Work has always been apart of the human experience from the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:28). However, after the fall there has been unhealthy structures in which work was done. In today’s passage, Paul reminds us of how to work within hierarchical structures in a way that honors God!
5 Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
CLARIFYING POINTS ON SLAVERY
- SLAVES = SERVANTS: The word for slave in the Greek is “doulos” and means servant and is reguraly used in a positive way regarding Jesus’ disciples (Mark 10:44, 13:34, Luke 12:37 & John 13:16, 15:15).
- KNOW THE CULTURAL SETTING: Paul’s command to slaves and masters has more to do with employee and boss relationships than the Atlantic Slave Trade in the U.S.
- DIFFERENT FORMS OF SLAVERY: It’s a mistake to try and import modern definitions of slavery onto the Bible which was written almost 2,000 years ago (this was the mistake of supposed Christian slave owners in the South- they were no more Christians than those who claim to be Christians now and have abortions).
- ROMAN SLAVERY: It is estimated that there were around 60 millions slaves in the Roman Empire. Warfare and conquest, along with slave trading, resulted in there being so many slaves in the Roman Empire. Therefore, since the New Testament was being written during this time with such large population of slaves (sometimes upwards of 40% of the population in a region)- Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to address how believers should act both as masters and slaves.
- REASONS FOR NOT BEING AN ABOLITIONIST IN THE 1ST CENTURY: Below are some reasons why Paul didn’t try to start an abolitionist movement in his letters:
- PERSECUTION: The church itself was being persecuted (Paul wrote the book of Ephesians from a Roman jail) and thus people knowing Jesus first as Lord and Savior needed to be established first.
- LOSS OF LIFE: There had already been slave revolts and they ended in bloodbaths, thus Paul didn’t want a huge death toll on his hands when they were commanded to first preach the gospel to the nations.
- LOSS OF SAFTEY & BLESSING: If Christian masters set their slaves free they would be unemployed and homeless. Afterward, they most likely would be made a slave of the Roman state or under other Roman slave owners who would have treated them much worse (not to mention the Christian master would lose their business).
- WISDOM FOR THE TIME: Therefore, by Paul commanding a common love and respect for both master to slave and slave to master; the two groups could work together as brothers and sisters and then build the church. And with time, masters could set free their slaves when they could afford citizenship and be independent (like with Philemon freeing Onesimus).
- SLAVERY EXISTED IN ALL MAJOR PEOPLE GROUPS: Before Protestant Christianity inspired nations like England and the U.S. to abolish slavery- all major people groups participated in slavery. In Latin American slavery was a massive problem with the Aztecs, Native American slavery was normal with warring tribes, in Africa people were made slaves for thousands of years under the Egyptians and within various tribes, in India the caste system promoted slavery and in the east Chinese and Japanese dynasties built their empires with slaves.
- ISLAM IS AN EXAMPLE OF A RELIGION THAT SUPPORTS SLAVERY: Islam, not Christianity, was a religion built on slavery.
- JEWISH SLAVERY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT WAS COMPASSIONATE (NOT IN VIOLATION OF GOD’S MORAL LAW): In contrast to all the other major people groups, Jewish slavery was a form of compassion to those conquered in wars and they had the chance to become free over time. Also, Jesus nor His disciples, owned or bought slaves because Jesus said the work of the gospel was to proclaim freedom to the captives! (Luke 4:18-19)
- PAUL WAS CLEAR IN WHAT A CHRISTIAN COULD AND COULDN’T DO IN REGARDS TO SLAVERY: Understand the following teachings of Paul about slavery:
- You could have slaves, but you had to treat them as Jesus treated you (Ephesians 6:9).
- You couldn’t support capturing and making people slaves, i.e., “slave trading” (1 Timothy 1:10).
- You were to free your slave whenever it was in their best interest, like with Onesimus in Philemon 1:15-16.
- EVERYONE’S MASTER IS JESUS: Remember that in all relationships to be like Jesus is with us (Jesus calls His slaves, “friends” (John 15:15) and Jesus willing became the servant of all (Mark 10:45).
- BOSSES SHOULD BE FAIR: Bosses should treat their employees the way Jesus treats them. Do the following;
- Don’t threaten- encourage.
- Don’t be harsh- be kind.
- Don’t burn people out- be reasonable.
- Don’t play favorites- be fair.
- Don’t be selfish- share the profits.
- EMPLOYEES SHOULD WORK HARD TO SERVE THEIR BOSSES & COMPANIES: Employees should be a joy to work with and they should consider the company’s success their success. Do the following:
- Don’t be lazy- work hard.
- Don’t complain- be a positive problem solver.
- Don’t be unreliable- be trustworthy.
- Don’t be divisive- be a team player.
- Don’t settle for mediocrity- be great.
When you love what you do, you’ll never just work to earn a living- you’ll live to work!