A Model of Christian Ministry audio (4MB)
Paul began his letter to the Colossians emphasising the supremacy of Christ. In chapter 1 he told us that in him all things were created, “in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.” (1:16)
All authority comes from Jesus. This is why Jesus stood silently before Pilate who said, “Why won’t you answer me? Don’t you know that I have the power to have you crucified?” And Jesus says, “You would have no power over me, unless it had been given you from above.” It means, you know, Pilate, “you do have the power to crucify me, but only because I gave it to you.”
We know where the rulers and powers of our world get their authority, because all authority comes from God.
So before concluding his letter, Paul is turning our attention to the deeper question, of how power and authority should be exercised and approached as a Christian.
From chapter 2 he names some worldly authorities: human teachings, pagan worship, religious regulations and devotions, and then in chapter 3, the power of sin.
So, the world is seemingly a battle ground where we’re putting sin to death – and watching that human authorities don’t take us captive.
The world is a battle ground for us. But even in a war, there are always rules of play. God sets the rules. And God even plays by his own rules.
So, what tactics are we allowed to use against the authorities of this world? And what are we not allowed to do?
Paul’s gonna finish his letter off with some basic rules – (to sum it up):
1. All authority comes from God
2. If you’re under the world’s authorities – submit
3. If you’re in authority in this world – be like Jesus and become a servant, lay down your life for those under your authority
If we’re gonna live according to these rules, we’d better be clear on who God has given authority to in this world. It’s implicit in Paul’s letter, but to be clear on his meaning, we need to go back to Genesis. In the graced world, the authority structure was very simple: God was in charge, and man and woman (equal partners) had authority over nature and the animals. But in the fallen world (ch3), as punishment, God gave power to four individuals in this world:
God still supreme
- Satan has power over human beings (v15)
- Man has power over woman (v16)
- Nature has been cursed, and now has power of human beings – (v17-18)
- Death has power over human beings (v19)
- This is not a matter of personal opinion but of fact – if you think Satan doesn’t have any authority in this world look at the world – if you think men don’t have dominant power over women/children – look at the world.
The situation for women is worse globally, but it’s not that great here in Australia – the most recent statistics tell us:
33% of women in Australia experience physical violence in a 12 month period
19% - sexual violence
64% of these incidents occur in the home
And if we examine the life of the Christian, we find that these things are still true, for those of us living in Christ.
- we still sin and are tempted and attacked by the evil one
- we still live in a context of patriarchy,
- we still experience natural disaster, disease, and struggle to survive,
- and we still die
There is, if you like, a layer of authority that exists under Christ’s ultimate authority, to which this world is subject, and we will not escape it in this life. Why not? It’s basically because we’re not cheating. Like Jesus, we have to submit to the Father’s rules.
Jesus goes to the cross, submitting to the authorities of his time, so that he can win the battle fair and square. Some wanted him to wage war on Rome but that wasn’t going to happen. It’s like the athlete who chooses not to take performance-enhancing drugs. It’s harder to train and perform clean, but if you win, no one can later take the prize from you. Because you stuck to the rules. Jesus didn’t subvert Satan’s power, he conquered it. He didn’t subvert the power of death, he died, and rose to conquer it. He didn’t subvert the power of men, but as a man, treated women as equals.
So, this is the theory, but what does it mean for us in practice? Paul’s finishes his letter up by getting practical about how to live at home, at work and in the world …
Rules for family life
We’re in the context of the fallen world where:
Gen 3:16 – “To the woman he said: ….. your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”
So it is curious that in this context of the oppression of women under the dominance and authority of men, Paul writes this:
v18 – Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
v19 – Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Paul is saying that the answer to the dominance of men over women in our world, is not for women to subvert it (quite simply – it won’t work). Only the cross can conquer it, and bring us again into equal partnership, where in Christ, there is no distinction between man and woman (Gal 3:28). So Paul’s advice to husbands is to exercise their authority with love and care, and not to take advantage of their position. In the parallel passage in Ephesians he even counsels husbands and wives to submit to one another.
A second area of consequence for family life, relates to parenting. God said to the woman: Gen 3:16 – “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”
Well, it hardly needs to be said that parenting is tough, from the time the child is born onwards. Maybe it’s the hardest job there is. Because your kids are going to be rebellious. And they will be influenced by the powers/authorities of the world. So Paul says:
v20 – Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord.
And, back to men being good men in the home:
v21 – Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.
Again, the answer is not to deny the authority that fathers in particular have over their children, but to exercise it responsibly and lovingly.
Rules for working life
Gen 3:17 – “and to the man he said: ‘… cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life … by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread …”
Making a living, putting food on the table, paying your mortgage – all of that is going to be tough. There will be times when nature will work against you. It won’t rain. You’ll get sick and injured. Some will work hard, and never reap much in return.
Because of this, we are all competing for our livelihood. Some will have more bargaining power than others. Some will own companies. Others will work for them. And some people won’t have the capacity to work. So in our economy there is this undeniable power imbalance. What does Paul say?
v22-24 – Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord …
I know we want to cringe/flinch when we read the word ‘slave’ here
- but as with the reality of patriarchy, Paul has no choice but to speak to it – since 85% of inhabitants of the Roman empire were working as slaves
- so he’s saying, Christians should work hard for their masters, and not only when he’s looking … but all the time … and to balance this:
4.1 – Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a master in heaven (who you are accountable to)
Advice for evangelising
The New Testament tells us that God has now given a new kind of authority to some people in the world. Jesus has passed on his authority to us, to continue his ministry, by giving us the Holy Spirit. And Paul has some advice about how we might go about that:
4. v3-4 - Pray for us, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
v5 – be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
v6 – let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Food without salt or seasoning is boring. It’s nothing. Our words should never be dull, but full of flavour. Paul says, pray for those of us in preaching, that we will never be boring …
I sometimes wonder whether one of Satan’s best tactics against Christians, is to direct our minds to thinking that the only way to be holy is to be boring:
In 1998 the National Church Life Survey organisation undertook a national community survey called ‘why people don’t go to church’. Of the many significant reasons that people give for not going to church, the dominant one was boredom. 42% of infrequent or non-attenders said church services are boring and unfulfilling.
We have no excuse to be boring. There is nothing boring about living in Christ. It’s gutsy. It’s subverting hierarchy, defeating Satan, healing wounds and conquering death. It’s winning the battle, but by the rules.
We’re not boring, but we do play to God’s rules:
If we’re under the world’s authorities – we submit
If we’re in authority in this world – we become a servant, like Jesus
And we do this because we know that all authority comes from him, and because, as Paul told us in chapter 2 (v15): “having disarmed the powers and authorities, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them, by the cross.”
Today’s scripture passage isn’t easy. It’s not a feel-good topic. The call to submission and servant leadership is not one of the sexiest aspects of being a Christian.
The way of the cross isn’t glamorous, but it is the way to life. And if anyone’s qualified to talk about it, it’s Paul. Because even as he’s writing this letter from prison, with his own hand, he signs off from prison saying, “Remember my chains.”
We do well to remember the chains of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Because every time we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, even in the communion, we might remember the millions worldwide who have suffered for the gospel – even those named in this letter: Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras, Onesimus, Luke, Demas, Archippus …. and all those who are lost in history, but who are remembered in heaven.
Especially all the women, and children, and slaves, who the scriptures don’t name, but who have been salt to the earth, and who have shared in the sufferings of Jesus.