Fairview Baptist Church
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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Spring 2017
Theme: Identity: My Life of
What This Lesson Is About:
focus of this week’s study is on utilizing the opportunities we have to share Christ
through what we do.
Life In Christ
Life in the Church
Life at Home
Life at Work
Life in the Community
Life on Mission
Your work is a reflection of
your relationship with Christ.
Work Diligently, with Integrity
Work Enthusiastically, as for Christ
Treat Coworkers Right and Fair
As with the previous session in Ephesians, Paul’s letter to the
Colossians was written from his Roman imprisonment sometime from A.D.
60-62. Unlike Ephesians, Paul did not found the church at Colossae.
However, during Paul’s three year ministry in Ephesus (likely during
A.D. 52-56), one of the converts Paul made, Epaphras, carried the gospel
back to Colossae and founded the church (Col. 1:7-8). Soon, however, false
teachers entered the church and began teaching false ideas about Christ.
Epaphras visited Paul, who was in Rome under house arrest, and reported
the problems in Colossae. Writing under the inspiration of God’s Holy
Spirit, Paul wrote the Letter to the Colossians to address the issues
there. Tychicus (whose home was near Colossae) and Onesimus (who was from
Colossae) delivered the letter. This Onesimus was the slave owned by
Philemon, to whom Paul wrote the Letter to Philemon.
the letters Paul wrote, Colossians is the one most focused on
Christology—the study of who Christ is, what He did, and what that means
for the world. To correct the false teaching in Colossae, this letter
“exalts Christ as the very image of God (1:15), the Creator (1:16), the
preexistent sustainer of all things (1:17), the head of the church (1:18),
the first to be resurrected (1:18), the fullness of deity in bodily form
(1:19; 2:9) and the reconciler (1:20-22).”
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Work is more than just a paycheck.
It is more than a job. Whether
we are the CEO or a large business or an intern on the lowest rung of the
corporate ladder, our true work is to honor Christ and reflect Him in our
work relationships, attitude, and productivity.
Our day-to-day work might be forgotten next week, but the witness
we give through our work can impact eternity, when we remember we are
working for Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza,
Diligently, With Integrity (Col.
22 Slaves, obey your human masters in
everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but
work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.
Enthusiastically, as for Christ (Col.
23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as
something done for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that
you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the
Lord Christ.25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever
wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.
do you think one’s work is meant to be a reflection of one’s relationship
do you think it means to work from the
heart (v. 23)?
are the three principles that help us reflect Christ in our work? (see Adv.
Comm., all. pg. 5; “ Our work is meant
to be . . .” )
are some things we can do to reflect Christ in whatever work we do?
are some reasons for being obedient in the workplace?
you think it is difficult to serve Christ in the workplace?
Why, or why not?
are some things that can make it difficult?
part does your attitude play when faced with difficulty in the workplace?
are some practical ways difficulty can be overcome?
is a slacker and what are some things
that causes a person to become one?
What do you believe about the value of work and who
taught you, if anyone?
Do you think our perspective on work would change if
we viewed work as for the Lord and not for men?
If so, how?
When have you seen someone use their job as an
outlet for the gospel?
How would you describe what it means to do one’s
work as if for the Lord?
Lessons in Col. 3:23-25:
are to give our very best in all that we do for the Lord.
Lord gives His blessing to those who do all things as service for Him.
will be recompensed in kind for the wrong we do.
is impartial; He does not act according to external appearances but
according to the condition of the heart.
Coworkers Right and Fair (Col. 4:1)
1 Masters, deal with your slaves justly and
fairly, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.
do you think it means to do one’s work right and just as Christ does with you?
do you think Paul had to address the masters of slaves in the way the masters
you think this verse applies to employers today?
employers have a responsibility to those under them, what do you think Paul
meant in this verse?
do you think some employers have taken their position as a license for
disrespect or abuse of their employees?
are some things an employee can do if he/she find themselves in such a
do you think a believer who has a position of leadership should exercise their
authority as a servant of Christ?
do you think it means for a leader to deal with his/her employees fairly and
you believe those in leadership positions will be held accountable for how they
treat those who are in service to them? Why
or why not?
would you describe the relationships with those who work with us and those in
leadership positions if we were to see them as Jesus sees them—and treat them accordingly?
How do you think it would impact our
relationships with them?
How can our identity in Christ be reflected in
our behavior when we are at work?
How can we demonstrate an integrity that is
not dependent on being noticed?
Do you think one’s
attitude toward our work should be characterized by enthusiasm and sincerity as
a Christian? Why, or why not?
difference do you think it would make in the workplace if all Christians would
recognize that the work they do is for the Lord and not human employers?
difference do you think it would make in the workplace if all people were
Christian? Is your workplace a
Why is it important to treat all people the way our
Master treats us?
Lessons in 4:1:
position over another is not license for disrespect or abuse.
Lord expects believers who have a position of leadership to exercise their
authority as a servant of Christ.
Lord is Master of us all no matter our status in life.
the reasons we are employed, have a job, go to work—however you prefer
to term it. Probably at the
top of our lists would be “to make a living”; “to earn an income.”
We have skillsets or insights others are willing to pay us to use
to produce a product, service, or idea that another party is willing to
pay for. Our national economic
model is dependent on such interactions.
Surely, there is more to it. We
work because we believe in what we do—it gives us a sense of worth, both
to ourselves and before others. We
are convinced that what we do benefits us, as well as others.
We enjoy the interaction we have with coworkers and the
opportunities to collaborate with them to do something worthwhile.
However, work has a spiritual element to it as well.
Work is God-ordained. God
gave the first man a work assignment, not as punishment, as we sometimes
think, but as divine partnership. One
Bible commentator described work as an act of worship.
“To work in order to being pleasure to God is sufficient
motivation to be faithful stewards of our talents and opportunities.”3
Therefore, we need to give our work our best because in doing so,
we are giving God our best. And
as others view us taking our work seriously, they can also see evidence
that our work is more than a job; it is a reflection of our relationship
to Christ who gives life meaning and purpose.
How can you work so that your labor is a reflection
of your relationship with Christ? How
can integrity and dependability when you are at work lead people closer to
Christ? Do you work with
enthusiasm as God desires? Why or why not?
On a scale of 1 (drudgery), to 10 ( extreme enthusiasm), how would
you rate your attitude toward the work you do as if it were for the Lord?
Do you need an attitude adjustment when it comes to your outlook
toward the work you do? If so,
ask God’s Holy Spirit to show you the way to improve your attitude and
to develop a stronger relationship with the Lord.
He will, if you really want it.
1.Wall, Colossians & Philemon, 162.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza,
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Focal Passage from three different translations of
King James Version:
Colossians 3:22-25 (KJV)
obey in all things your masters
according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness
of heart, fearing God: 23 And whatsoever ye do, do it
heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; 24 Knowing that of the
Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord
Christ. 25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which
he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
Colossians 4:1 (KJV)
give unto your servants that
which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.
New King James Version:
Colossians 3:22-25 (NKJV)
obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye service, 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.
Colossians 4:1 (NKJV)
give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a
Master in heaven.
New Living Translation:
Colossians 3:22-25 (NLT)
obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time,
not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your
reverent fear of the Lord. 23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as
though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember
that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master
you are serving is Christ. 25 But if you do what is wrong, you will
be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.
