VOLTSermon passage: (Colossians 3:18-4:1) Spoken on: September 19, 2021
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Colossians
Date: 26 September 2021
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong
What we have just read is known as a household code, a piece of writing that talks about how people should carry themselves in home and work settings. There are modern versions that come in the form of webpage, manuals, books, e-books, podcast, etc. The topics that household codes and these resources focus on are obviously something current and still evolving.
Authors had been working on household codes for a very long time. Try doing a search and we will find copies of household code written by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Seneca. Since this is case, what we read together this morning is not something invented by the apostle and pastor. What Paul did was to follow an established style of writing. That’s fine. What is not equally comfortable is the content. It asks wives to submit to husbands, and children and workers to obey in everything. Paul’s idea might work in the Patriarchal society that he lived, but moderns would only find such talks offensive. Such teachings if not properly understood, may even make the church look regressive.
Paul’s words can however be understood rather differently. We will use the word VOLT to guide us in exploring 4 points that Paul seeks to communicate. Paul touches on many aspects in the few short verses, including parenting and work ethic. I regret to say that we will not be able to touch on topics as such this morning. But I hope the 4 points would be useful for us when we ourselves think about these topics. Let’s begin.
First, the letter ‘V’. ‘V’ stands for the word ‘value’. Back in Paul’s time, the husband, father and master, which refers to the same person, is the only fully legal individual in the household. This person had full control over everything and everyone in the household, which could be a kampong of 40, 70 or more. Should this man have sons and the sons were grown-ups, capable adults with successful careers, wife and children; they would still have been a bunch of nobody in the eyes of the law. Still under full control of the patriarch, till the day they were emancipated. The case of the slaves could only be worse. A grown up male slaves with their own children will never ever be regarded as a man in the eyes of the law. Unless, they became free persons.
Within such a social context, sons and slaves were never addressed in household codes written by philosophers such as Aristotle and Seneca. These authors would only advice the patriarch on how to manage his properties, which includes his wife, children, slaves, and children born to him by his female slaves.
For us, instructions on submitting and obeying sound altogether distasteful. But for the wives, children and slaves in the Colossian church who heard the letter being read, it was the exact opposite. To not be simply bypassed, but to be addressed by the author of the household code was really something; something that probably happened to them for the first time. Finally, there is someone who bothers about them, who does not see them as machines and robots in human skins that should execute without questions the commands and whims and fancy of the patriarch. Instead, they were regarded as persons, persons to be addressed and allowed to respond, persons with will power, persons who are to submit and obey by choice.
So, Paul’s household code was to some extent groundbreaking, in that it affirms the intrinsic value of every person, unlike the ones written by Greek philosophers.
What had enabled Paul not to be sucked into the cultural norms and practices, but could instead cut out a new path? It is his theology. A theology that enabled him to affirm the value of every single person so loved by God that he sent his only begotten son. Fast forward to today, ours is a society that strives for gender equality, educates children to think creatively and independently, and we try to eliminate discriminations at workplace. But, are we in other ways sucked into the cultural norms and practices of our time? If we value efficiency above kindness, then perhaps we are. If we focus only on enjoying quality services, on making our money worth, and not at all on the workers who serves us, then perhaps we are. And if, at our cell group meetings, we only share and pray for one another’s needs, but not the needs of the society and the world at large, then perhaps we are. And if indeed we are, may Paul’s returning of value to the weak and powerless in the letter inspires us to return to God’s way in treating others.
Second, the letter ‘O’. ‘O’ stands for the word “obedience”. Paul calls for submission and obedience, but does so with a twist. The word ‘submit’ in verse 18 is in fact a beautiful word in this context. Firstly, the word ‘submit’ in the Greek text indicates voluntary submission. Paul is not into wordplay. He is not using the word ‘submit’ as a substitution for the phrase ‘obey in everything’ to make things sound better. He is putting the rights and the choice in the hands of the wives, nudging them to choose voluntarily to do that which would strengthen family relationships. Secondly, the Greco-Roman society is accustomed to regard womenfolk as being inferior to man. By giving wives the right to choose, Paul is going the against predominant mindset, telling the wives and their man that women are in no way inferior in choosing to submit. Paul is therefore countercultural.
The next thing Paul says, especially to other 2 powerless groups is rather shocking, although it would be hard for us to sense its impact today. Obedience is to the Lord, says Paul. In saying so, Paul is giving the powerless a solid reason to disobey the heads, if need be. The heads used to have total control, the powerless used to obey without questions. Now all these would have to change for the Christians. Should the heads demand things contrary to Christian beliefs; the weaker members should choose to obey Jesus instead of their heads. Try imagining the transition everyone had to go through back then, it must have been difficult.
