top of page
  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Jesus Shaped Submission and Supremacy


"Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything...” Colossians 3:18-22

As I look out on you all, I know that for many of you your number one desire is to follow Jesus closely; to please him and to honour him with your life.

And I also know that sometimes that journey is going to come to cross roads where you have to decide what to do with some of Jesus’ difficult statements.

I’ll give you an example. Jesus said, ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:47). He said that because he knew that some of us would have such great opposition from our closest family members because of him, that we would have to choose between them and him.

So, he told us that the way to honour him with our lives is to love him so much as to choose him over them, if indeed, we found ourselves having to make that choice. And it has deeper implications too because we can so love our children for example, that Jesus plays second fiddle to them in our affections – in that case, he is not honoured and in that case we are not worthy of him.

So that’s one example and there are many of these kinds of statements that, if we are going to be Godly men and women, we must take seriously in spite of our natural inclinations.

This morning we have 6 of these statements in Colossians 3:18 to 4:1. If we are going to be Godly men and women, young people - even boys and girls - then we must take these statements seriously and live our lives in the light of them.

The statements come in 3 relational couplets. Husbands and wives to each other. Children and parents to each other. And, slaves and masters to each other.

And straight away you can sense, I think, that in the culture that we move in, these relational couplets could be challenging.

Our cultural radar is so fine-tuned by what we listen to, what we watch, and what we read that we will inevitably have pre-shaped inclinations about each of these relationships.

Let’s notice some things about these couplets.

Each couplet is made up of two parties, where one of the parties is dominant and the other is subservient. In the case of slave and master, the slave is subservient to the master. You can tell that’s the case by the word, ‘obey’ in verse 22. In the case of children and parents, the children are subservient to their parents. And you can tell that’s the case by the word ‘obey’ in verse 20.

And in the case of husband and wives, the wife is subservient to the husband. And that’s clear from the word ‘submit’ in verse 18.

Now, if we take these verses out of their context we will fail to understand the basis of Paul’s statements. So, let’s not do that. Let’s give them their context.

Verse 17, is the immediate context for the statements and it says that Christians should do everything, whether in word or deed, in the name of Jesus and in thanksgiving to God.

Which, is itself a summary of the wider context, namely that if we are Christians then Christ is our life, and our lives are hidden with Christ on high, and that frees us to live radically God-honouring lives in this present world below.

So, with a Christ-saturated context like that, we should ask, does Jesus relate to anybody in the kind of ways Paul is advocating – where one party is the dominant one and the other subservient? And the answer is yes.

We get a tip off to it here in Colossians and we get an unpacked version of it in Ephesians 5.

So, Colossians first. Chapter 1, verse 18, speaking of Jesus, says, ‘he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy’.

So, Paul has already established in his letter for us, the idea that there is a relationship between Christ and his church where he is the dominantparty – indicated by the word ‘head’.

Ephesians 5, verses 21 following fleshes this reality out. Verse 24 says that the church submits to Christ. Verse 29 says that Christ feeds and cares for his church. And verse 25 says he laid down his life for her.

So, back here in Colossians, we are to do everything in the name of aJesus who is in relationship with his church, where he is the head and the church is subservient.

And Paul is telling us on the back of that how we should relate to our brothers and sisters where we find ourselves either to be the dominant or subservient party in various earthly relationships.

In other words, we take our cues from Jesus for these relationships. We don’t take our cues from the world we live in. We allow the example of Jesus to govern our lives - not the example of the world we live in.

The next question we need to ask is: ‘Paul what is the basis for you making role distinctions between parties?’ Why use words like ‘obey’ and ‘submit’?

We see that Jesus is head over the church, but that’s because he’s God, why say a wife should submit to her husband? Why say a child should obey its parents? Why say a slave should obey its master?’ I mean, it’s obvious that Paul is saying that these subservience’s honour the Lord, but why do they honour the Lord?

In the case of wives and husbands, the ground for the distinction is found in creation. And, I think, that is clear from quite a few passages in the new testament.

Peter, for example, refers to the wife as the ‘weaker partner’ in the relationship. He seems to primarily have in mind the physical capacities of the woman which are a component of her God-created DNA. In 1 Corinthians 7 also, Paul uses the fact that woman was created out of man, to establish the argument that the ‘head of every woman is man’. And he uses the fact that Eve was the target of Satan’s deception and that she was the one who was first deceived, to make the case that women must not ‘assume authority’ over men in the church in 1 Timothy 2.

So at least 3 times the apostles go back to pre-fall; creation facts to ground the subservience of woman to man in general, or wife to husband specifically.

God has made and purposed woman to be the weaker of the two vessels according to scripture.

