Gospel practicalities - Colossians 3:18 - 4:1

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 24th July 2022.

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Colossians 3 v 17 – 4 v 1 “Gospel Practicalities”

Intro: Colossians 3 bookends

Colossians 3 v 17 is an excellent summary of the size, scope and amazing privilege of the calling that Jesus has on the lives of his followers. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In the last couple of weeks Christians have been instructed to take off their old filthy sin-stained clothes and to put on in their place clothes that belong to Jesus, the clothes of love; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. The result of Christians doing this is a church family filled with peace and joy, a church family shaped and changed by God’s word, a church family that is a sigh of relief to gather with. A beautiful result but to be honest it is also a result that only comes at a cost that many people are unwilling to pay.


The cost is the giving up of our rights to do anything we feel like doing and instead being willing to do anything that is needed to love the people around us and bring them to Jesus.  This cost is most heavily felt in our closest relationships and in our hardest relationships and that’s where Paul gets to today. Now, no normal person living in our culture would willingly do this. Why would any Christian give up their rights for the sake of others? Why would any Christian woman happily submit to the leadership that her husband provides instead of making her own independent decisions?


Why would any Christian man continually use his strength for the eternal good of his wife rather than for seeking the ease that the world offers? Why would Christian children obey their parents willingly when they could complain and whine until they get their own way? Why would Christian parents, and especially Christian fathers, exercise the patience and discipline needed to encourage their children rather than just shouting at them to obey? Why would Christian workers go out of their way to do a good job when they are treated badly and not appreciated? Why would Christian leaders and employers give fair wages and conditions to their employees rather than making more profit?


The answer to this “WHY” question is in the 2 amazing bookends of Colossians chapter 3 (the start and the end) and I want to answer this why question before wading into what will be a very practical sermon that I hope will stimulate lots of conversations and prayers in the weeks to come. Bookend 1; In the first 4 verses of Colossians 3 we learnt some incredible truths that are absolutely true even though they are invisible. Christians are brand new people who have already been raised up with Christ, who have already been hidden with Christ in God, and who one day will appear with Christ in glory. Because those things are true, because Christians already have the most incredible privileges in the universe, then we CAN give up any of our rights and still not have lost anything that really matters.

Bookend 2; Then in the last few verses of the chapter we read that we can give up our rights because we know that there is a day coming when everything will be put right; “since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.” Christians who wear Jesus’ clothes and do everything they do in the name of Jesus (giving up their rights along the way) will one day receive a reward from Jesus, and they can also be confident that full justice will be carried out on that day when Jesus returns. We may well be treated badly now by the people we stoop down to serve, but God misses nothing and on the day of judgement when Christians are brought home to glory forever to receive their inheritance, not one sin will be left unanswered.

To summarise this rather long introduction then; Because Christians already have incredible blessings in Jesus, and because there is a certain day coming full of reward and justice, Christians can live very costly lives, giving up our rights so that whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we can do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


                 1) In your closest relationships work for Jesus (v18-21)

So with that said, with that great freedom we have to give up our rights, lets turn to verses 18-21 and see how in our closest relationships we can do just this and work for Jesus. Here we see our good God’s good plan for families.


“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord. Fathers (parents), do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” We thought last week about the perfect town to live in filled with people who wear Jesus’ clothes of love all the time and then we recognised that as a church family we are not there yet but that we want to change more and more so that we get closer to it. In the same way verses 18-21 show us a lovely picture of God’s proper design for family; Husband, wife, children (that is the revealed biblical definition and norm; to determine to do family in any other way which our society is dead set on doing is to imagine we know better than God or that our moral standards are somehow kinder than God’s).


So whilst all of us here will recognise that in our own families we are not the perfect family (there are a lot of messy situations within CC Riverside, single parents, widows, relationship breakdowns, unbelieving spouses etc), these verses must push us to obedience and prayer rather than us pushing these verses out of heads as quickly as possible. So as we go through these verses each one of us should be thinking like this; “What should I do now and what can I do in the future in response to this teaching so that my family conforms more closely to God’s design?”


