Colossians 3:18 – 4:6

Practical Exhortations
Colossians 3:18 – 4:6
Practical Exhortations. The new man is to be displayed in all of our relationships. In many ways it is easier to fail in these practical things than in false doctrine. If we are consistently seeking things above, allowing the “peace of Christ” to reign in our hearts, the “word of Christ” to dwell in us richly, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, it will help is these practical things.

Practical Exhortations for Our Natural Relationships (3:18 – 4:1)

Love and Submission. We might wonder what the natural relationships are addressed here. One reason is that issues in our natural relationships can really upset our equilibrium, and get our mind off “things above”. Another reason is that this follows the exhortation; “And everything, whatever ye may do in word or in deed, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). Notice that the title “Lord” comes up over and over in the following exhortations, specifically to those in the subject role. It is important to remember, when in a role that requires submission, that submission sees beyond the vessel of authority to the One who set that authority up. Note that each sphere, marriage, family, and employment, the subject place is addressed first. Submission is very difficult because it is in our fallen natures to resist the will of another. Yet submission is absolutely critical to peace. If there is failure of the one in responsibility, it is no excuse for rebellion. Of course, there is a danger in these relationships for abuse of authority. Therefore, those is the place of authority are likewise exhorted to care for those in the subject place. In every one of these relationships, the world has turned it upside down. The world rejects God’s order, and result is sadness and the disintegration of the fabric of society. If we submit to God’s order, there will be blessing, even among unbelievers.

Wives and Husbands (3:18-19)

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. v.28 Wives. The exhortation given to the husband and wife are suited to their place in the purpose of God, and to guard against the particular weakness of each. The woman is liable to break down in subjection in the marriage relationship. She is told to “be subject” to her husband “as is fitting in the Lord”. Submission in marriage can be difficult, especially when a woman is married to an ungodly, extreme, or cowardly man. Nevertheless, this is God’s order in marriage, and it is a secret to happiness in the Christian home. It may be difficult, but if a Christian wife submits to her husband “in the Lord” it will not be mere duty, but with confidence in the Lord as the One who is above every circumstance. Subjection of the wife is something that has been totally rejected, and even reversed, in western society. Nevertheless, this is God’s order in creation. When this order is reversed, entire families can be destroyed.
Obedience or submission? You never find the wife enjoined to obey her husband, but to submit, because obedience can have the thought of distance (such as a husband who treats his wife as a child). Submission implies a deeper subjection of the will. Nevertheless, submission will manifest itself in obedience as in the case of Sarah (1 Pet. 3:6). Also, you will never find the exhortation for a wife to love her husband (Titus 2:4 should be translated “be attached to”) because that will be the automatic response of her heart to her husband's love.
“The principle of submission and of obedience is the healing principle of humanity.” - Edward Dennett
A higher authority. There is a higher authority for the wife than the husband, and that is God. The principle is found in Acts 5:29. But Ephesians is not looking at failure, and so it says “in everything”. There may come rare cases where a husband asks a wife to do something immoral (e.g. rob a bank, or abuse a child) in which case she is to obey God rather than men. This is why Col. 3:18 adds, “as is fit in the Lord.” But these cases where the wife must depart from God’s order in creation are exceedingly rare. We need to be very discerning in whether it is faithfulness to God, or self-will at work in these situations.
19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. v.19 Husbands. The husband is likewise exhorted in the area he is most liable to break down in; namely, affection in the marriage relationship. The husband is told to love (agape) his wife. Agape or divine love is a love that can go the distance, because it is not conditional on any merit or worth in the object it loves. It is a settled love of decision. This is important because often marriages are tested by trials. Without divine love, especially on the part of husbands, the storms of life can drive a wedge between married couples. A danger on the part of husbands is to turn bitter against the wife, usually because of misunderstandings that are never communicated. Peter tells husbands to “dwell with [their wives] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7). While men are weak vessels, their wives are weaker. It is easy for husbands to become frustrated and bitter with their wives if not walking with the Lord. When family responsibilities grow, men can tend to get restless, and may unjustly blame the wife for saddling them with responsibilty. Husbands also can leave their wives behind in certain ways, such as by spending a great deal of time in Bible study while the wife is busy caring for children, etc. In doing this, husbands often fail to “nourish” their wives spiritually (Eph. 5:29), by giving them time to read, pray, develop Christian friendships with younger women, and mentorships with older women. This is why husbands must “dwell” with them. They must seek to be understanding with their wives, or else bitterness will come in. However, even if misunderstandings exist, the husband is not to be bitter, but rather to demonstrate love consistently and gently.

