Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #301b MP3 Audio File

Slaves and Masters

Colossians 3:22 - 4:1


In Colossians 3, Paul is teaching us about how our union with Christ transforms our relationships with each other. You have died with Christ, and you have been raised with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Him in God. You are no longer who you used to be. You are no longer a slave to sin and death. You have been set free. You have been recreated according to the image of Jesus Christ. Every time you sin, you deny who you are in Christ. Every time you let sin master you, you deny the Master who bought you.

Paul applies this teaching in the end of chapter 3 to the family. Since you are a new creature in Christ, let your lives show forth his transforming power in your family life. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. Children, obey your parents. And parents, don't provoke your children. Now Paul goes on to talk about slaves and masters in verses 22 thru 4:1.

These verses on slaves and masters are not a new section! Many simply transfer the language into "managers" and "employees." But that is not accurate. You see, the master/slave relationship is still a household relationship. Economic activity in the Roman world was essentially household activity. The household could consist of a dozen persons, or thousands of persons. We may not think of that as a household - but remember Abraham, who had 318 servants trained for war, which, if you include their wives and children, implies over a thousand in his household.

But today our households consist almost entirely of nuclear families. The amount of economic production that goes on in our households is minuscule. Our economic lives are lived in the corporation, whether as employees or as stockholders - or both. Whereas every member of the first century household was involved in some aspect of the household economy.

Paul's concern is that the Colossians live as those who are raised with Christ. And since many of the congregation were slaves, and some were also masters, Paul wished to instruct them on how to think about their lives together. The apostles did not attempt to articulate a model of ideal economic life. They called Christians to live as citizens of heaven in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation. Since you've been raised with Christ, your attitude toward your work must change.

Colossians 3:22 (NASB) Slaves, 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.

In this section Paul is dealing with slaves and masters. The English translators of the New Testament seem troubled at the thought of rendering the Greek word doulos as "slave" and "slavery" and seem to duck away from anything which would hint at such a concept being spoken about.

The KJV identifies 127 occurrences of the word doulos and chooses to translate it 120 times as "servant", 6 times as "bond," and once as "bondman"; where the English word "slaves" occurs only once in Rev 18:13, and there it's the translation of a totally different word.

The New American Standard translates this word doulos as "slave" in fifty of its occurrences. As offensive as it may be to 21st Century Americans, Paul is talking here about slaves and masters.

We should note that the apostles never go around trying to alter the culture of the society by campaigning against slavery and preaching against the social evils that sees men and women under the dominance and direction of men to the point where they're considered to be part of the person's property. Rather, they demonstrate and teach both slaves and masters what their correct manner of conduct should be towards one another in the cultural framework in which they find themselves.

The early Church was concerned not to bring about political or cultural change per se, but to change the heart of man through the preaching of the gospel that the life and reflection of Christ might be brought into society, heralding change not by law, but by the Spirit. The message of the Gospel isn't about altering a man or woman's natural, physical circumstances, but in altering a person's relationship to God.

The slave/master relationship was very common in the ancient world. Historians tell us that during this period there were some 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire, making up about half of the population. The philosopher, Seneca, told of how the Roman senate defeated a law proposing that slaves wear distinctive clothing, because they feared the slaves would realize how numerous they were. Because the Romans were "free," they considered work beneath their dignity. Slaves performed most of the work, including medical, teaching, domestic work, and farming. While some warmth existed in the relationship of slaves and their masters, quite often, it was a dehumanizing existence. They were considered to be animate tools, alongside inanimate tools. Their masters had absolute authority over their lives, even to the point of death if so desired. For slaves who were strong, plenty of demanding work was set before them. For those of a more delicate nature, they would be plied to illegal trades on behalf of their masters. When their usefulness was over, many would be given over to prostitution. Slaves had no rights to property or inheritance.

You might be thinking, "What does this have to do with me today? We no longer have slavery in America." First of all, don't think of the servant/master relationship in the sense of racial slavery in early America. In New Testament times slavery was an accepted economic system, it was even honored. Paul was proud to be a doulos of Jesus Christ. Peter, James, and Jude called themselves doulos. Jesus was called the doulos of God. The institution of slavery is taken for granted in the Scriptures. The wrong or right of the matter are not argued anywhere in the New Testament. Our Lord did not condemn nor abolish it. For the most part, the slave was better off than their free counter part. To the original readers of this epistle, slavery was an old established and familiar thing. The system was fine.

