Gordon E. Johnson



Panoramic View


Paul's Prayer

Walk but Beware

Life in Union with a Risen Christ

Freedom In Christ

Victory: Real or Counterfeit

The Christ Life in an Alienated World

Holiness in the Home

Holiness in Our World at Large

Paul's Greetings to Fellow Workers


The Christ Life in an Alienated World

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

The Practice of Holiness in all Relationships

Colossians 3:20 - 4:1

If the Christian life is worth anything at all, its reality must be seen most clearly and frequently in the home and the work relationships of daily life. In the home routine of 24/7 frictions can so easily develop between husband and wife, children and parents, slaves (employees) and masters (employers). Here is where Christ in us (Colossians 1:27) is put to the supreme test.

The overarching spiritual principle that governs life's relationships is the active Lordship of Christ and our final accountability to Him as sovereign in all things.

Anyone can be "good" on occasion, but there is no "default" goodness in the home or work place. We live out our warts and worries. Each one is called upon to lay hold of the resources made ours through union with Christ as expressed in Colossians 2:11-3:11.

Paul has highlighted our having being spiritually circumcised, that is, being cut off from the old life that exudes pride, bitterness, anger, sloth, etc. But the positive evidences of holiness are seen in our burial, and resurrection "through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead" (2:12).  Furthermore we have been forgiven of all our trespasses, released from demonic bondage to a freedom from rules and external regulations (vv.13-17).We may now live our life freely under the Holy Spirit's dynamic.

Paul has grounded our new life in our having been separated decisively from the old life in Adam. The very essence of our being "dead to sin" (Romans 6:11) is not the absence [much too often we think of death as absence; it is not] or the cessation of being, but it is a separation, a total break in the former control.

By sharp contrast our life now is "hidden with Christ in God". With this power available to us, we can by faith seek and set our affections on things above (3:1-4).The injunctions that follow are thus thoroughly within our faith/obedience stance--to put off and to put on the new man. These are not commands that test our best efforts but rather the firmness of our stand of faith.

Within this context, the believer puts on "as the elect of God, holy and beloved, tender  mercies, kindness and humbleness" (vv.12-16). These are precisely the virtues that fuel the grace of submission and obedience within the family units that Paul will deal with shortly.

Renewed Family Relationships    Colossians 3:18-21

Wives and Husbands     Colossians 3:18, 19

Bishop H. C. G. Moule, the Greek scholar, makes a significant point that changes the perspective of the wife's submission to the husband as purely a military term to another rendering that infers a complementary perspective while still not weakening the command. "Wives, be loyal to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord" (v.18). As the soldier with a heart voluntary loyalty to his country submits to his commander, so may the wife voluntarily be loyal to her husband as unto the Lord. God retains the divine order in marriage but grounds it in a heart loyalty, a covenant relationship freely taken.

To the husband Paul invokes the magical word, "Husbands, love your wives in all things and do not be bitter to them". That love immediately draws attention to the crowning attribute of God, His peerless love toward His own, even "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8). Paul's negative command to the husband to not be bitter toward his wife excludes forever the fleshly responses of a petulant husband. "Never for a moment let your leadership be mistaken for a right to irritability of temper and to the miserable spirit of domestic autocracy"[1] The husband has no divine right to rule in dictatorial fashion but rather to put on tenderness and meekness as per the universal injunction to every believer (Colossians 3:12).

Children and Parents      Colossians 3: 20, 21

Paul turns next to the relationship of parents and children and their obedience to God.

In the first two injunctions to the parents their being loyal and loving to each other will inevitably become the most powerful force in the spiritual formation of the children's character and conduct. Children quickly and innately recognize their parent's loyalty and love at the earliest age. Stated negatively they are the quickest to see hypocrisy and the façade of parents and reject its spurious claims.

This counsel is a powerful caution for the Christian worker who may come across in ministry as the "spiritual" leader but not at home. Pastor's children earn their "right" to rebel against such hypocrisy and God does too!

Simply stated Paul confirms the fifth commandment in a sweeping manner. "Honor your father and mother [note the inclusion of the mother], that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12).  For underage children, the parents must answer to God for their child training, hence the statement "for this is well pleasing to the Lord in all things". What is presupposed here is the parents' spiritual ministry toward their children. Parents will answer to God someday.

The command for children to obey "in all things" recognizes the age differential and their being maintained by the parent. The only exception would be the unlikelihood of a sinful command or later in life to recognize the prior command to love supremely our Lord. "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew10:37).

However, the honoring of parents, as opposed to obedience, is a life-long respect and gratitude for the provision and care afforded them in their earlier years. The responsible adult will never regret the esteem and respect shown to his or her parents, even toward those with flaws and failure. There never has been a perfect parent, nor child that finally matures.     

As always, Paul does not speak of the rights of wives, husbands or children but rather of their specific responsibilities. To fathers, the term in classical Greek often implies the mother. This inclusion must be also assumed in child training. The mother will generally spend more time with the child than the father may be able to spend, but his authority is the basis of good child training. Today with so many mothers working or having to work, child training inevitably suffers.

