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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 as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
While the slavery described in the Bible isn’t typically as brutal as the African Slave Trade that happened in the United States and around the world, it was not all sunshine and roses. There were Jewish laws in effect to protect the humanity and dignity of a slave, but just like there are harsh bosses, there were also harsh masters.
The emphasis that Paul makes in regards to our discipleship and our growth in Christ doesn’t address changing the masters or abolishing slavery. In Paul’s day, slavery among Jews was a lot like credit cards today. If you bought more than you could afford or got into a hard spot providing for your family, you could work for somebody of a set length of time and they would remove your debt or pay off your debt to someone else. You didn’t lose your family lineage. Parents and children wouldn’t be permanently removed from one another. A kid might go work for a tradesman, but that would be more parallel to going off to college than children being torn from their parents in the slave trade.
So if Paul doesn’t address the great social ill of slavery, what is he addressing? The thing you have the most impact on: YOU. In the state that you are in, do it for the Lord. Whatever work you have to do, do it with sincerity of heart and give it the full effort. This doesn’t mean that we all become workaholics and die from high blood pressure. Sincerity means that we work on things fully. We don’t cut corners and do a poor job that looks good but won’t last. We don’t put on a show that will collapse as soon as we leave.
There are a lot of stupid jobs out there. The job is transformed, however, when it becomes an act of worship to glorify God. Christ isn’t a rigid taskmaster that is going to tsk tsk tsk all over our efforts. Work done with Christ becomes joyful and moves from digging ditches into a time of fellowship with the Lord. This is also why we do it for real and not just to look good. If we say we are working while praying but all we have to deliver at the end of the day are excuses, the world is going to judge our prayers and the One to whom we pray.
The Lord doesn’t care if you are a slave or free when it comes to salvation. He doesn’t care if you were an entrepreneur or a cog in the machine in regards to His love and care for you. The question will be: Did we care for the people we worked for enough to do the work and not just make ourselves look good? The Lord will reward us according to our work, wherever we are on the org chart.