God’s Word for You
Colossians 3:22 obey your earthly masters
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, August 31, 2019
22 O Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything. Do it, not only when you are under their eye to win their favor, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.
This passage must be read carefully today, and set in its context like a single volume of an encyclopedia. By itself it isn’t as useful as it is alongside its companions. The reason we should take care with this verse is that slavery today is different than slavery once was.
In Paul’s time, and going back to the days of Abraham (that is, throughout the Bible), slavery was an institution that was public. It had rules and laws, and slaves were cared for, taught, and given a pension when they were old. Israelites who had slaves were required to set them free after seven years (Deuteronomy 15:12).
Slavery still exists today, even in our country. It is not public. It is a secret horror, most often involving girls and sometimes boys in the sex trade. In this terrifying event, we need to turn to 1 Corinthians 7:21: “If you can gain your freedom, do so,” and Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” Modern slavery is a sin and an abomination in every way, and without any exceptions. Our police and FBI have not been able to end it. Why not? Perhaps because a few of the very wealthiest men and women in our country are involved, and their money and political clout have created a fortified beachhead around this island of sin and perversion. Perhaps some of those who are involved even have a gross misunderstanding of what the Bible says about slavery (passages like the one before us), thinking that if God speaks to slaves, then slavery must be ordained by God. But remember what Jesus said about divorce. Despite the fact that God says, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16), Jesus said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). God sometimes needs to regulate even our sins so that they do not become worse. That doesn’t mean that they stop being sins.
It would be good for modern workers to read this passage as if it said “employees” where it says “slaves,” and “employer” where it says “master.” The same is true of pastors: “Do your work not only when you are under your congregation’s eye to win their favor, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.”
Some men and women will try to indulge in getting slaves for themselves as long as the moon remains enslaved by the earth’s gravity. But if we proclaim the gospel clearly, if we present the word of God truly and faithfully, then the gospel will turn hearts away from sin and back to Christ, and some of those who are tempted will turn aside.
Some men and women will try to indulge in cheating their employers of time or resources. So we keep proclaiming the law and the gospel clearly, faithfully, regularly. We pray that hearts will be turned; that bosses will treat their people fairly and that workers will work for their bosses honestly. But above all, we keep proclaiming the word of God clearly and truly, so as not to leave wiggle room for those who want to justify their own sinful urges. We show our love for God with the way we treat one another. Treat each other with grace and love.
Pastor Timothy Smith