Servants Are We All
22 Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. 23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for£ you serve the Lord Christ. 25 But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality. 4:1 Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Slavery has long been a scourge on this world. In Paul’s day one quarter to one third of the people were slaves. But the free people were often not even as well off as most slaves. For they were day labors often no having food and other necessities for life. Like the poor in many countries today they had no options to free themselves.
Some people take issue with the words of the apostle here. Their idea is that Christianity was a religion of the rebel & the zealot. But neither Jesus nor Paul outright condemned slavery. That is not to say that the Bible supported slavery.
The Bible does set conditions on treatment of slaves. Deuteronomy 23:15-16 (NKJV)15 "You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.
And Paul set in motion the final destruction of slavery by teaching that all men everywhere are equal before God. In this passage Paul teaches that God does not respect the person of anyone above another.
But this passage also applies to the work-a-day world of today. Even though slavery has been outlawed in most of the world, many are but paid slaves. I heard someone say the other day that the day year the Michael Jordan retired from basket ball the first time, that he was paid more to endorse Nike shoes than all the people in southeast Asia were paid to make the shoes. Now that sounds like slavery 20th century style. Making so little as to not be able to provide the basic necessities of life for themselves and their family.
In some ways slavery was better. At least the owner took care of his property. Today the idea is that there are 100 people waiting to take your job if you won’t do it. All of this regardless of weather or not the workers can adequately feed and clothe their families.
That’s why this passage is so needed today. For it admits one great truth. We are all servants and God is our Master. Therefore:
I. Obedience is proper for the servant.
A. Paul has here the idea of a willing service.
1. I have known some people that worked harder to get out of work than it would have been to just do the job.
2. Every job I ever had was always easier to be busy than to look busy.
3. Heartily is literally “out of the soul” Wuest
4. This would indicate desire along with the work done.
5. The servant is to do what he does diligently.
B. Some would think that if the slave had become a believer that that would change the case.
1. In the higher and abiding relationship which is theirs in Christ, believing slaves and masters are brothers. The slave-and-master relationship might persist in the home and business life; within the church it was swallowed up in the new relationship. Thus, a Christian slave might be recognized as an elder in the church by reason of his spiritual stature, and receive due deference from his Christian master. But the Christian slave would not presume on this new relationship or make it an excuse for serving his master less assiduously; on the contrary, he would serve him the more faith-fully because of this new relationship. And if a Christian slave had an unbelieving master, he would serve him the more faithfully now because the reputation of Christ and Christianity was bound up with the quality of his service. New International Commentary on the New Testament
2. Becoming a Christian does not lessen our given responsibilities, it strengthens them by making them in Christ.
II. Service should not be only when we are seen.
A. Eye service
1. Eyeservice” (ophthalmodoulia, Gk.) is service rendered solely to impress others. It denotes an attitude of working diligently only while the boss is watching. According to vv. 24, 25, the “boss” is always watching. Christians should be “God-pleasers” rather than “men-pleasers.” Believer’s Study Bible
B. Men pleasers
1. These are those who work hard when the master is watching.
2. They forget that the true master is always watching.
III. Service should be as to the Lord and not to men.
A. The motive for the Christian is to please the Lord.
1. And he will hardly ever find men to not be pleased when he works to please the Lord.
2. It might seem incredible that God is concerned about our work but He is.
IV. The Lord is faithful
A. Rewarding proper conduct
B. And punishing wrong behavior.
V. God shows no partiality.
A. Men may take notice of a persons position in this life but God does not.
B. He is just not impressed but our education or the job we have or how many movies we have made.
C. Although salves of Paul’s day had no rights of citizenship yet in God’s kingdom salve and master stand on the same ground.
VI. Masters will also give an account to the Lord of lords.
A. No one can escape this.
1. Eph 6:9 And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. NKJV
2. 2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. NKJV
B. Therefore they should give what is just and good.
1. There is an interesting parable that Jesus gave one time.
a. It was the parable of laborers in Matthew 20:1-16
b. In this parable the land owner paid everyone a days pay regardless of how long he worked.
c. Those who had worked for 12 hours thought they should get 12 days pay if the ones who had worked only an hour received one days pay.
d. The purpose of the parable is to show that God can give what is his to whoever He wants without doing wrong to those to the rest.
e. But there is an interesting side line here. That is that he may have given them each a days pay for that is what they would need in order to live that day.
