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Colossians (2013)

Submission

Colossians  3:15 - 4:1

Lesson audio

Christ in You

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

(Colossians 3:15-17)

 

Peace of Christ

Readers of old detective novels will know the phrase, “breach of the peace.” It is a crime; it means to disturb the general tranquility of the neighborhood in some manner or another. The concept descends from medieval times. In those days each member of the nobility was considered to have his own “peace.” To disturb him in that peace was a crime. The higher the nobility, the greater the crime. In short, the boss liked things tranquil — and intended to keep things that way. Generally speaking, this conduces to the betterment of society. We may consider that the King of Kings has his peace as well — and he likes things tranquil too. So if you accept the concept that Christ has his own peace, and as a member of his kingdom you must accept the idea that you need to get along tranquilly with the other members of his kingdom — right?

Why is this so? Because we are one body. Argument in dissension tends to tear the church apart; it is the prayer of Christ that we should all be one. The unity of the church is something which is extremely important to him, and therefore should be extremely important to us. We should then behave in such a way as to preserve the peace, and therefore the unity, of the church.

It is interesting to see how Paul prescribes a method for us doing: “be thankful.” Perhaps you’ve never made the connection between gratitude and peace, but it’s really hard to be mad at someone, scream at them and then say thank you. Try it sometime; it’s downright humorous. If you live your life in gratitude for the things that Christ has done for you — not just at the Cross, but in your own day to day living — it’s difficult for you to be angry with those who are members of his body. Often enough, anger comes from the sense of being entitled to something. We feel offended when somebody takes something that belongs to us; we also feel offended when somebody, for example, takes over a job in the church that we thought was ours. It’s normal in an organization that little fiefdoms develop. People will be possessive about a broom closet. We need to remember that this should not be so; the preventative is for us to be thankful for what we have, and what we are given. We are not entitled to a position; but we are given a work.

Word Dwell Richly

For most of us, this will initially be somewhat difficult. Christ understands that we need help; therefore we are commanded to let the word of Christ richly dwell within us. So just how do we do that?

·         The first method is in wisdom and teaching. It’s perfectly normal for human beings to have to be instructed in something which is new to them. You went to school; your parents, at least, thought there was good reason for this. Clearly, you want to get to the point where you can go it on your own in reading, for example — but you must  start somewhere. The same is true for the Christian; we need that instruction in wisdom to get us started. Most Christians find that they need it throughout their lives. Some get to the point where they find it so necessary that they become teachers, for the teacher always learns more than the student in any given lesson.

·         The second method is familiar to many Christians who are not particularly intellectually astute. The truth is that most Christians are not going to pick up a PhD level commentary and use it for casual, light reading. Older Christians will remember that the classic hymns of the church were designed to be easy to memorize (they rhymed) and full of wisdom and instruction. This type of hymn bases itself upon the Psalms, which rhyme in thought. Rhyme, of whatever form, is an aid to memorization. So it is that we get the memorization aid and as well get the emotional strength that a human can bring. The transition to the newer style of music, we must assume, has the same effect for the younger Christian. At least we hope so.

·         We notice also that we are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts. There’s that word “thankful” again. Thankfulness makes singing hymns very personal. Older Christians will remember the opening line of the classic doxology, “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” It’s not just praise; it’s thankfulness for our blessings. Our thankfulness breeds our humility; our humility breeds our harmony; our harmony breeds our peace.

The Name

Dorothy Sayers tells us that “we can do all things in the name of Christ — we have the apostle’s word for it.” It seems a little ridiculous it first; but perhaps an example will make it clearer.

Can you go grocery shopping in the name of Christ? Well, yes you can.

·         First, you can conduct yourself at the grocery store as a Christian might. A gentle politeness in an environment in which people loved bump each other with carts, cut in front of each other in lines, and generally scream at their kids at the same time will at least at some sort of an example. Particularly if you have to take small children with you, this can be a trying time. Do so in the name of Christ, with his peace in your heart.

·         Since you’re at the grocery store, give thought to those who are less fortunate than you. Is there someone for whom a meal or two might be very welcome? Perhaps you could pick up something for them and drop it by on your way home. Do so in the name of Christ, who gave his life for you.

·         You probably are going to drive to and from the grocery store. Have you ever been in traffic with a maniac driver who has a bumper sticker that says something like, “follow me to First Self-Righteous Church”?

If you go through life with the idea that you’re entitled, that you have your rights and you must demand, you’re going to experience a lot of anger. If you go through life seeking to occupy the place in which Christ would have you perform, life is a lot more tranquil. That acceptance of Christ’s tasks for you is called submission. It’s gotten a lot of bad press lately in the Christian church, but our Lord hasn’t changed his mind on the subject.

