“Obey in everything…”

I became a Christian when I was 28 years old and had already graduated from college, hopped on a career path and was married.  (Children were shortly to follow.)  So when this relationship with Jesus Christ started, my life was already well underway and it was necessary to start viewing all of these things through the perspective of following Christ.

The verse that we’re studying today, Colossians 3:22, was important in changing my perspective once I started following Jesus:

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. – Colossians 3:22 (ESV)

My paper version of the ESV begins this verse using the word “slaves,” but the online version uses the term “bondservants.”  These words have essentially the same meaning, with the only difference being, as best I can tell, that bondservants may have had the opportunity to go free or be redeemed, but have given themselves over to be totally subservient to their masters.  (I hope I got that right.)  We see this word used primarily used in the New Testament to describe a Christians devotion to Jesus Christ.

Here, though, both words refer to those who are indeed slaves; they are the property of others with little or no rights.  Most of us reading this passage now don’t officially live as bondservants of others, at least not here in the United States of America, but we do serve others and the instructions given in this verse by Paul are very applicable for those situations as well.  Let’s take a look at this verse, piece-by-piece.

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters…” - Here Paul is restating the obvious, but with a different perspective.  The true is, people who are truly slaves or bondservants of others must obey those who are their earthly masters.  In this particular verse, though, the Apostle Paul is instructing obedience, not merely because of ownership, but because of honoring the Lord.

“…not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers…” - This speaks to the true heart of service.  Paul is saying that obedience goes deeper than just checking-the-box on a checklist.  It’s also more than doing a super-duper job so that everyone will notice what a fantastic employee you are.  No, the obedience described here is more than that.  Our obedience is for a different reason.

“…but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”This is the reason for our obedience.  When we do what we do, it should be done out of a sincere heart and with a sense that we “fear the Lord.”  On one hand, fearing the Lord means that God has the authority and power to judge us and send us to hell, so we should rightfully fear Him.  But fear of the Lord also speaks to a clear understanding of who God is and dictates our behavior toward Him.  Paul isn’t necessarily speaking about obedience because we think God will send us to hell.  No, I believe Paul is saying to obey our earthly masters because we love the Lord and want to honor Him in all that we do.

Yes, Paul is addressing this verse to those who are slaves of others, but this is also very applicable to our relationships where we are serving others.  It could be our job.  It could be at school.  It could be within the community or our neighborhood.  When we honor those in position above us, not just “by way of eye-service as people-pleasers,” but as people who fear the Lord, we honor God and bear witness to the change He is making in our lives.

I mentioned above that I became a Christian at 28 years old.  Live was already underway.  I had to learn how to serve Jesus Christ in each area of my life.  I wasn’t just to honor God at church, I was supposed to live out my faith in each aspect of my life.  That sounds very obvious, but it was life changing for me.  I realized that God wasn’t just God when I was doing my devotional time each morning, He was also my God at work and in my marriage.  My perspective changed (though not perfectly) to serving Him through my service in other areas.  I hope this verse helps you as well.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children…”

Our study of Colossians 3 has led us to a section of Scripture dealing with “rules for Christian households.”  In this section, we’ve looked at commands from God related to wives, husbands and children.  Today, we look at a verse concerning fathers and their children:

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. – Colossians 3:21 (ESV)

This command is very similar to the one given to fathers in Ephesians 6:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)

Both of these verses give a clear command to fathers: “do not provoke your children.”  The dictionary defines provoke as, to stir up, arouse, or call forth.” In many cases, it might be appropriate to “stir up” or “arouse” our children.  Their study habits might be leading to bad grades or their behavior may be dangerous.  But Paul is not talking about the appropriate type of “provoking” that we have to provide as parents.  No, he’s making clear the negative consequences of provoking.  

In these two verses, he warns that this negative type of parental provoking leads to discouragement and anger from our children.  This makes sense, really.  A dad that is constantly provoking, or that is provoking his children because he is never satisfied leads his children to think that he can’t be pleased.  When there is no hope for pleasing the dad – because he’s never satisfied – that can certainly lead to things like discouragement and anger.

