Writing from imprisonment, probably in Rome around 60 A.D., Paul corresponded with the Christian community in Colossae, a city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He wrote to address false teachings that had corrosive and divisive effects on faithful belief and lifestyle among the Colossian Christians.
In countering those teachings, Paul ranged from the deeply theological to the highly practical. The movement from theological (belief) to practical (lifestyle) hinged on the profound transition from “died with Christ” (Col. 2:30) to “raised with Christ” (Col. 3:1). Once Paul swung the door open on this hinge, he pushed his readers through it to inhabit the “brave new world” of life in Christ, with all its concrete qualities and behaviors. Therefore, Paul urged, because of death and resurrection in Christ, put to death the old lifestyle (Col. 3:5) and put on the new (Col. 3:10 and 3:12).
Reading Colossians 3 to 4, we should note how much the wrongs of the old lifestyle are relational. Correspondingly, the virtues of the new lifestyle are also relational. Suffusing the qualities and behaviors of this new life are Christ’s peace and love. Through the Spirit, Christ acts to form his followers into one organic body characterized by peace and love. Thus they are to become practitioners of peace and love anywhere and everywhere.
It is on this basis that we should understand the practical counsel, rooted in death and resurrection, to those in certain relationships common in Colossae: wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. The key to reading this counsel is not to ask how Paul might have called for each relationship to be utterly restructured and perhaps even cast aside. The key is to understand how Paul urged each party to live Christ’s peace and love toward the other party (perhaps especially if the other in the relationship is not a follower of Jesus, as one commentator suggests).
Jesus does not call us to change how others treat us. He calls us to change how we treat them. If we act in peace and love toward others, this may lead to radical restructuring of a relationship. Yet whether it does or not, Jesus has thus already inaugurated what is in a sinful world the most radical revolution of all – namely, our transformation from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. Then we shall see how truly and deeply any and all of our relationships change!