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Living in the Name of Jesus | Colossians 3:18-4:1

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

You honor Christ by,

1) making him preeminent in relationships.

2) submitting to authority.

3) caring for those under our authority.

Living in the Name of Jesus

Colossians 3:18-4:1

April 28, 2024

Years ago, my wife and I made gumbo. Her uncle is from Louisiana, so we got his recipe and went to work. Once done, we made our bowls and sat down to what we expected to be a wonderful meal. At the first bite, we knew something was wrong. It was so spicy that we could not eat it. As we reviewed the recipe, we realized our mistake. In measuring out the cayenne pepper, we failed to see a decimal point. Instead of putting in .5 tablespoons (half a tablespoon), we put in 5 tablespoons. It needed cayenne paper, but our measuring was off.

In cooking, measurements are important. The same is true in our relationships. If you are in Christ, you are called to set your eyes above, which will change how you live. Namely, you will seek to do all things in the name of Jesus, meaning you want to do all things in a way that lines up with the agenda, goals, and values of his Kingdom. That’s how the Christian is to measure the way he lives: What does Jesus want?

We want to honor the Lord and do great things for him, but measuring greatness can be difficult because, as those coming from the domain of darkness, we use the world’s measuring system. As long as you use the world’s measuring system, you will struggle to honor the Lord in your everyday relationships. 

And our everyday relationships are the basics, the 101, of honoring the Lord and living in the name of Jesus. 

If you think that Colossians 3:18-4:1 seems like a random diversion from Paul’s subject matter in 3:1-17, think again. Let’s remember the flow of the book together: Colossians begins by addressing the supremacy of Christ in all things, then turns to address the false teaching this church faced to contrast it with the sufficiency of Christ. The false teachers were saying that you needed to take on new practices in order to have spiritual maturity and fulfillment, but since Christ is God in the flesh, if you have him then you have all you need for spiritual life, fulfillment, and maturity. That’s why Paul turns in chapter 3 to call the Colossians to press deeper into Christ and the new identity he gives them through faith. 

3:17 ends with the exhortation to do absolutely all in the name of Christ, meaning do all things in a way that fits with his agenda, aims, and goals. As you might guess, 3:18-4:1 follows this idea by explaining how they were to do “all things” in his name, and it seems kind of basic: They were to honor Christ in their closest and most common relationships. 

We tend to think that if we are going to honor Christ and do great things in his name, then we will need to do some significant act. The world has a measuring system for great things as opposed to basic things, and, more often than we know, we measure greatness by the world’s standard and not God’s. We need to go somewhere dangerous and do something extraordinary if we are to honor Christ, we think. But, as we see in these verses, honoring Christ most likely means you stay in the same place and reorient your relationships according to the principles of his Lordship. 

Let’s look at our passage and see how this is the case. In Colossians 3:18-4:1, it becomes clear that you honor Christ by…

  1. Making him preeminent in your relationships

As we have seen through our study in Colossians, Christ changes who you are. Look back at 3:4, Christ is your life. Look at 3:9 near the end of the verse and into verse 10, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator.” And look at verse 11, “Here (speaking of the new self) there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, free; but Christ is all and in all.” 

All of this means that what used to mark you out, what used to be the source of your identity, is now secondary. Christ is preeminent in marking out your identity. 

But, as 3:18-4:1 shows us, just because Christ becomes the preeminent mark of your identity doesn’t mean that a wife is no longer a wife, a husband a husband, a child a child, a slave a slave, or a master a master. This status does not change; it is just no longer the primary way you operate. Now you operate in these roles under the Lordship of Christ, who changes your standards of how you live in these roles. 

