Colossians for Women: Restored Relationships
I think it’s fair to say that maintaining healthy relationships is one of life’s most difficult aspects. Strained (or broken) relationships are something we all experience. It may happen with your spouse, a parent, a child, with someone at church or at school, or with your employer. Being in a good relationship with everyone, all of the time, seems well nigh impossible.
Shattered relationships between people, created in God’s image and yet so tragically fallen, are also at the heart of much of what is in the news. On just one given day here in January this year, in Christchurch, the papers reported on the brutal attack of a German tourist at the local bus station in town, of another suicide bomber in Afghanistan, of fighting in South Sudan and Syria, and of the latest suspicious death in North Korea. These are just a few examples of the brokenness in our world, where the norm is hatred and discord.
And yet, there is more to say, of course. As we have seen in previous articles on Colossians, Jesus himself entered this grim scenario. We are told that “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness” and brought us in to his kingdom (1:13).1Jesus died and rose again. He disarmed the powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them (2:15), able to do this because “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Jesus)” (1:19). Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that Jesus is supreme. There is no one greater than him.
Thus, there is hope, despite what we experience. Jesus himself has “made peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (1:20). It is through him that peace can be restored.
Colossians points out that this peace is first of all between us and the Father: once we were alienated from God, enemies, prone to evil behaviour, but are now reconciled to God through Christ (1:21-22). We are reborn, a new creation, “(risen) with Christ” (2:1), having been given “fullness in (him)” (2:9).
New life in Christ
There’s still more to be said, however, because Colossians 3 and 4 indicate that this restored relationship with God results in restored relationships (peace) with each other. Indeed, our king, Jesus, is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, Ephesians 2:13-18).The good news of the New Testament is that earthly relationships, too, are able to thrive once more. Our former selves want to live selfishly, pleasing ourselves. Changed people, however, who are now in a right relationship with the Lord, recognise the beauty of harmony within relationships, of submitting to each other, and exhibiting Christ-likeness.
The good news continues. Since we are now “in Christ” he gives us everything we need to, in Paul’s words to Titus, say “no” to ungodliness (Titus 2:11) and “yes” to compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col 3:12). Because of what Jesus has accomplished for us, we are able to be people who love others. We recognise that the characteristics of the old nature destroy relationships; Christ-like behaviour, on the other hand, restores and builds others up.
Thus, despite the brokenness we see and experience, we have hope, not just for ourselves, but also for our world. Jesus’ restoration work, God’s new kingdom, has already begun. You and I, and all believers in Jesus, are proof of it.
Loving God’s family
Colossians 3:12-17 addresses a collective group, the church, “God’s chosen people” (3:12), described as holy and much loved (3:12) and “members of one body” (3:15). It follows that the intense love shown to this beloved people – by the God of the universe himself – must in turn also be shown by us to all those whom he has chosen. He calls his church “to peace” (3:15). This certainly applies to the church family you are part of; we need to love those in our local church. This principle of love extends, however, to all of God’s chosen people. If Jesus is my king and if I am part of his kingdom, then I need to work within that kingdom (of which my local church, and even the RCNZ, is only a part), and to show the kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness and patience, that he asks me to show to all those whom Jesus has chosen to belong to his kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46).
So, how do you relate with other believers? Do you remember that you are part of the same family? Do you show them the compassion that Jesus has shown you? Are you patient when they say something that you disagree with? Are you humble towards them? Do you respond gently and with grace? Do you show compassion and a helping hand, or, when asked for help, do you say “go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed” (James 2:16) but do nothing about it? James comments rather bluntly: “faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Or, as Paul puts it in Colossians, “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). Such a person must exhibit the love that Jesus showed her to others also being gathered into the “kingdom of the Son” (1:13).
Paul adds: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (3:13). He then includes this short sentence, just six words long: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Much could be (and has been) written about this short sentence. At the heart of it is the forgiveness that we have experienced. The restoration of our relationships within this new kingdom of our Lord Jesus can only happen because God has forgiven us all our sins (2:13). We are forgiven, cleansed, made new, and this, in turn, determines our relationships with others: as God forgave us, now we, having “fullness in Christ” (2:10), have been given the spiritual power to forgive others. That is amazing, and also a source of great hope and encouragement. The power that enabled Jesus to “disarm the powers and authorities ... triumphing over them” (2:15) is the same power that enables us to forgive those who sin against us. Of course, there is far more to be said on this subject, especially in situations where great hurt has been experienced. However, I think that for most of us, most (if not all) of the time, the basic biblical principle to “forgive as the Lord forgave you” is absolutely critical in maintaining Christ-like relationships. We need to be willing to forgive (often).
