Interpersonal responsibilities – ‘mutual deference’ Colossians 3. 18 – 4. 6 – Part 12

The apostle has just shown the need for a responsible, transformed life as a result of having ‘put off the old man’, v. 9, and having ‘put on the new man’, v. 10. Following application to the believer’s life in general, he now turns to its application in particular interpersonal relationships. The section is comprehensive, covering the home life and the social life of the believer. The subject of wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters are all covered. A final paragraph, 4. 2-6, completes the overall section with the only basis upon which interpersonal relationships can be adequately maintained – prayer, vv. 2-4. The requirement for an appropriate ‘walk’ and gracious ‘speech’, vv. 5, 6, which is the basis of a spiritual testimony to those ‘that are without’, is then covered. The apostle is thus moving from a ‘Christ-centred’ life focused on character, 3. 5-17, to a ‘Christ-controlled’ life focused on action, 3. 18 - 4. 6.


  • Wives and husbands, 3. 18, 19;
  • Children and parents, 3. 20, 21;
  • Servants [slaves] and masters,
  • 3. 22 - 4. 1;
  • Prayer and testimony by life and lip,4. 2-6.

Wives and husbands, 3. 18, 19

The treatment of the subject here is less comprehensive than in the parallel passage in Ephesians, where submission is enjoined as ‘one to another’ before detailing specific relationships.1 Here, submission is confined to the home situation, but the principal ideas are similar. The Lordship of Christ is the key: ‘in the Lord’, v. 18; ‘unto the Lord’, v. 20; ‘of the Lord’, v. 24.

The submission of the wife, v. 18

In this verse, the apostle gives an exhortation, the reason for it and the sphere in which it operates. The exhortation to the wives is unambiguous, ‘submit yourselves unto your own husbands’. It is clear from this that home life is being envisaged. The reason for the call to submission is that ‘it is fit [proper]’; it is consistent with divine order. The sphere of its operation is ‘in the Lord’, cp. 3. 20 JND, RV; 4. 7, 17. The phrase occurs four times in Colossians and around forty times in the Pauline Epistles. An awareness of the Lordship of Christ is key to a successful Christian marriage. This is in contrast with the demise of the family unit, leading to the breakdown of the social fabric in society and all forms of anarchy.

The love of the husband, v. 19

The word to the husband is in the present active imperative tense. It demands the expression of affection as a necessary precedent as well as response to the submission of the wife – active and unceasing care. The absence of bitterness is enjoined, ‘do not be harsh with them’ ESV. There is, of course, no question of superiority, inferiority nor inequality envisaged in the wife-husband relationship.

Children and parents,vv. 20, 21

If the lovely relationship in verses 18 and 19 is in vogue, it is likely that this relationship will thrive, though not always. The book of Proverbs gives some excellent instructions for children.2 Some excellent advice for parents is also given in Proverbs, in addition to the well-known, though often misquoted, verse, ‘He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes’, Prov. 13. 24.3

The word to children, v. 20

The commandment given here is very clear, ‘obey [to listen under as looking up] your parents’. The extent of the obedience is ‘in all things’. The reason adduced is that it ‘is well-pleasing in the Lord’ JND, RV. There is a lovely dignity involved in this heeding and respecting. In Ephesians, the additional levers of being the ‘first commandment with promise’ and long life are added,6. 1-3. In the case where the child is the only believer in the home, the law of Christ always comes first, with any necessary deviation to be exercised in an attitude of love.

The word to fathers, v. 21

There is wise counsel here for parents, ‘don’t irritate your children by being so unreasonable that children lose heart’, be positive, ‘make obedience easy … train them to be gentlemen’,4 ‘bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’, Eph. 6. 4. The reason given here is, ‘lest they be discouraged [“become spiritless”, found only here in the New Testament]’. A proper balance is necessary and effective.

Servants (slaves) and masters,3. 22 - 4. 1

It is likely that Christian slaves are in view in continuance of the context of the believer’s home. The principles, however, are applicable to all employees and employers. The abolition of slavery is not the result of demonstrations but the inculcation of biblical doctrine and practice. The exhortation to slaves is more extensive than to masters – perhaps indicating that Christians were more likely to be employees than employers. The letter to Philemon gives lovely balancing truth in the subject matter of this paragraph.

The exhortations to ‘servants’,vv. 22, 23

The apostle covers three things in these verses: the response anticipated from believing employees, ‘obey’; the sphere in which the activity is undertaken, ‘the flesh’; and the manner of the service, ‘heartily’. The apostle is very demanding, ‘obey in all things your masters’. Similar exhortations are given elsewhere with the reason being ‘that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed’, to ‘adorn the doctrine’, and that ‘this is thankworthy’.5

The sphere of activity is ‘according to the flesh’, i.e., the world order, not the relationships which obtain in the assembly. The slave could be in a leadership role there, cp. 3. 11, and could leave slavery if the opportunity presented itself, 1 Cor. 7. 21, 22. The manner of the service is outlined here, vv. 22, 23. The attitude to be adopted is unlike that of the world, ‘not with eye service … but in singleness of heart, fearing God’. In other words, not external but true, faithful and conscientious, or, in ‘all good fidelity’, Titus 2. 10. There must be a true motive, ‘not … as menpleasers; but … fearing God’, v. 22; not fear of an earthly master, but reverence for their heavenly Lord. The comprehensive conclusion is ‘whatsoever ye do, do heartily, as to the Lord … not unto men’, v. 23. The same idea is found in Ecclesiastes chapter 9 verse 10, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might’.