Here is what this means, if you are in Christ, you cannot claim superiority over another person. You cannot say, “Well, I am a husband, and you are a wife, so I am better than you.” You cannot even say, “Well, I am the master, and you are the slave, so I am better than you.” That’s how the world counts worth and dignity, but not how Christ counts it. Look back at verse 11, “Here there is not…” Not what? These roles? Certainly not, for verses 22-25 speak to what a slave must do, so he is still a slave. What verse 11 means is that in Christ these roles do not demarcate value and worth. Christ alone does that. If you are in Christ, you are defined by him, not by your role in these relationships. 

David Powlison, the Biblical counselor and teacher who has now gone on to be with the Lord, remarked that if you are in Christ, then you are defined by him. In this sense, everyone in Christ can say that they are Christ’s bride, Christ’s servant, and God’s child.

If you belong to Christ, then you belong to his body the church, which is his bride. If you belong to Christ, then he, the true Son of God, gives you the right to be called a child of God. If you are in Christ, then you are now his slave, owned body and soul by him to do his will. 

Some of you are also earthly brides; all of us have earthly parents and are thus children; and most of us act as servants of a master in employment. As such, Christian, you have the opportunity to model for all how to honor the Lord as bride, child, and servant. 

Some of us are earthly husbands, fathers, and masters in the sense of having people who report to you in employment. In these earthly roles, we get to submit to Christ’s Lordship by obeying him and serving him in these roles of authority. 

If you are in Christ, his Lordship redefines how you think about all of your close relationships and gives you an opportunity to reflect his good Lordship either by resting under authority or imitating his authority. 

What does that look like? Let’s turn to our second point:

  1. Submitting to authority

As I said, if you are in Christ, then you are a wife, child, and servant based on you identity in him. But you may also be an earthly wife, child, and servant. Thus, you should aim to submit, obey, love, honor, fear, and respect those that Christ has placed as an authority over you. Such submission honors Christ as Lord. 

The various roles of submission and obedience in 3:18-4:1 communicate this reality: If you really want to submit to Christ, then submit to your husband; if you really want to obey the Lord, then obey your parents; if you really want to serve Christ, then serve your earthly master. 

In other words, you cannot read these verses and say that you want to submit to Christ but then refuse to submit to your husband. You cannot say you want to obey Christ, but then refuse to obey your parents or earthly authority in work. 


We will look at each command for each role of submission, but first, let me address two ditches that we could slide into as we talk about this topic and that could keep you from listening to what the Lord says in these verses.

First, don’t fall into the ditch of endless qualifications. Yes, there are qualifications for submission and obedience, but notice that the qualifications are not stressed in this passage.

In submission and obedience, you do not usually need permission to make qualifications because you do it naturally. Have you ever noticed how easily you qualify why you should not have to fulfill your responsibilities?

“Well, I was going to submit to what you said, but then this thing came up.” Or, “I was going to obey, but then this other person didn’t do their job, so I figured I’d just wait.” 

You don’t usually need help qualifying these things; you need an exhortation to simply accept your responsibilities to submit and obey. That’s harder.

Submission and obedience can die the death of 1,000 qualifications. 

Second, don’t ignore real qualifications. There are qualifications. Wives, children, and servants: Always obey God rather than man. Joseph, even though he was a slave, refused the advances of Potipher’s wife. He was her slave, completely in her authority, but he said no. He feared God rather than man. You are to submit and obey God first. 

This means that sometimes wives, children, and servants will have to confront those in authority over them and call them to obey the Lord. Wives, there may come a time that you will have to say to your husband, “There is nothing more that I would like to do than submit to you, but I cannot follow you into sin.” 

What does this look like?

Let’s briefly walk through each command. As you read them, I want you to note how simple these commands are. They are straightforward and only confusing if you want them to be confusing. The roles of submission are for wives, children, and slaves. 

Wives, submit.

First, we read in verse 18 that wives submit to their own husbands because this is fitting in the Lord. Wives are to follow the leadership of their husbands. Husbands, you are the vision and culture setters of your home, wives are to follow the vision and culture you set. 

The biblical pattern is that husbands are the head of the home and the leaders in the home. This goes back to creation in that Adam was made first. Headship, then, is not a result of the fall but the design of creation before the fall. 