And, Paul uses this fact in Ephesians 5 to tell us that marriage is a reflection - a parable if you will - of the relationship of the church to Jesus.

In the passage he gives the church a female pronoun and Jesus has the male pronoun.

So, as the church submits to Jesus, wives submit to their husbands.

As Christ is the head of the church so the husband is the head of the wife.

As Christ cares for and nourishes the church, so the husband cares forand nourishes his wife.

As Jesus loves the church, so a husband must love his wife.

As the church respects Jesus, so wives must respect their husbands.

Paul can say all of these things this way around because of the innate differences that exist between men and women in the way that God made them.

Paul is saying to us, ‘live in the light of those differences and you’ll look different from the world and you’ll honour the God who made you and placed you according to his will’.

Wives when you submit to your husbands, you live in a way that is in step with how God made you.

We’re going to say something about the role of the dominant party in a few minutes, but let’s stick with the weaker party. We live in a very different world to the one Paul lived in. His was a world of hand to hand combat, and hand to mouth existence. A world that favoured the strong. We live in a world that is less physically dominated. The ‘weaker partner’ principle would have been a lot more stark in Paul’s day than it is in our day.

So, in all likelihood, the Colossian readers would have been able to identify with the ‘fitting’ nature of wifely submission much more easily than we can. It would have been as obvious to them as the basis for telling children to obey their parents probably is to us.

Children should submit to their parents, obviously, because their parents know what is best for them. That seems obvious. But there’s more to it than that.

God reveals himself to us as a heavenly Father and designates us, who trust in him, his children. Even Jesus himself came in a subservientrole to his Father.

John 8:49, ‘I honour my Father’ and verse 55, ‘I know [the Father] and obey his word’. Jesus respected his father and therefore he obeyedhim. He did not try to rise above him, but he sought to honour him.

So, kids, you need to respect your parents, you are the weaker party. You need to honour your parents because that pattern of behaviour pleases the Lord, verse 20 says. This is the way Jesus responded to his Father – so he is your example.

When it comes to slaves, we’re at a disadvantage because we’re not accustomed to slavery.

There can’t have been many benefits to being a slave, but what benefits could be obtained, could be obtained by working diligently to please one’s master.

Now which slave wouldn’t want to gain a benefit from a life of enslaved servitude if they could?

Paul says to the Christian slave, don’t live like that. Instead, live so as to serve your master from your heart, because you love Jesus.

No slave was his own, he was bought at a price.

And no Christian is his or her own either, we were bought at a price. The price was the blood of Jesus.

In Romans 6 Paul says that Christians have been translated from being slaves to sin to being slaves to righteousness. Christians have a masterwhom they serve and whom they are gladly under the control of. In John 15, Jesus said to the disciples that they would be persecuted and that that was obvious because their master had been persecuted. He was speaking of himself and here’s how he put it: ‘no servant is greaterthan his master’.

So, if you’re a slave you’re not meant to rise up above your master. Rather you are meant to work wholeheartedly for your master ‘as working for the Lord, not for human masters’ Paul says.

Even though we don’t know what it is to be a slave or a master ofslaves, the principle here applies very well to our working lives. And if that’s true, then you can’t afford to miss the promise here. Paul says to the slave, or the low-level, non-management-type employee, ‘you can work whole heartedly for your master most effectively, even though life is hum-drum and hard work, by keeping this one thing in mind: “you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward for working in this way, because it is the Lord Christ you are serving”’.

‘So, don’t work for your Christmas bonus, work for your Christ bonus’ is the message from Paul. Don’t try to get one up on your master, work wholeheartedly because you have a heavenly master.

Verse 25 cuts both ways. If the slave does wrong by trying to rise above his master then he will be repaid for his wrongs on the day of judgment.

And, any master who does wrong by his slave will be repaid on the day judgement.

God does not look at social status, he looks at the heart, and the resulting actions, and judges accordingly.

Now, if there seems to be a lot of responsibility placed on the weakerparties because their natural instinct is to rise above their station and Paul is telling them not to do that so as to honour the Lord, then there is no less responsibility on the dominant party. When you start from the dominant position it’s easy to abuse that position and Paul is saying you don’t do that.

It would be easy for husbands to abuse their physical dominance and be harsh with their wives. To frighten them, to exert their will over them, to be overbearing with them. But Christ is not like that with his church.

Consider for a moment the last supper. Recall Jesus taking that towel around his waist. See him going to each disciple in turn to wash their feet. Bending low to rub the dirt off in the water and taking the towel to dry them. This is what husband-ness ought to look like according to Paul. To be the leader is to be the servant.

Husbands serve their wives, they don’t beat their wives.