Children and Fathers (3:20-21)

20 Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. v.20 Children. In a family, children are in the subject place relative to their parents. As such, they are to implicitly obey their mother and father. Obedience should be a consistent behavior, even when the child does not want to obey; not just in some things or even most things, but in “all” things. The attitude or spirit in which children are to obey their parents is “in the Lord”. Notice also that “parents” is plural. They need to obey both parents, and the parents should be united. It is rebellion for children to try to divide the parents, or turn one against another. “If mom says no ask dad” is not obedience in the Lord. The reason given for the obedience of children is that “this is well-pleasing in the Lord”; i.e. the Lord is pleased with it. When children ask why they are to obey, the answer should not be, “so you can avoid punishment”. The answer should be, “because that is what pleases the Lord”. We see the Lord’s own example of obedience to His parents in Luke 2:40, 51. Though He was the Son of God, yet He submitted Himself to His human parents as a child in their home. Notice that children are addressed directly. This shows us that the Bible is not merely a book for adults. God intends the Bible to be read to, and read by, children from even a young age!
21 Fathers, do not vex your children, to the end that they be not disheartened. v.21 Fathers. Obedience does not come naturally, and so it must be taught by the parents through discipline. If we discipline in a spirit of wrath, it will result in “vexing” the children. This exhortation is specifically to fathers. Why not to mothers? Although the mother’s sphere is the home (Tit. 2:5), the father stands responsible before the Lord. If father are too heavy-handed in discipline, it can lead to the children becoming “disheartened”. Fathers can also vex their children by demanding too much of them, or by not rewarding good behavior. If we fail to represent the character of our heavenly Father to our children, we can damage them emotionally and spiritually.

Servants and Masters (3:22 – 4:1)