The slavery of American history was totally unacceptable and sinful. It was racial, and the conflict it created is still alive in our society today.

The abolishment of slavery in America was primarily due to the Christian influence. Dr. Samuel Hopkins, pastor of the first Congregational Church at Newport, Rhode Island, preached a sermon in 1770 against kidnaping, purchasing, and retaining of slaves. The people were astonished and one wealthy family left the church. But most of the members were surprised that they had not long before seen the evil of the system.

In 1776 the churches adopted a rule to restrict slavery. Members must agree to free their slaves. Slave sellers were expelled and preachers were dismissed if they did not at once free their slaves.

We need to divorce ourselves from the idea that slavery in the Bible was racial, discriminatory and abusive. It was much like our employee/employer relationship today.

Slavery has it's roots deep in biblical history and the Middle East. Slaves were primarily domestic employees: cooks, household managers, barbers, butlers and even family physicians. Their housing, their food, clothing, and living expenses were provided. Teachers were slaves, like in early America, they were indentured servants; people who contracted themselves to an American family for 10 to 15 years.

How did people become slaves? Not the way we got black slaves, which was a violation of the Word of God:

Exodus 21:16 (NASB) "And he who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.

Slaves were acquired in several different ways according to the Old Testament:

1. By Purchase - foreigners came to Israel and sold themselves as servants. Buying and selling of slaves was okay according to Lev. 25:44-46.

We should also expand the idea of "purchase" to realize that it wasn't just those who would sell others into slavery for a price (though this occurred by parents, relatives and even partners who might sell another to pay off debts or to gain some food to avoid immediate starvation through famine) but men and women might sell themselves to pay off either their own personal debt or the monies incurred as a result of crime.

2. Captives of War - this was considered human, it was better than death:

Deuteronomy 20:14 (NASB) "Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.

Daniel and his friends were made slaves as captives of war.

3. Through insolvency - thieves were sold into slavery to pay off there debts

(Ex.22:3). Defaulting debtors were sold into slavery (Lev. 25:39; Matt. 18:25). Children of defaulting debtors were sold into slavery (2 Kings 4:1-7).

The Bible never condemns slavery:

1 Corinthians 7:21-22 (NASB) Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave.

Paul says even if you're a slave, don't worry about it. Allow God to use you right where you are. Be a sanctifying influence right where you are. God needs Christians in every walk of life to be an influence for Him. By living a life of holiness, we sanctify; we influence those around us. We can't influence people if we're not around them.

Paul says if you have the opportunity to become free, then use it. Just don't make freedom the preoccupation of your life. Your preoccupation is to be serving the Lord, being an influence for Him in whatever vocation you are in.

What do slaves and masters have to do with us? Though the background differs from our circumstances, the timeless principles set forth can help the Christian understand his place as a believer in the work force. The power of the gospel generates a new attitude in the believer even toward his working relationships. Does your attitude in your work manifest the reality of Jesus Christ as Lord in your life?

This exhortation is very much needed today. Scripture is not written to us, but it is written for us. And this passage speaks of employment relationships; something that affects us all.

U.S. News and World Report said that 70% of employed people in the U.S. don't like their jobs. 90% of the 70% don't feel like getting up in the morning to go to their jobs.

Unhappy people are unproductive people. TIME Magazine said: "The average worker wastes many hours per week. It causes one hundred billion dollars of drain on the American economy to pay people for what they don't do." How much of your paycheck is unearned? I was shocked when I began to work a civil service job in the early eighties. People get paid by the government to do absolutely nothing all day long.

The underlying problem is authority and submission. We have a problem with authority in our society, civil, religious and social.

We are consumed with leisure and personal pleasure and little else in America. "How will it benefit me?" seems to be the only question many people ask. Is this problem isolated to unbelievers? No! You know better than that.

It has been said that the average American teenager thinks that "Manuel Labor" is the President of Mexico. We have become an over indulgent, self-seeking, lazy people looking for a free ride. We desperately need to understand what the Bible says about work. First, we must understand that work is not part of the curse!

Genesis 2:15 (NASB) Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

The Hebrew word translated here as "cultivate" is abad which means: "to work (in any sense); by impaction to serve, till; to enslave." Even in the perfect world as God made it, work was necessary for man's good. The ideal world is not one of idleness and frolic, but one of serious activity and service.