2. What is just and good is not:
a. What can I get by with paying the laborers.
b. Nor is it that is what the prevailing wage is, for prevailing wage laws are good where people make a good wage but poor where the people barely skimp by.
3. What is just and good is what it takes to meet the persons needs.
VII. What is the basis of all of this about masters and slaves.
A. It is based on the Person of Jesus Christ.
1. He, the Master of all became a servant.
2. He became a servant to rescue us from hell.
3. He humbled Himself and suffered on a cross.
4. Since He, being our Master became our Servant, then we must not diminish the opportunity to be a servant nor its responsibility.
B. It is based on making sure that as Christians we do not bring reproach on the name of Jesus.
1. Servants were to serve lest they give people a reason to reproach the name of Jesus.
2. Even in our work, Jesus is represented by us.
3. Let us be careful what kind of Jesus others see in us.
I think we need to see that this is not some obscure passage that does not relate to us today. We are all servants. Each of us serves someone in some capacity. The human tendency is to be men pleasers. To not work hard when the boss is watching. But we need to remember who it is that we ultimately serve and who we represent in this world.
Title: IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
Author: Keener, Craig S
Copyright: Copyright © 1993 by Craig S. Keener Electronic Edition STEP Files Copyright © 1997, Parsons Technology, Inc
Slavery and the Setting of Philemon
Like all other slave law, Roman law had to address the dual status of slaves: by nature they were persons, but from an economic standpoint they were disposed of as property. The head of a household could legally execute his slaves, and they would all be executed if the head of the household was murdered. Slaves composed a large part of the agricultural work force in parts of the Empire (e.g., Italy); they competed with free peasants for the same work. The mine slaves had the worst life, dying quickly under the harsh conditions of the mines.
But slaves were found in all professions and generally had more opportunity for social advancement than free peasants; unlike the vast majority of slaves in the United States and the Caribbean, they were able to work for and achieve freedom, and some freed slaves became independently wealthy. This social mobility applied especially to the household slaves—the only kind of slave addressed in Paul’s writings. Economically, socially, and with regard to freedom to determine their future, these slaves were better off than most free persons in the Roman Empire; most free persons were rural peasants working as tenant farmers on the vast estates of wealthy landowners.
A few philosophers said that slaves were equals as people, but they never suggested that masters should free their slaves. Nearly everyone took the institution of slavery for granted, except a few people who purportedly said that it was “against nature”; their views were so unpopular that they survived only in the critique of their enemies. Paul’s message to Philemon goes beyond other documents of his time in not only pleading for clemency for an escaped slave but asking that he be released because he is now a Christian. So powerful was this precedent that many early U.S. slaveholders did not want their slaves to be exposed to Christianity, for fear that they would be compelled to free them; only in time was a distorted enough form of the Christian message available for use in sustaining slavery (see Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion [New York: Oxford University Press, 1978]).
Slaves, especially skilled or educated males, were often sent on errands and trusted as agents with their masters’ property. Such slaves could sometimes earn enough money on the side to buy their freedom (although their earnings legally belonged to their master, they were normally permitted to control the money themselves); still, some took the opportunity of an errand to escape. Because a safe escape required them to get far away from where their master lived (in the case Paul addresses here, from Phrygia to Rome), they might take some of their master’s money with them. (Such theft is probably the point of v. 18, but Paul might there account for the possibility that Philemon wants repayment for Onesimus himself. From the standpoint of ancient slave owners, the lost time of an escaped slave was lost money and was legally viewed as stolen property, to which one harboring him was liable. But more important, slaves themselves were not cheap, and Philemon might have already bought another slave to replace him.) Recapture normally meant severe punishment.
Old Testament *law required harboring escaped slaves (Deut 23:15-16), but Roman law required Paul to return Onesimus to his master, with serious penalties if he failed to do so. Paul uses his relationship with Philemon to seek Onesimus’ release: in a standard “letter of recommendation,” one would plead with someone of equal (or sometimes lower) status on behalf of someone of lower status. Paul was not Philemon’s equal socially or economically, but as his spiritual father he had grounds to claim the equality that characterized ancient friendship.