Be Subject

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

(Colossians 3:18-22)

 

Submission

Let’s begin by tackling the question of submission directly. We define submission as “the right response to righteous authority.” Virtually all Christians in America are in submission to a multitude of authorities. You are in submission to the police department, the fire department, the sewer department, the water department, the trash pickup people, the building inspectors, and any number of other civic authorities. As long as their authority is exercised righteously — and we will tell you about that in a minute — it is your duty as a Christian to obey what you are told; that is, to submit. When the policeman turns on his red flashing lights, you move over. When the sewer inspector says that you need to change out the pipe, you’re in for a bill. It’s really pretty simple.

The truth is: you want authority over you. You like to have your sewers to work; you want the police to clear maniac drivers off the road; it would be really nice of the fire department responded to your 911 call; building inspectors may seem to be a pain, but having the building fall down an earthquake is even more so — and so on. The problem with this comes in the abuse of authority. Paul, in this passage, is not dealing with abuse but rather the correct use of authority. If we take this step by step I believe you will be able to see the why and the wherefore of authority and submission.

The key to understanding this is the relationship between authority and submission: responsibility. If the authority you’re dealing with is one in which authority matches responsibility, then you are dealing with righteous authority. Let me give you an example that may seem a bit humorous when we get done. Let’s suppose that you are young ardent feminist, living alone in an apartment, with your cat. It’s three o’clock in the morning. You’re sound asleep and awaken to what appears to be the sound of someone breaking down your front door with an ax. You’re sleeping in the nude and have just achieved enough consciousness to wonder whether or not you need to get your bathrobe before you call 911 when your bedroom door breaks open. In runs a Neanderthal with an ax. He scoops you up and throws you over his shoulder then picks up the cat in the crook of the ax. He carries the both of you out the front door, down the stairs and dumps you rather unceremoniously on the nearest green lawn. My question is this: what’s the first thing you say to him?

The correct answer is: “thank you very much.” Why is this the correct answer? Because he’s a fireman, and your apartment building was on fire. In any other circumstances he’s a criminal, but a fireman’s responsibilities include breaking down your front door and dragging you out of a burning building. He’s done an even better job by rescuing the cat.

You see the secret: his authority matches his responsibility. His authority is also righteous in the sense that it is given to him by the local government. All righteous authority descends from Christ[1], and we are explicitly told that the government is an agent of God for our benefit. Net result: the fireman is a hero, not a weirdo.

This concept — that authority and responsibility must match — is the key to understanding submission. The fear we have of submission comes from those cases in which the authority exceeds the responsibility. That’s called tyranny. It also happens that the responsibility exceeds the authority sometimes — who among us has not worked for a boss who told us that we have all the responsibility but check everything with him? But in what follows we shall assume that authority and responsibility do match, and therefore we are dealing with righteous authority.

By the way, this implies that we very often have mutual submission to each other. For example, in the matter of the use of my body, I am in submission to my wife. It is her body; she has authority over my body; I’m not allowed to have sex with anyone without her permission. She has made it very clear that permission to have sex with anyone else is not forthcoming any time soon. We are in mutual submission in this regard, as I have authority over her body in the same manner. Submission is not an absolute; it is a response to responsibility.

Notice please that submission is voluntary. Nobody put a gun to your head to make you become a Christian. Our governments are, at least in theory, subject to the will of the people. Ultimately, as Gandhi found out, if you don’t cooperate with the authority it soon ceases to be an authority. So the question is, why would you do a thing like that? Why would you submit to such an authority?

The answer is really simple: it’s for your benefit. You want your sewers to work; you want the cops to keep the people of the road who shouldn’t be there and so on. It may be that in one particular instance you are not to thankful for this (as in when you get a ticket) but generally speaking, authority is there to benefit you. The ultimate and supreme authority as Christ — and look at the benefit he has brought to you!

Therefore, it is the Christian’s duty to provide the right response to righteous authority — that is to say; submission is a requirement of the Christian. Now you see why thankfulness is such an important virtue. It very much makes a difference in dealing with the police department whether or not you are grateful that we have such a thing versus being ungrateful for the fact that they managed to you this time. The attitude of thankfulness is extremely important. To take the most controversial use of the word submission, consider the wife’s submission to the husband. Does it make a difference if she is thankful for the fact that God has been kind enough to grant her a husband like this? Or should she take that for granted, and complain about his many faults? Which do you think makes for a happier marriage?

Examples

Paul gives us three examples of submission.

·         He tells wives to be in submission to their husbands, because this is “fitting.” One more time, let’s look at it in detail. If you want to know what her submission consists of, you need to know his authority. If you want to know his authority, you must know his responsibility. Paul tells you his responsibility; “love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” This, according to feminists, is an absolutely high reaching outrage. You mean my husband has the authority he needs to love me, and to keep him from being bitter against me? That’s what I’m objecting to? Please be assured the husband wasn’t put in charge because he’s better at it. As in much of the Old Testament, God picked somebody that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the most qualified. But he does have the responsibility, given by God. When the wife refuses to submit to that, she’s telling God that he made a mistake. She’s telling God that her husband should not be responsible for loving her. When you get to an absurdity, the assumptions or the logic must be wrong.

