Colossians 3:1 - 4:1 (Part 5)
Slaves & Masters…
The American mind most naturally understands the biblical word slave to possess the meaning of the 18th and 19th centuries’ western historical implication. However, whatever the absolute 1st century reality was, slaves were not that. Of course forced labor existed and was certainly bad but the idea in Paul’s mind here was that of a bond-servant or an employee.
I will admit, the idea that my work at work is something that God takes into account in my eternity is odd to me. But it makes sense too. For the instruction to work well when the eye of the employer is not on me digs down to the core of my honor as an employee, and if I cannot be trusted in the employ of men then how can I be trusted in the employ of our Lord?
Before I became a Christian I was apt to assume the things of my employer. While I was a very good employee and followed orders well I was also someone who considered it OK to make copies at the company expense, to make long distant phone calls on the company line, to stamp my posts with the company post machine, and or take home items from the company that belonged to the company that I desired. Basically I was a thief and justified my thievery because I was a hard worker and they actually underpaid me as an employee. All of this seemed naturally fine with me until I became a Christian and I learned this new ethic as an employee.
And then Masters are instructed to provide what is right and fair because they know that they too have a master in heaven.
When I read this I understand the distaste with Capitalism as expressed by the modern masters of the system. When CEO’s and upper managers are making crazy stupid amounts of money and the person actually doing the grunt work is struggling week by week to makes ends meet. I get it. But with that said I also get the reality that Capitalism is the best financial system ever to be used by society. It is the capitalistic system that allows all the protesters the privileged life of going to university and protesting the 1% on Wall Street. (Sorry, I think I’m getting political here and Paul’s words are not meant politically.) His words do not pass judgment on an economic system but rather encourage the participators of the system to act in accordance with a Christian ethic or code of conduct.
And this is the thrust of his words to us today. Like the system or not Paul’s instructions for Christians today is to behave in a way that honors our Lord. Of course, the CEOs and the laborers, both, will contend that their positions are the positions that best honors God but Paul’s words are a little haunting as both sides must realize that their arguments will eventually be answered by the judge of all Christians. So I wish everyone well as you argue your points.
So getting beyond all of our best political thinking Paul is calling both master and slave to act in honor in their own dealings with the other. This is not conditioned upon the actions of the other but on our own relationship with our Lord. Like I said, the concept is a bit odd to me.
As I ponder it though, I think we all would be very well served by a full day of instruction on the topic of honor; what it really means and how we display it in our lives. Because the honor of Jesus is exactly what Paul is calling the faithful to with this passage.