- I spend a lot of time in prayer and research about this passage
- The sad history is that this passage has been use and abuse in some very cruel ways over the years
- People have used the verses as a weapon
- Hurting wives and women
- They were used before and during the Civil War as justification of slavery
- You cannot simply replace the slaves/master language with employee/employer
- Slavery was real then and now
- If you are going to read the parts about husbands and wives, fathers and children as a divine rule for family life
- Then you have to say that slavery is a divine rule
- To be consist in your reading of the Scriptures
- As you can imagine, this can cause problems as we, hopefully, all recognize that slavery is not something Jesus or God wants or designed
- It is a product of our pride, greed and evil
- So there must be another way to read these verses
- A way that stay true to the Scripture
- And true to the heart of God as reviled in and through Jesus
- When reading the Bible, I believe there are three very, very important lens that we must look through
- Jesus is God relived to us
- So when we have problems understanding what the Scriptures are saying, we look to the life, ministry and character of Jesus
- If our interruption of Scriptures does not match that of the life and character of Jesus, we MUST rethink that passage!
- The Trajectory of the Scriptures
- What has God been doing throughout history?
- What has been His focus?
- What is the overarching theme of the Scriptures?
- The Context of the Scriptures
- St. Paul did not write Colossians in isolation; as such, we must ask ourselves what was happening in the Roman Empire during this time
The Passage at Hand
- I’m going to re-read this passage in the Kingdom New Testament
Let the King’s word dwell richly among you, as you teach and exhort one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God with grateful hearts. And whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the Master, Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the father.
Now a word for wives: you should be subject to your husbands. This is appropriate in the Lord. And for husbands: you should treat your wives with love, and not be bitter with them. And for children: obey your parents in everything; this pleases the Lord. And for fathers: don’t provoke your children to anger; otherwise they might lose heart.
A word, too, for slaves: obey your earthly masters in everything. Don’t do it simply out of show, to curry favor with human beings, but wholeheartedly, because you fear the Master. Whatever you do, give it your very best, as if you were working for the Master and not for human beings. After all, you know that you’re going to receive the true inheritance from the Master as your reward! It is the Master, the King, that you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be paid back for wrongdoing, and there will be no favorites.
And a word for master: do what is just and fair for your slaves. Remember that you too have a Master – in heaven.
Devote yourselves to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving. While you’re about it, pray for us, too, that God will open in front of us a door for the word, so that we may speak of the mystery of the King – which is why I’m here in chains.
Lens 1: Jesus
• The first lens we have to read this passage through is Jesus
- How did Jesus treat people?
- How did Jesus command us to treat people?
• Jesus commanded us Matthew 22:39 to “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Who is our neighbor?
• This means our spouses, children, etc. our are neighbors – and as such, we are treat them as ourselves
• All too often we take the commandment of Jesus to mean “everyone outside of my family”
- But NO, Jesus does not give us that option
• We are to love our wives, husbands, children as ourselves
- Meaning that we are NOT to rule over them
- Or cause them pain
- As that is not how we would want others to treat us
• Furthermore, if we re-read this passage we see Jesus throughout the passage
- I going a bit into the third lens, which is the context of the passage…
- But it fits within this lens as well
• Right before this passage we had St. Paul telling us that we have all died and have been re-born in Jesus
- We are to change our attitudes towards life and others
- Removing anger, rage, pride and the like
- Replacing them with His love, humility, meekness, tender-hearted
• Then St. Paul says to let the King’s word (Jesus’ word) dwell richly in us
- And we are to do everything in the name of the Master
And whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the master, Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the father. -Colossians 3:17
• Then at the very end of these ‘household’ codes, St. Paul says
Devote yourselves to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving. -Colossians 4:2
• In other words, this confusing passage sandwiched with Jesus
• And in a common manner of the time, there is a hidden jewel in the middle of the passage
Whatever you do, give it your very best, as if you were working for the Master and not for human beings. After all, you know that you’re going to receive the true inheritance from the Master as your reward! It is the Master, the King, that you are serving. -Colossians 3:23-24
• Can you see Jesus throughout this passage?
• As such, we must interpret this passage through the life of Jesus, who is God made visible (Colossians 1:15).
- Who treated the outcast like equals
- Who treated women like equals
- Who treated rich and poor alike
- Who treated political leaders and fishermen alike
- Through whom, as St. Paul said in Colossians 3:11
In this new humanity there is no question of “Greek and Jew,” or “circumcised and uncircumcised,” of “barbarian, Scythian,” or “slave and free.”
- Galatians 3:27-29
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
• Folks say that these verses mean that all have equal access to God’s grace
- That there is still a hierarchy
• WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!
• The verses don’t allow for that reading!!
• If it did, then there would still be a hierarchy between Jew and Gentile
- That all of us are sub-Christians
- That those who are circumcised are better than those who are uncircumcised
• This is an interpretation that does not fit with the life and ministry of Jesus
Lens 2: The trajectory of the Scriptures
• None of this fits within the trajectory of the Scriptures
• Like we mentioned before, the entire Bible talks about grace
- And grace is something that transforms our relationships
• God regularly takes the things of the world and transforms them into something new
• Throughout the Bible, God is constantly challenging the way in which our world works
- God gave rights to women before others religions did
- God gave rights to slaves while a lot of other cultures were trying to hang on to power
• God has always been about laying down power
- About serving one another
- About being Jesus to each other
Lens 3: Context
• The last lens through which we look in one of historical context
- What was going on during this time?
- What was the culture of the Roman Empire?
• The first thing to realize is that St. Paul wasn’t the only person talking about these relationships
• Aristotle, Philo, Josephus, and tons of other folks before, around and after Paul talked about these relationships
• All of them stated without question that the man – the husband, father, master – had the right to do what he wanted too
- He could kill, hurt, disown anyone in his family
- And by family, I mean all grown kids and their families
- The 1st century family did not stop at 18-years old
• When a lady gave birth to a child, the midwife would lay the newborn on the floor
- If the father/husband picked up the child, then they lived
- If the father/husband did not, then the child was placed outside to die
• Greco-Roman philosophers said that the family structure was a look at the Roman Empire
- In order to keep the power of the Emperor, the father/husband had to be the top master
- Laws were passed to force families into this mindset
- Laws were passed to force widows to remarry
• St. Paul’s statements in Colossians and Ephesians are a racially departure from this!!
• The first part of his statements seem to fit within the culture
Now a word for wives: you should be subject to your husbands. This is appropriate in the Lord. -Colossians 3:18
• But then Paul turns the tables on the husbands
- Something unheard of before
And for husbands: you should treat your wives with love, and not be bitter with them. -Colossians 3:19
• The same pattern goes throughout each point
And for children: obey your parents in everything; this pleases the Lord. -Colossians 3:20
And for fathers: don’t provoke your children to anger; otherwise they might lose heart. -Colossians 3:21
A word, too, for slaves: obey your earthly masters in everything. Don’t do it simply out of show, to curry favor with human beings, but wholeheartedly, because you fear the Master. -Colossians 3:22
And a word for master: do what is just and fair for your slaves. Remember that you too have a Master – in heaven. -Colossians 4:1
• God is telling us that we are to challenge the cultural norms of our day
• We are to treat everyone as equals
- We are, as Jesus commanded us, to treat others as ourselves
• This is the radical nature of this passage
• It is not a weapon
- Or a blueprint on how to have a marriage
- Or a family
- Or to keep slaves
• It is a challenge to the pride and greed within our culture
• We are to follow the way of Jesus as described by Paul in Philippians 2:1-7
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. [underline added]