·         He then speaks to fathers dealing with their children. The child is commanded to be obedient — to submit. The father’s responsibilities are easily seen: he’s warned against exasperating his kids so that they will not “lose heart.” Dad is supposed to encourage the kids, and Paul simply warning him against screwing it up. Any of you who had a father who constantly picked at your mistakes and never encouraged you will understand Paul’s warning. The solution is not to take dad out of the family, but rather have him live up to his responsibilities.

·         In what seems today to be something that’s obsolete, he talks also about slaves and masters. The principle he gives here is that you should not consider your service — let’s say we’re talking about your employer — as being dedicated to the person in charge but rather to Christ.

In the Name

That last item may need some amplification. When you do something in the name of Christ, you are doing it under the authority of Christ. Don’t take that as meaning that you have to put on some sort of ecclesiastical role and marched solemnly about doing whatever it is you’re doing; rather consider that it means that you’re supposed to do it Christ’s way. In short, be obedient. Let people know that you’re doing it the way Christ wants you to.

My wife and I are occasionally asked how we have managed to survive so many years of marriage together. The question is often asked by feminists who assume that her submission to her husband cannot possibly bring her any happiness; she must be miserable all the time; and they’re extremely puzzled by the smile on her face. The response that we’ve developed over the years is simply this: “we did it God’s way the first time.” Trust me; doing it God’s way the first time works. And it’s pretty good witness too.

Reward

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

(Colossians 3:23-4:1)

 

 

Unfairness of Man’s Rewards

At some point in a man’s career he has to make a decision: just who is he working for? There are three basic options:

·         He could be working for himself. He is working to gratify his own ego, to maintain his own pride — and look out coworkers!

·         He could be working for the company, for the boss. It won’t take long to find out that the boss is not very good at recognizing outstanding effort or rewarding it. Often times the immediate manager has virtually no power to reward good behavior.

·         Or, if he’s a Christian, he can work for Christ. In general, he will not climb the corporate ladder nearly so high he does this. But then again, the corporate ladder doesn’t go on for eternity.

Christ always sees the effort that you make; Christ knows how to judge it correctly. Therefore it is wisdom to be single hearted in your devotion to Christ. You should be warned, however, that this will puzzle your colleagues greatly.

It does solve one immediate puzzle that most workers have. How often have you heard someone complain that there is absolutely no way that he can make his boss happy? It is always possible to please Christ. When you do, the usual reaction you get is that things go rather well — even if they don’t go vertically.

Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah; and he did what was good, right and true before the LORD his God. Every work which he began in the service of the house of God in law and in commandment, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered.

(2 Chronicles 31:20-21)

 

Look at it this way: why wouldn’t Jesus Christ reward you for doing what is good, right and true?

Christ Rewards

Paul here mentions that you will receive the “reward of the inheritance.” It seems rather contradictory. A reward is something you learn for your hard work. An inheritance is something you get because somebody else worked hard and gave it to you — like grace, for example. But that’s typical of the kingdom of God. You work out your own salvation, but it is God working within you. I cannot explain how this actually works; I just know that it does.

Perhaps the fact that Paul constantly refers to himself as a bondslave will help us explain this. The essence of the matter is that a slave has a master, not a manager. A manager may not feel himself responsible for the care of the people who work for him; the slaves master is totally responsible for the slave. In particular, the slaves master is responsible for the direction in which all the work will be going. So there is no sense in which the boss (the slave master) has any right complain the slave for picking a particular direction. The slave is supposed to be obedient, not omniscient. In that sense, the slave is relieved of a great responsibility. Pleasing your master is relatively easy: do what you’re told, do it wholeheartedly. It begins with obedience and merges into discipleship.

The truth is, as Christ told us, you cannot serve two masters. Either you’re going to be your own master, you’re going to enslave yourself to someone or something other than yourself, or you going to be a bondslave to Christ. Nothing else works. So pick the one that works. You can please Christ; you may not be too happy with your own results, and trying to please the boss is pretty well known to be very difficult.

Consequences of Wrong

We must admit that the concept that God is righteous, wrathful and likely to render judgment is not at all popular in the church today. But please remember that “popular” is not the same thing as “true.” We think of God as being love; we forget that he is also righteous and just. Ultimately, is righteous and justice require that he pass judgment on those who will not repent. To give you a simple example, do you think that Adolf Hitler got everything he deserved in this life? I don’t either.

But if he didn’t, where is the justice? Either God is not capable of delivering justice, or he isn’t righteous, or is not finished with us yet. Paul, as is certainly prudent for one who is admonishing the followers of Christ, reminds them of the fact that there is to be a judgment. Therefore, we should conduct ourselves in such a manner that Christ, at his return, brings to us the reward of the inheritance rather than the punishment of hell.


[1] see Matthew 28:18

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