This order is not some accident or novelty. Note that verse 18 says that a wife's submission to her husband is “fitting in the Lord.” What does that mean? Simply, that it is right and proper, but Ephesians 5 tells us why this is right and proper. There we read that marriage is a covenant with a meaning that was hidden until Christ came. That is to say, you could ask, “Why does marriage exist? Why one man and one woman?” Because Ephesians 5 argues, it was always meant to be a picture of Christ and the church. Every marriage is a depiction of the reality of Christ’s love for his church and the church’s submission to Christ. Marriages will either tell that story well or tell a lie about what the relationship between Christ and the church looks like. 

That’s why submission is fitting, but this also helps us understand what submission actually looks like. Submission is not…

  • Saying “yes” to your husband, but then complaining about his leadership behind his back. Saying to others, “I know he wants to do this, but I just don’t see how it is going to work,” is not submission. That isn’t fitting in the Lord because such back-biting is sin.

  • Harboring resentment against your husband. You are commanded to be angry yet not to sin; don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26), so harboring anger in your heart against your husband is not fitting in the Lord. Submission doesn’t mean you don’t speak to your husband about your fears. In fact, submission encourages this. If he is going to lead you, he must know the obstacles before you. If your husband says, “We need to home-school our kids,” and fear grips your heart, he needs to know it. He can only help you overcome the obstacles that he knows about. If he says, “We need to cut down on the grocery budget,” and you think, “How can I possibly do that with prices the way they are!” He needs to know that. Leaders need updated information in order to make good decisions. Children are called to obey, but you are called to submit. These are similar, but not the same.

  • Following him into sin. This is not fitting in the Lord. 

Children, obey.

Children are to obey their parents, mom and dad, in everything, as verse 20 tells us. They are to do this because it pleases the Lord for children to live under proper authority. And everything means everything. If you tell your child, “This is what you are going to wear, this is what you are going to eat, this is when you are going to bed, this is what you are allowed to watch, this is what you are going to do today,” then you are not burdening them. You are helping them because you are in charge of forming and leading them. 

As you lead your children to obey you, you are giving them a model of how to obey the Lord. You are thus blessing them when you are teaching them to obey. 

Children, you being called and taught to obey now is going to help you. In calling my children to obedience, I often think of Proverbs 25:28, which says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” If you don’t have self-control, then you are susceptible to every flight of passion that comes at you. You have no wall of defense built up. 

Children have no wall of defense against their desires and passions. When you are with a small child that has recently learned to control his hands, he will try to grab your eye if the impulse catches him. He won’t think about whether or not it hurts; he'll just do it because it popped into his head. 

Parents, kids won’t change unless you call them to obedience and help them build walls of self-control. You will bless them because obedience to the Lord will seem like an easier step from this.

Children, don’t complain when your parents set your boundaries and build up your walls. They love you. Obey them. This is your first step to honoring and obeying the Lord. 

And watch out for fake obedience that isn’t pleasing to the Lord:

  • Saying, “I forgot to obey!” In effect, you are just saying, “Your words weren’t important enough to me to remember.”

  • Obeying only when discipline is threatened.

  • Obeying in anger. Obedience is meant to knit hearts together, as our obedience to the Lord is meant to knit our hearts with his as we pursue what he calls good. When we obey the Lord, we are saying, “I choose the Lord over sin.” When you obey in anger, you are actually building a chasm between you and your parents, not a bridge. 

Bondservants, obey.

At first, the call for bondservants might not seem applicable to us today, but it is. These verses speak to slaves, but not like slaves as we know them in American history. Still, there were slaves. These commands are not condoning slavery but merely speaking to how Christians were to interact with this established institution. 

We live in a different economic system today, but the principles laid out in these verses still do apply to our work relationships. Just as we can take the principle from 1 Peter 2:17 which says, “Honor the emperor,” and apply it to our democratic government to honor our leaders, so too can we take principles from a different economic system and apply them to our own. With that in mind, what do these verses teach us? 