Instead of provoking our children into discouragement and anger, we should follow Paul’s guidance from Ephesians 6:4 and “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  But how does this differ from the approach of provoking our children?  I think it differs in two key ways.

First, we need to love our children in a way that models how God loves us, His children.  He is merciful and kind, slow to anger and abounding in love.  He gives His children good gifts and He is their Protector and Shield.  He knows that His children will never be perfect, but loved them so much that He gave them His “only begotten Son” so that they could have eternal life.  This doesn’t mean we give our children everything and never hold them accountable for sin.  It does, however, mean displaying love and patience that can only come from a different perspective – the perspective given by the perfect Father.

Second, and this really flows out of the first item, we need to understand that our children are works in progress.  We need to preach and model Christianity to them, but understand that they will fail.  Just like us, they aren’t perfect and we need to continually point them to a Biblical perspective on life so that when they do fail (or succeed) they will be lead in the right way.

It may sound like I have all of this down pat.  I don’t.  I’m actually one of the worst dad’s I know.  Parenting has been extremely challenging for me (as in the hardest thing I’ve ever done) and I’ve failed at it much more than I’ve succeeded.  At this point, I have two teenagers and one still in single digits and parental life is hard.  But it’s not the one day payoff that we’re trying to find.  I hope, by God’s grace, that over time, my children will see that I actually do love the Lord with all of my heart and that despite all of my failings, I love them and want what’s best for them.

And I’m also thankful that God has given me another day today to try again.

“Children, obey your parents…”

We are working our way through a verse-by-verse study of Colossians 3 and we have now moved into the section of the chapter dealing with Christian households.  Our last two studies have looked at instructions for wives and husbands, and now we look instructions for children:

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. – Colossians 3:20 (ESV)

It’s a pretty simple message, right?

a) “obey your parents”
b) “in everything”
c) “this pleases the Lord”

As parents, this verse makes all the sense in the world and it’s one that we’d love for our children to “get.”  But let’s be honest, the first thought that pops into our heads is of the benefits we would receive from this as parents.  A child that obeys me in everything and is doing this to please the Lord?  Yeah, baby.  Bring it own.

There are actually some really practical benefits to our children obeying us.  This practice teaches our children to behave civilly and to properly respect authority figures.  And these practices lead to a more respectable society.  Though in America we supposedly value our freedom, it’s not a bad thing to learn to obey authority (if that authority also behaves properly).

But there is another important benefit of teaching our children to obey us.  This practice models a relationship with our heavenly Father and teaches our children to obey Him.  Yes, in the end, obeying parents teaches a child to be obedient to God.

Unfortunately, however, if we parent badly, this can project an inaccurate picture of God to our children.  Being domineering, mean or abusive can teach our children, incorrectly, that this is also how God is.  And that can, in turn, doubly wreck a young person’s life.

Though many, many terrible sins against children have been committed and covered over by the command that “you have to obey your parents because this is what God said,” this command doesn’t allow parents to do anything to their children and, there are some situations where children should not obey their parents.  As with anything, if a command someone gives is contrary to a command that God gives, God should always be obeyed first.  And as a general rule for parents, if what our child is doing pleases the Lord, it should be enough to please us.

For children, obeying parents is a means to please God.  As the verse says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”  Ultimately, as children, this is our motivation for obedience.  We may not like what our parents are telling us to do, or our parents may not be people that seek to honor God, but our behavior, as we obey our parents, pleases God.

 

“Husbands, love your wives…”

In our last installment, we took a look at the rather controversial idea of wives submitting to their husbands.  That command is followed by another given in verse 19:

Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. – Colossians 3:19 (ESV)

This summer will mark the 20th wedding anniversary for my wife and I.  She’s a great wife and I truly love her and she does a lot of nice things that make it easy to love her.  She’s loving in her own right, she’s the nicest person I know, she takes care of me and she’s also my best friend.

However, even though she does all of these wonderful things, we sometimes do argue.  I still love my wife when we argue, but during these tense times, the intensity of my love (for lack of a better phrase) may appear to change based on what I perceive her to be doing to me.  During these times of arguing, it may appear to some (even her) that my love for her is based on something she did or didn’t do.