Colossians 4:1 (NLT)
be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in
Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: “Advanced Bible Study Commentary,” “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament,” “Believer's Bible Commentary,” “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
Lesson Outline — “Life at Work”
— Col. 3:22—4:1
with Integrity (Col. 3:22)
Work Enthusiastically, as for Christ
Treat Coworkers Right and Fair
Bible Study Commentary: Col.
I. Work Diligently, with Integrity
(Col. 3:22): Thankfully, in American society today we don’t have slaves and masters.
However, in New Testament times, slavery was widely practiced and slaves were
seen as part of family units. In Colossians, Paul devoted one verse each to
wives, husbands, children, and fathers (parents); he devoted four verses to
slaves/masters. Perhaps this indicates that the latter relationship caused more
problems than any of the other relationships. Much (if not most) of what the
Bible says about slave-master relationships has to do with work. Our work is
meant to be a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Though we serve Him,
we relate to Him not as slaves but as sons (Gal. 4:7).
Colossians 3:22 opens
with the word slaves as those addressed. Was this because slaves were a
large part of many churches? Perhaps the reason for this address in Colossians
is that Philemon, the person who owned Onesimus, as well as Onesimus himself,
were a part of that church. This word probably comes from a word meaning “to
bind” and is the most common word for servant in the New Testament (used 124
times in the Greek New Testament). It is usually translated “slave” or
Through Paul, God
commands: Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. This command
directed to Christian slaves means “keep on obeying” and is not dependent on
the masters’ spiritual status (whether saved or unsaved). The translation
“human masters” literally is “according to the flesh” and distinguishes
an earthly master from the heavenly master. The word translated
“master” is also rendered lord (human) and Lord (divine). So Paul clarified
the meaning by adding “human” (flesh) to “master.” As employees, we are
to obey our human employers.
God’s instruction is
all-inclusive; obedience is required in everything. Does the
slave/employee ever have permission from God not to obey? Jesus stated, “Give,
then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are
God’s” (Matt. 22:21). This New Testament principle means that Christians are
never obligated to do what God does not want us to do. Yet we may suffer the
consequences if we fail to obey our employers.
The focus of this verse
is that we do our work with integrity and dependability. Regarding integrity,
Paul wrote Don’t work only while being watched. This entire phrase
translates three words in Greek; the primary word is a compound word coming from
“eye” or “sight” and “work” or “serve.” This refers to working
only while being watched (contrary to the adage, “When the boss is away, the
workers will play.”).
As Christians, our
responsibility is to work hard—whether we’re watched or not. The reason for
this command is that many people obey as people-pleasers. Their
motivation is to look good before others, not to work hard for the glory of God
and the good of others. If we aim merely to please our bosses, we’re not
fulfilling our responsibility toward them—or toward God.
next command about working added a qualifier: wholeheartedly (literally
“with singleness of heart”). In this verse “heart” refers to
disposition, temperament, and attitude; it also indicates dependability. The New
Living Translation renders this phrase “sincerity.” The motive or reason for
working wholeheartedly is a posture and attitude of fearing the Lord. In
the New Testament, the word fear refers to awe, reverence, and respect
more than to the feeling of being terrified. Our primary motivation for working
as God desires is because we revere Him. We work with integrity and
dependability for those over us as a way to honor God.
Enthusiastically, as for Christ (Col.
3:23-25): Our work is meant to be a reflection of our relationship with Christ. So what are some principles
that help us to reflect Christ in our work? We’ve already answered that in one
way: Do your work with integrity and dependability to those over you (v. 22). Verses 23-25 answer that question in a second way: Do your work
enthusiastically for Christ. These verses relate to verse 22, but they
also look back to Paul’s earlier statement in Colossians, “And whatever you
do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving
thanks to God the Father through him” (v. 17) and should be understood in
light of that principle. In fact, some scholars see Colossians 3:18–4:6
as an explanation of 3:17.
opening words in verse 23, Whatever you do, point back to the command
“obey” in verse 22. The next phrase do it from the heart (KJV,
“heartily”) refers to how we are to continue to work and may be more
literally translated as “out of (or from) the soul,” the innermost part of a
person. So we should continue to work from our innermost
being. These words certainly address employees who fail to do their best
work and employees who have bad attitudes. When it comes to work, we are to put
our “heart and soul” into it.
22 gave one reason for obedience (reverence for the Lord); verses 23-25 offer
four more reasons. First, we should obey our employer because our work is something
done for the Lord and not for people. What a tremendous difference it makes
to know that your ultimate boss is God—the One who made you, gifted you, and
gives you strength for the work you’ve been given. Whatever I do I must do it
for Him. If more Christians took this verse to heart, we would see workplaces
transformed. And what a witness to God this would be! So, my earthly boss may be
my immediate supervisor, but my ultimate motivation must be to work as though I
am working for my heavenly Lord, because I am.
The second reason for
obedience is we are promised the reward of an inheritance from the Lord (v.
24). In Paul’s day, slaves never expected to receive a reward for their
labors; in fact, many times they were treated unfairly. Even further from their
minds was the idea of receiving an inheritance. Under Roman law slaves
did not receive inheritances. “In speaking of rewards, Paul challenged them to
consider the fact that their rewards were spiritual. Such rewards could not be
taken away, and the real Master would pay them what really matters. The reward
and inheritance seem to have involved the presence of the Lord himself. Thus,
the motive was faithfulness to the Lord in the circumstances of life.” 2
Elsewhere Paul speaks of Christians receiving a reward (1 Cor. 3:8,14; 9:17-28)
and an inheritance (Gal. 3:18; Eph. 1:11,14,18; 5:5; Col. 1:12).
The first word in verse
24, knowing, likely refers to truth the Christians in Colossae
understood. The words you will receive reflect the truth that God’s
gifts are given, not earned. The term translated “reward” also points to
being given, not earned. What is this reward? Paul answered this question in
verse 24: “an inheritance” (literally “the inheritance”). So what is
Paul had earlier
referred to eternal inheritances (Col. 1:5,12,27, 3:1-4). The inheritance for
Christians is life; more precisely here (v. 24), with the insertion of “the”
before “inheritance” (in Greek and many English translations), this term
refers to the eternal life all Christians receive now and enjoy in full measure
when they die or when Christ returns. The phrase from the Lord indicates
both the source and the agent giving the reward/inheritance. “The key to our
relationship with God is our faith in the cross of Jesus Christ; the key that is
to shape our relationship to others is the indwelling Christ who empowers us to
live a new life.”
The third reason for
obedience is you serve the Lord Christ. In most of his writings, Paul
used the title Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 16:18 and this passage are
exceptions. The Greek verb translated serve can be rendered both as a
statement of fact (“you serve the Lord Christ”) and a command (“serve the
Lord Christ”). Scholars disagree about the best translation. Good arguments
exist for both ways to interpret this verb, and both interpretations are true
The word translated
“serve” is the verb form of the noun translated “slave” or
“servant.” Again, Paul points beyond the earthly fact to the heavenly truth:
Christians (slave or free) are to serve the Lord when they work, not merely
perform actions for earthly masters. This truth stresses the importance and
dignity of work for all people.