Servants, you are called to work for the good of your employers in everything. As you do this, Christ calls you to reorient your hope and attention away from your employer and to Christ. 

  • Aim to please and impress Christ in your work, not your boss or co-workers. It is easy to judge your worth based on your job and how your boss treats you. But he does not decide your worth and your destiny, Christ does.

  • Have your heart bent toward the Lord, fearing what he thinks more than what your boss thinks. We are prone to think that what your boss thinks of you will make you or break you, but this is to think of life in merely earthly terms. 

  • Work with an eye to Christ’s coming, looking for him to reward you by bringing in his kingdom and full salvation. Remember, whatever career you have, your inheritance is not a retirement party and a retirement account. In Christ, heaven is your reward and God himself is your prize. 

By setting your hope on Christ, you can rest knowing that…

  • No matter what position you have in life—even that of a slave—you can glorify Christ in your work. You might think your job is mundane and pointless, but if you do it to honor Christ, working as unto him, then he celebrates your work and counts it as good. If you make your aim to serve the Lord Christ in your labor, then you are serving the Lord Christ, not simply an employer. This is exactly what verse 24 communicates to us.

  • Your standard of greatness will be reoriented by Christ. We read Mark 10:35-45 earlier. In that passage, we see the disciples measuring greatness by worldly standards, but Christ redefines it. You are not great based on what you are able to get from people; greatness is measured by what you can give to people. What the world calls great, Jesus condemns; what the world calls mediocre, Jesus celebrates! Do you remember the widow who gave to mites? Everyone gave more than her, but Jesus stopped and stared in wonder at this woman who gave just two small coins, but they were all she had. He measures differently than the world and only his measurement matters. 

So remember, your career is not your glory, Christ is; the world does not decide your worth, Christ does; your job cannot satisfy you, only Christ can; your job isn’t your problem, sin is, and Jesus has taken care of it. By all means, if you can gain your freedom and get a job you want, take it! But if not, embrace where Christ has called you and serve for his honor by obeying as unto him. 

Your submission, obedience, and service are your most immediate means of honoring Christ as Lord. Is it hard? Yes. Is he with you? Absolutely!

  1. Caring for those under your authority

Talking about submission seems like the countercultural section of this letter today, but in reality, the words to those in authority were counter-cultural when this letter was written. 

If you are a husband, parent (especially a father), or have people under you in management or employment, then you are to honor Christ by orienting your relationships in accordance with his commands. 

The various roles of authority in 3:18-4:1 communicate this reality: If Christ loves you, then love your wife; if the Father nourishes you, then nourish your children; if your Master is just and fair toward you, be just and fair to this under you. 

Just like the submission commands, notice that there are no qualifications. You are to love, nourish, and be just regardless of how those under you behave. The focus is on your responsibilities, not your rights. As an authority, these verses teach us that we should be asking, “How can I fulfill my responsibilities to those under my charge?” not, “How can I get these people to fulfill their responsibilities?” 

The difference might seem subtle, but it is profound. It is the difference between God honoring patriarchy and sinful patriarchy; godly authority and sinful authoritarianism. Remember, the world’s standard of greatness is “How much can I get from you.” The Lord’s standard of greatness is “How much can I give to you?” 

So, what are these roles of authority that you must use to honor Christ? 

Husbands, love your wives (and don’t be harsh). 

Husbands, your headship involves constantly asking, “How do I care for you? How do I provide for you? How do I build you up? How do I lead you to a place of thriving?” 

Husbands, consider for a moment how your wives would describe your leadership. You have a high standard to live up to. When it says that you are to love your wives, remember that the standard of this love is Christ himself, for you are to picture him in your marriage relationship. Here is what Paul says about this in Ephesians 5:25-29,

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives, as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.”

