Relative Duties
Colossians 3:18-4:1
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

The two considerations on which the apostle's treatment of the relative duties here seems to be based are these:

1. The position of authority is also relatively, by Divine constitution, the stronger position.

2. Christ is to be regarded as represented in the position of authority. Throughout the paragraph he is designated in respect of his authority. That there may be no doubt about the reference, it is expressly stated, in the twenty-fourth verse, that Christ is Lord.


1. Wives. "Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." The wife has the weaker position. "The weaker vessel" is the language used by Peter. She is more delicately constituted, and is not so fitted to fight her way in the world. She is made to lean upon her husband, and therefore it is fitting that in her duty she should fall into a certain subordination to him. This is not only fitting in itself, but it is fitting in the Lord. That is to say, it is Christ who is over her in her husband. If, then, she is a Christian wife, she has more than her husband to regard in the relation. She will be willing to be directed by Christ in her husband.

2. Husbands. "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them." The husband ("band of the house") has the stronger position. He is more robustly constituted. He has a bolder judgment. And so the controlling power has been placed in him. But that does not point to his using it for selfish ends. Christ, as the Head of the Church, as is brought out in Ephesians, used his position only to love the Church and to give himself up for its deliverance. So it is the duty of the husband, as the representative of Christ in the relation, to love his wife and to protect her weakness with his strength. He is not to be a despot, putting bitterness into his strength against his wife; - that would be utterly inconsistent with acting in the Name of Christ.


1. Children. "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing in the Lord." Children are at first utterly helpless. And for a long time they are dependent on their parents. Especially, in their inexperience, are they dependent on the experience of their parents. That points to their being obedient to their parents. The principle is, as stated here, obedience in all things, there being no exception to it in the mere pleasure of the child. In Ephesians the rule is grounded on its being right. The rule for the wife, we have seen, is grounded on its being fitting. The rule for children here is grounded on its being well pleasing. That is to say, it is a beautiful thing to see children subjecting their impulses, their wishes, their plans, to the better judgment, riper experience, of their parents. It is a beautiful thing to see them rendering prompt and universal obedience. This is not only beautiful in itself, but it is beautiful in the Lord. That supposes that they have given themselves to the Lord. In that case they will regard their parents as given them by the Lord. And not only so, but they will regard them as in the place of the Lord to them. It is pre-eminently a beautiful thing when children learn to reverence and obey their parents, not simply as their parents, but as placed over them by Christ.

2. Parents. "Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged." Parents (for we are to think of the whole ruling power relative to the children) have the stronger position. There is great disparity at first for purposes of rule, But they are not to use their position to provoke their children. That is the coarse way of ruling. The rod, though necessary at times, is not to be the substitute for reason. It is also generally the selfish way. Parents cannot take pains with their children. They cannot bear with their dulness. They have not the patience to deal with their self will so as to have it overcome. They cannot bear to have their liberty curtailed, their comfort disturbed, by their children. And so they passionately, tyrannically, carry out their pleasure on their children. That is not only to be condemned in itself, but it is especially to be condemned in those who should regard themselves as the representatives of Christ to their children. Christ does not act harshly to men. He does not act harshly to them. And therefore they should not act harshly to their children. The effects are, as might be expected, bad. The children are discouraged. Youth is the time of hopefulness. With the wakening of the powers hopes spring forth. And parents have carefully to watch over the calling forth of the powers of their children. It is all important that these be directed in a Christian way. But children are easily discouraged. They lose heart before the difficulties connected with following out useful and Christian aims. And they need to have many words of encouragement spoken to them. They need to be shown what they can do. But to give them no encouragement, to treat them as though they were incapable of anything great, to heap reproaches on them, to punish them harshly, is to crush the life out of them. The breaking of the spirit is said to be the bane of youth.


1. Servants.

(1) Rule. "Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh." The slave was entirely at the mercy of his master. God never intended any one to be in that position. The servant with whom we have now to do occupies a very different position - still, however, the weaker position in the relation. And as for children, so for servants, the rule is obedience in all things. That is to say, within the proper sphere of work there is no exception founded on the mere pleasure of the servant. When it is said that obedience is to be rendered to them that are masters according to the flesh, there is a suggestion, though yet only a suggestion, of a relation to a higher Master.

(2) Principle. "Not with eye service as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord." The principle is not men pleasing, or regard simply for the human master. That is not fitted to be a principle, for it proceeds on a variable element. It requires no more than eye service, or as it is here (as distinguished from Ephesians), acts of eye service. The eye of the master cannot always be on the servant. If, then, the servant is regulated by the eye of the master, his work must vary accordingly, being sometimes well done, sometimes ill done, and sometimes not done at all. The principle is fearing the Lord, or regard for the Divine Master. We are not to understand regard for the authority of Christ in general, but regard for the authority of Christ as represented in the master, even in the slave master. This is fitted to be law universal. For the eye, of Christ, being all seeing, is always on the servant. There is thus excluded duplicity; there is required singleness of service, or the eye always on Christ in the work done.

(3) Quality. "Whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men." If the slave looked away to the Lord beyond his master, then, whatsoever he did, whether it was work great or small, oppressive or not oppressive, he could do it, not only with a sense of freedom, but cordially. Christ regarding his work and entering thoroughly into it, he could do it from his inmost being. And so when a Christian servant falls in with a bad master, he is not at liberty, as taught here, to do his work grudgingly. He has this reason in any case for heartiness in the work, that he is rendering it to One who is worthy.

(4) Encouragement. "Knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ." This was a new order of things, a new field of thought, for the slave. A servant rightly considers himself entitled to payment for his labour. The slave was entitled too; but he was not accustomed to look for payment. Certainly he never thought of being recompensed with an inheritance. In the eye of the law he could not hold an inheritance. He was only property himself. And yet here, as a freeman in Christ Jesus, it is promised that he would have an inheritance. This was nothing less than the inheritance promised down the ages to the people of God - the inheritance without any subtraction from it. This he would receive at the hands of the Rewarder of his servants. He was defrauded all his days of the just reward of his labour; but the Lord would see to his being recompensed, and in better kind. The Lord whom he served was no tyrant, but the Christ who had died for bondman as well as for freeman. And so the Christian servant can make sure of being recompensed. It should be a pleasure to serve the Lord Christ now. It should be a pleasure to serve him even without thought of reward. But the Lord Christ is of liberal mind, and will see to all hearty work being rewarded. And if the heartiness has been overlooked on earth, the reward will only be the greater in heaven.

(5) Warning. "For he that doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done: and there is no respect of persons." If a servant gives eye service to his master, or in any form wrongs him, it is not to be supposed that the Lord Christ will overlook the wrong. There will be a receiving again for the wrong that he hath done. It will be so much taken from the final reward. Christ is partial neither to servant nor to master, and, in the final righting that is to take place between the two, it will be seen that his face is set only against wrong doing.

2. Masters. "Masters, render unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven." The master has the stronger position; but that is only that he may use his position for the sake of the weaker. He is to render to his servant that which is just, that which does not depend on his pleasure, but is grounded on the eternal order of things. And beyond the just he is to render to him that which is equal. In Ephesians it is said that he is to do the same things. The meaning seems to be that, as the servant is required to give him hearty work, so he is required, on his part, to give considerate treatment. Such equality is becoming in a Christian master. For he also has a Master in heaven. The servant is to give hearty work out of regard to that Master. Out of regard to the same Master he is to give considerate treatment. That Master is considerate toward him; he is to be considerate toward him who has been placed by Christ under him as a servant. - R. F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

WEB: Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Relative Duties -- Husbands and Wives
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