A fourth and final
reason to obey listed in these verses relates to consequences of disobedience: For
the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done. In the
parallel passage in Ephesians (6:5-9), Paul applied this truth to slaves but
made a similar statement to masters: “Treat your slaves the same way, without
threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in
heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (v. 9). Some scholars have argued
that Colossians 3:25 applies to masters rather than slaves, but in light of the
address of the next verse (“Masters”), this seems less likely. Other
scholars understand verse 25 to apply both to slaves and masters, which is
possible and theologically accurate.
Indeed, throughout both
the Old and New Testaments, right actions are required of all people, regardless
of sex, race, or economic status. God cares deeply about justice, for He Himself
is righteous and just.
Roman masters had
absolute authority over their slaves. What happened when evil masters mistreated
nothing from a temporal, earthly perspective, but in the future justice
will be served for all. Paul’s focus on future and greater rewards helped
slaves endure suffering. In the same way, when employees are mistreated by their
employers they should look to Christ and to the future for strength and hope.
They should continue to serve Him enthusiastically despite the difficulty of
working for an unjust employer. And, thankfully, in many cases in our society at
least, they should look for a new job.
Colossians 3:25 by writing further about God’s character: God does not show favoritism
(NLT, “God has no favorites”). Unlike masters (or employers) who may
favor one person over another or may treat one person better than another, God
is impartial. He knows all and can make a correct determination about all
wrongdoing. Paul was probably referring to judgment day, when God will set all
things to right.
Treat Coworkers Right and Fair (Col.
4:1): In this final section
on studying how our work is a reflection of our relationship with Christ, Paul
addressed masters. The application of this verse to employers is both
appropriate and enlightening. In Colossians 3, Paul previously applied the
command, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name
of the Lord Jesus” (v. 17) to wives (v. 18), to husbands (v. 19), to children
(v. 20), to parents (v. 21), and to slaves (vv. 22-25). Now it is applied to
“masters,” and by extension, employers.
Incidentally, the Greek
New Testament and many English translations include verse 1 with the preceding
paragraph (Col. 3:18-25) where it clearly belongs, and not with what follows in
chapter 4. Paul has not changed the subject; he is still talking about the
relationship between slaves and masters with respect to work and in light of
pleasing our true Master in heaven. While chapter breaks are helpful for quickly
navigating the Bible, they are not inspired by God and can be misplaced.
Colossians 4:1 begins
by addressing masters. As we noted earlier, the same Greek word is
translated “lord” and “Lord,” depending on context. Sometimes it
refers to humans, other times to God. In Colossians 3, it refers to Jesus eight
times and only once to human masters. Paul created a play on words when he told masters
that they had a Master in heaven. Again, this verse can be readily applied
to employers today, reminding them of their responsibility to employees and
obligation to God.
Masters, deal with your slaves justly and fairly.
The word translated deal can also be rendered as “give” (KJV),
“offer,” “provide,” or “furnish.” Some scholars suggest that Paul
may be commanding masters to pay their slaves, but this idea is not generally
accepted. Paul’s radical command is that masters also have an obligation to
their slaves. Some Greek and Roman writers encouraged treating slaves well, but
the Romans as a whole did not do that; they saw slaves as mere property to be
The word translated justly
is rich in biblical usage and describes God’s character, which is the
basis for the just actions God commands for His people. The word righteousness
also comes from the same word. The word rendered fairly reinforces
the meaning of “justly” and essentially means the same thing. Being fair
suggests impartial treatment (which Paul addressed in the previous verse). Taken
together, justly and fairly mean that employers are to be treated how
they would want to be treated. God requires that all people be treated with
dignity and respect as the world’s way of valuing people is often at odds with
the equality and inclusiveness of the kingdom (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).
the final clause of Colossians 4:1, Paul supplied the reason that masters should
provide for their slaves with justice and fairness: since you know that you
too have a Master in heaven. We don’t know how many slave owners the
church in Colossae had, but it’s likely that one of them was Philemon since
his slave Onesimus was said to belong to the church there (Col. 4:9). Part of
Paul’s motivation for writing this verse may have been to encourage Philemon
to give Onesimus to Paul, as a helper in his ministry.
A useful method of
persuasion is to argue from the lesser to the greater. Jesus did this
beautifully in Matthew 6:30: “If that’s how God clothes the grass of the
field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do
much more for you—you of little faith?” In Colossians 4:1, Paul moved from
the lesser authority of earthly masters to the greater authority of our Master
in heaven. These words remind masters (and employers) that they too are
under the authority of the Lord, and they will be held accountable by Him for
how they treat those in their service.
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament: Col.
duty of slaves to masters (3:22-25)
with all its attendant evils, was not only universally accepted in ancient times
but also considered a fundamental institution, indispensable to civilized
society. More than half the people seen on the streets of the great cities of
the Roman world were slaves. And this was the status of the majority of
“professional” people such as teachers and doctors as well as that of
menials and craftsmen. Slaves were people with no rights, mere property existing
only for the comfort, convenience, and pleasure of their owners. (Cf. vol.1,
“The Cultural and Political Setting of the New Testament” by Arthur A.
Rupprecht.) Paul deals with the duty of slaves in the context of the family
because slaves were considered a part of the household.
It is a matter of concern
to some that neither Paul nor the other apostles denounced slavery and demanded
its immediate overthrow. The apostles, however, were not social reformers; they
were first and foremost heralds of the good news of salvation in Christ. Then
again, the church was a very small minority in the Roman world, and there was no
hope that its stance on the matter of slavery would influence Roman policies. We
should be careful to understand, though, that they did not condone slavery.
Indeed, they announced the very principles (such as that of the complete
spiritual equality of slave and master) that ultimately destroyed the
institution of slavery.
The one duty Paul presses
upon slaves is complete obedience—i.e., “in everything.” He was obviously
thinking of the Christian household and thus did not have in mind orders
contrary to the principles of the gospel. They were not, of course, to obey such
orders; no matter what their position in life, the Christians’ highest duty is
to God, and all lesser duties must give way to this. The latter part of the
verse insists that obedience of slaves is to be sincere and ungrudging, and
rooted in “reverence for the Lord.” “Sincerity of heart” (lit.,
“singleness of heart”) translates en haploteti kardias, a phrase
that implies the absence of all base and self-seeking motives.
3:23 Slaves are to see their
service as a service rendered not to men but to the Lord. This would transform
the most menial responsibilities and give dignity to all of their work.
3:24 Slaves are reminded of the
reward that will be theirs for serving faithfully in Christ’s name.
“Receive” translates apolempsesthe, which here combines the
ideas of receiving what is due and receiving in full (cf. Rom 1:27, where
it is used in the sense of retribution). On “inheritance,” see 1:12.
verse, set in contrast to the preceding, shows that wrong will be punished,
because “there is no favoritism” with God. Doubtless Paul meant it as a
warning to Christian slaves not to presume on their position before God and
think that he would overlook their misdeeds. In the parallel passage in
Ephesians it is the master who is reminded that there is no partiality with God,
while here it is the slave. In Ephesians, masters are not to think that God is
influenced by social position; in the present passage, slaves are not to act
unscrupulously just because they know men treat them as irresponsible chattel.
The entire passage about
the duty of slaves (vv. 22-25) may seem completely irrelevant to our day.
It contains, however, this enduring principle: Christians, whatever their work,
are, like slaves in Paul’s day, to see it as a service rendered to the Lord.
