Who you are at HOME and at WORK matters to God. Find out why.
Colossians 3:18-4:1 (NIV)
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. 22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. 1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
THE BOOK OF Proverbs assumes that the household, not the temple, is “the primary place of moral formation and social duty.” The home becomes even more important as the center of Christian nurture and education when surrounding society becomes so wicked that it accepts and even promotes immorality. These texts are not about who gets the power and authority to run the family but affirm that the family is the primary context for faith formation and for living out one’s faith. How we live in our family says a great deal about our faith.
Paul’s advice in this section is rather sparse, which makes it clear that he has no intention of providing an advice manual on family relationships. He is affirming the family as the place where we first live out our newness as “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (3:12). In the previous section, he reeled off a list of virtues (3:12–15), but such virtues are empty talk unless they are lived out in the structures and relationships of everyday life.
New life begins in the home. Schweizer observes that Christian wisdom and instruction are not always put to the test in times of suffering, which requires a heroic response, but in the everyday situations of life—like in the home. “The real world is, according to our letter, first of all our husband or wife, our children or parents, our employees or chiefs. Only if and when we take this world seriously may we, perhaps, be called to serve our Lord on a greater scale.” One can do heroic battle in the public arena but lose the war in the privacy of the home.
The family is where, under the lordship of Christ, we learn to control our anger, rage, abusive language, and lying so that peace might reign. The family is where we first learn to work out the values of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (3:12). There is no more difficult a place to exercise these virtues day in and day out than in the home. The new life enables submissiveness that puts others first, love that refuses to grow bitter, obedience, supportive and encouraging parenting, devotion to doing work well, and fairness and justice in our dealing with others. – David W. Pao
THE INSTRUCTION THAT the wife submit to her husband fits the norm of what was regarded as becoming conduct for a wife in Paul’s [ancient] culture. Paul does not overtly dispute this cultural assumption. The change in women’s status in our age and modern sensibilities lead many today to wish that he had. The command for wives to submit, however, was not inappropriate in his context. (1) It reflects the legal state of affairs. The husband as the paterfamilias (the head of the household) was the only fully legal person in the family and had power over all property and almost absolute authority over every member in it. They were all obligated to obey him, and Paul does not challenge the existing legal order.
(2) The verb “submit” (hypotasso) does not convey some innate inferiority but is used for a modest, cooperative demeanor that puts others first. It was something expected of all Christians regardless of their rank or gender (Mark 10:41–45; 1 Cor. 16:16; Eph. 5:21, 24; Phil. 2:3–4; 1 Peter 5:5).
(3) The command addresses wives directly as “ethically responsible partners.”7
(4) The directive is not one-sided; demands are also made of the husband. Some nuances may also help to mitigate the command’s harshness to modern ears. Paul does not tell wives to “obey” their husbands. In the commands to children and slaves, he uses the active imperative. The verb “submit” (hypotassesthe), however, is in the middle voice and can imply a voluntary submission. It makes the wife’s submission her willing choice, not some universal law that ordains masculine dominance. Paul also qualifies this submission further with the phrase, “as is fitting in the Lord.”… This qualification recasts the wife’s submission to her husband by turning it into allegiance shown to Christ (cf. Eph. 5:22–24). – David Garland