Recall that in Colossians 3 Paul is detailing how life changes because of what God has done for us in Christ. His main point is that because our relationship with God has changed through Christ, our relationships with those around us must change for Christ. Last week we saw, from our passage, what God intends our lives to look like with the other members of our family. Today, as we move forward in our passage, we’ll see how these same principles pertain to how we relate to those at the workplace. I’ve got two points to make today: Point 1: The Diligent Slave (3:22-25). Point 2: The Just Master (4:1).
Before we get to these two points we must clarify one thing. Perhaps some of you are wondering why these verses about slavery are included in a section of Scripture about the Christian household. This question should rise up in us when we read this passage because today we normally don’t include a discussion about slavery in a discussion about the family, so why does Paul do it here in 3:18-4:1? First, Paul didn’t write the letter to the Colossians in 2015, he wrote it around 58-62 AD. And secondly, in Paul’s day most people found their employment either within or in close proximity to their home, making a living by being involved in slavery or a kind of indentured servant hood. So to include a discussion about slavery in a discussion about the family was very fitting for the original audience of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, because the two subjects of family and slavery (for them) went hand in hand. Now, as far as we are concerned today – thankfully we’ve seen a decrease in this particular kind of slavery, and in the west we don’t usually see anything like indentured servant hood. Yet it’s good for us to see what this kind of slavery was like in the city of Colossae in order to understand more about this letter to the Colossians. Remember, the letter we went through as a Church before we started Colossians? Right, Philemon. Philemon was a slave owner in the city of Colossae and his runaway slave Onesimus was the subject of that letter. Also, we’re not as far removed from these verses as you may think because everything we’re going to discuss today is easily correlated or linked to another relationship we all have – the relationship between the employer and the employee.
1) The Diligent Slave (3:22-25)
3:22-25 says, “Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” Here we are told how the slave is to behave toward their masters, whether these masters are Christians or not. I think we all understand the life of a slave was normally a hard life, this is especially true in the 1st century. Easily abused, often overlooked, and usually mistreated, the 1st century slave would have been a disillusioned person. As a result of this kind of life they grew accustomed to only having one motive in life: avoiding punishment. Because of this they would often only serve their masters well when his eye was on them. Of course as soon as the master’s eye was attending to other business they would immediately reduce effort and hope no other slave ratted them out. Those who acted in such a manner would only bring harm and discomfort upon themselves in the end. But the slaves who were Christians were called to a distinct lifestyle. They were to work on a higher principle, a higher motive, doing their duty at all times knowing that another Master, with a far more reaching eye was always on them. Such a conviction would lead to being active and diligent in their employment, which would not only bring comfort and benefit, it would also produce a godly witness for Christ.
Did you notice what the foundational reason was for obeying the master in 3:22? ‘Fearing the Lord.’ Some people claim that fear has no place in the life of a Christian, but from this passage we can interpret that a healthy fear of God, a proper and deep and reverential fear of God leads to glorious things in the Christian household. Yes, we’re free of the fear of condemnation, guilt, and shame because of the cross, but to move away from fearing the Lord is to move into arrogance. Proverbs says again and again “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and “through the fear of the Lord man departs from sin.” This means the way to gain wisdom and the way to fight sin is to cultivate a deeper fear of God. If a slave feared the Lord and stood in awe of God’s authority over all things they wouldn’t be people-pleasers who only gave their masters eye-service, doing one thing while the boss is watching and doing the opposite when the boss is out at lunch. If a slave feared the Lord, he’d be diligent in all things, no matter who is watching.
If we were honest we’d all admit that we’ve failed here. We know what the workplace turns into when the boss is sick or out of town. It gets laid back, not as urgent, things slow down…But as soon as the boss returns we change both our attitude about our work and the level of our productivity. This is what it means to be a people pleaser who only gives eye-service. This person forgets that a greater Master is watching too.
3:23 continues by giving us that higher motive and higher calling which the Christian slave is to abide by. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” Though the immediate object of the service is man, the ultimate object of the service is the Lord. The pagan slave would usually be disinterested in all his work, but the Christian slave was called to work from and with a full heart, because he knew his service was firstly to the Master who bought him with His precious blood. We see the gospel here. Because God has changed our life through Christ, all that we do must be done for Christ. Paul says as much in Romans 1:14-16 when he says because God has saved and redeemed him through Jesus Christ he now see himself as a servant (debtor) to all other men. A heart that has been wrecked and re-oriented by the gospel serves others, not because of others, but because of the Lord.
3:24 shows the result of such service, “…knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” By serving the Lord in serving man, the slave would receive their reward from the Lord. You may not think this is a big deal to have an inheritance that is sure and abundant, but think about it from the slave’s perspective. They had nothing, no inheritance, nothing they called their own, all in their lives was owned by another. Yet by fearing and serving the Lord Christ a glorious inheritance awaited them, and the hope of that rich inheritance was to fuel their service to man. Knowing that such an inheritance was laid up for them in heaven, would be ample compensation for a life of slavery. Learn here Church, since the Lord gives so rich a reward to those who serve Him, in all you do, whoever your master is, look above and beyond them to Christ, your real Master. Your earthly master has no right over you, sure the money they give you to work for them can only secure so many hours a week from you, but God sent His Son to suffer in our place, bearing the wrath we deserved to purchase you; therefore God alone has an indisputable right to your heart, life, and service.