There are 14 references in Proverbs to the role of the mother in child training (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20; etc.). Proverbs establishes forever the dual role of both parents. The unique character and birth relationship of the mother and her psychological insights lend a great deal to the child's moral development. The father, on the other hand, with a different perspective should support and show total solidarity with the mother's biblical counsel.

I am in great part the result of my Irish mother's example, discipline and wise counsel.  [An aside, with her Irish brogue she pronounced "discípiline" wrongly, but she surely knew what it was and how to apply it!] In fact, she was my first mentor and her memory continues to be my ever-present mentor.

I owe my early conversion to my parents; God gave me an ideal biblical up-bringing, saved at 12 and consecrated to God for missionary service at 14 in Prairie High School in my first missionary conference in grade 9.

Allow me a personal word in honor of my wife, Grace of 64 years of marital bliss. God granted us four daughters; now each of them is in full time ministry with their husbands and families. Grace's main ministry has always been the excellent care she has given them and still does to this day. She is now uniquely loved by them. Together we have thanked God many times for the way both daughters and grandchildren are following the Lord.

God did not choose to give us a son, but without any neglect at all of the family, I was freer to travel most extensively from 1968-2006. She would tell girls: "We are sharing our daddy with many of God's people in Latin America."  It was very clear to our children that Grace and I were on the same page in terms of godly discipline.

The injunction to parents with regard to their children is: "Do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." Another version enlarges on the thought of provocation. "Do not irritate your children." Don't challenge their first and natural resistance with a glowering tone of voice and unnecessary demands that can only build a sullen and repressed defiance.

Many a child has been turned inward by destructive comments about an apparent lack of ability, maturity or personal disadvantages.  How practical is this demand!  A kind but firm requirement is a must; a consistent pattern of expected behavior and an appropriate follow through leads to long term obedience and respect.

Sporadic and unexpectedly harsh demands only drive a deeper wedge between the child and the well meaning parents.  No wiser counsel can be given than to follow through on our heavenly Father's example who knows how to balance love with righteous demands.

Servants and Masters

Paul now devotes four extended verses to the slave/master relationship, possibly in great part, because he writes to the brethren in Colosse where Philemon, apparently a church lay leader and a slave master, who confront a typical situation: slavery vis a vis the early church in its social and economic world.

Hear Paul's gracious appeal; "Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you--being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ--I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart" (Philemon 8-12). What an insight into the spiritual factors in play here as opposed to those in our world system! 

My imagination envisions Onesimus and Philemon on equal footing in worship with the brethren at the foot of the Cross. They are now brothers in the Lord.

In returning Onesimus to the local assembly Paul now turns to the relationships so prevalent in those days. Here we see the Gospel in action, the only spiritual factor that can and does remove slavery and promotes eventual social justice.

"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heat fearing God" (v.22). Paul transforms the slave/employee's relationship into the same heart obedience of children to parents and wives to husbands, and husbands to Christ. Here is the worth and the dignity of mundane work.

Spiritual heart values transform the secular world into the spiritual. There are not to be two separate worlds, but one world governed by heart obedience and the fear of God. There is dignity in such obedience and ultimately the "reward of the inheritance" (v.24) from the heavenly "employer."

A word of wisdom for all of us to follow. Whether it is a doing a class assignment, sweeping the floor or preparing a sermon, our motivation is to "do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men"; never is it to be slothful or negligent work offered only under a watchful human eye. We are reminded that there is a divine eye that records and evaluates our work" (v.23). The ultimate reason for such service, heartily rendered, is that we "serve the Lord Christ" (v.24). A solemn rejoinder follows: any thing less than that will be repaid without partiality by the heavenly "master/employer" (v.25).

Paul's final word is for the employer. "Masters, give your servants what is just and fair [equal], knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (Colossians 4:1). What an evenhanded dealing with home and job relationships where Christ can and must be seen to live in us! A lazy and careless worker/pastor/teacher is really an oxymoron, a nonentity!

Holiness in the home and work place is possible only where the indwelling Christ is honored and obeyed.  Paul knows "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think of anything  as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us able ministers of the new covenant" (2 Corinthians 3:5.6).

Guidelines to Guard in Daily Life

As a parent what is your home relationship to your son or daughter?

Personal ……… Evenhanded ………  Positive or negative …………

Fathers, Have you abdicated your responsibility for child training to your wife? ………..

Are you demanding? ……………Are you, in effect, absent…………………

How would your child describe your treatment of his or her mother?


Wives, How supportive are you with the role of your husband before your children?


At work do your fellow workers know you are a believer?


What is your reputation as a worker?

Trustworthy……. Honest……. Diligent…………...

Rate yourself by biblical standards at home (one to ten)…………

at work……………….

[1] H. C. G. Moule, Colossians and Philemon Studies, Lessons in Faith and Holiness (London:Pickering & Inglis), p. 235.