Colossians 3:17-4:1 Sermon
- 16 August 2022
- Stuart Robinson
SHAP – August 14th 2022.
Part A. Context is everything.
Traffic stopped outside a church in Brigham City, Utah, USA recently.
There, outside the church, a child stood with a great big sign that read, ICE COLD BEER; around him were five huge esky’s – portable coolers, from which he was dispensing his wares.
Was this a new way of attracting people to Sunday worship?
Should we try it up on New South Head Road – especially on City to Surf Sundays?
‘Lager and liturgy’ is how we might promote it!
Initially people were shocked in Brigham City, Utah – some furious.
The police were called, and they attended…until they all understood exactly what was going on.
On the lad’s hand-painted sign, in tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny print – in a very light hue – was the word ‘root’ above the word ‘beer’.
The young entrepreneur was selling the ever-popular American soft drink, root beer….and doing quite well too – around 60 customers a day, once they realized what was in fact ‘on offer’.
So, what’s ‘on offer’ in Colossians 3, when we’re confronted with a great big sign (as it were) that speaks about ‘masters and slaves’, ‘submissive wives’, and ‘obedient children?’
Well, context is everything:
First. God’s expectation of his people is that they’ll grow in godliness.
What is God like?
Among other things, our gospel reading (Luke 11:9ff) reminds us that God is so committed to our wellbeing that he will pour out his life-giving and renewing Spirit -in abundance, on all who ask him.
That is, God himself, in the presence and power of his Holy Spirit, will equip us for service and worship – now and into eternity.
Second. If that is what God is like – generous, kind and utterly self-giving, it ought not surprise us that growing in godliness will involve his people being generous, kind and utterly self-giving.
Hence God’s chosen people are to be – as per Colossians 3:12ff, compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, longsuffering, forgiving and loving.
All those virtues relate to investing in the well-being of others.
And that involves cost, sacrifice and risk.
It means first and foremost connecting with people and getting to know them – before determining how best we might serve them.
Third. The wider scriptural context is to be taken into account.
St. Paul’s expectation is that what he writes to one church, will be circulated amongst the other churches (Colossians 4:16).
So, when it comes to investing in the well-being of others, Ephesians 5:1ff and 5:21ff are key to our understanding of self-less, Christ-centred living.
Those verses say, (respectively), “Follow God’s example therefore as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”.
And, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.
In short, as those who serve Jesus – we are to promote the spiritual, emotional, and material well-being of others.
At times this will be at the expenses of our needs and our aspirations -all of which are met in Christ – who gave himself for us.
Fourth. The wider social context is to be taken into account.
By that I mean – in Jewish, Greek, or Roman society – each with their own historical and cultural differences, expectations, and complexities, how is a Christian person, for example a slave, or a child, a wife, or a husband to conduct themselves – such that they shine for Christ, or as Paul says in 3:17, so that they, ‘do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?’
What will promoting the spiritual, emotional, and material well-being of others look like – in that context and how might it translate to our context?
Let’s go to part ‘B’ for one answer to that question
Part B. The Household.
First, let me begin with a subject with which I have some familiarity: Husbands.
Ephesians 5:25 instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church – giving himself up for her (the church).
Well, that was certainly counter-cultural, then – and now.
As Christ took the initiative and poured out his life for the well-being of his bride, the church, so too ought husbands take the initiative and intelligently and intentionally care for, and serve their wives.
Hence the wording of Colossians 3:19, ‘Husbands love your wives and never treat them harshly’.
That word ‘love’ is the same one used to describe God’s love for us when he gave up his Son to redeem and renew us (John 3:16).
An example: Hugo reads this verse and realises he has spoken harshly and rudely to his dear wife, Ursula; very painful.
Reconciliation is the only Christ-like, Christ-honouring option for Hugo.
Over breakfast Hugo says to Ursula, ‘I love you Ursula, and I was wrong to have spoken in the way I did, I am sorry, please forgive me’.
Hugo lays aside pride, and pretension and asks for forgiveness.
In passing, I must mention that Hollywood screen icon, the late Charlton Heston, was often quoted as saying, in reference to his 64-year marriage to his wife Lydia, “the three most significant words in my marriage were, I was wrong”.
Second. Wives. The text of Colossians 3:18 enjoins wives to be subject to or ‘submissive’ to their husbands…as is fitting in the Lord.
The text is not prescriptive.
That is, the wife is to determine how she’ll respond to her spouse, in accord with that which is honouring to Jesus…’as is fitting in the Lord’.
And in so doing, she’ll distance herself from all forms of sinful, abusive, and corrosive behaviour (Ephesians 5:11; I Thessalonians 5:22).
Again, the context is all important.
It is submission to – or the ready compliance with one’s husband’s self-emptying initiatives to love and serve his wife, as Christ did the church.
When Hugo asks for Ursula’s forgiveness her response is not to say, ‘well it’s only taken 25 years…or what till I tell mother thisone!!’; but rather to say, ‘yes, what you said was barbed and very painful, Hugo…but I do forgive you, and we can work on this together’.
That’s mutual submission, such that both partners nurture, encourage, and bless the other.
Watching all this are Ursula and Hugo’s children, Junia and Phillip.
So, third, Children and Parents.
Junia and Phillip recognise that their parent’s faith in Christ, and their example of mutual service and submission not only promotes their spiritual and emotional well-being, but they also see in their parents, people transformed by the Spirit of God – where the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love are manifestly present.
Rather than losing heart (v.21) because of their father or mother’s self-centredness or hypocrisy, Junia and Phillip want to obey their parents; that is, they want to embrace their parents’ values and lifestyle choices because they can see that they are life-giving and Christ-honouring.
The same is true – fourth – for other members of their household – and back in the first century that may have included people who were bondservants, and slaves.
Now we know that through the efforts of Christian leaders like William Wilberforce (who promoted and fought for the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833) the ‘owning’ of persons for household and other purposes was overturned – though tragically, as we speak, an estimated 40 million+ people are still in some form of oppressive servitude…
Please note for our purposes this afternoon that in the first century Christian household, the relationship between servants and masters was also one of submission to Jesus Christ as Lord.
3:22 – Servants were reminded they were accountable to God for how they conducted themselves and 4:1, masters were also instructed to treat those in their care justly, and kindly for they too (the masters) were under the Lordship of Jesus.
And we know from Paul’s letter to Philemon that Christian slaves were to be viewed as brothers and sisters in Christ (Philemon 1:16); a remarkable assertion in first century Europe.
Let me draw out three big ideas from what we’ve heard this afternoon, and they equally apply to partnered and non-partnered people in the local church:
Sacrifice; Submission and Service.
Through Christ’s Sacrifice – through his self-emptying and giving of himself (over to death) we’ve been put right with God and made members of his family – his new society.
Not only do we now Submit to Jesus’ Lordship – we also submit to another out of reverence for Christ. That is, we are to promote the spiritual, emotional, and material well-being of others. And that leads lastly to…
Service. Simply stated, service flows out of a heart transformed by Jesus – one that is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, longsuffering, forgiving and loving.
Look, I’ve gone off the idea of the big new sign, ‘Liturgy and Lager’.
Instead (and this is much more poignant and powerful) – you are the ‘billboard’ that our community sees.
St. Paul said it so well in Philippians 2:14-16 (and with this I close):
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing. 15 Then you will be pure and without blame. You will be children of God without fault among a sinful generation. Then you will shine like stars in the sky. 16 You will shine as you hold out the word of life.