You’re probably familiar with the popular testimonial ministry of “I Am Second,” where Christians sit in white leather chairs under dramatic lighting and tell how they live for the Lord, and no more for themselves. As I understand it, this is to say that they are no longer the lord of their own life, but that God has since taken the throne. They’re no longer first; God is, and they are now second.

While this is accurate with regard to salvation, the Christian life is not that simple. Upon salvation, we are then instructed (by the new Lord of our life) how we are to live – not only in relationship to God, but in relationship to everyone else in our lives. The truth is, we are not second. We are third.

This Christian truth is seen in what Christ considers the two greatest commandments… 

Matthew 22:37-39 – …love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

And in case we misunderstand this second commandment to mean that our neighbor is as important as we are, Philippians 2:3 tells us that we are to, in humility, “count others as more significant than ourselves.” After all, this is the kind of love with which Christ has loved us. Therefore, as we will see, If our submission and our leadership are not humble demonstrations of love, they are not Christian. 

This is nothing new to the Christian ethic, and in Colossians 3:18-4:1, Paul simply applies this law of love to the home. He does this by identifying the three common household relationship – husband & wife, parents & children, and slave-master & slave (doulos). 

*Note: Slavery was considered normal in Paul’s day and slaves were commonly assigned to work in the household. While first-century, near-eastern slavery and modern-day employment are not the same, the master-slave relationship applies in principle to the boss-employee relationship. 

Simply put, Christian relationship ought to be different than those in the world. Also, they should be better. That said, as I read these words of Scripture, I can’t help but be struck by how counter-cultural and even unnatural it is to lead with such care and to submit with such humility. And yet, this is the wisdom of God and the way of Christ which leads to life and joy! Whether we are the one under authority or the person in a seat of authority in these relationship, we should allow God’s Word and the Gospel to inform our behavior.

Here are two ways I think this could be fleshed out…

  • The first thing we can commit to do is IMITATE CHRIST.

Whether we are in or under authority, we are to love how Christ loved. Should it surprise us that it comes down to love? Just a few verses prior to this passage (3:14), we were told to “put on love” above all else, and in verse 17, to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Finally, in verse 19, husbands are told to “love” how Christ loved (Eph. 5:25).

Christ is not our authority simply because He is God, but also because He became like us, and during his life on earth, loved perfectly, both while in and under authority. 

When Christ was in authority, He was third.

-      Jn. 6:38 – I have come down from heaven to do the will of Him who sent Me.

-      Jn. 12:49 – I have not spoken on my own authority, but the [Father’s].

When Christ was under authority, He was third.

-      Jn. 19:11 – You’d have no authority over me unless it be given you from above

-      Phil. 2:8 – he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death…

This seems scandalous to me, almost blasphemous – the extent to which God, in Christ, condescended. While still being God, Christ takes on flesh and humbly submits Himself to the will of Father. He voluntarily restricted His ministry itinerary in obedience to the Father. This was case whether He was boldly teaching Truth or being murdered at the hands of angry, self-righteous sinners. Jesus even paid taxes Caesar, listened to him mom, and was the disciples’ chef and foot-washer.

This radical humility and extreme self-sacrificing service is only seen in the love of God. And it is only by the Spirit of God that we are able to imitate Christ and, regardless of the role in which we find ourselves, “out-do one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

  • The second thing we can commit to do is INCLUDE CHRIST.

I live with my wife, my three kids, and my mother – that’s 6 people, but there are seven people in my home. How can that be? I count Christ, and so did Paul. Look at this passage again and notice how each two-person-relationship is put in the context of the Lordship of Christ…

v.18 – Wives are to submit to their husband…as is fitting in the Lord

v.19 – Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25)

v.20 – Children are to obey in everything, because this pleases the Lord

v.21 – Fathers are not to provoke, but to raise them in the way of the Lord (Eph. 6:4)

vv.22-25 – Slaves are to obey their master, ultimately fearing and serving the Lord.

v.1 – Masters are to treat their slaves justly, knowing that the Lord is your Master.

Jesus is the third-wheel, all the while being the most important person in the relationship by far. Those under authority obey those in authority as though they were submitting to Christ Himself. And those in authority lead out knowing they are care-takers and stewards and held accountable by Christ Himself. The Christian family and the Christian employee know that Christ sits high above the husband, the father, and the boss – and they behave accordingly. Whether we are in or under authority, we are third

In this passage Paul deals with each role specifically and how they should go about imitating and including Christ in their relationships. So, the question, whether you’re a Husband or Wife, Parent or Child, or Boss or Employee, might be, “Who goes first?” The answer is, “You.” Did Christ not initiate a saving relationship with us. Romans 5:8 tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If we are to imitate Christ, we will be compelled to love our neighbor without hesitation or expectation, knowing that we are loving Christ. You are ultimately submitted to and loving Christ. And while sincerely loving Christ, the people in our lives simply get in the way in the best way possible. In fact, it is by our love for one another that the world will know we love and follow Jesus (Jn. 13:35).

Only with Christ in mind, can we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), whether we are in or under authority. Consider how Scripture defines love and ask the Lord to help you display this love in your relationships at home and at work.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a – 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.