Taking Faith Home (Colossians 3:18-4:1)
Video clip from Shrek 2:
Shrek 2 continues the story of an Ogre named Shrek who married the princess Fiona. The princess takes her new husband to the kingdom of Far Far Away to meet her parents. The King and Queen of Far Far Away receive a shock when they discover their new son-in-law is a big, green ogre, and Fiona now looks just like him.
The family sits down to a royal meal where personalities and prejudices begin to clash. A face off between in-laws escalates into name-calling and then a food fight.
The king and his son-in-law glower at one another from opposite ends of a long, ornate table.
"What kind of children can we expect from you?" shouts the king.
"Ogres!" Shrek yells in return.
Attempting to keep the peace, the queen adds, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
"Not unless you eat your young!" shouts the king.
As classical music plays in the background, any illusion of family togetherness is buried under a barrage of harsh words. The anger spreads to husband and wife as Fiona screams at Shrek, and the queen shouts at the king. Suddenly the battle breaks out in earnest, and food becomes the weapon, completely ruining the feast. The crackers are crushed, the lobster is cracked, Shrek shreds the chicken, the king filets the fish, and a roasted pig sails high into the air.
Sarcastically, the queen says, "It's so nice to have the family together for dinner."
Elapsed Time: 00:17:15 to 00:18:31, DVD chapter 4
Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at the book of Colossians. It's been about pretty heady stuff. Paul's been writing to this ancient church about the identity of Jesus Christ, what took place at the cross, how this can lead to personal transformation. The book contains some of the deepest teachings about Christ that you can find anywhere.
As is normal with Paul, he begins to apply some of this more directly to everyday life as he goes along. Last week, we ended by looking at a challenge from Paul to take this theological teaching and to make it real in every area of our lives. Paul wrote, "And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17). Good! Paul is making this practical. How can we live our faith? Where do we start? Out of all the areas of our lives, where should we focus in making our faith real?
You could pick a lot of areas. Paul picks an area that is so much a part of our everyday lives that it's easy to overlook. He doesn't keep this theology at some abstract level. He starts by applying it to the most normal relationships you already have. The place to start living your faith is not in some abstract area of your life. It's with those who you already live with and work with and talk to every day of your life. The place to start is with the people that you interact with the most in your life.
Paul says, "Begin living your new resurrection life." Great! Where? He says, "Begin with the people closest to you. Begin living your new life with your husband, your wife, your kids, your co-workers. Begin to apply this with your roommates and classmates and friends." He affirms that it's here that we really do live our newness. It's where we learn to control our anger, rage, abusive language, and lying. It's where we learn to love those who are different than us, to serve, to grow in becoming more like Christ.
I'm sure the passage that was read for us this morning raised a lot of questions for you. It did for me. I can buy that we should begin living our faith with those closest to us, but maybe some of us wish Paul phrased what he said differently. He talks about submission and slaves and masters. It is a little disappointing to some after the lofty language of Colossians 3:11: "In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us."
We won't be able to solve all the issues today. I do want to look at the bigger picture of all three types of relationships that he describes: husband-wife, parent-child, and master-slave. Before I draw out some observations, I think we need to remind ourselves that the master-slave relationship he's talking about is not the same as the one that existed in the American south and other parts of the world. There are some big differences. There is no real parallel to any relationships that we have today. Our work relationships are not anywhere close to the relationships that masters and slaves had back then.
I want to take a step back and see what Paul says in general to all the relationships in our everyday lives. What Paul says here is applicable to every type of relationship we have.
1. There is no harder place to live our faith than in our closest relationships
That's the first observation I want to make. It's hard to live out our faith in the context of our relationships. That's often the most difficult place to apply what Christ has done in our lives.
The new trend these days is to build homes with separate suites for different family members. This week, I read about one family that built a 3,600 square foot house with special rooms for studying and sewing, separate sitting areas for each kid, and a master bedroom far from both. Then there's the escape room, where the father says, "Any family member can go to get away from the rest of us."
After two decades of pushing the open floor plan-where domestic life revolved around a big central space and exposed kitchens gave everyone a view of half the house-major builders and top architects are walling people off. They're touting one-person Internet alcoves, locked-door away rooms and his-and-her offices on opposite ends of the house. The new floor plans offer so much seclusion, they're "good for the dysfunctional family," says Gopal Ahluwahlia, director of research for the National Association of Home Builders.
I can see why people want to live together but apart. In this passage you get some sense of why relationships are so challenging. Marriages weren't started back then out of the same sense of romantic love that is common today. It wouldn't be easy for some of the wives back then to submit to their husbands – it isn't easy today! It wouldn't be easy for the husbands to love their wives the way that Paul describes. It takes a huge amount of spiritual maturity to be able to do that in some relationships.
Children back then had very few rights. They were legally viewed as the father's property, little better than slaves. The father had almost unlimited power to do as he pleased with his kids. He could imprison them or even put them to death. It would be a tough thing for a child to live out his or her faith given the rights of the father at that time.
Slaves had even fewer rights. They were seen as possessions, not people. Paul spends a lot of time talking about how a slave could live out his or her faith as a follower of Christ.
I wish that Paul could have wiped out all these distinctions. As someone has said, Paul could no more do that than a preacher today could put an end to the internal combustion engine. It was just a part of the reality of that time. Paul didn't aim to turn the world upside down, although these teachings did sow the seeds that eventually led to dismantling an unjust social structure. Paul was aiming to teach the people how to live faithfully in the situation in which they found themselves.
