We close up this section on family living with one more picture of our relationship with God, namely Christ.
We saw how our marriage relationships are a picture of our relationship with Christ, how our parent-child relationships are a picture of our relationship with God the Father, and now we see how the Roman slave-master relationship is a picture of our relationship with Christ.
It might seem strange to see slave-master relationships as a part of family relationships, but actually that is how they were often seen by the Romans, as slaves were considered part of the household back in those days.
Why Paul (and others in the New Testament) never outright condemned slavery is hard to say. What they did do was ultimately pave the way for slavery to be done away with by reshaping how people saw slaves. How were slaves to be seen? As people, not property. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Paul tells the Christian slaves,
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (5-8)
Here again, we see that Paul sees a picture of our relationship with Christ in the family relationship of slave and master. This picture, unlike the other two of husband-wife, and parent-child, is not based on an ideal, but based on a reality of Roman society at the time.
We see that slavery was not God’s ideal for human relationships in I Corinthians 7:21-23, where Paul said to the slaves, “if you can gain your freedom, do so…You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”
Nevertheless in that passage as well as this one, Paul pictures us as slaves of Christ. And Paul says to the slaves, “Just as you serve Christ, serve your masters. Obey them with respect, fear, and sincerity of heart. Don’t just do it when they’re looking either, but serve with integrity and wholeheartedly.”
Because in then end, Christ will reward you for it, as he will all his “slaves.”
None of us are slaves nowadays, but many of us do work, whether it’s at our job earning money or simply doing voluntary work at the church or in other places. But either way, our attitude should be the same. We need to remember that ultimately, we are serving Christ, and it should show in our attitudes. Does it?
I struggle with this sometimes. And I have had to repent more than once from a poor attitude. But as we see our bosses and those in charge of us, we should see them as we see Christ, and obey them as we obey Christ.
On the other hand, Paul tells the bosses,
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (9)
In other words, be just to the people who are under you. If they are deserving of reward, don’t withhold it from them. Instead, just as Christ rewards those who are faithful, reward those under you who are faithful. And don’t threaten them, ruling with fear. Remember you have a Master too. And ultimately, you and those who work for you are under one Master. You have merely been given charge over them for a short time. And because of this, you yourself are to be faithful to Christ in dealing with the people he has given you.
So the questions is, “How do you serve? How do you serve your bosses God has put over you? And how do you serve Christ in dealing with those he has given you?
May we always be found faithful in whatever situation we have been put in.