Slavery and the New Testament. In the early days of Christianity, the institution of slavery still existed. The New Testament was not written to cause a world-wide slave revolt in the Roman Empire. However, knowing God's heart as revealed in scripture, we can see that slavery, in the sense of treating human beings as property, is morally wrong. The Law of Moses put certain limits on slavery. To sell a person into slavery against their will was condemned (Ex. 21:16). For Hebrew servants, there was the year of release, which came after six years (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Slaves also had to observe the Sabbath rest (Deut. 5:14). God took these limitations very seriously (see Jeremiah 34:8-22). When we look at these principles, it becomes clear that to be a slave in Hebrew society was most likely a far better portion than to be a slave in pagan society. Nevertheless, "the law made nothing perfect" (Heb. 7:19). From reading both Old and New Testament scriptures, we see that bondage against a person's will was never God's desire. When we come to the New Testament, God does not overthrow the institution of slavery. From scriptures like 1 Timothy 6:1 we can see that there is nothing morally wrong with the master/servant relationship, if it is conducted in an honorable way. Instead of looking to change society, God gives instructions for how one can be an overcomer in the circumstances of slavery! When a slave was saved, they were brought into a new creation that totally eclipsed their outward identity; "...there is neither bond nor free... for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28), and were given higher motives in their service, "as unto the Lord" (Eph. 6:7). History shows that the gospel spread in the first century most quickly through the slave population of the Roman Empire!
Application to Employees. Although much of the world today is free from slavery, there is still an application to us of these New Testament principles concerning slaves or servants. Although many Christians today are not in slavery, most must work for a living. The employer/employee relationship is similar in many ways to the master/servant relationship, as the principles of respect, honesty, obedience, and fair treatment still apply.
22 Bondmen, obey in all things your masters according to flesh; not with eye-services, as men-pleasers, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord. v.22 Servants. As with children, servants are told to “obey in all things” those who are set over them as masters. It is beautiful to see that the scripture carefully guards that our earthy masters or employers are only “masters according to flesh”. Our true Master is the Lord in heaven (Col. 4:1). It is important in our service that it be consistent and honest; “not with eye-services, as men-pleasers”. We should not act one way when we are working alone and a different way when our boss or co-workers are watching. There shouldn’t be any crookedness whatever in our conduct, “but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord”. We should have such a “fear” or respect of the Lord, that we would be afraid to dishonor the Lord in any way by our conduct.
23 Whatsoever ye do, labour at it heartily, as doing it to the Lord, and not to men; 24 knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance; ye serve the Lord Christ. 25 For he that does a wrong shall receive the wrong he has done, and there is no respect of persons. vv.23-25 Reaping what we have sowed. Whatever service we may be employed with, whether pleasant or unpleasant, we are to “labour at it heartily”, which means to work hard and be sincere. One thing that helps us with that is to labor “as doing it to the Lord, and not to men”. We are to see beyond the earthly master, and realize that the Lord is over our circumstances. A second thing that will help us to labor heartily is to understand the government of God and the judgment seat of Christ. If we honor the Lord, no matter what our circumstance, there will be a reward. Here the reward is “of the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance”. The inheritance no doubt refers to the coming kingdom of Christ, in which our Lord will reward His saints with varying degrees of responsibility in the kingdom (Luke 19:17). Paul would remind the saints Who it is that they serve; “ye serve the Lord Christ”. We are serving the one who will reign as Lord and Christ (Messiah) in that day! How wonderful that even a slave, who owned very little in this world, could have the prospect of sharing Christ’s inheritance as His co-heirs! But there is a negative side to the government of God, in that “he that does a wrong shall receive the wrong he has done”. This could be even in chastening that the Lord allows in our lives. In the government of God, actions are rewarded, not nobility; “there is no respect of persons”. In this sense, it doesn’t matter who you are, all are under the government of God. Servants may be accustomed to earthly masters who play favorites (though not a righteous practice, v.1), but the Lord does not operate that way.
Masters, give to bondmen what is just and fair, knowing that “ye” also have a Master in the heavens. v.1 Masters.  The word to masters is to pay their servants righteously and fairly. This includes providing necessary protection, training, and supplies, as well as paying a reasonable wage. See Deut. 24:15. The masters are reminded that they too are servants of “a Master in the heavens”. The Christian master must remember that he ultimately shares the same Master as his servants; namely, the Lord in heaven. In this sense, the master is on par with his servants. Are you treating your servants how you would want the Lord to treat you? A good example of a Christian master is Philemon, who lived in this very city of Colosse.

Practical Exhortations Regarding Prayer (4:2-4)