This is what motivates them to give honest, faithful, ungrudging work in return
for the pay they receive. Moreover, it imparts a sense of dignity in work,
regardless of how unimportant it may seem.
duty of masters to slaves (4:1)
4:1 Now Paul turns to the duty
of masters toward their slaves in terms of dealing justly and equitably with
them—“what is right and fair.” Though in the Roman world slaves had no
rights, Paul does not hesitate to teach that duty is not all on the side of
slaves. Masters also have obligations. Maclaren observes that Paul did not
counsel masters to give their slaves “what is kind and patronising. He wants a
great deal more than that. Charity likes to come in and supply wants which would
never have been felt had there been equity. An ounce of justice is sometimes
worth a ton of charity” (p. 352).
His reason for their being
completely fair with their slaves is a compelling one: “because you know that
you also have a Master in heaven.” It is to God that Christian masters are
accountable for how they treat their slaves. Both bow alike before one Master,
with whom there is no “favoritism.”
SOURCE: The Expositor’s
Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General
Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers
Bible Commentary: Col. 3:22—4:1
verse 22 to the end of the chapter, the Spirit of God addresses bondservants
or slaves. It is interesting to note the amount of space devoted in the NT to
slaves. This is not without significance. It shows that no matter how low a
person's social status may be, he still can attain the very highest in the
Christian life through faithfulness to the word of God. Perhaps it also reflects
the foreknowledge of God that most Christian people would occupy places of
service rather than positions of authority. For instance, there is very little instruction
in the NT that refers to rulers of nations, but there is considerable advice for
those who devote their lives in the service of others. Slaves in the days of
Paul usually received very little consideration, and doubtless it struck the
early Christians as unusual that so much attention was given to them in these
Letters. But it shows how the grace of
God reaches down to men, no matter how menial their position might be. C. H.
Mackintosh notes: "The slave is not shut out from the service of God. By
simply doing his duty in the sight of God, he can adorn the doctrine and bring
glory to God."
Bondservants are told to obey in all things those who
are their masters according to the flesh. There is a gentle reminder here
that these masters are only masters according to the flesh. They have
another Master who is above all and who sees all that is done to the lowliest of
His children. Slaves are not to serve with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but in
sincerity of heart, fearing God. (For a good example of this in the OT, see
Genesis 24:33.) Especially when a person is oppressed, it is a temptation to
slack off in work when the master is not looking. But the Christian servant will
realize that his Master is always looking, and so even though his earthly
circumstances may be very bitter, he will work as to the Lord. In sincerity
of heart means that he will have a pure motive—only to please the Lord
It is interesting that
there is no express prohibition against slavery in the NT. The gospel does not
overthrow social institutions by revolution. However, wherever the gospel has
gone, slavery has been uprooted and eliminated. This does not mean that these
instructions are therefore without meaning for us. All that is said here may
very well be applied to employees and employers.
3:23. Whatever is done should be done heartily
(literally "from the soul") as to the Lord and not to men. In
every form of Christian service as well as in every sphere of life, there are
many tasks which people find obnoxious. Needless to say, we try to avoid such
work. But this verse teaches us the very important lesson that the humblest
service can be glorified and dignified by doing it for the Lord. In this sense,
there is no difference between secular and sacred work. All is sacred. Rewards
in heaven will not be for prominence or apparent successes; they will not be for
talents or opportunities; but rather for faithfulness. Thus obscure persons will
fare very well in that day if they have carried out their duties faithfully as
to the Lord. Two mottoes which are often hung over the kitchen sink are:
"Not somehow, but triumphantly," and "Divine service held here
three times daily."
3:24. The Lord is keeping the records at
the present time, and everything done as to Him will command His attention.
"The kindness of God will repay the kindness of men." Those who have
little of earthly inheritance will receive the reward of the inheritance
in heaven. Let us remember this the next time we are called upon to do something
that we do not like to do, whether in the church, in the home, or at work; it is
a testimony for Christ to do it uncomplainingly, and to do the best possible
does not specify just whom he has in mind in verse 25. Perhaps we would most
naturally think of an unjust master, one who oppresses his servants. Maybe a
Christian servant has become weary of obeying his unjust demands. "Never
mind," Paul is saying, "the Lord knows all about it, and He will take
care of the wrongs, too."
But although this might
include masters, it is addressed primarily to servants. Slipshod service,
cheating, loafing, or other forms of insincerity will not go unnoticed. There
is no partiality with God. He is the Master of all, and the distinctions
that prevail among men mean nothing to Him. If slaves rob their masters (as
Onesimus apparently did), they will have to give an account to the Lord.
verse logically goes with the closing verse of chapter 3. Masters should give
their bondservants what is just and fair. They should not withhold from
them a proper wage, but should pay them well for the work they have done. This
is addressed directly to Christian employers. God hates the oppression of the
poor, and the gifts of a man who has grown rich through unfair labor practices
are unacceptable to the Lord. God says in effect: "You keep your money; I
don't like the way you made it" (see Jas. 5:1-4). Masters should not be
high-minded but should fear. They also have a Master in heaven, One who
is just and righteous in all His ways.
Before closing this section
it is interesting to note how the Apostle Paul repeatedly brings these matters
of everyday life under the searchlight of the lordship of Christ as follows: (1)
Wives—as is fitting in the Lord (v. 18). (2) Children—well-pleasing to the
Lord (v. 20). (3) Servants—fearing the Lord (v. 22). (4) Servants—as to the
Lord (v. 23).
Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990,
1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Col. 3:22—4:1
should not assume from these comments that the apostle Paul favored slavery.
Nowhere in his writings does he endorse this system. In fact, in 1 Timothy 1:10
"menstealers" or "slave traders" are classed with
"whoremongers," "liars," and other evildoers. The Roman
world at that time was full of slaves. Some Bible commentators estimate that
approximately one-third of the population of the Roman world consisted of
slaves. Paul did not recommend outright revolt by slaves against their masters
but rather advocated faithful service, as unto the Lord.
3:23. "Do it heartily" actually comes from
a Greek phrase containing the word for soul (psuchē). The
statement serves as good proof that more than the body is involved. The
terminology used shows that attitude is just as important as physical condition.
The attitude expressed in
this verse certainly militates against the selfish approach often fostered by
some people. Sometimes individual employees have become so selfish they keep
seeking more and more from employers until eventually companies are forced to
close. In other cases, employees have been willing to make wage concessions in
order to save their company and their jobs. Whether slaves or employees, when a
person looks at labor as working for the Lord, their total mental outlook
could have encouraged the slaves to rebel against their owners. Instead he
reminded them of the permanent reward they would receive from the Lord,
providing they were laboring for His glory. The Bible promises God's people an
eternal reward that will far outweigh the difficulties experienced in these few
years upon this earth.
Interestingly enough, the apostle Paul included failure to fulfill our
responsibilities in our vocations in the category of items considered wrong or
unrighteous. The principle of sowing and reaping is emphasized in many places in
the Scriptures. Just as a person who sows corn can expect to reap a harvest of
corn, so a person who sows righteous acts can expect to reap righteousness. No
one is foolish enough to think he can sow one type of seed and reap some other
type of fruit, but many people seem to think they can sow unrighteousness
without reaping the results. The
reaping is just as sure as the sowing.
Paul reminded the
Colossians that God does not show favoritism. The Greek term from which we
derive "respect of persons" actually comes from the word for face
(prosōpon). Therefore, Paul is saying that what a person's face
looks like does not make any difference with God. Because of attractive physical
features, some people are able to get away with things other people might not be
able to get away with in their human relationships. God, however, does not make
His decisions based upon the facial features of a person. He will reward
according to the inner motives of the individual.
