Colossians 3:13-4:6 Wives, submit 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 win 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 men, 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 his wrong, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Alright coffee drinkers, how long have you been at it? I’ve been at it now for about a decade. Ever since the Seminary’s early, early mornings I’ve started my day with a cup of java. I never even think about how that coffee arrives to me. Not like I should. I did the other day for the first time. It was an article on Yahoo that helped me think it all through. This how it started, “For each cup of Colombian coffee, there is the wonderful and inspiring story of every bean.”
It’s humbling to think how dependent I am on other people for that coffee. Somewhere in Colombia a coffee farmer grew a coffee bean. One day someone trucked it off that farm, and shipped it to the United States. Another day a worker at Kroger put those beans on a shelf after getting shipped all the way to Aiken. And then last night my wife put that little ol’ coffee bean from a farm in Colombia through a grinder (who knows who made that and how it got to our house) and into our coffee maker (who knows who made that and how it got to our house) all so that I can pour that filtered coffee into a mug (who knows who made that and how it got to our house) and have my coffee first thing in the morning.
And I haven’t even told you about the rest of my morning that is also dependent on other people doing their jobs. There’s the computer I type on, the word processing platform in Google Drive that I type into, the cereal I eat, the Honda I drive. You get the picture. We are tied to other people. God made us that way from the very beginning. Maybe you remember that this traces back all the way to creation. Do you remember how after each day of creation God would sit back, survey what he had made, and think the same thought? He’d think, “This is really good.” At no time did he think anything different except once. You know when he thought that? After he made Adam. After he made Adam, he thought, “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) So God made Eve a helper suitable for him. It was the first human network, the first helper of another human.
That’s why we have this section that my Bible calls Rules for Christian Households. That’s how we know that this isn’t a toss in or closing fluff. It’s not like Paul was going along with his letter saying, “Ya know? I’ve said a lot of things about Jesus, how to think about him, and how to do life with him, and now I’ll just lob a few quick and easy, concrete instructions at people to wrap this baby up.” God is invested in his human network. It’s one way he sends us grace after grace after grace. That’s why he has anything to say about it at all in this airtight, incredibly important letter to the Colossians. He makes the world turn with wives, husbands, children, masters (now known as employers), and servants (now as employees).
But you know what? He couldn’t talk about any of this before he talked about our sin and then the gospel’s solution to it. It wouldn’t fit into our lives correctly. We had to understand that we as wives, husbands, children, employers, and employees don’t live out these roles to win grace, but because we already have it.
I have a theory about this that I think it’s safe to say is more than a theory. We sin more often and most grievously against the people who are closest to us in our lives. I’m the best example of this today. Don’t let the irony pass by that as I preach on verses from the Colossians that talk about children obeying their parents that here my parents sit - probably the only Sunday they’ll be able to be with us this year. That was God’s plan not mine. This sermon series and this Sunday were already set when they decided to fly in. How many fights did they have to break up between my twin and I? How many times did they have to discipline me for chasing my sister or hear about what I had done while I was away at school? God had to pour out his grace in Jesus before he could breath a word about wives, husbands, children, employers, and employees because if you think about it it’s for these roles that we need forgiveness and grace the most.
It’s grace that allows us to say, “yes,” to something as counterculture as this, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (v. 18) I’ve praying all week that God gives me sensitivity and grace to handle this tough subject. I seriously rewrote how I was going to talk about this about four times. I’ve been a pastor long enough to know how difficult this verse is to deal with. It’s really tough to hear this and not have your eyeballs pop out of your head thinking, “Did I just hear what I think I heard coming from Paul’s pen?” Honestly, it’s tough not to turn tail and say, “I’m not so sure about this. I think Paul might be taking us back to the Stone Age here.” I get that.
In my heart of hearts, I think objections to this like the feminist movement happen because men aren’t being men. Being a man means that you love and you protect women and children. That’s true masculinity. I’ve sat with enough couples in premarital counseling to know that brides want this. I usually say something like this to future brides, “If he comes home and hugs you. If he listens to you. If he thinks of you and sacrifices for you and for kids. If he seeks your opinions and most of time follows them. If he protects you, loves you, and builds you up, do you think you’ll appreciate his leadership?” You know what happens each time I say that? Her eyes glow. She sees it. She sees how God wants it to be. And she not only accepts it, she wants to see it happen. I’ve also sat with enough women who are married to men who don’t know a godly manhood. They wonder how they can be safe. They wonder how they can be ok to do life. There’s a lot to be said about that too and I think it’s best to handle that in the context of a pastoral relationship.
