“22Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality,” (Colossians 3:22-25; NASB).
It can be quite difficult to grapple with the term slave in our day, especially as we consider the way that it was used in the Bible to talk about household relationships. The very concept of a household slave in our times drums up all kinds of cultural discomfort and even anger. It assumes the loss of human dignity and seems to undermine the biblical truth that all men are created in the image of God. In Bible times, though, slavery was not so much to be seen as a trade—as it was in America up until the 19th century and still is in many parts of the world today—but as an economic necessity.
There were many differences between the Israelite system of slavery in the Old Testament and that employed by pagan nations like Babylon and Rome. For all of its many faults, it supplied something that even the current Western economic system cannot: economic security. If you worked for a man under a system of slavery, you knew where the next meal was coming from. For this reason, many in the ancient world sold themselves and their children into slavery. For the same reason, many who leave the military (a modern form of indentured servitude) often have difficulty adjusting to the instability of the outside world and soon seek to re-enter the military.
Most today have never been in this position of working for a master who by law of the land could prosecute you if you stopped showing up to work tomorrow. Nevertheless, though we find ourselves in very different economic times, the principles behind the instructions given to slaves in the Bible apply to all who answer to a boss or supervisor. In fact, they apply to bosses and supervisors as well, because they are to do their work with the understanding that they have a Master in heaven who sees all things: “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven,” (Colossians 4:1; NASB).
So, all of us—rich or poor, male or female, slave or free—have been called as slaves to Christ (Rom. 1:1; 1Cor. 7:22; Gal. 1:10; Eph. 6:5-6). So, as you continue your pilgrimage in this foreign land today, remember that you are called to “do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,” (Colossians 3:22b; NASB). It is from Him that we receive our rewards and our consequences. Let us then sojourn in this land not as man-pleasers, but as those who have a Master in heaven for whom we work with all gladness, not as mere slaves, but all the more as sons!
“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15; NASB).