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Monday, June 16, 2014

The View From Above (Colossians 3:1-4, 18-22)

Sunday, June 15, 2014
Father’s Day

          Someone remarked to me recently that while she and her husband were praying together as they regularly do, my name came up.  The husband mentioned a concern for me, something specific I was dealing with at the time.  I had not told anyone.  He had no way of knowing my struggle.  Yet this man was praying for me in a way that I really needed.  The Holy Spirit struck his heart to pray for me.
          One aspect of this that brings me great joy has nothing to do with me.  I was thrilled to hear this woman say, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that she and her husband regularly pray together.  I don’t know about other pastors, but I love to hear people talk about their prayer lives.  
          The majority of time, we live out our faith in very normal, everyday places – the home, the workplace, the grocery store, the burger joint.  Colossians 3:1 and the verses that follow are lofty, much like the preceding chapters.  We have already looked chapter 1, a definitive statement of the divinity of Christ.  Now chapter 3 feels like we are still in the clouds.  “If you have been raised with Christ … set your minds on things that are above” (v.1, 2).  It sounds otherworldly.  This is far from where we live day-to-day.  But what does it mean for us beyond 11-12 Sunday morning?
          Paul gives us some ideas as he addresses relationships within the household beginning in Colossians 3:18.  We go from the heavenly to the mundane, from the grand themes of “things that are above” to the simpler home life relationships.  Does it seem like this has come from nowhere?  It shouldn’t.  Consider this quote from the Tyndale series commentary.
If a sense of anti-climax is felt on moving from the sublime picture of the worshipping church in 3:15-17 to the almost mundane instruction of 3:18-4:1, that is perhaps a sign that we have not fully integrated practice and belief.  It is clear that … the early church took seriously the necessity of living Christianly in the place where, for better or for worse, one is truly oneself. 

These terse sentences focus on just that: how to be truly oneself in the Lord as a member of the new humanity – and how to set other members of one’s family free to be truly themselves.[i]