The basis of the exhortations,vv. 24, 25

Service will be assessed at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Each believer, without exception, will ‘receive’ for a ‘good thing’, Eph. 6. 8, or ‘receive for the wrong’, Col. 3. 25. The sense of ‘shall receive’ means he acts upon himself. In other words, each is responsible for the reward he receives, ‘his own reward according to his own labour’, 1 Cor. 3. 8! There will be no mistakes since the rewarder is ‘the Lord’; ‘the Lord Christ’ is the One whom we serve.

There are two possibilities envisaged: to ‘receive the reward’ inherited; or to ‘receive for the wrong which he hath done’. The Judgement Seat is not to be contemplated lightly. We can be assured, however, of the impartiality of the judgement; there is ‘no respect of persons’, v. 25.

The exhortation to masters, 4. 1

The exhortation to masters is to ‘give … that which is just and equal’. They are to act fairly and impartially. The basis of the exhortation is given in the balance of the verse, ‘ye also have a Master in heaven’. They should treat their slaves in the same way they want to be treated by their Master, cp. Eph. 6. 9; Jas. 5. 1-4. Believers should be the best employees as well as the best employers.6

Prayer and testimony by life and lip, vv. 2-6

Praying, vv. 2-4

In these verses the apostle shows the threefold attitude to be adopted in prayer: continuance, watching and ‘thanksgiving’. In Acts, they ‘continued stedfastly [to persevere, assiduous] … in prayers’, 2. 42, and the apostles gave themselves ‘continually’ to prayer, 6. 4. It was ‘first of all [the all things]’ to be observed in a local assembly, 1 Tim. 2. 1-3. There is also a need for watching in prayer; to be vigilant, to stay awake, v. 2!7 ‘Thanksgiving’ indicates a spirit of appreciation and gratitude, cp. 1. 3; 1 Tim. 2. 1. The subjects of the prayers are indicated in verse 3, ‘us’, i.e., Paul and Timothy, but perhaps also the wider apostolic community. If they needed it, so do we!8 The object of the prayers is threefold: first, that ‘a door for the word’ RV might be opened;9 second, that the ‘mystery of Christ’ as the subject of the gospel, for which Paul was in bonds, might be spoken;10 and, third, that the communication might be effective. Perhaps, in this latter point, Paul also had his defence before the imperial tribunal in view, Eph. 6. 20.

Walking, v. 5

There is wisdom necessary for effective testimony to ‘them that are without’: to walk ‘honestly’, with a ‘good report’, 1 Thess. 4. 12; 1 Tim. 3. 7. Unbelievers are on the lookout! It is necessary to buy up the opportunities – ‘making the best use of the time’, Eph. 5. 15, 16 ESV. ‘Buying’ can be costly!

Speaking, v. 6

There are two necessary ingredients: grace and seasoning [prepared] ‘with salt’.11 Salt was connected to ‘wit’ in pagan society, and indicates ‘common sense’, or ‘rendering the speech palatable’, ‘not too much, not too little’. Grace and salt are both seen with the Lord, Luke 4. 22, 25.12 The grace and salt give the combination necessary to know how ‘to give an answer to every man’, 1 Pet. 3. 15; cp. Acts 6. 10. Paul exemplified this, speaking appropriately to the Gentiles at Athens and to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia, Acts 17. 16-34; 13. 14-41.



Eph. 5. 21 - 6. 9.


See Prov. 1. 8; 6. 20; 23. 22. See also Deut. 27. 16.


See Prov. 10. 13; 22. 15; 23. 13, 14; 26. 3.


F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Colossians, Erdmans, 1984.


1 Tim. 6. 1, 2; Titus 2. 9, 10; 1 Pet. 2. 18-20.


See Jacob, Gen. 30. 26, 27 (his employer even asked him to state his salary! 30. 28-31, twice!); 31. 6, 38-40, and the best employers, Boaz, Ruth 2. 4-17.


Cp. ‘Watch ye and pray’, Mark 14. 38; Luke 18. 1.


Cp. Eph. 6. 18, 19; Rom. 15. 30-32; 1 Thess. 5. 25; 2 Thess. 3. 1, 2.


Cp. 1 Cor. 16. 9; 2 Cor. 2. 12; Rev. 3. 8.


Cp. Gal. 1. 16; Eph. 6. 19.


See also Luke 4. 22; Ps. 45. 2; Eph. 4. 29; Matt. 5. 13.


Also, ‘neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more’, John 8. 11.


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