Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.
Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites. (Colossians 3:18-25)
Paul gives rules for three sets of household relationships: (1) husbands and wives, (2) parents and children, and (3) masters and slaves. In each case there is mutual responsibility to submit and love, to obey and encourage, to work hard and be fair.
Children must be handled with care. They need firm discipline administered in love. Parents should not aggravate them by nagging, deriding, or destroying their self-respect so that they quit trying.
Why is submission of wives to husbands “fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18)? This may have been good advice for Christian women, newly freed in Christ, who found submission difficult. Paul told them that they should willingly follow their husbands’ leadership in Christ. But Paul had words for husbands as well: “Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly” (Colossians 3:19). It may also have been true that Christian men, used to the Roman custom of giving unlimited power to the head of the family, were not used to treating their wives with respect and love.
Paul does not condemn or condone slavery, but explains that Christ transcends all divisions between people. Slaves are told to work hard as though their master were Christ himself (Colossians 3:22-25); but masters should be just and fair (Colossians 4:1).
Sometimes the realities of life makes these relationships difficult. Though we do our best to remain obedient, we still are left with unfair bosses, straying spouses, and rebellious teens. Anger, shame, and bitterness beckon. If you find yourself in the midst of any of these realities or other difficulties, turn to the One who understands and can help you weather any storm.