Col. 3:22-4:1 - Servants and Masters PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Tim Black   
Tuesday, 24 July 2007 13:50

Colossians 3:22-4:1
Servants and Masters”
Tim Black

  1. Introduction

    1. The issue

      1. In our passage today Paul teaches us the reciprocal duties of slaves and masters. We rarely experience slavery directly in America today, but because the relation between slaves and masters was uniquely economic we should recognize that Paul’s exhortations still apply to our roles as employers and employees.

    2. Application

      1. So to help us better recognize how Paul’s words apply, I want you to think of the most disagreeable, painful, loathsome job you have ever done. The one you would easily call slave labor. Maybe it was mowing the lawn, or cleaning the bottom of a dumpster. Diapers. My father said building trails for the Forest Service as a summer job taught him that he didn’t want to do that the rest of his life. What was the worst job you ever had?

      2. I also want you to think of the job you have right now; the main form of service to others that occupied your time this past week, or this past year.

      3. Now in that job, you are in the position of a servant, and Paul’s words to slaves apply to you.

    3. Context

      1. Onesimus.

        1. Length. Paul spends considerably more ink on the relations of slaves and masters than on those of husbands and wives or parents and children. This is likely because Paul’s letter to the Colossians has a special concern for a slave named Onesimus, about whom we learn in more detail in the book of Philemon.

        2. Onesimus. Onesimus was from Colosse 4:9, and though his name means “useful” he had been a useless slave to his master Philemon, from whom he had unjustly escaped, but had become a Christian under Paul’s teaching while Paul was in prison, and so Paul rightly calls him a brother in Christ, and now that he is a believer Paul commends him to Philemon as most useful in furthering Christian ministry. Paul exhorts Philemon, if Philemon considers Paul his equal, to consider Onesimus his equal as well. Paul does not command Philemon as if Philemon is his slave, but cleverly leaves Philemon free to decide whether to treat Onesimus as a freedman or a slave.

        3. Paul’s general response to slavery. You can see here part of Paul’s general response to slavery. Paul does not wage war against slavery, but he gives us the gospel which can leaven society so that slavery more and more becomes nonexistent. The principles of Christianity will destroy, and have destroyed, most forms of slavery with which it comes into contact.

    4. Outline Even though today’s passage is longer than the preceding ones addressing wives and husbands and children and parents, Paul follows the same outline with which we have become familiar:

      1. Addressees

      2. Command

      3. Reason

  1. Body

    1. Slaves 22

      1. Addressees: Slaves 22a

        1. Colossians 3:22 Slaves,

        2. Identity of these slaves. Paul first addresses slaves. Who are these slaves? We have already noticed that these slaves are primarily household slaves, because Paul groups them with other household relations. We may also presume that Paul addresses Christian slaves regardless of whether their masters are Christians, and that Paul addresses Christian masters regardless of whether their slaves are Christians.

        3. Institution of slavery. The institution of slavery in Colosse was no doubt colored by the composition of Greek cities and the requirements of Roman law.

          • Greek cities. Regarding Greek cities, the ratio of slaves to free men in Athens was four to one—yes, four slaves to one free man—so it would not be surprising at all if a large number of believers in the early church were slaves. It’s also fitting that the number of verses Paul devotes to slaves and masters is respectively four verses to one!

          • Roman law. Under Roman law, slaves were not considered to be persons, but property. Their masters could deprive them of food, clothing, sleep, property, health, and comfort, and could ridicule and beat them, even kill them, without being punished or even raising an eyebrow.

        4. Economic. Slavery is primarily an economic relationship, because the master’s chief purpose is to receive the slave’s work, and to that end he provides the slave with food, clothing, and lodging. For this reason, the unique nature of the obligations that exist in this relationship is due to the fact that something is exchanged.

        5. Forms of slavery. There are several ways people can become slaves, each leading to a somewhat different kind of slavery, and each being due to a different kind of sin.

