Christ-Centered Relationships

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Colossians 3:18-4:1

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Living the Christ-Centered Life” and we are working our way through the book of Colossians together. Today’s passage takes part in the practical application section of Colossians. Chapters 1 and 2 laid the doctrinal foundation for the Christ-centered life. Now chapters 3 and 4 focus on the practical application of these truths to our daily lives. Last week we looked at verse 17 which told us we are to do everything in the name of Jesus. Now today’s passage teaches us how to apply that principle specifically to our relationships at home and at work. So let’s read this section on Christ-centered relationships together. (Read Colossians 3:18-4:1 and pray.)


The home is probably the hardest place for any of us to live out our Christian faith on a consistent basis, but it is also the most important. And the older we get, the more we understand the importance of family. The family or home is the basic unit of society. It is foundational to everything else. If we can transform the home, we will transform the rest of society. But you cannot transform the home without Christ.

And so today’s passage focuses on building Christ-centered relationships at home and at work. And the general principle here is the principle of authority and submission that we find in Romans 13:1-2: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2) God is a God of order, and so he has built order into our lives and relationships. The government has order; the military has order; even the angels have order – how much more the family and the workplace!

Christianity is not just personal; it is also relational. Christ is central in all things, and so as believers Christ should be at the center of all of our relationships. As a Christian all of your relationships with other people should be influenced and mediated by your primary relationship with Christ. And although this truth applies to all your relationships, it especially applies to your relationships at home and at work. (Next week we will see how it also applies to your relationships with non-Christians in the world around you.)

Today’s passage teaches us about three pairs of ordered relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. And in each set of relationships, God has specific commands for each of the parties in the relationship. So let’s look at these verses together and see what a Christ-centered relationship looks like in each of these areas.

I. Christ-centered marriage relationships (3:18-19)

First let’s take a look at Christ-centered marriage relationships. And here we learn first of all that the wife is to submit to her husband. (Other passages dealing with submission and authority in the marriage relationship include: 1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:22-24; 1 Timothy 2:11-14; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-6)

   A. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord
      – 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24

Look at verse 18 with me: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18) Now this command to submit is different from the command to obey which is given to children and slaves later in the passage. And that’s because the husband-wife relationship, thankfully, is different than the relationship between parent and child or master and slave. The husband in a Christ-centered marriage does not boss his wife around or give her commands; rather he lovingly leads the family in the home.

So what does it mean to submit? To submit simply means to willingly put yourself under authority. Submission does not mean that one person is less important or less valuable than the other. For example we read in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) Christ submits to God the Father, and yet we know that Christ is still equal with God in every way. So men and women are equally important in Christ and yet there is still a distinction of role within the home.

But the really striking thing about this command in Colossians 3:18 is that final phrase: “as is fitting in the Lord.” Because once again this puts Christ in the center of it all. We do not submit because our husbands are better, smarter or more valuable to God. We do so because this is what is fitting or appropriate in Christ. God designed the home, and it is fitting in the Lord that wives submit to their husbands.

We find a similar instruction in the book of Ephesians where this is fleshed out even more. Look at Ephesians 5 with me: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)

So that’s the first part of the equation when it comes to the marriage relationship. “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

   B. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them
      – 1 Corinthians 7:33-34; Ephesians 5:25; 1 Peter 3:7

But remember Christ-centered relationships are never one way. God has commands for both parties in the relationships. And so next we get the instruction for husbands in verse 19: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19) Notice the husband gets two commands: he is to love his wife, and he is not to be harsh with her.

The word “love” in this verse is what we call “agape” love. It is the same word we looked at last week in verse 14 where we were told to put on love as the supreme virtue. Agape love is the love that willingly sacrifices self in order to serve the other. It is the love which God demonstrated for us when Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross for our sins. In fact our parallel passage in Ephesians 5 makes exactly that comparison: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)

And then the husband is also told not to be harsh with his wife. This word “harsh” in the original language carries the idea of bitterness which is why some Bible versions translate it this way: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” (Ephesians 5:25; NASB) Husbands, you need to guard against a bitter heart that reacts to your wife with harshness rather than sweetness. If you are overbearing, harsh, or critical in your relationship with your wife, you are not fulfilling your role as God intends.

And so we see these commands to husbands and wives work together. Within the marriage relationship there should be a mutual desire to please each other, as we read in 1 Corinthians 7: “A married man is concerned about … how he can please his wife…. A married woman is concerned about … how she can please her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:33-34) When the husband works on his role in the marriage and the wife works on hers, there are usually no problems. The problems begin when we start focusing on each other’s roles instead of our own – when the wife demands that her husband fulfill his role or the husband demands that his wife fulfill hers. In order for this all to work both spouse’s actions must be voluntary and from the heart.