          Have we fully integrated practice and belief?  Do the words from the Bible that we read and the prayers that we pray have any effect on how we live in the most private places of our lives?  The woman told me that she and her husband pray together; it is a normal part of their married life.  What could be more personal and intimate than and husband and wife in prayer together? 
          Whether or not we truly live as disciples of Jesus is tied to how we live at home.  It is seen in how we live in relationships.  Not everyone is married.  Not everyone is a parent.  Our community is comprised of people who are many different life situations: new parents; widows; single adults; teenagers; empty nesters. 
          Everyone in our community has normal places of life – where we lay down at night; where we eat most of our meals.  We all have relationships.  Even the person who lives alone is a person who lives in relationships. 
In Colossians 3:18-4:1, Paul addresses home life.  I suggest is home we begin the practice of setting “our minds on things that are above.”  We have been raised with Christ.  Paul invites us to see the world from the perspective of Jesus and Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.  Through prayer can we see our family life with Jesus’ eyes? 
If we cannot, then we really can’t see anything from Jesus’ perspective.  Faith that does not apply to family life is no kind of faith.  Jesus expects to be Lord of our homes.  So, Paul talks a bit about what that looks like. 
Beginning in verse 18 is a series of instructions specifically tied to verbs.  The first is addressed to wives.  “Be subject to your husbands.”  This and verses like it in other New Testament epistles[ii] have led to a system of categorizing the family.  Some believers call themselves “complimentarian” meaning they see distinct roles for husbands within the family, and other roles for wives.  The complimentarian system is hierarchical with the husband as the head; he is in charge and with a nod toward verses like Colossians 3:18, the wife is to acknowledge that and celebrate her husband’s leading role. 
The rival system is egalitarianism.  In this one, Bible readers take passages like Colossians 3 and similar passages in 1st Timothy 2 and 1st Peter 3, and they see the hierarchical nature of these verses as tied the cultural world of the 1st century.  The egalitarians are uncomfortable relegating the wife to a subservient role.  However, egalitarians must also deal with this and similar verses.
In the way I live my life, I would most definitely be an egalitarian.  That said I want to encourage everyone to understand what this verse in Colossians means.  First, note the command to obey, given to children in verse 20 and slaves in verse 22.  This verb is a different than what is used in verse 18.  Wives are not told to “obey” as if they are under the mastery of their husbands.
In fact, it is the complete opposite.  What is presented in v. 18 is entirely for the wife to choose.  “Be subject … as is fitting in the Lord.”  Remember, we have set our minds on things above, seeing a Jesus sees where he sits at the right hand of the Father.  What does he see?  He sees a world of husbands who need to be strong and nothing will bolster a man’s strength like the belief that his wife chooses to respect him.  He does not have to fight or prove himself worthy.  She is giving that respect.  She is building him up.  And most importantly, she does so willingly.
Ephesians 5:21 helps deepen our sense of what the New Testament is saying.  That verse instructs everyone in the church – men to women and women to me - to submit to each other.  Submission is mutual for the sake of building the entire body.  One does not need to be married to adopt a posture of humility.  Again, back to Jesus, he humbled himself when knelt and washed his disciples’ feet.  He gave a model for all of us – humility. 
The subjugation of women is something women give, not something men take.  I like the way the idea is worded in 1st Peter 3:1 in the NRSV: “accept the authority of your husband.”  All of us can accept the authority of those around us and treat people with deferential respect.  To do so is to honor the view of Jesus. 
Wives, choose to be subject to your husbands.  Husbands, love your wives.  The root word for love is ‘agape,’ the Greek verb that specifically meant self-sacrificing love, a love that expects nothing in return and is given extravagantly solely for the good of the other.  One crucial application of this instruction is that we who are husbands not demand our wives submit to us.  The Bible’s teaching for the wife is for her to “be subject.”  It never says, husbands subjugate your wives.  We are told to love our wives.
How does Jesus see this with his view from above?  He cared for the people of God to the point that he left the grandeur of heaven to live in a human body in a time in history when daily life was a grind with few luxuries or pleasures, disease was rampant and life spans were short.  Not only did he become a human being, he became a peasant, a working class person among a people who were held down by cruel overlords, the Romans.  Jesus’ model of love is one of sacrifice.
Looking from the right hand the father, Jesus saw a hard world, one especially hard for women.  At that time, women needed to have their worth reaffirmed and their individual identities built up because society was not doing that.  Our society also dishonors women, but in a different way.
In our culture, women are valued if they are cover models.  As enlightened as we imagine ourselves to be, we have created an image and we worship it.  No real life woman matches what is seen on the front of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.  Even the women who are in those photos have numerous things done to accent certain parts of their bodies for the sake of the photo.  Once the make-up is off and the woman is walking the street like you or I would, she does not look like the women in the photo. 
Men never ask about her heart.  They lust after her body.  The magazine cover has created something no wife could ever compete with.  And the woman in the photo, is a piece of meat that excites men as long as she stays quiet and wears as few clothes as possible.  Jesus sees her as a daughter of God.  He sees the brokenness in her, in men who lust after her, and in all the men and women broken by our sex-crazed world, and Jesus weeps.
Husbands, love your wives.  Jesus sacrificed; husbands give yourselves up for your wives.  Men who are followers of Jesus, whether you are married or not, refuse to participate in our culture of sex-obsession.  Love all women respectfully, sacrificially, and as Jesus does.
Sex is a creation of God, a beautiful thing.  However, it is only beautiful in the context of marriage, a context in which the husband and wife love each other.  In doing so, they love the whole personAs we age, as hair grays or falls out and weight is gained, the love husbands give only grows. 
Paul specifically says never treat your wife harshly.  We will delve more into this aspect of discipleship next week when we focus on the Christian virtues described in Colossians 3:12.  For now, husbands, simply let gentleness be your guide.  This is true for everyone.  Look at how you express yourself.  Can our expression toward others be described as gentle?  Are we treating others gently or harshly?  As Jesus views things, what would he prefer?  Religious legalists around him hammered sinners, damning them to sin.  He loved them.
Wives are to choose to be subject to their husbands.  Husbands are to sacrificially love their wives.  All of us are to treat one another from the position of humility, loving each other gently, and building one another up.  This is how our discipleship, our allegiance to Jesus, is expressed in daily life
One more word draws our attention, especially today as it is Father’s Day.  Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.”  It is a challenge in Bible to live out a negative command.  “Do not kill.”  Well, I have never murdered, so I guess I’ve obeyed that one.   But have I?
I believe each time we see a negative, a “do not,” we should search for a corresponding positive so that we are not simply avoiding a sin, but rather seeking proactive ways to live life as Jesus would live it.  “Do not kill.”  Am I doing anything to build up someone’s life?  The one who is truly following Jesus is not only avoiding the prohibitions but is intentional about doing good in His name.  This is the Spirit of Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount.
In the case of Colossians 3, we who are dads need to look deeper than simply “Do not provoke your children.”  If provoking leads the child to bitterness, then we need to do the opposite.  We need to encourage our children and help them grow healthy, strong, and excited for life.  It is an act of discipleship.  When we help our children discover and develop their passions, when we take interest in them, when our free time is devoted to making sure they know they are loved, it is a sign we are seeing from above as Jesus does.  That view leads us to work for our children’s good. 
I know many men who are not Fathers who do this.  They volunteer in ministries with children.  They give of themselves for the sole purpose of seeing kids grow and thrive.  And they do it because they think Jesus wants them to and they want to follow Him.  It may not be articulated as a practical way of living out Colossians 3:2, but that is what is happening.  Our discipleship is lived in our homes, in our relationships.
Recently my daughter Merone, 4 years old, asked my wife Candy this question.  “Mommy, is Jesus real?  Can he walk?  Does he eat?”  Candy said, “Yes.”  Before she could elaborate, Merone had moved on to a question about ice cream.  At her stage of development, if someone is real, you can see him.  He eats and walks. 
As disciples, we create safe environments in which those around us can ask questions wherever they are in their development.  By our love and patience as safe persons we contribute to the growth of those around us, children, spouses, friends, roommates.  We do so humbly and lovingly.  As we do, more and more, we understand the perspective of the one who is at the right hand of the Father.  We see what he sees as he sees it.  And the people in our lives grow as they come to know him.  Our witness in the way we live plays a big part in us becoming who we are supposed to be in Christ and in those around us becoming who they are supposed to be in Christ.

[i] Wright (1986).  Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon; Intervarsity press, Nottingham, p.150.
[ii] 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Peter 3

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