          • First, a person may be unable or unwilling to work. Inability is not a sin but unwillingness is. The poor are often victims of both problems, and regardless are unable to pay all their bills. The forms of slavery that result from not working are that:

            • The man may voluntarily sell himself completely, or until his debt is paid off.

            • The man may be put in jail involuntarily until he pays his debt.

            • The man may become an indentured servant, meaning he contracts to serve for a temporary time, usually in return for travel, food, and housing expenses.

              • Indentured servitude in OT Israel was unique in that it would only last until the year of Jubilee, when the slave would be set free. Though a Hebrew who became a slave would be owned by his master in a formal sense, he was not to be treated ruthlessly, but as a hired servant. This means the master had an obligation to pay the servant, and that there were limits to what he could require of the servant. Ultimately, Hebrew slaves belonged to God, not to their earthly masters.

          • Second, a person can become a slave by being a prisoner of war, presumably due to his own country’s sin, as was the case with the Canaanites.

          • Third, a person can become a slave through the sin of man-stealing, which is clearly a sin on the part of the captor, and is condemned in Deut. 24:7. It is by this form of slavery the Africans became slaves in America.

          • Fourth, a person can become a slave by committing a crime and being put in prison. This slavery is due to the slave’s sin.

            • Interestingly, Paul wrote Colossians from prison, as well as the book of Philemon (Col. 4:18; Philemon 1). Epaphras, who founded the church in Colosse, was also in prison with Paul. Paul knew what it meant for his life and activity to be unjustly bound and commanded when he wrote these words to Christian slaves, and to Christian masters.

        6. Which kind of slavery is Paul addressing? Most likely he is addressing slaves who are owned completely and perpetually by their masters.

        7. You are not a slave, but you might be an employee. In what way is Paul addressing you in this passage? Essentially, Paul transforms slaves into employees, and employees into servants of God.

      2. Command: Obey 22b

        1. Colossians 3:22 obey in everything those who are your earthly masters,

          • Paul works this transformation first by commanding slaves to “obey in everything those who are your earthly masters.” He does not say that slavery is always unjust. Even when slavery is unjust, he still commands slaves to obey their masters. A slave who converts to Christianity does not immediately receive a license to be set free, just as a prisoner who converts must still serve his sentence. Otherwise we would see a phenomenal number of false conversions and a tremendous social upheaval. Paul does not even advocate the “nonviolent resistance” of the Civil Rights Movement. Rather, he commands nonviolent obedience. Resistance is rebellion.

          • While Paul commands obedience, ultimately he also considers slavery to be an evil. As we’ve seen, it is almost always the result of a sin. He reminds slaves of their obligation to obey and tells them the right method to escape the yoke of slavery in 1 Cor. 7. That method is to obey the law, and pay the required price to buy your freedom:

            • 1 Corinthians 7:20-23 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.

        1. Extent: All things 22c

          • Paul tells slaves the extent to which they must obey their masters—they must obey “in all things.” This indicates they are not merely employees who spend part of their day, and part of their life, serving their employer, but are slaves who spend all of their day, and all of their life, serving their master. As such they are obligated to obey their master in all things.

          • What this means for you today is that you must obey your employer in all things that specifically are part of his business and your job. When you’re on his clock, your time is his. Your time is not yours to do as you please.

        2. Who to obey: those who are your “Lords” according to the flesh 22d

          • Paul specifies who you are to obey as “those who are your earthly masters,” which in the Greek is more literally “those who are your ‘lords’ according to the flesh.” Throughout this passage, the Greek word behind the English words “Lord” and “master” is just one word—the word kurios. Paul uses kurios 7 times in this passage, drawing a connection between our earthly “lords” and the Lord Jesus Christ. “Curious,” isn’t it?! Here he says our masters on earth are only masters in a limited sense—even if they have complete control over the flesh of our bodies, they do not own our souls. They are our “lords according to the flesh,” but are not the Lord of our soul. This means that as a Christian slave, and a Christian employee, your lowly earthly service is rendered in obedience to a far higher call.