Husbands provide for their wives and nourish their wives and care for their wives.

Husbands love their wives and would lay down their lives for their wives.

Husbands don’t care so much for their own interests but for those of their wives.

Husbands lead by example not by coercion.

Husbands nudge, they don’t shove.

Husbands guide, they don’t shout.

These are the qualities of Jesus’ leadership and we take our cues from him.

What about Fathers? Well, according to verse 21, they discipline their children in a way that doesn’t make them bitter.

Father’s give clear directions to their children but they don’t nit-pick. They allow space for growth.

Father’s don’t Lord it over their children so that they have no expression and they get all frustrated.

Father’s don’t yell all the time and squash there little one’s like bugs, just because they’re so much stronger. Father’s speak tenderly to their children – firmly when needed - but most often tenderly, so their children know they are loved.

Father’s spank when needed, but they cuddle mainly. They don’t discourage their children by always being negative about their conduct or performance.

They know how to praise and how to encourage their kids.

And masters, chapter 4, verse 1, although they have the power to treat their slaves contemptuously don’t do that.

Masters treat their slaves fairly.

They ‘provide’ them with what is right.

Christian employers treat their employees in a manner that is honestand which accords with their worth and their hard work.

And they do this because they themselves have a master who is in heaven, who treats them fairly. Better than fairly - not according to their sins, but according to the provision Jesus made for them.

So, Jesus – his work, his ways and his attitudes – are the modifiers for our own works, ways and attitudes, displayed as we interact with others in our households and regular walks of life where there are differences in our roles.

Think of other walks of life where there are power-plays in action. Government over electorate. Monarchy over government. Law enforcement over the public. We’ve seen these playing out in our national news this week. We’ve seen attempts to undermine them too. But for the Christian, to live a life below that is honouring to Jesus, is to live a life that honours these distinctions and doesn’t try to reversethem, or overhaul them, or subvert them, or ignore them.

When we live like this it pleases the Lord. And to prove the point, these verses make no less than 6 references to ‘the Lord’: ‘Fitting in the Lord’; ‘pleasing to the Lord’, ‘out of reverence for the Lord’; ‘as working for the Lord’; ‘an inheritance from the Lord’; ‘as serving the Lord’. Jesus is to be ‘Lord’ of our lives here below and when we honour the positionthat he has placed us in – dominant or subservient – then we honour him as our one Lord and master.

There is no doubt it will be a great challenge to live in the light of these biblical distinctions and maintain their God-given balances.

Even now you might feel yourself bristling a little.

Our natural inclinations coupled with our cultural norms will always lead us into imbalances in these things. And we will have to fight against them. Feminism will lean on us to reject the word ‘submit’ in verse 18.

The trend that the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments have set in place to empower children and remove the right for parents to discipline their children will lead us to second-guess the idea that children should obey their parents.

The unionist mentality that always seeks to raise the workers to paritywith their masters will lead us to doubt that Paul is right when he says that we shouldn’t work motivated to get the benefits of our employers.

The last thing I want to say is that, though there may be distinctions in our horizontal relationships – distinctions the Lord wants us to honour - that does not mean that there are distinctions in our relative value, or our preciousness to Jesus, or our status as children of God.

Every Christian wife, is as valuable to Jesus as her Christian husband. Every Christian child is as precious to Jesus as their Christian parents. And every Christian slave is as much a child of God as his Christian master.

That means that, between us, despite our different roles, we love each other as if there were no distinctions. As Paul would put it: as if there were no male or female, as if there were no slave or free, as if there were no child or parent.

If a husband remembers his wife is the blood-bought precious child of Christ, it will influence the way he behaves towards her for good.

If a Father remembers that his children are precious to Jesus – for he said don’t hinder them - it will influence the way he behaves towards them for good.

If the master remembers that his slave or employee is his God-given charge before God, it will influence the way they behave towards them for good.

The other qualification to make is that the distinction in roles that Paul is highlighting here does not mean that we are all the same in our gifting.

A wife may be better than her husband at finances (like mine is), and with the right attitude she can use that gift to help him lead and with the right attitude her husband can depend on his wife for that gift without emasculating himself.

There are things my children can teach me because of their unique giftings which, if I don’t abuse my position, can blossom in our household without the children being guilty of rising above me or me having to lay down my authority.

And there are benefits employees can bring to bear on a workplace that don’t seek to usurp their master’s authority, and which a master can receive gratefully without having to lay down his direction.

If we honour these truths as well as the ones Paul is highlighting here for us, then we will be balanced, we won’t fall foul of abuses and we’ll be like Christ and his church – massively honouring to God.


bottom of page