That’s why it’s so important for husbands to hear what God wants for them. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (v. 19) Love your wives, which also means harshness – one of love’s opposites – is out the window. Now I want you husbands to think about this in light of the gospel. Jesus only calls us to do what he did first. He flipped leadership on its head with his leadership for us. He led by leaving his heavenly mansion to become one of us. He led through hanging on a cross. For you HGTV fans, what do you think those home buying shows would look like if husbands on that show followed God’s kind of leadership? Godly leadership happens through service and sacrifice.
And a godly childhood happens through obedience. Paul said, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (v. 20) Do you see it? The Lord Jesus is the target of a child’s obedience. It’s about putting a grin on his face. It’s about putting a sparkle in his eye. It’s about a child having a big way to say thanks to their big Savior. It’s no different for employees. They literally get to “to obey their earthly masters in everything,” and, “not only when their eye is on you… but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (v. 22) Jesus turns doing the most boring, mundane jobs like growing coffee plants into one massive, almost daily opportunity to say to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, thanks for being my Savior. I’m sending this one up to you.”
Not that that makes it a cakewalk. It doesn’t. There’s a reason why Paul had to write to the Colossians about these matters. There’s a reason why we have to say this stuff out loud. To preach it. To teach it. To emphasize it. I actually read a pretty good blog that got at this truth the other day. It was a blog put out by a firm that raises money for churches. This is what it said, “To begin with you have to ask the question, ‘How is God going to provide that funding?’ The obvious answer is through people. I think we can all agree that the primary means through which God funds his work on earth is through people. So we then need to ask two questions, ‘Is giving the natural inclination of those who follow Jesus?’ And ‘Are God’s people so in tune with what God’s doing that they will therefore naturally give wherever there is a need for funding?’”
Do you see what that blog is saying? There will come a time when we don’t need to be told clearly how we can live for God. There will come a time when preaching and teaching will cease. There will come a time when we’ll be so connected to God’s will, so full of the Spirit, and so full of light and truth that all of our thoughts all the time will be about how God wants us to be for each other. That time is not here and now. That time is heaven. For now, we’re still growing in love and truth so God clearly tells us how he wants the world to turn.
Not that clarity is the only answer. It’s not. Clarity points the way, but it doesn’t empower. It guides you how to get there, but it doesn’t take you there. It can tell you to follow the orders of a nasty boss, but it can’t make you want to do it. It can point out that as a husband you must sacrifice for your wife even when she’s coming at you like a freight train, but it can’t make you want to do it. It can remind you teenagers to obey your parents, but it can’t help you do that when your parents are driving you nuts. Only one thing can empower us to do what God clearly tells us to do: get an ever-firmer grip on why we do what we do. Did you notice how Paul liberally sprinkled and doused this whole section with those reminders? “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (v. 18) “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (v. 20) “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (v. 23) “It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (v. 24) Do you see it? We fill the roles God gives us not because we’re working for such wonderful people, but because we work for a wonderful God.
That’s what changes everything. True story. I walked out of my office halfway through writing this sermon and met a guy who sells insurance. He started telling me how he was thinking about leaving his job. And why? It wasn’t for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t the work environment. It wasn’t the salary or the benefits, the commute or even boredom. He told me he wanted to leave so he could, “serve the Lord.” He literally had no idea he already was. He didn’t yet understand that God was using him to help families and businesses when disaster strikes them. He had no understanding that his day-to-day work activities could be aimed at God in faith. He had mistakenly emptied a major part of his life of all the divine significance that God had given it. There’s too much grace here to live without that understanding. Grace not only means that we are forgiven in Christ when we fail in these significant roles, but also that God still wants to use us to make his beautiful world turn. And so wives, husbands, children, and workers do what God tells them to do.
In that article about coffee beans that I caught on Yahoo, I read about Sergio Fajardo. He developed a program called Origen de Cafes Especiales, or, the Origin of Special Coffees. He trains young coffee workers to grow the coffee and get the best roasts. He trained Carmen Patino who used to be just another ordinary coffee farmer. Now she makes some of the most sought after specialty coffee in the world. Apparently it has a gorgeous honey and caramel aroma. God uses a lady named, Carmen, who does her job well day in and day out to deliver the grace of a cup of coffee to people. We get to do that too. That’s what a wife is doing when she sits with her husband after a tough day of work. That’s what a teenager is doing when she listens to her parents without arguing. And it’s what this daddy is doing when he gets a belly laugh from his daughter. It’s a beautiful system God has put in place. You know what the best part it? We get to do it for him. For him. Amen.