Paul's comments in this section seem to be rather one-sided, but he did not
leave the subject without a stern warning that masters should treat their slaves
properly, because they also had a Lord or Master. "Just" in this verse
refers to providing justice, and "equal" relates to the necessity of
being equitable in all transactions with slaves. Apparently these masters
worshiped God in the local assembly alongside their own slaves. A tendency might
develop to give preference to the masters.
The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Galatians-Philemon.
Copyright © 1998 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch
The state of being complete or undivided. Terms which occur in parallel with
integrity (Hebrew tom, tomim) suggest its shades of meaning:
righteousness (Ps. 7:8); uprightness (Ps. 25:21); without wavering (Ps. 26:1
NRSV, NAS, NIV); blameless (Ps. 101:2 NRSV, Hebrew uses tom twice in
verse, otherwise translated integrity). Several Old Testament characters are
designated persons of integrity: Noah (Gen. 6:9); Abraham (Gen. 17:1); Jacob
(Gen. 25:27); Job (Job 1:1,8; 2:3); and David (1 Kings 9:4). English
translations frequently render the underlying Hebrew as perfect or blameless.
Inclusion of Jacob is surprising since he is better known for his deceit (Gen.
27:5-27; 30:37-43; 33:13-17). English translators describe Jacob as a plain (KJV),
peaceful (NAS), or quiet man (NRSV, NIV, REB).
the New Testament, integrity occurs only at Titus 2:7 (NRSV, NIV, REB) in
reference to teaching. The idea of singleness of heart or mind is frequent:
Matthew 5:8; 6:22; James 1:7-8; 4:8.
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
Servant (v.22)—Person totally responsible to and dependent upon
was prevalent and widely accepted in the ancient world. The economy of Egypt,
Greece, and Rome was based on slave labor. In the first Christian century, one
out of three persons in Italy and one out of five elsewhere was a slave. Huge
gangs toiled in the fields and mines and on building projects. Many were
domestic and civil servants. Some were temple slaves and others craftsmen. Some
were forced to become gladiators. Some were highly intelligent and held
responsible positions. Legally, a slave had no rights; but, except for the
gangs, most were treated humanely and were better off than many free persons.
Domestics were considered part of the family, and some were greatly loved by
their masters. Canaan, Aram, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia had fewer slaves
because it proved less expensive to hire free persons. Still, the institution of
slavery was unquestioned. The Stoics insisted that slaves were humans and should
be treated accordingly; Israel’s law protected slaves in various ways;
Christian preachers called upon masters to be kind, but only the Essenes opposed
person could become a slave as a result of capture in war, default on a debt,
inability to support and “voluntarily” selling oneself, being sold as a
child by destitute parents, birth to slave parents, conviction of a crime, or
kidnapping and piracy. Slavery cut across races and nationalities.
or freeing of slaves was possible and common in Roman times. Masters in their
wills often freed their slaves, and sometimes they did so during their
lifetimes. Industrious slaves could make and save money and purchase their own
freedom. By the first Christian century, a large class of freedmen had
developed. There was even a synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9).
Slavery in the Old
Testament: Slavery laws appear in Exodus 21:1-11; Leviticus
25:39-55; and Deuteronomy 15:12-18. Most of these concern humane treatment and
manumission. A Hebrew sold to another Hebrew or a resident alien because of
insolvency was to be released after six years of service and given provisions to
start over. If he had come with a wife, she and any children were also released.
If the master had given him a wife, she and the children were to remain. If,
however, the slave wanted to stay with his wife and children rather than be
free, he could enroll himself as a slave for life. A Hebrew who sold himself to
another Hebrew or resident alien was to be released during the Jubilee Year. A
slave could be redeemed at any time by a relative. A Hebrew girl sold by her
father to another Hebrew to become his wife was to be released if that man or
his son did not marry her. A slave permanently maimed by his or her master was
to be freed (Ex. 21:26-27). A fugitive slave—presumably one who had escaped
from a foreign owner—was not to be extradited (Deut. 23:15-16). Foreigners
could be enslaved permanently, but they had the right to circumcision (Ex.
12:44-48), Sabbath rest (Ex. 20:10), and holidays (Deut. 16:11,14). One was to
be punished for beating a slave to death (Ex. 21:20-21).
Slavery in the New
Testament: Paul and Peter insisted that Christian slaves be
obedient to their masters (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; 1 Pet.
2:18-21) and not seek freedom just because of conversion (1 Cor. 7:20-22).
Masters were urged to be kind (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1). Slave trading was condemned
(1 Tim. 1:10). Paul claimed that in Christ human status was unimportant (Gal.
3:28). But neither Jesus nor the apostles condemned slavery. Why? Because
slavery was so much a part of their society that to call for abolition would
have resulted in violence and bloodshed. That is not the Christian way! Rather,
Jesus and the apostles set forth principles of human dignity and equality which
eventually led to abolition.
Metaphorical Uses of
In most ancient societies, few things were more despicable than to be a slave.
In Israel, however, the idea emerged that it was a great privilege to be a
servant or slave of God (the various Hebrew and Greek words could be translated
either). Many of the heroes of the Old Testament are so called (Ex. 32:13; Deut.
34:5; 2 Sam. 7:5; 2 Kings 21:10). Very significant are the Servant Songs of
Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12, which originally referred to
Israel but were reinterpreted by the early church to refer to Jesus.
adopted a servant’s role (John 13:4-5; Mark 10:45; compare Phil. 2:7) and
indicated that His disciples should also (Matt. 6:24; 10:24; 24:45-46; Luke
17:10; John 13:12-16). Paul referred to himself as a slave or servant of Jesus
Christ (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1), as did James (1:1), Peter (2 Pet. 1:1),
and Jude (1).
are three other metaphorical uses of slavery in the New Testament. A life of sin
is spoken of as slavery (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6,16-20; Heb. 2:15). Legalism is a
kind of slavery (Gal. 4:24-25; 5:1). Paradoxically, however, there is also a
blessed slavery to righteousness (Rom. 6:16-22).
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
Gramling is associate professor of Christian studies, Howard Payne University,
THAT YOU are
a new member of a first-century Christian congregation in the city of Colossae
(located in modern-day Turkey). Ten years ago, your church was likely planted by
a young missionary named Epaphras, a coworker of the apostle Paul and a native
of Colossae. Several new church starts appeared in Asia during that time period
(Acts 19:10), including those in Laodicea and Heirapolis. Many in your city have
embraced faith in Jesus Christ, but some teachers are spreading falsehoods that
threaten the future of the church. As Gentile believers, many in your church
have been struggling with how to put their pagan practices behind them and live
out this new Christian life. Thankfully, a letter has just arrived from the
apostle Paul, an authorized spokesperson for the Lord Jesus Christ.
letter Paul sent to this young church is what we call Colossians in our New
Testament. In the first half of the letter, Paul explained and exalted the
Person of the Lord Jesus. He also refuted the false teachings that were
threatening the Colossian church. The last half provides practical instructions
for believers on letting their old life die and embracing the new life of the
focus is the last half, the final two chapters of the letter. The beginning of
the third chapter (vv.1-4) must be heard in close connection with the end of
chapter 2. Paul reminded the Colossian believers that rules of asceticism “are
of no value against fleshly indulgence” (2:23, NASB). He declared that the
only way to overcome these sinful passions is through union with Christ. In this
union the believer dies with Christ to the principles of the world and is raised
to a new life empowered by God’s Spirit. As Paul put it, “You have died and
your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3, NASB).
verse shows that apart from union with Christ, such a new life is impossible.