I give that example to point out that the Apostle Paul’s command here to husbands is for them to love their wives.  This is not a command based on what the other person is doing or up how much the other person loves us.  This is simply a command to love our wives.

We see a similar but more detailed instruction in Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. – Ephesians 5:25-28 (ESV)

We see here that the command to love our wives is based on how Jesus Christ loves the church.  This is the model we are to follow.  As evidence of this love, Jesus gave His life for His church.  We are reminded of this in Philippians 2:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8 (ESV)

In Ephesians 5, we are not only reminded that Jesus Christ saved His church, but also is in the process of sanctifying her.  This is also a factor in how husbands should love their wives.  No, we aren’t perfecting our wives (nor should they expected to be perfect), but we are to love them in a protecting and nurturing way that leads to ultimately to their benefit.

So you see, a husband’s command to love his wife isn’t simply based on how he is being treated, but it is based on the example of Jesus Christ loving His church.

In this passage from Colossians, Paul also reminds us “do not be harsh with them.”  I think the reason for this is simple.  When someone is submitting to you - whether it’s at home, work, school or wherever, it’s extremely easy to exercise whatever power we have in an unpleasant way.  This is simply part of our sinful human nature.  It’s just easier to bark commands and demand than it is to lead someone committed to us in a loving way.

Within the context of the home, this is especially true.  In hindsight, many, many men – some who are legitimate followers of Christ and many who aren’t – have used these passages from Colossians (especially verse 18) to exercise a monopoly of power within their homes.  In many cases, these homes are brutal dictatorships without a hint of love.  Homes operating in this way totally miss the point Pauls is trying to make from this passage.

As husbands and followers of Jesus Christ, our obligation is to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  This is a self-sacrificing type of love that builds up and encourages our wives.  This is not a love that allows us to be harsh or to be a dictator.

If you do have a wife, you are truly blessed.  Now, let’s go love our wives as we should.

 

 

“Wives, submit to your husbands…”

We continue along in our study of Colossians, by taking a look at verse 18:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. – Colossians 3:18 (ESV)

For many of us, this verse is offensive and, therefore, is totally disregarded.  Many of us will look at verses such as this and say this is evidence that the Bible is outdated.  For some, this is certainly evidence that mankind has bypassed and outgrown the Scriptures.

Given the state of our culture and our own presuppositions, it’s hard for many to overcome their objections to this verse.  As a culture, we are affected by our godless society and the political correctness of our age.  But these things do not negate the truth of God’s word and, as believers, we should not carve this passage and others like it out of the Bible, but, instead, should embrace these passages and have our faith deepened.  To do that, let’s try to see what God thinks about this verse instead of what we presuppose.

To do this, let’s first look at the immediate context of the passage.  In the preceding verse, Paul writes,

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

The Apostle Paul is reminding us that whatever we do, whether it’s done by a spoken word or  by an action, everything should be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  He’s saying that whatever we do should be done to glorify God.  Paul then gives some practical examples of how this plays out.  In verses 18 through 22, he gives instructions to husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and yes, even wives.  But the context remains, in all of these different facets of life (plus others not mentioned), our purpose is to live in a way that gives God all of the glory He is due.

That should be how verse 18 is viewed:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. – Colossians 3:18 (ESV)

In fact, this command isn’t so much about family organizational structure as it’s about honoring God and obeying His commands.  As our Sovereign Lord, He has the right and the power to command us to obey any instruction.  For wives, this includes “submit[ting] to your husbands.”

However, we also do need to look at this command within the context of how God has organized and instituted family life.  In general (I say this because I haven’t done an exhaustive search), when God gives commands to the wife, He also gives corresponding commands to the husband (and vice versa).  For example, in Ephesians 5, we read:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)

Which is followed by…

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)

We read here that instructions are given to both husbands and wives.  And arguably, the husband is given the much more difficult role.  He has to follow the role of Christ and love His wife as Christ loved the church.  The wife, meanwhile, like in Colossians, is commanded to submit to her husband.  There isn’t a one-sided command given to unequally burden the wife,  No, there are commands given for the specific roles of wives and husbands.

