Monday, April 5, 2010

Family and Work, Part 4: Slave and Master

Family and Work, Part 4: Slave and Master

Colossians 3:22-25, 4:1

Surprisingly, Paul spends more time discussing the work environment here than the family.

Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:22-25, 4:1 ESV)

What do you think?

Are Christians more likely to experience conflict at work than at home?

Slaves, in the Greek, means slaves, literally or figuratively, whether involuntary or voluntary. It comes from a word meaning to bind.

A Roman centurian refers to his slave:

I say to one, "Go," and he goes, and to another, "Come," and he comes, and to my servant, "Do this," and he does it. (Matthew 8:9 ESV)

A slave is not necessarily a mindless tool used by a master:

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household? (Matthew 24:45 ESV)

The greatest tribute to the dignity of servanthood is that of Christ Himself:

Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. (Mark 10:44-45 ESV)

Paul called himself a slave of Christ:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. Romans 1:1 ESV)

The essence of servanthood is obedience:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey?
Romans 6:16 ESV)

Paul makes an important distinction between being a servant of man and a servant of God:

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 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. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Corinthians 7:20-24 ESV)

Paul describes a person who has the earthly job of being a slave, being obedient to an earthly master. But he also describes the spiritual relationship a Christian has with God. A Christian is obedient to God, but that relationship involves freedom that no earthly person can ever experience, whether free or slave, unless indwelt by God's Spirit of adoption as son.

At first glance, Paul poses a paradox. First he says not to be concerned if you are a slave on earth, but then he says do not become slaves of men.

This seeming paradox reveals the priorities we must set. God first, man second. Nothing an earthly master commands may take priority over what God says. A Christian is a slave of God first, and then, if necessary, a slave of man. By saying, Do not become a slave of man, Paul is saying that a Christian is a slave of man only to the extent that the Word of God allows.

Even in our service to men, our higher motive and objective is serving Christ:

Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 ESV)

The reality of our spiritual relationship with God means that our earthly relationships are secondary, to the point that they actually do not exist when compared to to the eternity of Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 ESV)

So, we are to be obedient to our human masters (our employers, our government, our teachers and leaders), but only in the sense of obeying the higher purposes of Christ. In any conflict between commands of man and commands of Christ, our obedience is captured only by Christ.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man. (Ephesians 6:5-7 ESV)

Our employers are a type of earthly master. Paul says that our relationship with Christ should express itself in the workplace with sincerity and integrity. He warns against eye-service and people-pleasing.

Eye-service in the Greek is ophthalmodoulia, meaning sight-labor, a worker that needs watching. Ophthalmos means the eye, and douleia means slavery, closely related to the word Paul used early for slave.

An insincere and deceptive worker will act with diligence and skill only when the supervisor is present. Left alone or not closely watched, the lazy worker will take shortcuts that risk loss or damage of property or profit that belong to the employer.

People-pleasing in the Greek is anthropareskos, meaning man-courting or fawning. Anthro refers to the face of a human, and aresko means agreeable or lifting up.

Paul is describing the typical Yes-man, the worker who attempts to mirror the appearance of his employer and to gain status and importance merely by association. A people-pleaser sees only the surface of the situation, willing to shift or conform in order to remain comfortable, respected, and self-indulgent.

Neither of these attitudes benefits an employer, and they certainly do not glorify God as Master of everything.

Paul opposes eye-service and people-pleasing by exhorting slaves to obey God first, in sincerity of heart.

Sincerity in the Greek means singleness, from a word that means folded together or braided. Imagine a sheet of paper, written on one side: Earthly Authorities, and the other side: Almighty God. Fold the paper in such a way that only the words, Almighty God, are visible, but don't lose sight of the fact that Earthly Authorities are still involved, forming a single focus: integrity and sincerity.

Paul describes our attitude as Fearing the Lord.

What is the fear that motivates godly service?

The wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Colossians 3:25 ESV)

Integrity and sincerity are fruits of the Spirit of God, whether done in the arena of an earthly job, or in spiritual worship and ministry for God. A lack of integrity and sincerity is a direct quenching of God's Spirit in a Christian's life. The lazy, deceptive worker, whether Christian or not, should be afraid of the painful losses and consequences that God will allow in his life if he continues. There is no partiality (favoritism).

What warnings are given by Paul to earthly masters?

Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 4:1 ESV)

Justly in the Greek means equitable or innocent, from a word meaning right (self-evident).

Fairly in the Greek is isotes, meaning likeness or equity. We borrow from the Greek in words like isometric (same measure) or isolated (grouped together but separate from others).

Both words carry the meaning of equity: equal or fair. A homeowner makes monthly payments, repaying the loan made to purchase the home. A portion of the payment goes toward the finance charge, the interest, but a part of the payment goes toward the actual amount of the loan. When more money has been paid back than that which is still owed, the homeowner is said to have equity. This is a way of equalizing the borrower/loaner relationship.

A similar equality can be seen in the workplace. A Christian worker owes sincerity and integrity to the employer...the employer owes the same to the worker. Compensation and benefits must be clearly seen (self-evident) and available to all workers.

A Christian's treatment of slaves, or their relationship to employess must have constant reference to their relationship to God, their Master in heaven.

What do you think?

It seems easy to compartmentalize our faith, leaving it at home as we commute to work. Work seems to require a focus upon temporary, earthly objectives, and attention to spiritual concerns seems to distract. How do you successfully bring your relationship with God into the workplace?