Let's make this practical. Some of us don't live in ideal circumstances in which to practice our faith. Some of our marriages are tougher than we could ever have imagined them to be.
I want to be clear that the Bible is not suggesting that you stay in abusive relationships. It is not suggesting that you ignore problems or settle for them.
What it is suggesting is that in the context of whatever relationship you are in, you live within that relationship as faithfully as you can, regardless of how the other person acts. If he or she doesn't act faithfully, you act faithfully anyway. If they don't treat you with respect, you act in a way that honors God anyway.
We usually think the way to fix a relational problem is to change the other person's behavior. Paul puts the emphasis on living faithfully, even if the other person never changes. You can't change them, but you can learn to live faithfully in your everyday relationships without them ever changing. Change from within.
2. Go out of your way for those who are the most vulnerable in the relationship
Paul didn't aim to dismantle the social structure. He did, however, radically adjust the social structure for followers of Christ.
I already mentioned the disparity that existed men and pretty well everyone else back then. Wives, children, and slaves had responsibilities. Husbands, fathers, and masters had rights, but they didn't have obligations toward their wives, children, and slaves. In the household codes that were around that time, there was nothing about the duties of the more privileged partner in the relationship.
Paul does something radical. He turns it on his head and outlines the duties of a husband, father, and a master. It would have been shocking for the males of that time to learn of their responsibilities to love and to serve others. Paul taught the men that they have obligations to those who, in that society, were rarely given any rights.
Let's look at what Paul said about marriage. To wives, he said "submit". That wouldn't have been shocking in that day. It certainly is hard to read today for many of us. You can have a lot of debates about whether wives today are still called to submit to their husbands, and what that means. I could tell you what I think, but I'm going to sidestep the issue and suggest that there really is no other option, no matter what view you hold. Submission is the standard for those of us who hold traditional views of gender; it's also the standard for those who hold more modern views. Submission means that we move beyond self-interest and we think of the other person and not just ourselves. Submission does not mean subservience. It means that we move beyond self-absorption and become focused on how we can love and serve others.
Paul then says something that would have been surprising to the readers. He says, "And you husbands must love your wives and never treat them harshly" (Colossians 3:19). The Message paraphrases it, "Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don't take advantage of them." Husbands were never told how to treat their wives back then. Paul says that the way that a husband can live out their faith in their marriages is to become a servant, a lover, of his wife. It's about putting her first and caring for her.
I recently attended a panel discussion on the role of gender and marriage and leadership. There were all kinds of views presented. Near the end, one of the speakers said, "Let's face it, regardless of our views, we all live the same way. We are all called to give ourselves completely to our spouses and put our interests ahead of our own." It really doesn't matter what your view of gender roles is. That is the calling of Christ in your life.
One of the most traditional people I know on the issue of gender roles is someone I respect, not because of what he believes but because of how he lives. He visited Phoenix with his wife and realized that the climate there was a lot better for his wife's health than where they lived in Chicago. The only problem was that he had a prestigious position in Chicago. It would be a major step down to accept a position at the school in Phoenix. But because it would be better for his wife, he made a cold call to the school president in Phoenix and ended up moving there. That is what it means to love your wife and go all out for her.
Paul talks about the parent-child relationship. It would have been surprising for a parent to read, "Parents, don't come down too hard on your children or you'll crush their spirits" (Colossians 3:21). That advice isn't surprising today. It's not radical. Back then, it was saying to the person in control, "It's not about your rights. You have a responsibility to treat them well."
The same with masters and slaves. Paul says, "And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don't forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven." (Colossians 4:1).
Let's make this real today. There are all kinds of relationships we have where we have the upper hand. We are parent and bosses. We may have greater financial control in some of our relationships.
Living our faith means that we go out of our way for those who are vulnerable in all of our relationships. It means treating those who would otherwise be vulnerable as well as we possibly can.
One last observation:
3. Respecting the personhood of others, and serving them, brings glory to God
Seven times in this passage, Paul makes reference to how our relationship with God affects our relationships with each other. He talks about how treating others honors God, delights God. He talks about seeing past the person and seeing how what we're doing is an act of worship to God Himself. Our relationships are important to God. There is a divine dimension to every one of our relationships because God is either honored or dishonored in what we do.
Paul wrote to slaves and helped them see past their situations. He reminded them that their real master was God. He talked about an inheritance. Slaves weren't allowed to receive an inheritance at that time. Paul says, "It doesn't matter what society says about you. Society won't give you an inheritance. It looks down on you. But God doesn't. God has promised you an inheritance that nobody can take away." Slaves were viewed in that society as being little better than animated machines. Paul urges the masters to treat the slaves as responsible human beings, independent and capable.
In every one of our relationships, we have the opportunity to see the image of God in the other person and to treat them in a way that brings glory to God. This is the challenge of taking our faith home.
For some of us, we need to go home and to apologize to someone for how we've acted toward them. We haven't treated them with the type of respect or honor that brings glory to God. One of the best things that we could do would be to go to them and acknowledge this, and to ask their forgiveness.
Some of us may need to focus on a relationship that we have. It's always tempting to think the problem is with the other person. It might be time to look at what we're bringing to the table. It may not be all our fault, but we can begin to live faithfully no matter how the other person chooses to respond.
Some of us may need to take the difficult step of forgiving someone who has wronged us. Taking our faith home may mean forgiving someone, not because they deserve it, but because Christ forgave us when we didn't deserve it.
This is where living our faith is the hardest. But it's exactly the place for us to start.