Colossians 3 – Role Models

  • Read Colossians 3:18-4:1 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (28 November) you can listen to it here.

Can you think of a time when you wanted to submit to someone else, to play second fiddle?  Generally, most of us tend to value control and independence too much to find submission desirable.  However, there may be occasions when we choose to submit to a professor we respect, or an expert in a field in which we have limited experience.  There are certainly times I’ve thought, ‘Boy, I’m sure glad I didn’t have to make that decision.”  But more often than not I prefer to be responsible for determining what my next step will be.

The NIV, and most translations, inserts a new subtitle prior to Colossians 3:18.  This is an editorial division and not necessarily helpful for reading the passage.  The whole chapter revolves around the idea of former life, and new life.  In 3:17 Paul makes the statement that whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all int he name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  He then expands upon and describes the whatever you do using the example of relationships within the home.

Submission is part of the new life we have received in Christ.  Between 3:17 and 4:1 Jesus is referred to as Lord 7 times.  The same Greek word kurios is also translated three times as human “master” in contrast to the heavenly “Master” mentioned in 4:1.

It is no accident that as Paul describes the Christian’s new life in the home with wives submitting to husbands, and children submitting to parents, and slaves submitting to masters, he also intensely uses the word kurios in reference to Jesus.  The important message that we lose in English translations is that Jesus is our master/lord, and we all have to live in submission to him.  That’s why in 3:18 he says wives are to submit to husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  We might also read it, “as is appropriate for a Christian“.  Submission is not an attitude only for Christian women, but for all Christians.  Compare Ephesians 5:21 that begins a similar list with the instruction to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Yes, Paul also describes household roles that our culture is uncomfortable with, because husbands and parents have often abused them.  But to be fair to Paul, he instructs husbands and parents not to abuse their position of trust.  3:19 reads Husbands … do not be harsh with [your wives].  And 3:21 tells fathers, Do not embitter your children….

There’s a lot more to talk about in this passage, but for the present I just want to point out that the theme of the passage is Christian submission to Christ.  Although Paul describes different roles for different genders and household members, everyone should live humbly in submission to God.  No one has God’s permission to exploit or suppress others.

Families and households are happiest and most peaceful when everyone is pursuing humility and submission rather than working to get their own way.

For a more detailed discussion of the role of women in the church, you can read this series of posts.  I don’t have any posts on the topic of slavery in the Bible, but it’s one I would like to come back to.


  • Can you think of a time when you wanted to submit to someone else, to play second fiddle?
  • Read this passage while replacing every instance of “Lord” with “my Master”.  Does that give a different feel or impression to the passage?
  • What do you see as the implications of “submitting to Christ”?

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of my Master Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in my Master. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases my Master. 21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. 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 my Master. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for my Master, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from my Master as a reward. It is my Master Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. 4:1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.



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