In this section, Paul gives insight to how Christians should behave in the major personal relationships of daily life. In 3:18-19, he speaks of husbands and wives, in 3:20-21 he speaks of parents and children, and from 3:22-4:1, masters and slaves, or today we would say employers and employees. If you think about it, we spend most of our waking lives in one of these relationships, at least most of us do.
We can easily sum up all of these relationships by saying that in each, we are to put others ahead of ourselves. This is certainly true in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives, even though he uses language in verse 18 that isn’t modern. That wives should put their husbands first may not sound contemporary, but husbands are also to put their wives first; this might be a little clearer in the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:22-33.
The same thing is true of the relationship between parents and children. Both are to put the other first, giving honor where honor is due and giving love and nurture where they are due. In the case of master and slave, or employer and employees, we have again the idea that both are to consider the other, with workers doing their very best always “as working for the Lord” and the boss is told to always do what is fair and right “because you know that you have a Master in heaven.”
I think that what is really important in this passage is the principle of putting others first. This principle is at the very heart of “love your neighbor as yourself.” All too often, people approach the concept of love looking at what they will get out of it, but this is surely not what Jesus had in mind when He taught us that the first will be last and the last will be first. We love and serve others because we love Jesus Christ, not because we want something. In short, we serve others because we have been called to serve, and in doing so we are serving our God, because we love Him.
Yes, there are always some who will want to take advantage, but we know that we are serving the Lord, and that “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (v. 25).
One final thought, for some this is a hard concept to embrace, but it lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. It is all so normal to expect that we receive something from our efforts, be it money or appreciation or loyalty, and people often disappoint us. The key is that we are not merely serving the other person, we are serving our Lord, and He never disappoints. Seek His presence, seek His love, focus your thought process on your relationship with Him… and follow where He leads. He will lead you to serve where you should serve, and to avoid what should be avoided.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
This is a really neat little passage; there’s so much to see. As Paul closes out his letter, he reminds the people to be devoted to prayer, and while this may seem routine, after all, Apostles talk about prayer a lot, Paul here seems to bring it to life. I’m always struck by the idea of prayer being “watchful and thankful.” Maybe thankful, as in giving thanks isn’t so surprising, but watchful? How often do you hear someone say that we should be watchful in our prayers?
Watchful for what? Things you want God to give you, like little favors? “Oh yes, and Father please send me that new Lexus…” something like that? Somehow, I doubt it. Maybe watchful for someone who needs intercession, maybe an opening for the Gospel, maybe something that is within God’s priority system− yes that seems more like the kind of “watchful” that Paul has in mind. He continues by asking for the people to pray for him, but again, not in the way we might expect. Notice, that even though he is in prison, he didn’t ask them to pray for his release, he asked them to pray that he might preach the Gospel effectively.
I don’t know about you, but that gets my attention every time! When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:5 ff. He taught us to pray for God’s priorities. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Do we remember to do that? Are we watchful for specifics that fit into this category? Well, I can only speak for myself, but truth be told, I forget or overlook this more often than I’d care to admit. Paul seems to continue in this line of thinking when he advises us to be wise when speaking to “outsiders,” non-Christians. We are to be ready to make the most of every opportunity, to show them the love of Jesus Christ: Maybe we should pray for those opportunities. We are to speak to them “with grace, seasoned with salt…” Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor” meaning that we are to deal with them in love; more love than they might deserve.
I have a little secret for you to consider: Speaking to someone with grace is not telling them that they are wrong, even if they are. It doesn’t mean calling them names, or being critical of the way they live. Yes, there is a fair chance that they live as unbelievers, but guess what? They are unbelievers, and that may be just how they are supposed to live. Our job isn’t to correct the world, it is to save the world for Christ. This requires grace, not criticism. Salt is an interesting metaphor; I’ve heard many different explanations for this, so I’ll throw out my thoughts. When we season food with salt, we add it to bring out the full flavor of the ingredients, and when we speak with grace, seasoned with salt, we are sharing the full love of God who so loved the world that He sent His Son to die to save it. We need our speech to be so full of His grace, that nobody hears the slightest little bit of condemnation come from our lips.
So, when you put this all together, maybe I should remember to pray that God will bring me opportunities, and give me the words to share, so that some may be saved. What do you think; do you need to join me in praying this way? If not, I’d love to hear why that is.