Gospel Relationships

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 11/18/2018

This morning we’re going to talk about difficult relationships. I’ve always been amazed how the gospel speaks to the totality of life. Not only does God reconcile us to himself, but he reconciles us to one another. Just as the Cosmic Christ reigns over the universe (every throne, dominion, ruler and authority, visible/invisible). Just as the Christ reigns over sin by making peace through his blood shed on the cross. Just as Christ reigns over death by his resurrection. Just as Christ reigns over the Church and our very lives by his Holy Spirit. . . so God wants to reign in our relationships.

For the Christian no relationship is too exempt from reign of Christ. Something I love about Scripture is the Bible doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties we face in relationships. Wouldn’t it be great, if the minute we gave our life to Christ, God immediately healed all our relationships? It doesn’t work like that. Back in Colossians 1:11 Paul prayed that we would be “strengthened according to God’s glorious might.” And for what reason? So, we’d have “great endurance, patience, and joy!” These are the first things that fly out the window when a relationship sours! But not for the Christian. God calls us to something different, harder, and better in relationships.

The last half of Colossians 3 is all relationships. Let’s talk about some of the dynamics that tend to threaten relationships. Then let’s talk about some ways we can “flip the script” in difficult relationships to let Christ shine.

First, Relationships can be Privileged. Privilege isn’t a word Paul uses in Colossians 3, but it’s something he definitely describes. Out in our culture, you hear a lot about privilege—especially “white privilege.” If you are a white person, I don’t think you need to freak out if someone talks about “white privilege.” Everyone needs to understand how their own “racial privilege” works. My critique on the whole privilege conversation is this: Number one, everyone’s race is either a privilege or disadvantage somewhere. In America being “white” might work pretty good for you (for now) but it’s not so great other places and will continue to matter less/less. Number two, most everyone is blind to their own privilege. People of every race tend to act/feel superior to other races.

There are also other forms of privilege—religious, economic, gender. My analysis of the whole privilege conversation comes down to this—are we using whatever advantages we have, to serve others? Paul gives three examples of privilege. In Colossians 3:18-19, he describes husbands who don’t serve/love their wives. In Colossians 3:20-21, parents (fathers in particular) who don’t serve their children. In Colossians 3:22-4:1, masters who act unjustly/unfairly to their slaves.

If you are getting hung up on the word privilege, substitute power or position. What’s being observed is there is real power differential in relationships. Jesus repeatedly confronted the way in which Gentile authorities “lorded” power over others. In 1 Peter 5, Peter warns church leaders against abusing their authority.

It’s worth noting that no one in the history of humankind had more privilege than Christ Jesus. But how did he use that privilege? In Philippians 2:5-7 Paul says our attitude ought to be the same as that of, “Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant.” You see that’s the issue… are we serving?

Second, Relationships can be Exploitive. Do you remember how back in Colossians 3:5 Paul told us “put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.” These are some of the ways people take advantage of each other. To the degree that any of these desires forms the basis for a relationship, the relationship is exploitive. Does a man really have a woman’s best interests in mind, or his own sexual interests? Does the wife really love her husband, or has her heart become adulterous? Is a relationship about love, or is it infatuation? Is a parent trying to encourage their child’s abilities/interests/needs, or do they just want to look good to other parents? Is an employer being fair to labor, is labor being reasonable with ownership, or is one/both being greedy? There are so many subtle (and not so subtle) ways our relationships can become all about us.

Third, Relationships can be Cruel/Painful. In verse 19 Paul mentions bitterness. In verse 21 He mentions emotional exhaustion and discouragement. Few things are as exhausting/discouraging as emotional conflicts.

Remember how back in Colossians 3:8 Paul told us to put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth?” More often than not, these behaviors aren’t so much a reflection of someone’s character as the depth of their pain. Perhaps there are some who get nasty just for nastiness sake. But I don’t think that is the normal case. Most often, someone is behaving badly because they need to be heard, understood, and find healing. Instead of reacting to people’s behavior… Instead of taking other people’s bad behavior so personally… get to the root. Stephen Covey back in the day had great advice: “Seek first to understand before being understood.”

Fourth, Relationships can easily get Stuck. Instead of husband/wife communicating, they can take their emotions underground, and start acting passive-aggressive toward one another. Or they can let things bottle up to the point where they just explode. Bitterness is deep seated, unresolved anger.

In parenting, how can you fairly manage your expectations? Something you intended to be encouraging/constructive can have the exact opposite effect. Years later there is this brewing father-wound, or mother-wound.

In the workplace, employers/employees can reach an impasse, where neither is acting in the best interests of the other. Everyone half-heartedly going through the motions, no one resolving anything, the status quo never changing.

These dynamics can range on a scale from “1” (mildly irritating) to “10” (severely catastrophic). What Paul proposes in Colossians 3:18-4:1 is that we “flip the script” in relationships and let Christ shine. It’s sometimes the case that a relationship become so incredibly destructive it cannot be salvaged, nor should it be salvaged. But if as Christians, we’re just as quick to hit the eject button as anyone else, what good is that?