What does a Christian wife submitting to her husband as is fitting in the Lord look like? Let’s get the extremes out of the way early – this does not mean putting up with any form of abuse in a relationship and this does not mean being some sort of doormat who has no opinions or decision-making role in a marriage. If you are in a situation like that then be brave and humble enough to talk about it with a close Christian friend or with one of the leaders in this church today.


What this does mean is being satisfied with the role God has for you as a wife, and a contentedness with being led. A Christian wife’s role is a helping role. You are to be a massive help in working with your husband so that life is lived for the glory of God rather than for the comfort of your own family. In reality the mood and tone of family life often rests very heavily on the contentedness of the wife. Happy wife happy life apparently – a wife content to be led towards sacrificial service to God and his people, leads to a godly family life.


The way this works out in my own family life, attempting to be faithful to God’s revealed plan, is that Joey’s main, full-time job (acknowledge nursing and ministry) is the practical, day to day care of our kids. Her acceptance of that and general contentedness with it means that the pattern of our family life is a very outward-looking pattern. If Joey grows discontented with that then I would be a much less effective elder and pastor of this church.

Joey’s battle to not let the grind of packed lunches, homeworks, permission slips, grocery buying, school uniform setting out, crippling tiredness and a million other things wear her down to discontentedness is a vital battle for us as a family, and it has a big impact on many people all around us because we are part of a church family. We will come on to the husband’s role in a moment but as I accept the responsibility of pushing the Birnie family outwards deep into the family of faith and all that brings with it, Joey’s submission to this and the costs that it brings us is vital. The better you know Joey and I the more you will realise that this isn’t always plain sailing, but it is always the direction we want to go on in.


Society hates this idea of submission because they think it leads to the abuse and limitation of women but Christian wives and husbands and everyone else should love this command because it frees family units up to be what they are supposed to be, to be outward looking, other-people serving, Christ focussed parts of a beautiful church family. Submission, though difficult to do, is a key way of walking the road that Jesus walked. The Son of God, fully divine, submitted to his Father’s will, his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane of “not my will but yours be done” marked out his whole life on earth – his loving submission to his father meant he stayed on that cross until everything needed for our salvation was accomplished. “Jesus help me to be a wife that submits.”



What does a Christian husband loving his wife and not being harsh with them look like? Again, it looks like Jesus. Jesus gave up his life because of his love for the church, Jesus’ gentleness and kindness meant he took responsibility for our lives and paid a huge cost for our eternal good. That is what a Christian man loving his wife is to look like, an acceptance of a huge responsibility, and a use of strength for what honours God. Christian husbands are to accept the cost that comes with leading their wives and families towards obedience to God.

The main problem we face with this, due to our sin and rebellion, is that we want to be like a character called Lester Burnham from a famous movie called “American Beauty.” In that film, Lester has a serious mid-life crisis, resigns from his high flying well paid job and interviews instead for a drive through role at a burger restaurant. When the young spotty supervisor asks him why he wants the job Lester says “I want the least amount of responsibility possible.” (Think of how we do this as men in our culture – man-boys). Christian husbands are to accept the responsibility God gives them to love their wives properly and to use their strength for what is good. The mark of good leadership in the home will be family lives saturated with prayer and God’s word, fully involved with the local church, family lives that are ordered and structured, that are aimed towards building up God’s people and reaching out to others. To get to this point requires a husband who won’t settle for a quiet life, but who will gently ask questions, take responsibility and shape priorities so that family life is often much less comfortable but much more honouring to God.

Loving your wife means SERVING her for her eternal good – pointing all of family life towards Christ. Jesus loved us to the death and paid all the costs that love demanded; “This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (Jesus help me to be a husband who loves his wife).  


What do Christian children obeying their parents in everything and pleasing the Lord look like? Kay has done a really good job of highlighting this already so all I want to do is underline the responsibility we all have as a church family to raise the expectations we have of our children. Society is feeding them the message that they should always fully express themselves and “be who they are”. That is not the Christian message at all. Let us not give in to this. We realise that sin has turned us away from God and turned us in on ourselves. Christian children are not to express themselves and be who they are, instead they are to learn trusting obedience and be who God would have them be in Christ. Obedience is not God-pleasing obedience if it isn’t done immediately and fully. I am not pretending that obedience is easy – I am a father of 4 and was a teacher for 12 years so I really have experienced the impact sin has on our young people. But again in aiming for this, we are asking our children to do what is best for them and follow Jesus whose obedience to his father has meant our salvation; Romans 5v19 says “through the obedience of the one man many will be made righteous.” “Jesus help me to be a child who obeys”.


