It’s working the way that He designed it to work…Hope.
2. Because it’s working it is accomplishing what it was designed for….Faith.
3. As it accomplishes it will leave a clearer path and a cleaner view of Jesus..Love.
This is the thesis of it all: Col. 3:17, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”