Explore the Bible Study: The Gospel and Relationships

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Submit, Love, Obey, Serve, Pray, Act Wisely. How are these actions viewed by society today? Which actions are probably perceived in the most negative way? Which is the most misunderstood action? All these actions have to do with healthy relationships as a result of knowing Christ. We relate to one another differently as families, friends, workers, and yes, even strangers, because of the gospel. The Explore the Bible Study: The Gospel and Relationships will examine each of these.

The actions and relationships cannot be separated from what Paul said previously in Colossians 3:12-17. Paul reminds believers to put on certain characteristics because of a personal relationship with Christ. They were reminded that it can’t be done alone. His was a corporate message to the church body and not just an individual message. As God’s chosen ones (Colossians 3:12), when believers are worshipping and learning together how to put on all Paul described, the relationships he is about to describe –family, workplace, friends, and even the strangers we encounter – will be transformed. 

If we are learning together to put on the characteristics of Christ daily, we will view submitting, loving, obeying, serving, praying, and acting wisely, differently than the culture does. The way we treat these relationships will be a demonstration of the gospel to a lost world.

Paul’s first actions relate to living out the gospel in the family. As family relationships are examined, remember that the Bible is not teaching that one should remain in a dangerous or abusive relationship, or one that requires you to deny your faith. There are ways to demonstrate these commands while not exposing oneself to life-threatening or faith-threatening situations.

Our family relationships should be different because of the gospel - Colossians 3:18-21

The apostle first addressed believing wives. The one duty given the wife was the responsibility to submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Here is how one should view the instruction by Paul to a wife regarding submission:

  • First, we see that a wife is to submit to one man (her husband), not to every man. We can assume then that this submission does not extend to a woman’s place in society at large.
  • Second, a wife is to submit as is fitting to the Lord. It doesn’t say “as it fits in with your own agenda.” 
  • Third, the attitude and the motivation for a believing wife to submit is found in the overarching command for all believers in Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
  • Fourth, one might ask if verse 17 contradicts what Paul states in verse 11 when he says, "In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all." The distinction that exists within the roles is a distinction of FUNCTION not VALUE. The fact that she submits to her husband does not imply that she is inferior or less worthy in any way. The husband and wife have an equal standing and an equal dignity before God through redemption.
  • Fifth, there are no qualifiers to the command to submit, except in everything. The husband does not have to pass an aptitude test or an intelligence test before his wife submits. It may be a fact that she is better qualified than he to lead in many ways, but she chooses to follow the Lord’s instruction by submitting to her husband’s leadership. In so doing, a godly wife can even win her unbelieving husband to the Lord “without words” simply by her holy behavior (1 Peter 3:1-2).

How do the following passages help us understand submission?

  • Ephesians 5:21: Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (We are to submit to each other as believers.)
  • Ephesians 5:24: Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. (The church is to submit to Christ.)
  • John 6:38: For I [Jesus] have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.(Christ submitted to God, the Father.)

When Christ submitted to the Father was it because He was inferior? (No) When a wife submits to her husband is it because she is inferior? (No) What instructions would you give a wife when the husband is abusive, not a believer, or asks her to deny her faith?

If we are putting on Christ daily as described in Colossians 3:12-14, then submission will not be an issue. It only becomes an issue when someone is not submitting – the husband to God, the wife to the husband, the church to God, etc.

This leads us to Paul’s instruction to the husband in verse 19: to love his wife. This was given in a society in which a wife was often viewed as little more than a piece of chattel property. Paul’s instructions to Christian husbands were quite revolutionary. 

Here is how one should view the instruction by Paul for the husband:

  • First, it’s a positive instruction to the husband: love your wives. Paul’s term for love (agapate) was the highest term for love that he could have used. It speaks of compassionate love that is concerned with the well-being of the one loved. It’s the love Christ modeled when He gave Himself for us (Ephesians 5:25).
  • Second, love is a deliberate choice based on the command in Colossians 3:17.
  • Third, is the negative prohibition: don’t be bitter toward them. When you quit putting on Christ you might slip into viewing your wife as inferior or unworthy of your love, or you may regret marrying her. This leads to bitterness and bitter treatment of your wife. This is not the way of a believing husband. If you put on love, as commanded in Colossians3:14 then the first place it will be evident will be in relationship to your wife, at home! 