Another and very important way of bringing peace within God’s family is by speaking (and singing) God’s words together. Paul writes: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing...” (3:16). Teaching the Scriptures to each other, also as women, and using God’s words as the basis of admonishing a sister in the Lord, is vital in maintaining good relationships within the church. If our collective focus is on the Word, which is ultimately Jesus himself, then peace and harmony within God’s family will follow. In my last article, I extended a challenge for you to find a 1-2-1 Bible reading partner this year. Have you done so? As a further suggestion: is there someone you’re struggling to relate to? Then why not get together with her for a season and read the Word of the Lord together? I can’t think of a better way of softening a relationship than that!
Loving relationships within domestic families
Of course, everything written in Colossians 3:12-17 for the church family, and commented on above, applies to our domestic families, too. In 3:18-21, Paul zeroes in, in a specific way, in order to show that the death and resurrection of Jesus is relevant also for how we live our individual lives, such as in our families. Without Jesus, our homes would be chaotic, disordered, full of “anger, rage, malice” (3:8), but the new kingdom that Jesus has ushered in also results in homes that are peaceful and orderly. And, as reborn people, the love, compassion, humility, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and patience we show to our church family should be demonstrated daily to those we live with.
Paul gives various specific instructions about our relationships that lead to this peace, such as marriage based on love and submission. He also writes about the relationship between parents and children. Children are to obey their parents, and parents are told not to hinder them in this: “fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (3:21).
True, the instruction is to fathers, and I guess that we women could simply skip this verse as not applicable to us. We do have a role to play, though. Our husband is also our brother in the Lord, and we are to help him in his role as father (and admonish him, if necessary), applying Paul’s words to “teach and admonish each other with all wisdom” (3:16) – this is possible even while being respectful and loving. Standing by, saying nothing to him when our husband is overly harsh, or, on the other hand, reacting in a way that is ungodly (becoming angry, or resentful, or undermining him in some way, for example) could be harmful both for your husband’s relationship with your children, but also between you and him. Instead, we are to love our husbands also by encouraging (and praying for) them to be the best (that is, the most godly, Christlike) father possible.
However, there is also implicit instruction for mothers here. Mothers, too, should not embitter their children. There are many ways we do this. One way is through inconsistency which, as a child grows older, will be interpreted as being unjust and unfair. A toddler may not consciously notice that one day he is allowed to do something and the next day is disciplined for doing the same thing, but a teenager will. It’s also possible to embitter your children by being overly rigid, or over correcting. This could be a temptation for those, who, for example, are super disciplined themselves, or who are overly worried about their child’s sinfulness. Are you constantly criticising your child? Does your child feel that he can never be good enough to meet your standards? If so, have you, perhaps, fallen into this trap of parenting? In a case like this it’s possible that the mother’s attention is fixed more on how she can control her child than on the Lord Jesus, and the child’s either on how to keep mum satisfied, and/or how miserable he feels. Instead, “wrestle in prayer” for your children (as Epaphras did for the Colossians, 4:12), remember to train them “with all wisdom” (3:16) in order that they clearly see God’s standards first (not yours) and develop into confident young adults who trust in their Lord Jesus (knowing that he provides everything necessary to meet these standards). And relax, resting in God’s work in your child’s life, even as he has worked in yours.
Finally, what about relationships that don’t seem to heal? I think that Paul’s comments to slaves (3:22-25) are helpful, even if we are not slaves per se. Slaves were in relationships (with their masters) over which they had little control, and in which there was no guarantee of change. Yet, they are instructed to do everything they can, with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord (3:22), to be diligent in doing what is right. Paul adds a great encouragement (and comfort) in this: their focus on the Lord Christ in this difficult assignment will gain them a great reward, an inheritance from God himself (3:24). This perspective should guide and motivate us, too, when dealing with fracture and brokenness in our relationships.
To conclude, peaceful relationships result only when our focus is firmly on the Lord Jesus; they are part of the new life he has ushered in for all those who believe in him. It is a very tangible answer to Paul’s prayer in 1:10 that believers would live lives worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in every way: bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God.