When we look at this first pair of commands, what is really going on is that both husband and wife are called to be Christ-like in the marriage relationship. The wife is being Christ-like when she submits to her husband the way the church submits to Christ. And the husband is being Christ-like when he loves his wife the way Jesus loves the church. We want Christ at the center of all our relationships, and that is what a Christ-centered marriage relationship looks like.

II. Christ-centered parenting relationships (3:20-21)

Next we are given instructions for Christ-centered parenting relationships. But first notice that the commands for parenting come after the commands for husbands and wives. That is not only because children arise out of the marriage relationship by God’s design, but also because, parents, the most important thing you can do for your children is to get your marriage relationship right. The marriage relationship must come first. So now let’s look at Christ-centered parenting relationships.

   A. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord
      – Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-2

Look at verse 20 with me: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20) The word for children here is not the word for little children but rather children by relationship, so this command would refer to any child still living in the home. And notice that the command here is obedience rather than voluntary submission. The parent-child relationship is much different from the husband-wife relationship. Notice that the child is to obey their parents in everything. In other words the child doesn’t get to pick and choose what to obey. The only exception would be if the parents asked the child to do something in direct disobedience against God’s law.

Now so far this was pretty typical of what you would find in any home in those days. All children were expected to obey their parents. But once again this section is about Christ-centered relationships and so we find this additional instruction at the end of the command: “for this pleases the Lord.” We obey our parents not only because it is right (Ephesians 6:1), but because we want to please Christ.

Once again Christ is our example in all this. Christ-centered relationships are all about being Christ-like in our relationships. Kids, Jesus obeyed his parents and so you are being Christ-like when you obey your parents. If you are a child in your parents’ home this morning, God calls you to obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

   B. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged
      – Psalm 103:13-14; Ephesians 6:4

Now just as there was additional instruction for husbands in the marriage relationship, there is a corresponding command to parents in the parenting relationship. Look at verse 21: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21) Although this verse is addressed specifically to fathers as the head of the home, the command certainly applies to mothers as well. As parents we have been given far-reaching authority in our children’s lives, but we must be careful to use that authority lovingly and wisely.

And the specific command here is not to embitter your children. The word translated “embitter” is a word that means “to provoke, to irritate, to exasperate.” We find a similar command in our parallel passage in Ephesians: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

So how do we embitter or exasperate our children? We do it when we are harsh with them, when we make unreasonable demands, when we yell or criticize, when we engage in name-calling that depreciates their worth, when we are excessive in our discipline, when we fail to show tenderness and affection. As parents we must discipline our children, but we must always discipline in love. Your children should be as sure of your love for them as they are of your authority.

If we are harsh with our children, Colossians says they will become discouraged. The word translated “discouraged” here is a word that means “to be disheartened or dispirited, to be broken in spirit.” John Newton, who wrote the song “Amazing Grace,” made this incredibly sad comment about his father: “I know that my father loved me – but he did not seem to wish me to see it.” Now that’s a child who was discouraged. Parents, we want to raise confident kids, not discouraged kids.

Once again God is our example here. We read in Psalm 103: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14) The parent child relationship is one of the most important relationships God has given us, and as parents we should be filled with compassion for our children.

III. Christ-centered work relationships (3:22-4:1)

So we have looked at two examples of Christ-centered relationships at home: Christ-centered marriage relationships and Christ-centered parenting relationships. Now finally we come to Christ-centered work relationships. What do Christ-centered relationships look like at work?

Now one tricky thing about this section is it is actually addressed to masters and slaves rather than to bosses and workers. Some people are troubled that there are instructions to slaves in the Bible, but it’s important to understand the Bible never views slavery as something positive or good. Rather it simply accepts the reality of slavery in its day and gives instructions to those caught in the system. Indeed it was the Bible’s teaching that eventually cleared the way to abolish slavery in Britain and America.

It’s also important to note that the Roman system of slavery was very different from the slavery that was practiced here in the United States. For one thing it was not racially based. And those who served as slaves were more like indentured servants rather than slaves for life. Still it was a horrible practice and the slaves were treated as property rather than as free human beings with the full dignity and rights of persons.

Thankfully, we no longer have slavery in the U.S., so how do we apply this passage to ourselves today? Well, there are close parallels to the work relationship outside the home, and so we can directly apply most of these principles to bosses and workers today. The big difference between working for your boss and slavery is that with working you can always quit! But if you choose to continue working for your boss, then you should apply the following Biblical principles in your work relationships. So let’s take a look at Christ-centered work relationships.

