22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.
4 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
(Colossians 3:22-4:1 NIV)
Paul continues with his instructions for the family in today’s passage. Paul includes domestic servants as well as family members because they were such a prevalent part of society. You either had servants or you were a servant. There were not a lot of “family only” households in Paul’s day. Based on the amount of instructions given, we can conclude that there were more servants than masters in the Colossian church.
Paul uses the word “Slaves” to begin this instruction. The Greek word “Doulos” (meaning servant) can mean either one who is forced into slavery, or one who willingly submits themselves in servitude to another. The context of this passage leans towards those in forced conscription or servitude.
It is important to point out that Paul is neither approving or condemning human slavery in this passage. Just as Jesus did not make it his ministry to force social or political reform, Paul was not pushing a social or political reform message. Like Jesus, Paul sought to bring Christ followers in concert with God’s Word and Christ’s example via changed hearts.
Remember from our earlier studies of chapter 3 (particularly verse 11) that Paul says there is neither slave nor free. It’s not our life situations that make us who we are, even if we find ourselves in forced servitude (slavery). It’s who we are in Christ and Christ living in us that makes us who we are. Paul does not make this claim lightheartedly since he wrote these words as a political prisoner, not as a free man.
Thankfully, we do not have slavery or conscripted servants in our society. The relationships that Paul talks about in this section can be applied to employee / employer relations that we do experience in our society. It is to this end we will focus our thoughts.
Paul gives a general command for us to obey our earthly masters (bosses) in everything. We don’t get to pick and choose what we will and won’t obey. Paul also reminds us to work with diligence whether our boss is looking or not. Our goal is to please the Lord, not just our boss. Paul reminds us that we are ultimately serving the Lord through our work.
Paul knew that God ordained mankind to work before the fall of mankind into sin. So work is honorable and pleasing to the Lord. Yes, because of the fall, work is much harder (Genesis 3:17-19). The fall did not end God’s mandate to work, nor did it end God’s blessing of it. Work with the right attitude and focus on the Lord is to be our worship of God.
Paul reminds us that to work with the wrong attitude or motive (to please our bosses only) does not please God, and we will receive discipline because of our disobedience to God. We don’t get a special “pass” because we are followers of Christ.
Lastly, Paul reminds us that those of us who are bosses have a responsibility to be Christ-like in our actions and attitudes toward our employees. We are not God to our employees – we are also under God’s authority and will be held accountable for how we treat those who work for us.
May we honor the Lord in our work as either employees or employers, remembering that He is our ultimate “boss” that we are to please. Relationships in the workplace show our love of Christ equally as much as our relationships at home.