Colossians 3:15-4:1 Review: Order v. Life


I have been looking for an excuse to use this photo.

Family life. It can be fun. It can also get messy.

Some families are big on order. Like the Von Trapp family in the movie The Sound of Music, when Dad whistles the kids line up in chronological order to meet the new governess. Each one steps forward to say his name. Then they march off together. No music, dancing or spontaneity in that household. Instead only all rules, tidiness, and obedience.

Enter Maria, so full of life that the nuns shake their wimples in perplexity. How do you solve a problem like Maria? She entered the Von Trapp household like a whirlwind. Ignoring the rules, she turned curtains into play clothes and school work into picnics. Order went out the window, while life came tumbling in the door.

That’s the problem isn’t it? Life seems so messy. It needs order. But order seems to kill life. Is it possible to have both?

Rules that give life. This week’s passage starts with three “gentle commands,” (Colossians 3:15-17), the kind that doesn’t say “Do! Don’t!” but “Let us.” These are life giving rules. They encourage us to make full use of what Christ has already done for us. So we are to:

  • Let the peace of Christ rule…
  • Let the word of Christ dwell richly…
  • Do all things in the name of the Lord…

By encouraging us to go deeper into Jesus these rules show us where life is found.

The next section, Colossians 3:18-4:1, gives us another type of rule. These are referred to as “household rules.” They govern relationships in the home and workplace by setting up an authority structure, using words like “submit” and “obey” for wives, children, and slaves. Do you chafe under these rules? Do they seem to squelch life? Why did God give them?

It’s interesting to ponder life without the structures provided by authority. Remember sharing an apartment with some single friends? Lots of life there. Actually chaos. Did you ever have trouble paying the rent on time? Who tended to leave dirty dishes lying around? Did one of you like to take long showers and leave the lights on? I bet you finally came up with some rules for that household!

Good rules help life flourish. God gave these rules so life in the home and workplace could flourish, teamwork could happen, stalemates be avoided.

Life that submits to rules. But, you may argue, what about the authority part of these rules? Doesn’t that violate our equality? Isn’t it demeaning to give one type of person authority over another type? Aren’t these roles outdated?

Two truths are important to consider here. First the truth of equality. Scripture makes it clear that in creation God made us all, male and female, in his image. That is the basis of true equality. Second is the need for order. We already talked about that a little.

Leave order up to our society and you’ll find it emerge as “pecking order.” The smartest, prettiest, strongest, or richest come out on top. We may not like it, but we end up submitting to it, because it’s the survival of the fittest that rules our fallen world.

But in these household rules, God isn’t giving into the survival of the fittest. He’s instituting an orderly approach to home and work life that assumes equality, while imposing roles. When we submit to these rules, we find ourselves not demeaned, but honored by being asked to play a part.

That’s because the most important truth about equality and roles is that they apply to God himself. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in perfect equality. Each is fully God. But they function in roles. The Father sends the Son, the Son doesn’t send the Father. Both send the Spirit, the Spirit doesn’t send them. Authority, submission, honor, respect are all lived out in perfect equality. It’s the foundation of reality.

He played every role. Yes, but…you say…it’s still hard to submit! Yes, and it’s hard to love like husbands have to do, I might add. Each role has its hard parts. But here’s the beauty of them all.

Every role we’re asked to play in this world has already been played by Jesus. Think of it:

  • he’s the perfect husband of the church, loving
  • he’s the perfect beloved of the father, submitting
  • he’s the perfect “everlasting father” Isaiah 9:6-7
  • he’s the perfectly obedient son
  • he’s the perfect Lord and Master
  • he’s the perfect servant

The beauty of this section of Scripture is found in the words, “in the Lord.” Live out your role in the Lord, and he will give you everything you need to do it wholeheartedly.

Life and order. Together. Only God could orchestrate that.


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