   A. Workers, obey your bosses (3:22-25)
      – Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Timothy 6:1-2

The first and longest set of commands is given to the slaves or workers in the relationship. And just like children were commanded to obey their parents, workers are commanded to obey their bosses. And this command is broken into four applications.

      1) in all things and at all times even when they’re not looking

First of all you are to obey them in all things and at all times even when they’re not looking. Look at verse 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.” (Colossians 3:22) “In everything” means both the tasks you like and the tasks you hate. Now if you don’t want to do it, once again as a worker you can always quit, but remember the slave did not have that option and so they were commanded to obey.

And notice you are to do it not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor. When I was in college I worked landscaping, and I was working on a garden bed one day when I noticed my boss had driven up and was watching me from his car. And all of a sudden I found myself working a little bit harder, a little more carefully, a little more energetically. What was I doing? I was working with my boss’s eye on me and to win his favor. But what does Colossians say? I should have been working that way before my boss drove up!

      2) with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord

Secondly, you are to obey them “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22b) Once again as a Christian you are to put Christ at the center of all your relationships including your work relationships. So don’t look over your shoulder to see if the boss is watching. Look up, because God is watching! Do all your work with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

      3) work with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men

Thirdly, verse 23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23) In other words, whatever you do, you should give it your very best. Why? Because ultimately you are not working for men but working for Christ! And that should totally transform your work attitude and ethic. When you make working for Jesus your primary motivation, you will find yourself watching the Lord instead of watching the clock.

      4) know that there is no favoritism (the Lord will reward you for good work but he will judge those who do wrong)

And then finally, know that there is no favoritism. Look at verses 24-25: “… 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.” (Colossians 3:24-25)

God does not show favoritism. This was an amazing word to the slaves in Paul’s day, because Roman law certainly favored the master over the slave. Also, under Roman law slaves did not get any inheritance, and yet Paul says when you do your work as unto the Lord you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. When you work for God, God not only treats you as sons but as heirs!

Paul sums it all up with the words: “It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:24b) This is the New Testament equivalent of Joshua’s famous words in the Old Testament: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) And this is really the central theme of this whole section. Whether you are a husband or wife, parent or child, worker or boss, it is the Lord Christ you are serving. And that should completely revolutionize all your relationships.

There are many bosses in this life but only one Lord. And the Lord will not only reward you for good work, but he will also judge those who do wrong. That’s what verse 25 says: “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.” (Colossians 3:25) In other words God treats everyone justly and fairly. He will not favor the slave over the master or the master over the slave, but he will treat each one as they deserve.

Verse 25 is a hinge verse. It is a warning to the slaves he has just addressed to do right, but it is also a pre-warning to the masters whom he is about to address. The masters reading this verse may be saying, “That’s right. Paul, you tell ’em.” But now Paul tells the masters also.

   B. Bosses, take care of your workers (4:1)
      – Ephesians 6:9; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4

And if the instruction to workers is, “Workers, obey your bosses,” then the instruction to bosses is, “Bosses, take care of your workers.”

      1) provide them with what is right and fair

How do you do that as bosses? Two things. First of all, you provide your workers with what is right and fair. Look at Colossians 4:1: “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1) Remember, God treats everyone justly and fairly, and so masters and bosses must do the same.

      2) know that you also have a Master in heaven

And then secondly, know that you also have a Master in heaven. You may be an earthly master rather than a slave, but every earthly master has a heavenly Master, which means that all masters are actually slaves as well! When it comes right down to it, both workers and bosses are working for God, and so we should treat each other accordingly. Here is the golden rule for work relationships: Be the worker you would want to have if you were the boss, and be the boss you would want to have if you were the worker.

CONCLUSION: In all our relationships we should look at Christ for our example. Husbands and wives, look at Christ and his relationship with the church as the example for your relationship with each other. Children, look at Jesus who obeyed his parents as the example for your relationship with your parents. Parents, look at Christ and his compassion as the example for your relationship with your children. Bosses and workers, look at the Lord as the ultimate reward-giver and judge as the motivation for your relationship with each other.

The false teachers at Colosse taught that spirituality consisted of higher knowledge and mystical experiences. But Paul says true spirituality is demonstrated in the practical day-to-day, down-to-earth relationships in your home and workplace.

Christ is central! He is central to the universe, he is central to the church, he is central to everything. And part of living the Christ-centered life is putting Christ at the center of your relationships as well.

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