To properly understand the idea of “submitting,” I think it’s important to understand what this doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean that the woman is less of a person than the man.  It isn’t saying the woman is not as smart or isn’t as good of a leader as the man.  It isn’t saying the woman is less aggressive than the man.  This isn’t installing a glass ceiling in the corporate world.  This doesn’t say the woman shouldn’t vote and isn’t saying anything about equality of her person-hood.  This isn’t saying the woman can’t be president.

But this is saying, within the context of the family, there is a role of submissiveness that the wife must follow.

Again, to be clear, let’s mention a few things this doesn’t mean.  This doesn’t mean the husband gets to do whatever he wants.  It doesn’t mean that the husband runs rough shod over his wife.  This isn’t an excuse for a husband to abuse his wife.  This isn’t a free pass for committing adultery.  This doesn’t give the husband permission to sexual abuse.  This doesn’t mean there is no discussion relating to decisions.

But this does mean, within the context of marriage, that the wife has a role of submission that she must embrace.

Distinct But Equal
God created men and women (of all different races) equal, but they are not interchangeable replicas of each other.  No, men were created in a separate and distinct way as were women.  Though we are equal before God (and that isn’t always a good thing), men and women were created with different roles and functions.  The roles and functions that men have aren’t necessarily better than those of women (and vice versa); it’s just how we were made.  Generally speaking, men are stronger than women.  Men and women have different roles in the reproductive process.  Women are able to feed their young.  You get the idea.  Men and women are distinctly different, but equal in God’s eyes.

Designed for Christian Marriage
Men and women in Christian marriage are both asked to follow the example of Christ.  That’s the bottom line.  This involves humbling one’s self and looking out for the interests of the other party.  When you see marriages that truly work – whether Christian marriages or not, you will usually see evidence of this.

But we often see the concept of this passage misapplied.  When the husband and wife don’t correctly understand their Biblically defined roles in marriage, we will often see one spouse dominate the other and, ultimately, see a very bad example of Christian marriage.

Additionally, when we see people influenced by Christianity, but not truly changed by Christ, we will often see these Biblical concepts misapplied.  I believe we’ve seen this in the United States.  As part of God’s common grace, Christianity has influenced our culture in many good ways.  But, often, those influenced by the culture try to apply things that they really don’t understand.  And that often works out very wrong.  If I culture simply thinks that a wife is supposed to submit to her husband – and that this is a Christian thing – then the culture will miss the idea of the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the church and marriages will suffer as a result.

Women Must Bend Their Knee
At the end of the day, no matter what is said or written, many women will simply refute this Scripture.  Many different reasons will be given, but ultimately, failure to obey this command simply comes down to pride.  For a man or woman, pride is our way of saying, “No, Jesus, I will not bend my knees and bow down to You.”  Pride is our way of getting God out of the way.  This never works out well.

All followers of Christ will struggle with this at some point.  (And sometimes we don’t even know that we are doing it.)  Many wives in Christian marriages are, without a doubt, faced with a very tough command when God says to submit.  But God doesn’t have to give reasons why and He isn’t obligated to explain.  Our job is to walk by faith and obey.

At the same time, though, God is a good God and He’s full of patience and steadfast love.  He cares for us.  He has a plan for us.  So when He asks us to do something, we know that it will glorify Him and it will build our faith.

Marathon Training Update: 20 More Miles in the Books

The process of training for this year’s Country Music Marathon in Nashville continued today with a 20 mile run…in the rain.

I finished the run fairly strong and really didn’t feel too badly during the run, but an hour and a half later, I feel like I normally do after all the long runs:  I feel like I’ve been curb-stomped.  I’m sure that’s the result of something I do or don’t do after my runs, but the bottom line is, my body has to take a few hours for some “me” time; it’s tired.