One way we can flip the script is to Embrace Greater Power. In all three of the examples Paul gives in these verses, I could help but notice he addresses the disaffected, disempowered, victimized party first. There is husband/wife, he addresses the wife first. There is parent/child, he addresses the child. There is a master/slave, he addresses the slave. Why do you think that is? What if we have far more power to transform a relationship than we realize?

Example #1: Wives. Colossians 3:18, “18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Colossians 3:19, “Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them.” In Paul’s thinking, both have power. The woman’s power is a kind of tenacious submission to whatever is “fitting to the Lord.” The husband’s power is to selflessly love his wife as Christ loved the church. The impulse might be for husband/wife to blow up the relationships. To become uncooperative and punitive. But there is a power to putting on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience… to accepting one another and forgiving one another… to letting go of whatever complaint one has against the other… to putting on love. Someone has to blink first. Someone has to flip the script—and it can be the less powerful party.

Example #2: Children. Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged.” Again, there are extreme cases, when the worst possible thing that could happen is for a child to remain with a parent, much less obey a parent. Jesus’ harshest words of judgment are against anyone who would harm a child. Paul is hardly suggesting we put children in danger. But children, especially you teenagers, take the lead in serving your parents. Take the lead lending a hand, doing chores. You want your parents to cut you some slack, cut them some slack. Make it a joy for them to have you as their son or daughter. Give them something to brag about, “You know I don’t have to ask my kids ten times to clean their room.” And parents, take time to understand the tremendous pressure your kids feel. Don’t do anything to discourage, or exasperate, or add to the pressure. They need your support.

Example #3: The Worker. Colossians 3:22-23, “22 Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people.” Colossians 4:1, “Masters, deal with your slaves justly and fairly, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.”

Relationships can be transformed just as much from the bottom-up as the top-down—but it requires that you not see yourself as a victim. If you think these three examples are extreme, check out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Imagine the scene. A burly Roman centurion, drafts a Jewish male, forcing him into his service. The soldier insults the male, strikes him on the left cheek, knocks out his tooth, blackens his eye, forces him to carry his heavy armor an extra few miles. What’s your advice to that poor Jewish boy? Is your advice “RESIST!” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that our greatest power is to embrace our powerlessness. To turn the cheek, go the extra mile, not return evil for evil, to “slip the script.” If we don’t slip the script who will?

Another way we can flip the script is to embrace Greater Purpose. In Colossians 3:17 Paul says, “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.” Colossians 3:23 Paul says, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people.” If the only I think about in a relationship is “me” and “my purpose,” I’m probably going to nuke the relationship. Instead we should always ask, “What might God’s purpose in this relationship be?” What’s God’s purpose in my marriage, in my family, in my work context? In James 1:2-4, it says, “Consider it great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” People dump their marriage, their family, their churches, their jobs. How can you be so sure God doesn’t have a greater purpose if you never stick around long enough to find out? Abraham-Sarah (1 Peter)! Mary/Joseph (Luke)!

Another way we can flip the Script is to embrace Greater Rewards. In Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.” If your mentality is that you have to receive all your rewards in this life, you’ll sacrifice little, and do even less for the Lord. What did Jesus say? When you pray, when you fast, when you give in secret… the Father who is in secret knows. Is it enough that God knows, that God sees? Just because something hasn’t paid off doesn’t mean it will never pay off. *Jesus, “Receive 100x what given…”

A final way we can clip the Script is to embrace Greater Accountability. In Colossians 3:25 Paul says, “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.” The compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patience, accepting, forgiving, loving get paid back. The submissive, loving, obedient God-pleasing, faithful, god-fearing, enthusiastic, hopeful, conscientious get paid back. The sexually immoral, impure, covetous, evil, and greedy get paid back. The abusive, bitter, exasperating, discouraging, lazy, idle, people-pleasers, half-hearted, the unfair, the unjust… get paid back. Invitation: You died, now Christ is Your Life!

Scripture Verses

Colossians 3:18-4:1; Philippians 2:5-7, 1 Peter 5

Study Questions

  1. Review the list of "new life" character traits in Colossians 3:12-17. Now read Colossians 3:18-4:1. In what way are a few of these demonstrated within your own relationships?
  2. What practical difference does this new clothing make in the relationship between wives and husbands? Between parents and children? Masters and slaves? What confirms that all these relationships are to be built around Christ? 
  3. Which aspects of Christ's character do you need to clothe yourself with in relation to your friends? Your family? Your employer or employees? Others?
  4. How does Paul envision these relationships as reciprocal? What if one party is not?
  5. Are you known for bringing joy and harmony in your relationships? How can you improve in this area?
  6. How can your group help you with your "clothing" selection? Pray for the relationships of the individuals within your group.