Proverbs 14:23 (NASB) In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty.
Proverbs 18:9 (NASB) He also who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys.
Ephesians 4:28 (NASB) Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

The Greeks deplored manual labor and relegated it to slaves as much as possible. But the Jews held it in esteem; every Jewish boy was taught a trade regardless of his family's wealth. The Jews taught that working with one's own hands demonstrates love for the brethren, because a self-supporting person is not a burden to others.

The whole economic structure of the Middle East and Roman world was based upon masters and slaves. It's not much different today with employees and employers.

As we apply this passage to our work, we see that we all fall in the two categories Paul addresses ­ employee and employer, or worker and supervisor. So, what are his instructions to us?

Colossians 3:22 (NASB) Slaves, 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.

The word "slave" is the Greek word doulos, which comes from deo, which means: "to bind." The chief idea that it conveys is that the slave is bound to his master; a person who is in a submissive subjection to someone else.

The relationship of the slave to his master is identical with that of the child to the parents according to the apostle's terminology (cf. Ga4:1). The present tense of the verb hupakouo (obey) in both cases stress the constant obedience expected. The use of the words "kata sarka" ( on earth) with masters shows that in other realms the master and slave were on equality. In spiritual things, the master and slave were brothers in the family of God.

As of major importance, Paul emphasizes the need for obedience towards the masters "in all things," where nothing appears to be left outside consideration. This instruction appears in three of the other four passages that deal with salves and masters (Eph 6:5-6, Titus 2:9).

1 Peter 2:18 (NASB) Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.

Peter speaks of being obedient even to the "unreasonable" who may place unjustified expectations upon them, and who punish them for failure to achieve.
We might have expected Peter to object in the strongest terms and to appeal to the brethren to contact their local Labor Union to lodge a complaint. But in ancient times, good treatment rested solely in the will and grace of the master. Masters in the first century A.D. had the absolute power over their slaves to do with them as they required, even to the point of punishing them by death for even minor offenses - so the cultural framework isn't being undermined by the apostle's words, but supported.

The Gospel is concerned with the right lifestyle and conduct of the individual and not in the overthrow of men and women who don't demonstrate what's considered to be a fair-to-middling image of God in society. The teaching of the New Testament, then, is that the slave should be obedient to the master, whether they be righteous or unreasonable, whether they reward good behavior or only punish those under them through their own whims and fancies.
Paul states that they are to obey their masters who are "on earth," which means in your physical relationship. In spiritual matters, the slave and his master were equal brothers in Christ.

"Not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord." The term for "external service" is a combination of the words for "eye" and "slave." So it carries the idea of working diligently when the master's eye is upon them, but slacking off at other times. This reveals that the will to work is not present; instead there is only the desire to keep in the master's good graces.

It happens in the office, in factories, in retail businesses, that employees will slack off if the boss is not around, then be "Mr. Efficiency" when he is nearby. One researcher said that only one-fourth of employees give their best on the job, and that around 20-percent of the average worker's time is wasted

"As those who merely please men" - We all struggle at times with the sin of pleasing men rather than pleasing the Lord. In a crude way, this kind of sin gives the position of sovereignty to someone else, at least in the person's eyes. Instead of realizing that "promotion comes from the Lord," it is resorting to whatever techniques or smooth words or deceitful actions might be necessary to persuade an earthly boss to grant favor.

"Sincerity of heart" - more literally, "purity of heart," which speaks of a singleness of purpose and will in the things that are being done. This command contemplates a right motive for work. The word implies that the Christian is so intent on pleasing the Lord in all that he does, that he pursues his work diligently, with an aim to honor Christ by his efforts and accomplishments. How can you do this when the work may have nothing to do with the gospel? This is where the believer first recognizes the providence of God in his life. He is laboring in a particular area by the good providence of the Lord. So that is God's will for his life at that moment, whether working retail, slinging packages, or crunching numbers.

Paul goes on to add that they are to serve their masters "Fearing the Lord." Whom do you fear? Are you more afraid of what your boss thinks of you, or what God thinks of you? Paul commands us to live our lives under the eyes of Christ.