2 Persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving; v.2 Prayer in general. First, Paul addresses prayer in general. There are many types of prayer mentioned in scripture. We need to understand the differences between these various aspects. Some types are laudatory, which means they are responsive prayers, driven by the overflow of one’s heart. Others are driven more by our needs or the needs of others. The ten aspects are: (1) repentance, (2) worship, (3) praise, (4) thanksgiving, (5) fellowship or communion, (6) confession, (7) groanings, (8) requests, (9) supplications, and (10) intercessions. Read more… “Prayer” is generally connected with requests made for daily needs. There are three things that we need to have in connection with prayer. First, we are to “persevere in prayer”, which means to not give up. Second, we are to live in expectation that the Lord can, and will (if it is His will and time), answer our prayers; “watching in it”. Watching is often coupled with prayer, and has the thought of alertness, as well as observation. The disciples were told “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38). Third, we are to couple our requests “with thanksgiving”. How often do we thank the Lord for prayers that He has already answered? If we remember to pray with thanksgiving, it will help us to maintain a right attitude in prayer, even when those prayers aren’t answered immediately.
3 praying at the same time for us also, that God may open to us a door of the word to speak the mystery of Christ, on account of which also I am bound, 4 to the end that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak. vv.3-4 Prayer for the furtherance of the mystery. Paul solicited the Colossians’ prayers for very unselfish reasons. His desire was that the truth of “the mystery of Christ” and its practical display would be furthered in the earth. He wanted them to pray for “us”, Paul and those with him, specifically that he would have greater effectiveness in his ministry; “that God may open to us a door of the word”. It was the truth of the mystery that Paul suffered for; “on account of which also I am bound”. This is because the mystery is the truth that, in Christ, Gentiles are on equal ground with the Jews. The Jews resented this teaching, and persecuted Paul, resulting in his being sent to Rome in chains. But also, Satan hates the truth of the mystery, because it means that Christ, who went back to heaven, is still practically displayed on earth! This verse tells us that Colossians is a prison epistle. Paul’s desire was for boldness in sharing the truth of the mystery; “to the end that I may make it manifest”. The truth is worthy of bold proclamation; “as I ought to speak”. He asked for boldness in the situation that he was in, rather than for exemption from the difficult circumstances.

Practical Exhortations for our Public Testimony to this World (4:5-6)

Our Public Testimony. Notice that the exhortations for prayer (vv.2-4), which is primarily a private thing, precede those that have to do with our public testimony. It is extremely important that this order be observed in our individual lives. If our private life is healthy, then it naturally translates into a healthy public life. But if we put on an outward show without a living relationship with our Father through prayer, we are headed for trouble. Concerning our public testimony, Paul addresses two parts: our walk and our talk. The walk comes first, because our walk speaks louder than our talk. Also, if our walk is godly, it will give weight to our words.
5 Walk in wisdom towards those without, redeeming opportunities. v.5 Our Walk. Next Paul addresses our outward conduct, which he refers to as our “walk”. We need to “walk in wisdom”, that is carefully, in view of “those without”; i.e. the unconverted world. We are not to slip into a lifestyle contradictory to our calling, and contrary to the character of the new man. Satan is a clever foe. We have been delivered from so much, but if we are not careful, we can be deceived. Walking in wisdom also includes knowing why we are doing what the Lord commands us to do. Knowledge has to do with knowing what, but wisdom includes knowing why. The Christian can and should go about their walk with a clear sense of direction and purpose. This is coupled with “redeeming opportunities”. Redemption includes the thought of liberation. Each day, opportunities to display Christ to others, preach the gospel, and many more specific forms of service present themselves to us. These opportunities will be lost if we do not act. By taking advantage of these opportunities, we “redeem” or set them free for Christ’s interests. A nice example of one who redeemed an opportunity is Philip in Acts 8. He followed the Spirit’s prompting to speak to the man in the chariot, to find that the Spirit had been working in the Ethiopian’s heart and life, and the circumstances were exactly right for Philip to intervene.
6 Let your word be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so as to know how ye ought to answer each one. v.6 Our Talk. Finally, Paul addresses the believer’s speech. There are two things that should “always” characterize our words. First, they should always be “with grace”. Grace in this context implies a desire for the blessing of others, as well as a gentle spirit. We see this perfectly exemplified in the life of Christ (Luke 4:22). Second, our words should be “seasoned with salt”. Salt speaks of the preserving influence of a holy life. Up until the 20th century and before the invention of refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative. It was useful in preserving the quality of stored food. In a similar way, the life and testimony of believers in this world, ordering their lives consistent with God’s nature, is a moral preserver in the world (Matt. 5:13-16; 2 Thess. 2:7). Read more… To have our speech seasoned with salt means to be honest and morally straight in all of our communications. The holiness which should be in us in abundance (Mark 9:50) ought to also guard what we say, but in moderation. Perhaps you could say, ‘Grace is the main fare, salt is the seasoning’. God can give us the wisdom to know how much salt to have in our speech! It is possible to have too little salt, and also possible to have too much. These two things can guide our utterances, so that we may “know how ye ought to answer each one”