This union must be worked out in everyday human experience as a believer’s
focus and passion must now be on eternal things. Paul exhorted believers,
therefore, to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the
right hand of God” and to “set your mind on the things above, not on the
things that are on earth” (3:1-2, NASB).
can the believer distinguish the earthly from the eternal? Paul provided some
practical guidelines in the form of a contrasting list of old (earthly) vices
and new (eternal) graces. In verses 5-11, Paul commanded believers to put
death (let die) those behaviors and attitudes that belong to the former life.
Interestingly, the behaviors listed reflect a lack of control in four areas:
sexual behavior, material possessions, anger, and speech.
first four terms refer to sexual sin (3:5, NASB). These include sexual immorality,
a general word for sexual activity outside of marriage; impurity, likely
referring to filthiness of mind; passion, a drive or force that does not
rest until satisfied; and evil desire, a broad term to include all evil
longing.1 these four vices make clear that sexual purity is one of
God’s ethical imperatives for believers. Our lives are to be free from illicit
sexual behavior, filthy thoughts, and uncontrolled desire for sexual pleasure.2
Such behavior belongs to the past.
believer must do the same with the unchecked desire for material wealth and
possessions. Covetousness, denoting insatiable “greed” or selfishness, must
be put to death. So serious is this sin that Paul equated it with
3:8-9, Paul shifted metaphors, using the imagery of removing old clothing. The
first three terms relate to uncontrolled emotion against others. “Anger”
reflects deep-seated, embedded anger and perhaps the outward expression of that
anger. “Wrath” on the other hand, indicates an inward burning anger that
flares up and burns with the intensity of a fire.4 “Malice”
describes a hateful disposition with the intent to do harm to others.
final three sinful behaviors Paul listed deal with an uncontrolled tongue.
“Slander” (literally blasphemy) in the current context refers to injuring
the reputation of another by defaming her/his character.5 “Abusive
speech” or filthy language suggests foul and/or abusive language. For emphasis
Paul singled out lying (v. 9) and used the present tense, which condemned this
as a life habit. Since the believer’s tongue to be used for God’s purposes,
slander, inappropriate language, and falsehood must cease.
behaviors just discussed belong to the believer’s life before conversion. Like
old, worn-out garments, they must be stripped from the body and discarded. These
behaviors make Christians miserable and rob them of their joy. More importantly,
they disrupt fellowship with God and with fellow human beings.
the positive side, Paul urged the Colossian believers to cultivate the qualities
and behaviors that characterize their new life in Christ. Having stripped off
the old garments, they were admonished to clothe themselves with graces that
reflect the character of their God (vv. 12-17).6 Commanding believers
to put on these graces indicates that in Paul’s mind these are ethical
absolutes for believers.
their minds on things above, Colossians must first put on the virtue of
heartfelt “compassion.” This forceful expression signifies deep yet tender
feelings of sympathy and affection7 that results in compassionate
actions. Interestingly, a heartfelt compassion for the poor would be impossible
for a covetous person (v.5). “Kindness” (sometimes translated “goodness”
or generosity”) denotes the friendly and helpful spirit that seeks to meet the
needs of others through gracious actions or kind deeds.8 One could
not possess such kindness and at the same time harbor the malice mentioned in
or lowliness of mind, suggests the recognition both of one’s own weakness and
of God’s power. Contextually, it suggests unselfishness and giving
consideration to others before oneself. “Gentleness” describes an enduring
patience and composure, even in the face of unpleasantness.9 These
graces in someone who is habitually angry and full of wrath would be hard to
imagine (v. 8). Surprisingly, although neither humility nor gentleness was
considered a virtue in the pagan world, the New Testament writers held them up
as representing the noblest of Christian graces10
is exhibiting long-term “patience” under difficult circumstances before
giving way to passion or action.11 Longsuffering should replace
natural impulses regarding anger and speech. Two participles expand on the idea
of longsuffering. “Forbearing” means bearing with and/or putting up with
persons who irritate us. “Forgiving” means that we treat others with grace.
Our incentive? Our Lord has already forgiven us! Whether others deserve to be
forgiven is not a consideration since we ourselves did not deserve forgiveness.
emphasized that the crowning grace for believers is “love,” the
unconditional commitment to care for the well-being of another.12 In
addition, a peace-loving quality is to rule over the word and actions of
believers. The “peace of Christ” acts as an umpire when moments of decision
come. The text indicates that thankfulness, mentioned three times in 3:15-17, is
a habit to be acquired. A good rendering would be “keep on becoming
thankful” (v. 15b).
“word of Christ” is to live richly in the life of the believer. The word
“dwell” suggests that the teachings of our Lord Jesus should be “at
home” in our minds and in our hearts. Finally, the Colossian believers were
commanded to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This summary
command requires that every aspect of the lives of believers must reflect the
character of their Lord.
Mutual Respect and Love
Paul outlined the ethical responsibilities of Christian families (3:18 – 4:1),
beginning with the marriage relationship.13 He appealed to the wives,
calling on them to voluntarily submit themselves to the authority of their
husbands as an expression of their commitment to Christ. More surprising to
first-century hearers was the appeal for husbands to love their wives. The
ethical responsibility of a husband is to treat his wife with respect and
self-giving love, not with bitterness or condescension. This pictures how a
Christian marriage is to differ from those of unbelievers. Moreover, the context
suggests that the husband’s unselfish love for his wife will prompt her to
willingly welcome his leadership.
Obedience to Parents;
mutual respect and love are also to be found between parents and children.
Although Paul made an appeal for wives to voluntarily submit themselves,
children are commanded to obey their parents in all things. The duty of children
in Christian homes is complete obedience to their parents, which “is
well-pleasing to the Lord” (3:20, NASB). In addition, Christian fathers
(parents) are not to provoke their children, lest those children become
discouraged. Christian parents should avoid demanding flawless behavior from
their children. Such an expectation can lead to faultfinding and overcorrecting,
which in turn can cause children to feel that it is impossible to please their
Sincerity, and Hard Work
bondslaves were a part of the household in the first-century world, we will
consider their ethical responsibility under the rubric of Christian families.
Over half of the people in Rome’s large cities were slaves. Among these were
craftsmen and day laborers as well as professionals such as physicians and
teachers.14 The fact that Paul addressed a portion of his letter to
slaves suggests that many had come to faith in Christ and were a part of the
early church. What was the ethical duty of a Christian slave who lived in a
non-Christian household? Complete obedience. Yet this obedience was to be given
sincerely, fearing the Lord. And the work of a Christian slave was to be done
“heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (3:23, NASB). The principle
certainly applies to Christian employees today. The Christian employee’s
quality of work should follow this same pattern: faithful service, sincere
attitude, and strong work ethic.
Justice and Fairness
also addressed Christian masters of slaves. They were to treat their slaves with
justice and fairness, remembering that they “too have a Master in heaven”
(4:1, NASB). The application for Christian employers is obvious: treat your
employees fairly and justly, for you will be held accountable for their
at Paul’s ethical list in Colossians, the difference in lifestyle for
believers and unbelievers should be obvious. Unbelievers continually give
themselves to following their earthly desires and passions, resulting in sexual
immorality, greediness, angry emotions, and worthless speech. Believers have a
different passion altogether. They continually focus on spiritual and eternal
things. Empowered by the Spirit, believers choose to cultivate and clothe
themselves with the gracious qualities and behaviors that reflect the character
of their Savior and Master, Jesus Christ. The reason? We want to share with
others the gracious treatment we have received, and we want to give glory to the
Father, who “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the
kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13, NASB).
Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953),
Paul’s statement that no “sexually immoral . . . [person] will inherit the
kingdom of God” (1Cor. 6:9, NIV).
Jesus’ condemnation of covetousness in Luke 12:15.
Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
Literature, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds. (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1975), 142.
from this list of graces (kindness, gentleness, longsuffering, and love) are
mentioned as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament: Abridged in One Volume, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 1068.
Hauck and Siegfried Schultz, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,
vol. 6, Gerhard Kittle and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans.
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 645.
Vaughan, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 99.
same word is found on Jesus’ lips in John 13:35: “By this all men will know
that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (NASB).
subject is addressed in greater detail in Ephesians 5:21-33.
Colossians and Philemon, 108.
SLAVE’S STATUS IN THE FIRST CENTURY
Gary M. Poulton
Poulton is president emeritus and professor of history, Virginia Intermont
College, Bristol, Virginia.
RECORDED HISTORY man has enslaved
his fellow man. Even though this
practice has been largely suppressed, indications are that it still exists in
various people-groups today. Although
abhorred and thus rarely seen in most of modern civilization, slavery was common
in ancient societies. The
institution was accepted as normal and as a crucial aspect of political, social,
and economic life.
and Roman civilizations were supported by widespread slavery.
The Romans in particular utilized slaves to a great degree.
The Empire’s numerous wars of conquest generated a plentiful supply of
war captives, along with their families, which the Romans quickly turned into
person’s fate after becoming a slave was somewhat dependent on his or her
talents and abilities, or simply the “luck of the draw.”
An educated slave might become the tutor of the master’s children (many
Greeks did this) or become a household servant.
Others might be consigned to work in the fields or the slow death of
laboring in the mines. Even less
fortunate slaves might find themselves as unwitting participants in the bloody
extended throughout the Roman Empire, including the area we think of as
first-century Israel, which was also under Roman control.
At various times in their history, the Jewish people had suffered
enslavement under such peoples as the Egyptians and the Babylonians.
However, they has also been the enslavers of others.
We see a number of examples of slavery in the Old and New Testaments.
In fact, some of Jesus’ parables provided us the clearest snapshots of
slavery in the first century that we have. Matthew
records, for instance, three parables that reveal a great deal about slavery in
the first century (see Matt. 18:21-35; 22:1-14; and 25:14-30).
the time of Jesus, Israel was under Roman dominance, so it did not have a supply
of war captives as slaves. Instead
Jews primarily had other Jews for their slaves.
“If you had been a son or daughter of a well-to-do citizen of
Jerusalem, your father might very well have had in his establishment one or more
servants who were not hired in the way that we hire cooks . . . but who were
actually the property of your father.”1
factors could contribute to a person’s becoming a slave.
In the first parable (Matt. 18:21-35), we see debt as a reason for
enslavement. In ancient societies,
which offered no bankruptcy laws or other legal protections, debt-ridden people
commonly because the slaves of those to whom they owed their debts.
In other cases, a father in debt might provide one of his children as
payment. As abhorrent as this
practice seems to us today, such debtor-slaves were not bound for life but for a
set period of time, usually six years. If
a child was used to satisfy a debt, the law permitted a parent or relative to
work and save enough money to pay off the debt and release the child.
Debt slavery was common in the first century in large part due to the
excessive taxes the Romans levied.
slavery in the first century could be compared to indentured servitude of
American colonials times. Moreover,
since debtor slaves were generally fellow Jews, they typically received better
treatment than many slaves. In many
cases they were treated more like “day labourers rather than slaves; all
slaves were granted a Sabbath day of rest.”2
Jews became slaves because they had broken the law.
Laws were especially strict for persons who stole from others.
Thieves had to repay their victims by becoming their slaves.
King Herod even decreed that a person who broke into another’s home
should be sold into slavery.3 Whereas Jewish rabbis often spoke out
against debt slavery, they seemed to accept slavery as a suitable punishment for
others in first-century Israel were slaves not because of financial debt or
illegal activities but because they had been purchased as slaves and brought to
the region. Wealthy Jews and Jewish
slave merchants traveled to slave markets such as on the island of Rhodes to buy
foreign slaves. The seller was
responsible for pointing out the physical defects of slaves prior to the sale.
Failure to do so would void the sale.
Jewish slaves worked as shepherds or farmers and usually served on the large
estates of the wealthy. Because of
expenses related to the slave’s upkeep, having slaves make economic sense only
when the owner could expect years of service from the slave.
This was easier to do on larger farms.
Still, ancient records offer numerous examples of small farms having one
or two slaves. In these cases slaves
work alongside their owner in the field. Many
times such slaves were treated as part of the family.
Even on smaller farms, thought, not all slaves worked the fields.
Some worked as domestic or household servants.
On large estates slaves usually lived in simple homes near
their master’s home. On a small
farm a slave might actually have had a small room in his owner’s home or, when
weather permitted, would have slept outside or on the level roof.
is slavery, and finding anything positive to say about it is difficult.
As hard as it can be for us to imagine today, thought, some slaves had
more secure living conditions than some free people in ancient times.
A Jewish slave in first-century Israel was better off than slaves in
other parts of the Empire.
the Empire slaves were plentiful and their price was thus relatively low.
As a result, many Romans did not overly concern themselves with their
slaves’ well-being. They
considered their slaves to be easily replaceable.
Roman slave owners also had the power of life and death over their human
property. Roman slaves had little
protection from a cruel master other than escape.
Although slaves running away was not a major problem in the
first-century, a captured runaway slave was dealt with harshly.
At the very least the slave would be beaten and branded as a runaway.
Other times a runaway might be executed to serve as an example to others.
fewer slaves in first-century Israel made them more valuable and their cost
high. This is one reason why Jewish
slaves were treated more humanely. Jewish
religious traditions also served to improve a slave’s condition.
“No ancient religion and jurisdiction was as much opposed to slavery as
the Mosaic one.”4
already stated, Jewish slaves were to be treated more like servants than slaves.
In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), we see how the owner
entrusted his slaves with a large sum of money.
He treated them more like loyal servants rather than slaves.
Further, some slaves were treated
better than day laborers, as owners did not want to injure their property.
Thus to protect his investment, a slave owner would
occasionally hire a day laborer and give him the more difficult or
were not to work on the Sabbath day and restrictions were placed on their
punishment. Rabbis were also
involved in the buying and selling of slaves.
Rabbis also worked to prevent the sale of Jewish slaves to Gentiles.
They wanted to insure that they would not be placed in idolatrous homes.
of conditions of enslavement, persons looked forward to manumission (the legal
freeing of a slave). Although not
always observed, Old Testament laws called for Jews who had become debtor slaves
to be freed after six years of servitude. Repayment
of the debt by a family member or relative would also result in freedom.
