Personal Relationships in a Troubled World
Most of us don’t find it hard to imagine a better world, but the question is, ‘How do we get there?’ History is littered with the theories and experiences of political and economic ideas. But history shows that whatever the system, there is still fraud, injustice, poverty, pillaging, exploitation, sexual harassment, violence and war. The systems may change, the faces will come and go, but the scene remains the same. How can we point the world to a better way?
The heart of the Christian message includes the idea of a new universe that has come into existence and which will continue forever. Jesus’ death has secured this. His resurrection assures us of it. In Colossians 1:13, we read: God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…’.
And in Colossians 3:1ff we read: If you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts where Christ is, set your minds on heavenly things… Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature,… Paul is saying, ‘Let the light of this resurrection state fall on everything that you say and do.’
New Lifestyle. When we truly turn to Jesus Christ our relationship with God changes and, Paul tells us, our relationships with one another are also to change. We won’t achieve this perfectly, because we all still live in the present world. We will disappoint one another; we won’t always be as patient as we should. We won’t always love one another or forgive one another, but we must work at it. When we make these qualities our goal the world will see, and wonder. For when we take on the new lifestyle as God’s people, we will become a signpost in the wider community, pointing others to the realm of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Colossians 3:18 through 4:1, Paul identifies new ways of living within our closest relationships – marriage and family life, and in the workplace. He speaks of wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives; of children obeying their parents and parents not provoking their children; and slaves obeying their masters and masters treating their slaves justly and fairly. There is a counter-cultural asymmetry about the principles Paul identifies.
Now, we need to understand that Paul is not speaking about a hierarchy in relationships. All men and women, from every race and nation, as well as the unborn, are equal before God. We are all created in God’s image. Paul makes this clear in 3:10: Here there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.
In the section we are looking at today, Paul is setting out how God’s people, as equals, are to function in their relationships. A good starting point for understanding his words is the Godhead.
God – Three in One. The Apostle John in his Gospel reveals that God exists in Trinity: one God in three persons. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equally divine but are eternally distinct persons. There is no hierarchy within the Godhead yet there is an order in which they function. So, the Son of God freely chose to do the Father’s will in taking on human form and serving us by dying the death we deserve (Philippians 2:5-11).
Partners in a marriage – a man and a woman – share an equal status yet are distinct persons. In this partnership there is an intimate relationship of equals, with distinct responsibilities.
Women who have turned to Christ are called upon to recognize and honor their husband’s God-given responsibility to provide leadership in godly love. Paul is certainly not saying that wives are to submit to abuse or be forced to live contrary to the Lord.
Furthermore, Paul does not say to husbands, ‘You rule’. Rather, he says, husbands are to love their wives, honoring and respecting them for who they are under God. One responsibility husbands often overlook is ensuring that the Bible is read in the home.
Relationships between parents and children are also important (as we see in 3:20). Children are to recognise the God-given authority of their parents. Paul is saying that this will only happen when parents do not tease and exasperate their children or give way to their every whim. Rather, parents need to treat their children with love and care and commitment, respecting their individuality, but curbing their attempts to reject authority.
Paul also sets out principles for the workplace. In today’s world responsibility in relationships between employers and employees are an essential part of our living under God (3:22-4:1). For God’s people the balance of selfless and responsible attitudes and actions should be self-evident. Employees are to act responsibly, respectfully and honestly toward their employers. Employers are to be totally fair to their employees, not exploiting or abusing them.
It is this sense of responsibility and accountability to people around us that is one of the gifts of God’s people to the world. We may feel politically powerless, but we must never think we have nothing to contribute to the world. The restraint, the accountability that we show in our relationships, our households, and in our workplaces, demonstrate that we have a Lord to whom we are accountable – and the world will notice the difference.
When our lives are truly being transformed by the Spirit of God, people will see it and, under God, be drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ.