It’s hard not to see the connection between the final verses of chapter three of Colossians and Paul’s letter to Philemon since the focus is on the master /slave relationship. At first you may be inclined to skip these verses since slavery has long since been abolished in our culture. But if you substitute the words slave and master with say, employee and employer, the principles are as relevant as ever; in fact, what is taught here by Paul can be applied many hierarchical relationships. In most areas of life, there is either one person or a group of people who are in charge, whether they like it or not. I’ve always found it interesting that many who have positions of authority often find it a burden and wish to escape their circumstances and become a follower. On the other hand, it is common for those who are not “in charge” to wish they were. I think all this proves is that we always seem to want what we don’t have. It’s like the old saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” The fact is, both those doing the leading and those who are being led, have a responsibility to each other and this is what Paul is addressing in the closing verses of chapter three and the first verse of chapter four.
The message to those who are being led is quite simple; obey those who are in charge and work hard at whatever you have been assigned to do. The mental picture that Paul suggests, to keep us on task, is to remember that it is the Lord we are serving. Paul frequently reminds his readers that no matter what we think, say or do; we are to do it all for the glory of God and to the best of our ability. Why is this so important? Because we are Christ’s representatives in this world and as such, are to fulfill our earthly duties so as to not bring even a hint of shame or dishonor to the one we ultimately serve, Jesus Christ. The goal is to perform our duties in this world with such distinction that others might ask why we are so diligent. This affords us the opportunity to give an answer and to share the good news about Jesus Christ. We are to make ourselves distinctive from the world for this expressed purpose. This is what it means to be “holy,” for holiness is nothing more, or less, than being set apart for God and his purposes.
Paul’s next point, as to how we are to relate to others, is to be diligent “not only when their eye is on you and only to win their favor.” In other words, don’t be a phony or a suck-up. Have you ever said or did something just to get on someone’s good side, but when their back is turned you say to yourself, “If they only knew what I really think…what I’d really like to do.” This is the type of thinking and behavior that ultimately leads to failure, when our real motivation is finally exposed. If you didn’t have anything to be forgiven of before, you surely will if you have a self-serving attitude.
What is Paul’s central message to a leader, the one who’s in charge? The answer is simple and to the point, so much so, it is expressed in a single sentence; the one who is in charge, who has the burden of leadership, is to “provide what is right and fair.” If you have decided to take the lead because of your desire put things right between yourself and someone with whom you are estranged, then it is time to provide all that is necessary to get the job done. Where does this provision come from? It comes from what God has given you to share with others. You should not be looking to them to make the first move, for it is your responsibility to reach out and give whatever is necessary to achieve true reconciliation. Giving can mean material things, but more often than not it is giving up your pride and desire to win. It means taking on an attitude of humility and being willing to endure whatever may come as a result. If you can accomplish this change of heart and mind, you are well on your way to being reconciled and restored.
One of the major sticking points is determining what is “right and fair.” Most likely, the one with whom you are estranged will have a different definition than yours. The one strategy that I can almost guarantee won’t’ work in determining fairness and bringing about peace is negotiation. This may seem like a rational way to work things out, after all, isn’t that the strategy that nations use to bring about peace after months of conflict and war? We’ll just get together and negotiate a peace treaty, of sorts. The problem is, more often than not, peace treaties are negotiated after one side or the other has gained the upper hand or been eviscerated the other. The whole idea of negotiation is to reach an accommodation where both parties retreat to their corners with their pride still intact. This may sound like an ideal and plausible solution, but it is not the biblical model, or God’s model when seeking reconciliation. Let’s examine the biblical model that Jesus both taught and lived.