J. B. Phillips puts it this way, “Don’t [allow] bitterness or resentment [to] spoil your marriage.”

Paul moved on to write of children’s duties to their parents. Those duties are captured in a single command in verse 20: obey. 

It is important to remember that the child is obeying Christian parents who would not demand immoral or unchristian actions from their children. The second thing about this obedience is that it pleases the Lord.

Finally, Paul reminds fathers of something that should be applied by any parent. Believing parents are not to exasperate the children. How can a parent exasperate a child? What can be the results?

Alistair Begg challenges us to have healthy relationships with these words. “The Christian family is supposed to be a good advertisement—in fact, a fantastic advertisement—for the gospel in the world, for the Christian faith. In fact, if Christianity is ever going to have an impact on society, we must revolutionize our home life.”

Our workplace relationships should be different because of the gospel – Colossians 3:22–4:1

When this letter was penned to the Colossian Christians, it is estimated slaves made up at least half of the population of the Roman Empire. Slavery was the social status of many “professional” people, such as teachers, doctors, and craftsmen. Slaves had no rights; they existed for the convenience of their owners. Paul dealt with the duty of slaves who had become followers of Christ. In our culture, these principles can provide meaningful application to employees and employers in today’s workplace.

Since God directed Paul to urge slaves, who had no voice in the conditions and circumstances of their work, to render faithful, ungrudging service to their masters, then surely He would say no less to us today as we work voluntarily and benefit financially from our work. If we profess a personal relationship with Christ, then we should work, act, and react differently in the workplace. We should view our duties as a service to the Lord. We should work with honesty and sincerity, not for recognition, but keeping our eyes on Christ. We should lead with fairness, remembering we will be held accountable by God for any authority we’re given. How we work should be a living demonstration of Christ and the difference He makes in one who claims to be a Christian.

Notice also that Paul not only gave instructions for slaves but for masters as well. Masters were to treat slaves justly and fairly. The reason for masters to be just and fair was a powerful one—since you know that you too have a Master in heaven. Ultimately, both Christian masters and Christian slaves would answer to their heavenly Master.

What do you do when your boss walks into a room? How do you feel toward having a boss? How does knowing Christ change your perspective? If you are a boss, how do you view your employees? Are you treating them in a manner that opens the door for them to embrace and live the gospel in their own lives?

Our relationships with others should be different because of the gospel – Colossians 4:2-6

Paul gave instructions regarding prayer; then he asked his readers to specifically pray for him and his work. He desired for them to pray passionately that God would open doors for the gospel. This should be our prayer for one another as well, especially if someone asks us specifically to pray for them in this manner. 

We use the phrase “Praying for you” or some form of this almost on a regular basis. Do you feel it is overused? Do you feel it is a misused statement? How did Paul say we should pray? (Devote yourselves; Stay alert in it; with Thanksgiving) Why are these actions important?

Finally, Paul said that we were to act wisely with outsiders. Who are the outsiders today? (People who don’t know Christ, new believers, or people who aren’t like us.) What actions did Paul describe that demonstrate one is acting wisely with outsiders? Why are these actions important?

What About You?

Through Paul, God gave an outline of relationships in which we are to put on and live out the gospel – our family, our workplace, outsiders. We live in a broken world that doesn’t adhere to the same actions that the gospel demands of one who professes Christ. We are to submit, love, obey, serve, pray, and act wisely in these relationships. Why? Because we are different because of Christ.

  • Which of these actions (Submit, Love, Obey, Serve, Pray, Act Wisely) do you find most difficult to understand? To practice?
  • Paul asked for prayer, and so should you. Is there something related to this passage that you desire to learn? Is it something you can mention to someone so they could pray for you? 

Spend time in prayer this week, evaluating how you are demonstrating the gospel through your relationships: family relationships, work relationships, and relationships with the “outsiders” in your life. Ask God to reveal and transform your relationships in the areas in which you feel you are struggling.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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