        3. Manner 22e-23. Because we set our minds on things above, not on earthly things, we should render obedience in a way that far outstrips the ways of this world.

          • Motive: Sincerity and fearing the Lord 22e

            • Not eye-service, as people-pleasers

              • Paul tells us what it means to have Christian motives as an employee:

                • Colossians 3:22 not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

              • Paul warns us not merely to render “eye-service, as people-pleasers.” “Eye-service” is serving your employer only when he is looking at you. Do you really want to serve your employer when he’s not watching? You should! There is a German proverb that says, “The master’s eye does more than both his hands.” An English proverb has a similar point: “The master’s eye makes the horse fat.” The point is explained by the story of “A fat man riding upon a lean horse, [who] was asked how it came to pass that himself was so fat and his horse was so lean. He answered, Because I feed myself, but my servant feeds my horse.”

              • It’s not hard at our own workplaces, at school, or when you drive by a construction site to notice the ones who are not working hard at their jobs. They’re sitting, they’re talking, they’re playing, but they are not working. But when you are being paid for your time, not working, or working slowly or carelessly, constitutes stealing.

              • Another form of “eye-service” is the deception involved in false advertising, and even our own boasting beyond what is really true. We put on a show before the eyes of men, but do not serve “with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

            • But with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord

              • But a Christian, one who is united to Christ, one who has put on the new man, should serve with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Paul lifts the servant’s gaze from the things of this earth to the things of heaven, and sets his earthly service on a far higher plane. Our most disgusting and difficult work is in fact a sacred, loftily serene religious duty to the ultimate Master of all things.

              • It is not first and foremost a man’s actions that change when he becomes a Christian, but his heart. He does not submit to a new set of human regulations—“do not handle, do not taste, do not touch,” or diet or meditate or discipline his body in yoga—but he submits to a higher Master with all of his being. Christian slaves “are not only to bend their backs but their wills.”1 You’re willing to serve your master, because you are willing to serve your Lord. You serve your master wholeheartedly, with an undivided heart, because Jesus has called you to serve.

              • Illustration.

                • The worst job I’ve ever had may have been when I was on a Christian service project to repair part of the Union Gospel Mission in Portland, OR. We tore out walls from its basement and carried and dragged trash from the floor mixed with muck and slime and what I feared were the diseases of 50 years of homeless men out to the street to be hauled away. But as we worked we sang praises to the Lord and knew that we were serving Him. “He also brought [us] up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay....He has put a new song in [our] mouth, a song of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:2-3) Even if you go back to work in a horrible pit tomorrow, take with you that song of praise to our God. Commit your work to the Lord, and like a servant whose ear is pierced to show he desires to remain in his master’s household forever, say “I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8) Hebrews 10 says Christ said these words as He sacrificed His life for you. Will you not say them as you sacrifice your life for Him?

          • Spiritual endpoints: Your soul and the Lord 23

            • Origin

              • Paul summarizes,

                • 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

              • The word “work” here is stronger than the word “do.” It means to work with effort, with energy. This means you should bend not only your will, but your back as well.

            • Goal

              • Heartily” is more literally “from the soul.” It means to work with cheerfulness and interest. Ultimately your work is an integral part of the relationship between your soul and God. Your physical labor is a medium through which you live your spiritual life.

              • While men can be selfish, capricious, and cruel, the Lord is a perfect Master, fully worthy of all obedience, and fully repaying your every sacrifice. “What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?” But Christ says “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)

      1. Reason: God’s coming justice 24-25

        1. Your reward 24

          • And so to slaves and employees laboring in the dark and dreary evils of this world Paul holds out the imperishable encouragement of our final reward in heaven. He says you must serve

            • 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

          • What a tremendous hope for the hopeless slave who receives for all his effort only blows and meager food and filthy lodging. He will receive the inheritance. He will receive the reward. In the kingdom of God and the service of Christ the slave is no longer a slave, but a son, no longer a servant, but a friend, no longer a subordinate, but a brother. No earthly master affords his slaves an inheritance—he only gives the inheritance to his sons. But “from the Lord you [slaves] will receive the inheritance!” You have now come into no earthly household, but you have come into the household of God. You do not deserve anything from Him, but He repays your service with everything He has. He even gave His only Son; His life for yours. What a reason to give your life for His!

