Yesterday we thought in a general way about the importance of Christian households with regard to Christian witness. In the passage in Colossians, Paul deals most with the relationship between master and slave, and this emphasis is probably connected to the return of Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon, one of the leaders in the Colossian church. In a parallel passage in Ephesians, Paul writes most about the relationship between husbands and wives, and also says more about the relationship between parents and children.
Before we look at what Paul says regarding each relationship, it is useful to remind ourselves of basic principles of the Christian life. First, some may say that Paul’s requirements are unrealistic and too difficult to obey – the answer to this assessment is that Christians have been given the power of the indwelling Spirit.
Second, some may say they did not come from a Christian family and don’t know what to do. The answer to this dilemma is to follow the example of Jesus. This is what Paul does when he writes to husbands in Ephesians 5 – he tells them to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ. Children have an example in Jesus by imitating what he did as a child when he obeyed his parents. Slaves can copy the way Jesus worked as a humble carpenter, and masters can imitate the style of compassionate leadership provided by Jesus for his disciples.
Third, we can take a common thrust of the previous verses in Colossians 3, which is the presence of the spirit of thanksgiving, and maintain a grateful attitude as each relationship is worked out. In each relationship, there should be gratitude for the divine providence that has brought us in contact with others who serve God, and there should be gratitude for divine grace which will help us live for Jesus, even in difficult circumstances.
We should also remember that Paul here is describing the usual household setting. He was fully aware that some households did not have each relationship in an ideal manner. Lydia was head of her household, which could mean she was unmarried or a widow. Timothy’s father had no interest in the spiritual affairs of the family home and Timothy was raised spiritually by his mother and grandmother. Not every household would have slaves or children. So as we read Paul’s comments, we should make necessary adjustments for our own situations. After all, he is describing how to have a happy home.