One of the pillars of my training this year has been going solo on the long runs.  Though I’ve been running since the early 1990s, I haven’t done a whole lot of long-distance running, and what I have done has been in the last seven or so years (with a big gap in the middle of those years).  So far, I’ve been able to mush through a lot of solo runs of 10 miles or longer and my most recent 18 and 20 milers have been solo.

And my runs have been at a pretty decent pace as well (well, a decent pace for me).  In fact, I did my last 20 miler at an 8’05″ pace.  That won’t win any races, but for an old dude, I’ll take it.

Today’s run, however, wasn’t about either going solo or going fast (fast for me, that is).  It was simply about finishing.  The day after my last 20, my family and I headed out to Disney World for a week.  That kind of threw my training regiment a curve ball.  I was able to run most days while on vacation, plus walk a ton of miles at the amusement parks, but I wasn’t able to do a long run last weekend.  On top of that, when I returned home and resumed my schedule, my legs and lungs felt like running was a brand new activity for them.  The body.  Hmmm.  Go figure.

Well, things returned to semi-normal by the end of this week and I set my sights on running 20.  Because I’ve been a little concerned about my pace – i.e. running too fast, and because I’m trying to build some mental stamina, I decided to forget about pace and concentrate on just finishing the run.  I enlisted my long-time running buddy who agreed to go the first nine miles.  This was a major plus for me.  First, it’s just nice to run with someone (for many reasons) and second he runs at a slower pace than myself, so I was able to gear down and not worry about going so fast.

The weather forecast for Birmingham called for showers this morning and the forecast was right on the money.  A steady drizzle accompanied me for about 19 of the 20 miles.  The first nine went well.  Adding a buddy was a good idea that paid dividends.  He dropped off at nine and we were running at a total average pace of 9’15″.  Under normal conditions, that pace would have made me cringe and step on the gas pedal as soon as he dropped off, but again, today was just about finishing.

So as I peeled away from my buddy, I didn’t look at my running app to check to check my speed, I just settled into a nice clip…in the pouring rain.  Mile nine to mile 10 was a nice, flat trek through a shopping district, but the end of mile 10 brought a long, winding stretch going uphill.  It’s definitely the biggest challenge of the day, especially after 10 miles.  But I made it.  And I actually made it up the “mountain” in fairly good shape.

The next six or so miles were mainly a trek through one of Birmingham’s wealthier neighborhoods.  By this point in the run, I just want to disengage my mind and run.  But I was totally soaked, it was raining and I was just sloshing.  But I made it.

Mile 17 marks the a turn onto one of the main roads running through the neighborhood and another trek uphill.  It isn’t a major hill, but after 17 miles, any hill looks like Mount Everest.  But I made it.

The end of mile 18 also has a “nice” uphill grade.  It’s not as long at the mile 17 hill, but it’s steeper.  By this point, I just put my head down and plow.  And I made it.

Just after this last hill, there’s actually a steep downhill stretch.  And after 18 miles, traversing downhill is a lot harder than it sounds.  But I made it.

The last two miles consist of an unpaved nature trail and a winding sidewalk.  By this time of the run, the end is end sight and I just step on the gas.  These two miles are usually my fastest of the day.  I was squishing and sloshing, but I made it.

When I was finished, well, I was tired.  Very tired.  I made it, but the trek through the rain took it’s toll on me.  Now, I have a short week and a 22-miler on Friday.  I’m whipped right now, but I’m going to try to start moving around here in a minute so that I can start working the kinks out.  I don’t think I’ll run tomorrow, but Monday will be here soon.  Hopefully my shoes will be dry by then.

 

“I will…”

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil. – Psalm 101:1-4 (ESV)

What will I do to honor the Lord?  What will I do to keep myself away from sin?  What will I do to help others?

So many times we cry out to God and ask Him to take certain things from us or to give us certain things that we are sure we can’t live without.

But how many times do we stick a stake in the sand and say, “This is what I know the Lord would have me do.  He has instructed me by His word, now it’s time to take a stand” ?  In Psalm 101, that’s what David does.  And it’s what we should do as well.  We aren’t trying to save ourselves, but we do need to be serious about serving our Lord.  Let us ponder that today.