As we enter the holiday season, I know we are all looking forward to smiling faces around the table, children politely waiting their turn for food and carrying on polite conversations with the adults. Or, like me, you live in the real world. Don’t get me wrong—we all love our families—but we don’t have to pretend that family is always easy. It’s not what it was intended to be because generation after generation has been weighed down and crushed by sin.
As kids, family dynamics were more simple: you’re a son or daughter, you might be a brother or a sister… and that’s about it. Then you get married… and you’re a wife and a daughter and a sister and a daughter-in-law and a sister-in-law. Then you have kids of your own and you’re a father and a husband and a son and a brother and a son-in-law and a brother-in-law and so on and so forth. The dynamics get more completed and there’s often some difficulty in navigating the balance between the many roles we find ourselves in. Genesis 2:24 makes it sound so simple. And yet for many of us the leaving and cleaving process is a source of tension whether we are in our first, fifth, or 25th year of marriage. The path to healthy family relationships isn’t found prioritizing one relationship over another, it’s found in placing one relationship above all else. Before all else, we are followers of Christ. This truth liberates us and makes us a better son, daughter, brother, sister, spouse and parent. Colossians 3:1-4 tells us that our former identities have died, and our new identity is secure for eternity with Christ. The passage continues with more details on what this new identity looks like (v. 5-10).
Imagine how different your family dynamics could be if you were free from greed, anger, malice, and lies. Imagine instead if we were clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. We aren’t just stifling our anger and holding our tongues until we can get in the car and let it all out. We are replacing anger with kindness, greed with humility, and malice with compassion. The miraculous redemption we have in Christ doesn’t simply strip us of our sinful attitudes and responses, it creates in us new attitudes and new responses. Our heart is to free us from our desire to meet the worldly expectations placed on us by our family members. Colossians 3:23-24 expresses our new goal: to please Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:9).
Aiming to please others places unbearable pressure not only on ourselves, but on those whose approval we are seeking. If you’re desperate for others to approve of you, you’re going to dissect every comment they make and you’ll perceive slights where they didn’t even exist. Colossians 3:3 teaches our identity is eternally secure in Christ—and that takes the pressure off. The alternative is called “the fear of man”, and Proverbs 29:25 calls it a trap that’s waiting to catch us. That perfectly describes how the fear of man affects us when our primary concern is keeping everyone happy. It’s a zero-sum game: in order to keep this family member happy, you’re making someone else unhappy. It’s a vicious cycle that only breaks when you stop fearing man and begin fearing God alone. You can’t be caught in the middle when you’re not interested in playing either side. The fear of man really is a trap, but Proverbs 29:25 says that trusting the Lord keeps us safe—just as Colossians 3:3 said! It’s impossible to be certain that you are going to please man. It’s quite possible to be certain that you are going to please God (and Ephesians 4:29-32 tells us how).
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Memorize 2 Corinthians 5:9 (“We make it our goal to please Christ”).
When tempted to please others, review your memory verse.
- Determine to actively engage in the “take off-put on” process described in
Colossians 3:3. We must “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness”.
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)