What does "Slaves, obey your earthly master" mean?

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart.

Colossians 3:1 - 25

ESV - 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Clarify Share Report Asked September 23 2016 Mini Anonymous

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Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army
In the social climate in which Paul wrote these words, slavery existed as a formal, legal institution. Slaves were property. Masters expected them to fully comply with whatever commands they were given without question or argument, and with no legal recourse, since a slave had none of the rights that would be considered basic today solely by virtue of being a human being.

In contrast to this, Paul emphasized in his preaching (Galatians 3:28) that, in Christianity, such distinctions as slave and free, male and female, or Jew and Gentile, no longer applied in terms of rights before God or access to Him. All people were sinners equally in need of the redemption that God made possible in Christ, and, once individuals had availed themselves of that salvation, they became in God's eyes as brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as brothers and sisters of Christ.

However, Paul was also aware of the "real-world" conditions in which Christians lived. Christianity was a spiritual transformation that sought to change people from within. It was not a political movement aimed at overthrowing existing governments or worldly institutions by force. (As Jesus had told Pilate during His trial, although He had a kingdom, it was not of this world (John 18:33-38).)

Paul therefore urged Christian slaves (in the passage cited) to continue to obey their earthly (that is, human) masters, even though, by virtue of being Christians, they were no longer slaves in God's eyes, but free in Christ.

(In fact, the entirety of one of Paul's epistles (Philemon 1-25) was written in connection with a situation in which a slave had escaped from his master (who had become a Christian because of Paul's preaching). The runaway slave (whose name was Onesimus, and who was apparently familiar with Paul) came to see Paul, who was at that time in prison in Rome. Paul also converted Onesimus to Christianity, and persuaded him to return to Philemon, which Onesimus would naturally have feared to do. Paul gave Onesimus the epistle to take with him, in which Paul urged Philemon as a Christian not to punish Onesimus as a runaway slave, but now to welcome him as a Christian brother (even though he was still legally Philemon's slave). There is even a bit of wordplay in the epistle, since the name Onesimus meant "useful". Paul pointed out to Philemon that even though Onesimus, when he had run away, may have been "useless" to Philemon, now that Onesimus was a Christian, he had become "useful" both to Paul and to Philemon.) 

Moreover, Paul told slaves not just to obey those earthly masters for the sake of pleasing them or avoiding punishment for disobedience, but to obey them sincerely and willingly, as if they were actually serving God, since it was God who had placed their masters in authority over them in this world.

Even though slavery may no longer exist today in enlightened societies, the same principle still applies to any Christian individuals who are responsible to others in any capacity (and that would include almost everyone). They are to carry out their duties and obligations with the same effort and willingness as they would if they were directly serving Christ, rather than other people.

September 24 2016 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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