          • We may fail to get recognition for our work, the fruit of satisfaction from it, or pay for it. We may receive no respect, appreciation, or gratitude. But with Christ as our Lord, there already awaits for us an inheritance beyond even what we deserve as His servants. We will be ashamed at how far short we have fallen of the glory of God when we see how glorious is the inheritance stored up for the saints. God “has qualified you to share in the” glorious “inheritance of the saints in light.” (Col. 1:12) We will only be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” (Luke 17:10)

        2. Evildoers’ repayment 25

          • In addition to the incredible reward awaiting the obedient slave, we have a reason to obey our earthly masters because of God’s justice in the end.

            • 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

          • A slave who does wrong will be punished by the Lord, even if he escapes the punishment of his master. The greatness of a master’s cruelty in no way justifies the disobedience of a slave. Even if the institution of slavery is wrong, the slave is still obligated to obey his master. Two wrongs do not make a right. A slave ought not to wrong his master. In this Paul condemns the crimes enslaved nations and classes have committed, those deeds which have been honored and sung, all peasants’ revolts, and the strikes of modern labor unions. A man does not receive the right to break God’s laws because he is ill-treated.

          • But neither does God show partiality toward masters. Lev. 19:15 says “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great.” Masters can in fact wrong their slaves. Contrary to Roman law, slaves are people with rights that must be maintained. They may not be beaten without mercy, deprived of food and clothing and housing, deprived of their wives and children. For these reasons Deut. 23:15 forbids Israelites to return a slave who escaped from his non-Israelite master, because that master would abuse his slave, but the people of God live by a higher standard.

    1. Masters 4:1

      1. Addressees: Masters 1a

        1. Colossians 4:1 Masters,

      2. Command: Give what is right and fair 1b

        1. Lastly, Paul briefly addresses masters and commands them to

          • Colossians 4:1 treat your slaves justly and fairly,

        2. Justly and fairly” means to give them the appreciation and payment they deserve for their labor. A Christian’s slave would not necessarily be a Christian slave, so Paul must mean a master may not withhold wages from his slaves, even if they are from a different country, language, or religion. In the church the distinctions of “barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free” no longer prevent a person from equal membership in the community and equal treatment as humans, and so as they have learned from the example of the Christian church, Christians should treat all men “justly and fairly.” Being equally Christians becomes the paradigm for being equally human, and for relating to all men. A Christian’s slaves are no longer slaves, deserving nothing, but employees, deserving wages. Treat your employees “justly and fairly,” even if they prove themselves the most savage scum, which is what the Scythians were. Hear the words of Job, “13 If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, 14 what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? 15 Did not he who made me in the womb make him?” (Job 31:13-15)

      3. Reason: Knowing you have a Master in heaven 1c

        1. The reason is simple.

          • Colossians 4:1 knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

        2. Ultimately you do not own your slaves. You do not own your employees. God owns them as His creatures, whom He made in His image. And God owns Christians specially as their Redeemer, and comprehensively as their Lord. Ruthless masters are opposed to God’s redeeming Lordship.

          • Leviticus 25:42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.

          • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price.

          • 1 Corinthians 7:23 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.

        3. How do you treat your employees? Treat them how your Master in heaven treats you.

  1. Conclusion

    1. Will you heed the call of your Master in heaven? He calls you to serve. To take up your cross and follow Him, even when it hurts your body or your pride. Will you serve Him? Will you serve your employer? Will you serve your fellow believers? In the kingdom of heaven, it is not the greatest master, but the most miserable slave, who most truly knows his Lord Jesus Christ.

      1. Mark 10:43-45 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

1Maclaren, 347.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 13:52