Still, Jesus has return to his own place – earth – to be Lord. It is only correct for Paul to urge Christians to live lives for the Lord. To do so can be a challenge from time to time, for them and also us. Our selfish inclination often gets in the way. Just picture how tough it was for the heads of those household to relinquish their authority. The way our world does things also poses challenges to living lives for the Lord.
But perhaps we can set out on a general direction this morning. To live for the Lord is to do what the Lord wants to see accomplished. And that is to bless and to have the one blessed to pass on the blessings. It was the case for Abraham who heard God said to him, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:2). Jesus taught it in the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan in the story says to poor guy lying half dead on the road, that “what is mine is thine, and I am going to use it to restore your life.”  It was what the most blessed of all had done, by going to the cross so that many others are blessed. Will we be the ones who will pass on our blessings?
Third, the letter L. ‘L’ of course, stands for the word “Love”. To love rather than to assert power and authority is the main encouragement to the heads of the households.
We don’t read in Colossians words like, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. (Eph 5:25), so we shouldn’t jump to conclusion that Paul is challenging the man to love the way Jesus loves. But Paul is definite going countercultural here once again. He wants to free the men from cultural entrapment and to think and live lives theologically. This I believe is Paul’s purpose.
In the ancient world, “love in marriage was a stroke of good fortune; it was not the basis of the institution” , according to an archeologist. That means loving the wives in olden days wasn’t something unheard of, but it was rare. It is like striking gold. But it should be the norm for Christian families, says Paul.
For Paul, love was more than showing affections. To love is to care and provide for the wives, to be committed to her, to grow together with her in Christ. Every Christian man is to do all these, so that when the wives choose to submit, they are submitting to his love and not his tyranny.
To encourage this, Paul says, “do not be harsh with them.” If this doesn’t sound very much like an encouragement, it is probably because of the translation. The Greek verb Paul uses is passive in form; the effect of the action described is applied to the subject, in this case the man. Following the Greek grammar, the phrase can then be rendered, “do not become embittered [or resentful] toward her.”  I believe Paul would have witnessed many instances where the men were left feeling embittered when they used their absolute power on the wives; something we moderns can picture readily. And should we try to use power on our spouses or children these days, be sure Paul will be to us not only apostle and pastor, but also prophet.
The better way is to love. To love is to priorities the needs of others before our own. We shouldn’t stretch such this idea too far till we become people pleasers. But I would think love as in the way we define it here, is helpful in balancing things up both in Paul’s days, where men were often tyrants, and in our “I, me, mine culture”. My girl is young and her expressions are more limited, so I kept hearing from her the question, “What about me?” That means, prioritize what I want first. Grown up are much more skillful and nuance in our expressions. But should we find ourselves often using different phrasing to mean the same, following some current cultural thought pattern, then, let Paul’s words shake and change us.
Lastly, the letter ‘T’. ‘T’ stands for the word “thanksgiving”. When we read the verses on the slaves and masters, we again find something countercultural. Friends, what inheritance would slave typically receive? Nothing, of course. Inheritance is usually not applicable to slaves. So by declaring that slaves will be receive an inheritance in the Lord, Paul is assuring them that are full members of God’s household.
The nobodies in the eyes of the world, the slaves, made full members in God’s household. We, the unworthy, are invited by God to call him Father and to call out to him for all our needs, present and eternal. The promise of an inheritance is therefore instructive. It tells us that we have been shown grace and are therefore to live lives marked by thanksgiving. For ours is the God who calls, saves, empowers, leads and rewards.
There’s practical implication to Paul’s declaration though. Remember we mentioned earlier that masters had total control over everyone in the household? That slaves were simply their masters’ properties, no different from a basin or a footstool? And should male slaves fathers their own children, they were not regarded as fully man, and most of the will never be. Now, what if God so work in the life of one such slave and calls this full member of his household to be an elder in the church, the church where the master is also a member?
If something like this were to happen today, I presume the employer and the employee might not feel too easy, at least for a while. How much more challenging it would have been then for the New Testament church? The scenario just mentioned is hypothetical, but it throws at us – full member of his household – a very personal and real question. Are we prepared, as when need be, to go countercultural and orientate our lives in accordance to the gospel?
Ps Chang’an reminded the church recently that the bible should not be made into a stressful to-do list. I share largely his viewpoint, and so in asking “are we prepared to go countercultural and orientate our lives in accordance to the gospel”, I am only asking are we prepared, inclined to respond? And our response, according to Pastor Chang’an theological explanation, would also be that which will be brought about by God; yielding more thanksgivings down the road.
We use the word volt to help us unpack 4 aspects of the household code. In electrical terminologies, volt is the unit for voltage or the pressure that pushes the electrical current onward. In our experience when God does his work in us, it is Holy Spirit that pushes, and with that we move onward.
 Garland, David E. Colossians and Philemon (NIVAC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, p.265.
 Ibid., 245.
 Ibid., 245.
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