The word "fear" refers to an attitude of reverence toward the Lord. We often think of fear as cowering in a corner or trembling at the thought of something gruesome. But the term implies that we have a proper view of the Lord; we are thinking rightly on him as the one who ultimately has all power over our lives.

Can you imagine how important this statement was to the slaves Paul addressed? A slave might very well fear his master, for the master had power of life and death, as well as power to sell him into other types of servitude. But Paul tells the believing slave not to fear the master or to live with an attitude that an earthly master was sovereign over his life. Instead, the Christian is to be "fearing the Lord" as the whole attitude of his life.

How can we do this in our own setting? It demands that we consciously see that we are serving the Lord, not man, in whatever our vocation might be. We must also have an intense desire to not displease the Lord who has called us to serve him.

Colossians 3:23 (NASB) Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men;

The apostle uses two different Greek words, which are both translated by "do" here. The first word is from poieo. The second word, ergazomai is an advance on the first, and means: "to work, labor." By its use, Paul gains a little more stress on the idea of whole-hearted service.

Have you ever gone to a service establishment and wondered if perhaps you were bothering the clerks by being there? Their hearts do not appear to be in their work. Paul is saying, "Don't work that way. Work from the soul. Give yourself in your work. Enjoy your work."

"Do your work heartily" - the word could be translated as; "work energetically." It is emphatic in the Greek, "You yourself do your work energetically." That carries with it the idea of both enthusiasm for your job and a display of diligence in whatever task you are given. This is where Christians have the opportunity to be a true witness for Christ in the workplace, for most people are not satisfied with their jobs. They complain about what is required of them, what they are being paid, and the conditions surrounding them. To see someone working diligently with a sense of enthusiasm and thankfulness for the work, is out of the ordinary. It attracts attention to the power of the gospel in your life.

Paul tells us that whether we are cutting a yard for someone or cleaning a house or filing correspondence, the very activity is considered to be "for the Lord." We must admit that often our attitude toward our work is not on doing it as a means of pleasing the Lord. It is just a job, and we want to be finished with it so that we can pursue free time activities. But Paul is pointing out that when it is done "for the Lord," it is not just a job.

Like the early slaves, some of you look at your work as unimportant. It is not saving anyone's life; it has no bearing on the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth; it does nothing to bring about world peace. Paul's admonition is that you are looking at your work in the wrong way. Instead, you are to see it as an act of praise to the Lord, who is indeed honored when his people work diligently for His glory. This whole attitude toward work should also spill over into the study habits of those who are students. You are to do your work for class as for the Lord. In those days when you really do not want to give your best, think of this text and the exhortation to labor with a view to whatever you are doing being your offering to the Lord of diligence.

Colossians 3:24 (NASB) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

The phrase "from the Lord" is emphatic in the Greek. The ultimate reward comes from God, not from our employer, because you are ultimately serving Christ, not your employer. This is crucial knowledge if we are going to live a qualitative Christian life.

This whole attitude called for is important in our own day. If our dependence is unduly upon a company rather than the Lord, we can be gravely disappointed. Companies collapse; the Lord is eternal. I am not suggesting that it is unimportant to have company benefits or retirement plans. Those things demonstrate prudence on our part in taking care of temporal needs. But let us learn to live with a view that the Lord is ultimately our provider. Let us beware of sinking our energies on the temporal to the neglect of the eternal inheritance that belongs to the child of God.

What is the inheritance that Paul talks about?

Hebrews 9:15 (NASB) And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Notice that it is the "called" - believers, who "...receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." What is the promised inheritance? It is the New Covenant, the New Jerusalem. The inheritance of the land in the Old Covenant was temporary, it was but a type and picture of the believer's inheritance in the new age.

Colossians 3:25 (NASB) For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.

This is a general principle that applies to all situations and to all men regardless of position. None is exempt. What a man sows, he will reap (Galatians 6.7).

There is a question among scholars as to whether verse 25 is directed toward slaves or masters or both. I think that it straddles the fence between them, pointing to the fact that both slaves and masters faced consequences for any wrong they did. The righteous Judge of the earth will be impartial, and carry it with an equal hand towards the master and servant.

In a world where there's little respect for the employer or master, and employment is carried out by the employee for the benefit of themselves, Jesus' representative should demonstrate a kind of conduct which is a reflection of the character of Jesus Christ to the point where they stand out as being a valued asset.