Husbands, there is the definition of nourishing and cherishing your wife. Are you doing that? 

Is your wife growing in her understanding of what it means that Christ loves her and is gentle with her through the way that you are treating her? 

Can she say, “You are leading with vision for our home and provision in that vision?" And I don’t mean mere financial provision. I mean encouragement. Christ calls you to submit to him, and you know he is for you and not against you. You know that he empowers you to submit. Husband, are you doing the same for your wife?

But be careful. Don’t fall into the trap of letting the world define love. The world defines love and calls husbands to abdicate authority and say, “Whatever she wants, I will do it.” That isn’t loving like Christ. But neither is dominance that doesn’t listen, which is harshness.

Follow the example of Christ, not the world. 

Fathers, do not provoke your children.

Verse 21 speaks to fathers, but this applies to parents in general. The reason fathers are singled out is because the husband is not merely the head of the wife, he is the head of the home. Discipline is ultimately in his hands. Children are to obey their parents (verse 20), but the culture and discipline of the home are set by the head of the house, the husband and father. 

Fathers, don’t ignore the fact that you set the tone of your home in regard to discipline. Be ready to talk to your wife about all of the discipline problems in your home and for you to say, “I am going to lead you in figuring this out.” 

But as you figure it out, look at the negative command in verse 21, “Do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." Provoke bitterly means “call someone to accept a challenge.” You provoke your kids when you treat them in such a way that you essentially dare them to rebel against you. If you continually do this, you are not helping them obey, but giving them reasons to disobey and love disobedience. They will be discouraged from trying to obey you and encouraged to simply get away from you. 

How can you end up daring toward rebellion in the way you discipline? 

You can have rules that are impossibly strict and rarely show grace toward their weaknesses. Kids grow up thinking that they just can’t please you or ever be good enough. 

How can you protect against this? Reevaluate your standards to see if they fit with Christ. Tell your kids when you have sinned against them in your attempt to discipline them. When your child does well, just tell them, “I am so pleased with you.” 

Christian, child of God, what does your Father tell you when you fail? What does he do with you when you sin? Yes, he disciplines, but he does not cast out. He disciplines so that you may draw near. 

But you can also provoke your kids by having inconsistent rules. Sometimes you follow through, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes his actions make you angry, sometimes they don’t. Such lack of discipline or inconsistent discipline in the home can be just as discouraging as too strict discipline. 

Masters, treat justly and fairly.

Lastly, masters are addressed in only one verse. This is likely because Colossians was delivered at the same time as Philemon, which is essentially a whole letter addressed to a particular master with applications for how all masters should treat their slaves. So this short address is probably due to the fact that it comes with another letter that addresses masters more fully. 

The sum of this command is for masters to remember that they do not merely have people under their authority, but they themselves live under authority and will be held accountable by that authority. 

Lord Acton is attributed as saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What Paul is reminding masters of here is that they are not in absolute power even if it appears to their senses that they are. They will one day give an account for how they treated people under their authority, which should thus encourage them to treat with justice and fairness those in their power. 

The Traps of Authority

Just as there are ditches to avoid in thinking through submission, there are ditches to avoid in considering how to wield any kind of authority. 

There is a worldly desire to use authority simply to gratify your own desires. That’s the first pitfall you need to avoid.

But you can also fall into the trap of seeking to give others their desires, giving into their demands. 

If you have any kind of authority, you must keep your eyes set on Christ who avoids both of these traps. He did not use his authority for selfish gain but sought the glory of his Father and the good of his people by laying down his life on the cross.

He did not leave us in sin even though that is what each one of us pursued. Instead, he came for us and opened our clenched fists so that we could receive his gift. He himself bore our sin in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

He submitted to death to free us; he stands in authority now to save us.

If you are in Christ, look to him so that you may honor him with all your life. He is worthy. 

If you are not in Christ, delay no more. Come to him today so that you may taste newness of life. 

He comes to give. Will you receive? 


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