5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart.
When someone wants to criticize Christianity, a popular target is to mention there are slaves in the Bible. OK, so what point are they trying to make? If you know anything about first century Rome you know slavery plays a central role in society. NT Wright explains.
“Paul could no more envisage a world without slavery than we can envisage a world without electricity. Most of what the modern world takes for granted – television, computers and a million lesser inventions – are impossible without electricity. And yet for most of human history it was unknown. In the same way, the way Paul’s world worked was through slaves taking a vital place in most households except the very poor. Treatment of slaves, and its legal regulation, varied enormously in the ancient world, from country to country and owner to owner. Many slaves were valued, respected and trusted family members – and many were used and abused in every way imaginable by careless and inhumane masters and mistresses. But they were simply part of the way the world worked.”
Slavery in Rome is not like the slavery we had in the United States. Slavery had nothing to do with race. Slaves came from all cultures in Rome.
You became a slave for one of these reasons. Either you were:
•captured after losing in a war against Rome
•sold as a slave by your parents
•a slave to pay off your debt
Slaves could be freed at any time. Slaves could earn money to buy their freedom or some masters would just free their slaves after a time.
Now, Christianity would eventually defeat slavery, beginning with these first Roman Christians. But, it is a slow process. It isn’t going to change overnight. So, in the meantime, Paul is speaking to the reality of his day and begins with the Romans who are slaves and have become Christian. The way they work reflects on their new faith.
Slaves are to work as if they are working for Jesus himself. This means doing a good day’s work, being honest, and working hard even when they aren’t being watched. This sounds like wisdom for any employee to have, regardless if Paul is addressing slaves here. In fact, slavery in Rome is closer to employment than it is to the slavery of our nation’s history. Paul is saying how you work reflects on how you are honoring Jesus through your work.
What does it mean for you to put in a good days work?