Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

A New Way to Look at Marriage, Parenting, and Work Relationships

Colossians 3:18-4:1

Putting on the new character we have in Jesus starts at home. You can’t expect to be one person at church and an entirely different person at home or at work. Sadly, that is often the case. Paul told us that “whatever we do in word or deed do in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17). That includes when we are behind closed doors at home or away from the church at work. This should be our aim and Paul gives us some guidance on what usually happens at home and work – versus how the character of God can reshape our most important relationships.

It might not seem as cool to reflect Jesus at home – but that’s because we are more like the Pharisees than we’d like to admit—doing our “righteousness” before men to be seen by them (Luke 11:43) but at home we let the real person out. It should not be that way.

So let’s look at three of our most important relationships and how we can integrate the character of Jesus in those rather mundane settings. And as we walk through this, let’s reflect on the characteristics we’ve studied so far:

Self-sacrificing, other-centered affection as the glue of the relationship, kindness—finding ways to help the other fall more in love with Jesus, heartfelt compassion, gentleness, patience, acceptance, peace, the gospel, and doing and saying everything as if we are representing the King Jesus.

We start with marriage.

18 – 19

This isn’t a treatise of marriage, rather, Paul uses two ways that husbands and wives can reflect Christ’s character.

First we should make it clear that husbands and wives are both equal in the site of the Lord and should practice mutual submission as servants of Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

What we find in marriages are tendencies of husbands and tendencies of wives who are operating in the old nature. Wives have much power over their husbands. They can withhold affection and they can unleash bitter vindictiveness—making their husbands lives miserable. “Don’t do that,” Paul says. Instead submit to his love for you—work with him instead of around him.

Even as wives operating in the old nature can manipulate, husbands have a tendency to dominate their wives—as if they are there to serve every hope and fantasy. To reflect their new character, a husband must practice agape love and put her interests before his, just as Christ did for us. Husbands can find themselves getting bitter when they realize that their wives are a person equal to them, with their own hopes and fantasies. “Don’t do that,” Paul says. Find ways to bless them and be kind to them and help them fall in love more with Jesus.

Next we move to kids and parents:

20 – 21

Essentially Paul is saying that children need discipline, but so do parents. At times that pendulum seems to swing one way, then another. Some parents feel like they have got to force their kids to be perfect—but that’s just legalism and will lead to embitterment and rebellion. Then it swings the other way and kids have all rights and parents have none. So you end up with children who have no moral compass and no self-discipline.

A parent’s responsibility is to mirror the gospel to their kids. Bring them up in the love of Christ and help them to become the people God intended: not carbon copies of their parents, but with tools that will allow them to fall in love with Jesus if that’s what they choose. For kids, know that you parents have your best in mind so let them parent you. Now if you are in an abusive home, that’s a different conversation. God’s heart goes out to innocent victims and is against the abuser.

Finally we move to work:

22 – 4:1

Workers and bosses get equal admonishment here, just as parents and kids, and husbands and wives. Both have tendencies from the old nature that need to be dealt with.

Remember, we are ambassadors for Christ wherever we are. It doesn’t mean we preach the gospel every moment of the day—I think of the prophet Daniel in Babylon. He didn’t try to force everyone to convert—he just lived his life as a good Jew and served his pagan king with good advice that did not violate his faith in Yahweh.

So for workers—do what the boss tells you to do, not in the way where we say “yes” but then do as little as possible. Remember that your real boss is a Jewish carpenter. You say: “but you don’t know my boss—he’s terrible!” Well, I’ve had terrible bosses too—bosses that are capricious and crazy and sneaky and persecuting of Christians. I’m telling you that there is a way to be a good employee and a good Christian under a bad boss. The number one thing is: do your job and do it well. The real reward isn’t a raise or an “Atta boy” but will come from your real boss: the Lord. The word “wholeheartedly” in verse 22 means with “generosity and sincerity”. Wouldn’t that just fry your boss if you acted with generosity and sincerity? Instead of fighting him or her, pray for them and find ways to bless them. And if they are cruel, know that pay back is coming—just not from you.

Bosses don’t come out easy from this either. A boss’s job is to make sure his employees have everything they need to succeed. “Right” and “fair” are the two words used here. Don’t play favorites and don’t play games. Be honest and straightforward—knowing that God is making you accountable for your flock, uh, staff. As a Christian boss you’d better not be flaunting your power but serving your people.

Jesus said in Matthew 20:25: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”


So how do these admonitions of a more practical nature refer back to the general character traits we see in verses 12 – 17? I think they permeate this section. Heartfelt compassion (vs 12) is seeing the needs and sorrows of others and reaching out with empathy. Wives and husbands can do this for each other—rather than focusing inward on your own needs. Parents do this when they see their kids as their own person with their own needs and not a carbon copy of themselves—finding ways to help them become the person God wants them to be. Workers do this when they put themselves in the place of the boss and understand the pressures they are under. Bosses do this for their employees when they realize what their demands really do to their folks.

Kindness is about finding a way to be a benefit to the other. If only in our close relationships we practiced that—not only empathizing but finding ways to help your spouse or kid or boss or worker grow.

Humility is so vital in these relationships. We dig ourselves into our position and become intransient. We tend to think our position is the right one, without taking into consideration that the other is having honest feelings that are true to them.

Gentleness is that strength under control. Restraint might be another way to use this word. How often do we choose to deal strongly, harshely or fly off the handle rather than take a beat, think with heartfelt compassion kindness and humility rather than power and brute strength—what is the best for my wife or husband, kid, or boss? What is the appropriate use of my strength to be of the most help to them in this situation?

And then there is patience. If we would all employ patience in our relationships, how much strife would be avoided? When your kid fails to pick up their clothes for the tenth time—how do you help them and show patience with them at the same time? Think about what is causing it—other than what you might see on the surface. Patience with our spouses and patience with our workers and bosses would save so much angst and hurt.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces in a relationship. The truth of the matter is that we’re all broken in many, but different ways. Extending forgiveness rather than “an eye for an eye” tends of lower tensions, open doors for reconciliation and real change.

Finally there is love. Love, again, is other-centered, self-sacrificing affection. As Jesus said: the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. How often do we want our own way to the detriment of the good of others? What would our relationships look like if we each determined to act in agape love with our families both at home and at work? What would our homes and workplaces be like—and what would our world look like?

I’m willing to find out—how about you?

So … wives: work with your husbands, don’t undermine or work at cross purposes. I think that’s at the heart of what Paul means by being submissive.

Husbands … be self-sacrificing—serve, rather than lord over your wife.

Kids … learn from your parents, lean into them, respect them.

Workers … be honest and fair with your bosses and bosses be honest and fair with your employees. Work hard together to reach a common goal and realize who the real boss is!

In reality, it seems that Paul is using real life relationships to paint a picture of the character of Christ. We can use this to focus back on some general principals:

When it comes to working with those who have responsibility over you: be submissive, not strident—cooperative, not catty. Be receptive to instruction, not rebellious, and serve enthusiastically, not reluctantly.

When it comes to having responsibility over others: be loving, not lording, instructive, not punitive, a servant-leader rather than a slave-driver.