We should notice that there are more instructions to slaves in the New Testament than there are to masters, and, even when the exhortations appear side by side, the volume of information recorded for the slave to consider is substantially greater. So, in Col 3:22-4:1 there are 4 verses on slaves and 1 on masters; in Eph 6:5-9 there are, again, 4 verses on slaves and 1 on masters; I Peter 2:18-25 takes 8 verses to speak about slaves, but has nothing to say to masters at all. And there are additional places where instructions to slaves stand alone (I Tim 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10).

Perhaps the reason for such a concentration of instruction was the danger that, because slaves knew they were "free" in Jesus (I Cor 7:22, Gal 3:28, Col 3:11), they naturally thought of that freedom needing to be outworked in reality so that their submission to and relationship with their masters began to become a little strained. There was a need to say more to the slaves, therefore, than to the masters as is evidenced in the way they're consistently spoken to in the New Testament.

Colossians 4:1 (NASB) Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

What a stupid place to put a chapter division! This is a continuation of the slave/master subject.

In the New Testament the commands to the masters are confined to just the two Scriptures (Eph 6:9, Col 4:1), and, even then, the verses are strikingly similar in their instruction:

Ephesians 6:9 (NASB) And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

As masters Paul commands two things: First, be fair and just. In imitation of Christ, do not show partiality or favoritism. Being fair and just means be fair to them, and not by the culture's standards, but by Christ's. American industry generally ignores this teaching (as do most cultures).

In Colossians Paul seems to raise the possession of slaves into a place where the master was expected to regard them as members of humanity in a way that a great part of the Greek world of the first century didn't. It isn't enough that the master's conduct should be acceptable to the culture in which he lived, but, rather, there was a need for it to be fully acceptable to God.
The master, quite clearly, is expected to have in mind the slave's "rights" even though the slave isn't exhorted to insist on them. Therefore, the idea behind the statement is that the master is to do to the slaves as they would expect them to do good to themselves:

Matthew 7:12 (NASB) "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Laws against embezzlement, harassment, etc. are needed, because people are often wicked. But laws cannot create healthy employer/employee relations. For that, we need a higher and deeper motive, and that's what Paul supplies. Supervisors who know Christ have a real basis for treating their associates well.

Some scholars point out that "justice and fairness" might especially refer to proper compensation for the work of the slaves. The masters were not to take undue advantage of their positions by failing to pay them a just income.

The fact that the word "Lord" occurs seven times in 3:18--4:1 highlights the

importance of applying the lordship of Christ in all our interpersonal relationships.

Paul Christianizes the secular (so to speak) and causes true spirituality not to be confined to the meetings when the church comes together to learn more of Christ and to respond in thanksgiving for the work of the cross. So God is seen as much at home in the work place as in the gathering together of believers and His rule is to be demonstrated in the change of heart, which begins to display what God requires in each and every situation that a man or woman might find themselves in. Man was created to work, and all of our work is a sacred duty:

1 Corinthians 10:31 (NASB) Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

You might say, "I'm a plumber, painter, truck driver, electrician, banker, doctor, or lawyer. What's so sacred about that?" Or, "I wash dishes, clean house, collect garbage, or bag groceries. How is that sacred?" Whatever you do, if you do it for God's glory, it is sacred service.

Remove the line you've drawn between the secular and sacred:

Secular Sacred



daily duties

Bible reading

Scripture memory

Church attendance


Ministries at the church.

Draw a circle around it all and call it SACRED! Everything you do is in reference to your relationship to God, everything!

What makes labor Christian? When Christ is at the center. When the gospel of our Lord Jesus has so gripped your heart and mind, that you approach even the trivial aspects of your work as service to the King of Kings, THEN, your work is Christ-centered.

Martin Luther said, "The role of the shopkeeper and the role of the housewife are as sacred as the role of clergy and priest in terms of it's relationship and reference to God."

William Tyndale said, "There is difference betwixt washing dishes and preaching the Word of God but as touching pleasing God there is no difference at all."

Every job and every task is of spiritual value, because when it is integrated into the life of a Christian, it becomes the arena in which that Christian lives out his spiritual existence.

In our relationships in our marriage, in our home, and in our work, we are to honor God. This is practical stuff, but it is the stuff of life. This is where serving the Lord becomes real, and it is the place of our greatest influence for Christ.

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