But this does not mean sergeant-major parenting, this does not mean we treat our children as if they are in the army. What do fathers (parents) not embittering their children so they become discouraged look like? It looks like time spent walking alongside our children as they try to navigate life. Time given to listening to them, to praying for them and especially time spent giving them God’s certain promises to stand on and to build their life upon. But here is the rub - is there any more precious commodity in our lives than time? It is easier and quicker to use anger and fear to manage behaviour than it is to create the conditions in which real spirit-filled change will result. Discipline in families is a biblical must – but if parents are simply not willing to structure family life so that the word of God dwells richly then we cannot really expect to see the sort of godly obedience in our children’s lives that is in these verses. Jesus’ life was one of gentleness, tenderness and encouragement, even when correcting those around him, his correction was aimed at lifting the struggling up – in Matthew 11 Jesus tells burdened people to come to him because his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Jesus help me to be a parent who encourages my children to run to Jesus.

                    2) In your hardest relationships work for Jesus (v22-4v1)

CC Riverside, in our family lives we are to give up our rights, we are to pay the cost needed to clothe ourselves with love so that Jesus Christ is lifted high amongst us. I think it is a big challenge to work for Jesus in our closest relationships but we end with an even greater challenge that shows us how much we need to run to Jesus for the power to be able to do this.   

In our hardest relationships we are to work for Jesus as well (v22-4v1). There is no harder relationship than the one between a harsh master and a lowly slave. And yet Paul tells slaves to work with sincerity of heart and reverence for God even in that arena. Surely that is too much of a demand? Surely that is Paul going too far? There is no relationship that you are currently in that this command does not cover, the scope of God’s rule in our lives is complete. Jesus told us to even love our enemies. And so in every single relationship that you have, you are to put on the clothes of Colossians 3 and you are to follow Jesus. How can we possibly do this since we are battling sin in our own lives all the time?

We must turn our eyes to the cross of Jesus Christ, we must fix them there where the Son of God refused to come down and save himself, refused to bypass any of the agony of bearing our sin and drinking the wrath of God until the very last drop was done. The cross of Christ and the price that Jesus has paid for us means that there is no cost too high that we can pay to live in obedience to our loving saviour. Let’s remember where we began today – we are raised with Christ, hidden with Christ, one day we will appear with Christ in glory. On that day we will receive our glorious inheritance that Jesus has won for us. On that day every sin and injustice will be brought into the light, dealt with for eternity, and righteousness will prevail forever. So if you belong to Jesus already, take courage, clothe yourselves properly and with joy live every minute for him no matter what it costs you. And if you don’t know him as saviour, come today and put your faith in him now, because on that day it will be too late.

Colossians 3 v 17 – 4 v 1 “Gospel Practicalities”


2 bookends that allow us to give up our rights:

  • Colossians 3 v 1-4 What we already have


  • Colossians 3 v 24-25 The day that all is put right



               1) In your closest relationships work for Jesus (v18-21)


Key question: “What should I do in response to this teaching so that my family conforms more closely to God’s design?”


What does a Christian wife submitting look like?


  • Satisfied with a helping role


  • Content with being led


Submission is a key way of following Jesus: “Not my will but yours be done”



What does a Christian husband loving look like?


  • Acceptance of responsibility


  • Using strength for what honours God

Loving is a key way of following Jesus: “This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” 


What do Christian children obeying their parents look like?  


  • Immediate trusting obedience


  • Full trusting obedience


Obeying is a key way of following Jesus: “through the obedience of the one man many will be made righteous.”



What do parents encouraging their children look like?


  • Time walking alongside children


  • Giving them God’s promises to stand on


Encouraging is a key way of following Jesus: “Come to me you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”


                2) In your hardest relationships work for Jesus (v22-4v1)


The scope of God’s call on our lives is complete.


Turn your eyes to the cross of Jesus Christ.

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