3:25 answers an objection, which comes up at this point. The objection is ‘What if my master is cruel? What if my boss is a jerk? Do I still serve him?’ 3:25 answers, “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” These words apply to every master or every boss, reminding those in their service that though you may receive injustice at their hand, they will be judged one day, not in a human court where so many things fall through the cracks, but in an eternal court…in heaven’s tribunal…where God shows no partiality, bias, or prejudice. It’s a sad state of affairs to realize that so many through history have been seriously mistreated by a master or a boss, but it’s a glorious reminder, full of hope and glory that God will one day right these wrongs and bring justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night (Luke 18:7-8). ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’ declares the Lord.’ (Romans 12:19) What a comfort to those in the service of others…what a warning to those in positions of authority too. Masters, bosses, husbands, dads: you may be tempted by the power you hold in your authority to injure or abuse those in your service, those in your employ, or those in your household – but be reminded that God cares for and fights in behalf of all those who are oppressed whether it be physically, emotionally, financially, or spiritually.
Now, to bring this home to us, let me say a few things. Throughout our lives it is likely that we’ll have many different bosses, and sometimes you will think those bosses are fools that shouldn’t be in that position. Sometimes you may even be right, because sometimes people become bosses that shouldn’t. But, the boss is still the boss. Regardless if he is a fool, he still holds the office of authority, and all the employees are to show honor and respect to such a person. Remember young David could’ve killed King Saul many times throughout his life but do you remember what he said? “I shall not lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed.” Though that doesn’t perfectly fit our situation with our bosses, it does show the principle the Christian slave and the contemporary employee is called to abide by.
2) The Just Master (4:1)
While stooping to counsel slaves in his letter to the Colossians we see Paul’s humility, and while not being afraid to also speak to their master’s we see Paul’s boldness. As we said in the example of the slave earlier we can now also say in the example of the master, here we are told how the master is to conduct himself toward his slaves, whether they be Christians or not. We often think in view of the slave and recognize that slaves might have heathen masters, but rarely do we turn it around and mention that a master might be the godly person who has heathen slaves. How is that master to treat his slaves? 4:1 says, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” At first glance you might conclude that it’s a bit lopsided to only have one verse describing the behavior of masters while we had a whole paragraph describing the behavior of slaves. Yet, I think we can see that this one verse is an all-encompassing command. 4:1 shows us that we can apply 3:23-24 to masters just as easily as we can apply it to slaves. They too must hear the command, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive in inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” A master hearing this would be, or should be, compelled to equality, giving each slave all he or she is entitled to, not with an aim to please them, but with the aim to please God who is their master. The sense is that each master is under the weight of a law themselves, a law to the highest Master who watches over their authority and will hold him accountable for how they exercise it.
Masters must treat their slaves justly, rightly, and honestly. Expecting the work they’ve assigned to be completed and not assigning a certain amount of work and expecting more. Paying the wage they’ve agreed to and not paying a wage in line with how they feel that day or that hour. Master’s must treat their slaves fairly, impartially, and equally. Not favoring one over another, but treating them all in the same manner. Doing what they say they’ll do rather than promising this or that and never living up to their word. Never living or acting in a certain way as to put those in your employ in an awkward or compromising situation, but always seeking the good of those who are under your care.
A good example in the Bible of a master who treated his slaves and servants rightly is Boaz, in the book of Ruth. As soon as Boaz enters the scene all you see is godliness. He comes out to his field and to his servants says these words “May the Lord be with you.” Instantly his servants respond, “May the Lord bless you.” This is not normal. How many of you have had bosses who walked into the office and said to you, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” With you responding “…and also with you?” Never. That never happens. But with Boaz it does, because he’s a godly man, who obviously shares his faith with his servants and cares for them very well.
This leads again to the gospel. The master’s treatment of his slaves is to be a reflection of how the true Master (God) has treated them in Christ. If a master realizes this, that the highest Master has been so gracious with him through the life and ministry of Jesus, how could he then turn around and be harsh with his slaves? If his slaves, servants, or employees are believers, they’re more than slaves, servants, or employees – they’re brothers and sisters in Christ standing on the same level he is before God. If his slaves, servants, or employees aren’t Christians, they stand in a precarious position under the wrath of God and need to hear and see the gospel from their master. You see it’s because of the gospel that Christianity gave freedom in slavery where a good quality of life could really be enjoyed. This freedom within slavery would ultimately lead to a freedom from slavery, and that is a very good thing.
To end I want to challenge you and call to you.
Be challenged: whether you’re a boss or an employee, as you approach your work this week remember that in your work you really serve the true Master, the Lord Christ. Fear Him, work for Him, from and with a full heart, being diligent to please Him in whatever you do, knowing that from Him you will receive an inheritance, which is Christ Himself, the Lord of glory. Remember the non-Christians around you, whether they’re your boss or your employee, due to their unbelief they remain under the wrath of God. And God, in His grace, has placed you in their life to hear and see how the gospel believing in the gospel changes how you work. Let them watch you, see how you work, encourage them to ask questions…it just might change everything.
Be called: you were once dead, lost, you were slaves to sin living life under your master the devil. But God, in His great mercy, even while you and I were sinners, sent Christ to die and purchase us for Him.
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose…went forth…and followed Thee!”