Friday, August 29, 2008

Colossians 3:22-4:1

22Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. ... 1Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

As mentioned earlier, the distinction of slave and free was important to Paul, especially in this letter, which was likely delivered by Tychicus and Onesimus, the former slave of Philemon, along with Paul’s letter to Philemon, who was from Colosse. Paul elaborates more on the treatment of slaves here in this letter than he does in other letters, primarily, it is thought, because Onesimus and Philemon were involved. Perhaps Paul, who wrote a brilliant letter specifically to Philemon, includes some extra teaching here, just to show that the whole church has a responsibility in this matter, not he alone. Slaves receive extra attention here (v22-25), not just because they might have to endure much suffering, but since they could be prone to be lazy, dishonest, and resentful. God does not grade on the curve pending your social class. You will never convince God that you are a victim. Thus, even as a slave, you are held accountable for your behavior.

And let’s acknowledge that Paul is not condoning slavery as we think of it from colonial American times. This type of slavery was not like that kind. For all intents and purposes, Paul is speaking of the right kind of relationship to have between employers and employees. The slave was simply an employee; the master, an employer. He is saying to both groups, “Christ is Lord over your work and over your management of those who work for you.” The Christian should do all his work as if he were doing it for the Lord. And freedom in Christ is Paul’s motivator. Christian liberty strengthens our motive to work; it doesn’t weaken it. Like wives, slaves might have been thinking, “We are free in Christ, so we no longer have to obey our ruthless masters!” Paul says, “No. Christian liberty has freed you to work more effectively. You can give yourself to your work, because your master is the loving Lord Jesus.”

Employees aren’t to brown-nose, working hard only when the boss is looking. The tendency of underpaid and under appreciated people is to give a minimalist effort at work. As long as the employer is watching, they may try and look like they are working hard, but when the employer is gone, they do only what is necessary to get by. As far as Paul is concerned, the Boss (the Lord) is always looking; and we ought to fear the Lord on this account (“with reverence”). Sinclair Ferguson said, “Man was made to work, because the God who made him was a working God.” We ought to work sincerely, whole-heartedly, and joyfully for the Lord, since He cares for us. All work done well has dignity and it is valued in the sight of God. Because of that reality, you can be sure of a reward. In fact that reward will be “an inheritance,” which comes through sonship – in this case by adoption. You may not receive the reward you want in terms of wages on earth, but your reward will be far greater than you can imagine – an imperishable, eternal inheritance from your Father in heaven.

Finally, looking at the first verse of chapter 4, masters of slaves (employers) are given instruction as well. They are to treat their employees with what is right (justice) and fair. It is impossible to overemphasize how much God detests unfair wages, or the withholding of earned and promised wages (James 5:4-5; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). Both groups are instructed to keep the focus of heart and mind on heavenly things; both groups will give an account before the Lord. Paul is dealing with life on earth but in the kingdom of heaven. Work relationships are part of the “already / not yet” Christian life. Thus a focus on spiritual things leads to right application here on earth. When we pick up with v2 or chapter 4, we’ll continue with two more characteristics of spiritual maturity: prayer with thanksgiving and living a life of witness, or being a light in the darkness.

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