Some exemplary act on the part of a slave might do the same.
Certainly the possibility of being freed motivated slaves to work harder
and remain loyal to their masters. On
the other hand, rabbis “discouraged manumission [of non-Jews], since the
freeing of slaves created an influx into the Jewish community.”5
moderate view of Jewish slavery changed dramatically after the Jewish revolt
against Rome in AD 70. Thousands of
Jews became Roman slaves and suffered a fate far worse than that of earlier
gradually declined largely because the “enhanced status given by Christ to
every individual soul, and also the teaching of the Stoic philosophers about the
brotherhood of man . . . made it difficult for the institution of slavery to
survive.”6 For that, we can all be thankful.
C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in New Testament Times (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1953), 151.
Hezser, Jewish Slavery in Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press,
Antiquities of the Jews in The Works of Josephus: Complete and
Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,
1987), 16:1.1 (p. 426).
The Husband’s Role in the First-Century
By William B. Tolar
B. Tolar is the distinguished professor of biblical backgrounds and special
consultant to the president at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort
and the husband’s role in it in the first century could, and did, differ
enormously according to particular cultural standards and mores.
Some expectations were identical, like providing food, shelter, and
protection; but incredible differences were evident in the role of the Roman
husband and the father and that of his Jewish counterpart.
The Roman father was dictator, master, priest, and provider for his
family. Granted, some of the Roman
fathers were noble, kind, educated, and benevolent; still, the laws and societal
customs accepted his unquestioned right to spare the life of his newborn child
or to kill it! A letter a Roman
soldier wrote to his expectant wife in Italy told her to keep their
soon-to-be-born child if it were a boy, but to throw it on the trash heap or
garbage pile if it were a girl.
father, however, could never have given such an order to his wife.
His religion, family, and society would have taught him to regard
obedience to the Lord God of Israel as being of supreme importance.
The foundation for that obedience was the “Law” or “Torah” of
Moses, which included the Ten Commandments, one of which clearly stated, “Thou
shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13, KJV). Part
of the Jewish holy writings, the Psalms, declared children to be gifts or a
“heritage” from God (Ps. 127:3-5). Both
Roman and Jewish husbands and fathers, however, had all-encompassing authority
in their respective families and cultures.
major difference between pagan husbands (like the Romans and Greeks) and their
Jewish counterparts was the matter of marital fidelity to their spouses.
Most pagan husbands had sexual relations with temple prostitutes as part
of their religion (for example, this was part of the Aphrodite worship at
Corinth) and with secular prostitutes on a regular basis.
Most ancient religions, except Judaism, not only condoned sexual
immorality but, in fact, required and included it as part of their religious
the other hand, had a clear prohibition against such activity as is clearly
stated in the Seventh Commandment. Although
surely some Jewish husbands were unfaithful to their wives, the largest percent
were faithful. A profound fear of a
just, righteous, and holy God, plus an early and intense family and religious
indoctrination toward God as the Judge of all human beings, and societal
pressure, all combined to keep Jewish husbands faithful to their wives.
fidelity to his Jewish wife, however, did not necessarily mean the husband
married because he “loved” his wife or had chosen her for himself or that he
regarded her as his equal. Parents
(primarily the fathers) arranged most Jewish marriages for financial or family
reasons. Love for each other could
have, and may have, preceded marriage. This
was not, though, the primary reason for it.
Paul gave a radically new high standard, the highest in the first-century
world, when he commanded the Christian husbands at Ephesus to “love your
wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her . . . [and] love
[your] wives as [your] own bodies” (Eph. 5:25,28, HCSB).
Israel had the highest ethical standards in the ancient world when it came to
sexual matters,2 this did
not mean men and women were regarded as equals.
In truth, women in Israel were not regarded much higher than they were in
the pagan world, except at the point of sexual misuse.
One rabbinic saying declared it was better to let the words of the Law be
burned than to be delivered to women and that a women’s testimony was so
worthless she could not serve as a legal witness in a Jewish law court.
Aristotle, the brilliant Greek philosopher and teacher of Alexander the
Great, summarized the Greek position quite succinctly when he declared that
women were inferior to men; children were inferior to parents; and slaves were
inferior to masters. He said a woman
was weaker, more impulsive, and found her virtue in obeying.3
For a Jewish
husband who became a father, one of his main responsibilities was to choose a
mate for his child.4
The wise husband, however, sought the insight and opinion of his wife!
Jewish wives and mothers were known for their strong opinions and
influences on their husbands and families. Esther
is a good example.
Long before a
Jewish male ever married, his father had the responsibility of teaching him a
trade by which he could earn a living for himself and his future family.5
The young groom was responsible for providing food, shelter, and clothing
for his wife (or wives) and children. Unless
he came from a wealthy family himself or secured wealth by his marriage, a
Jewish husband could expect long, hard hours of manual labor.
Virtually no “middle class” existed in the first-century
Mediterranean world—certainly not as we Americans know it.
The overwhelming majority of people were poor; large numbers were slaves.
And slaves were regarded as “property”!
Women were, for the most part, put on about the same level.
Even the devout Jewish Pharisee thanked God daily that he was not a
Gentile, a slave, or a woman.
Judaism, most of the common people were illiterate.
First-century culture offered no public, tax-supported schools.
Wealthy Roman and Greek parents could hire private tutors or buy educated
slaves to educate their children. The
masses, though, were not educated in a formal, structured system.
however, were much more fortunate. The
Torah commanded Hebrew fathers to teach the Laws of Moses to their sons and
their descendants. Long before
Jewish synagogues were established and became centers for teaching boys to read
and write the Torah, Jewish fathers had the responsibility of teaching their
sons the “statutes and . . . judgments” of God (Deut. 6:20-25, KJV).
The laws and teachings were in the Torah, which was the primary textbook
rabbis used in the synagogues.6
Jewish girls that learned to read and write did so mostly from their
brothers. The children of ordinary
Roman and Greek fathers had no such heritage and thus grew up as uneducated as
children, on the other hand, were the intellectual and academic benefactors of
their fathers’ being commanded to instruct them in the Laws of God.
Israel had the highest level of ethics in the world during the first
century. This was due in large part
to the role of the father in Jewish life.
additional information on this subject, see “Family” by J. Michael Hester in
Holman Bible Dictionary
(HBD), gen. ed. Trent C. Butler (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers,
Leviticus 18 for a detailed list of instructions on this subject.
Michael Hester, “Family” in HBD, 476.
for instance, was a tentmaker; see Acts 18:3.
J. Dean has a helpful article on synagogues in HBD, 1311-13.
R. Garland Young
Young is associate professor of religion, Cumberland College, Williamsburg, KY.
through faith in Christ alone – that is the heart of the Christian gospel.
It was the basis of the gospel preached by the apostle Paul as well.
Yet Christians ancient and modern have had trouble living as if this
fundamental of the faith was indeed valid. The
obstacles we face in life are so great. The
temptations are so numerous. The
enemy is so powerful. Is our faith
in a living although invisible Christ really enough to save us?
When we are weak or afraid, the urge is strong to begin to doubt whether
the Christ we have confessed as Lord is really able to secure our redemption.
first readers of Colossians suffered from this same problem.
Paul complimented the Colossians for their “faith in Christ Jesus”
and their “love” for “all the saints” (1:4; NIV).
Yet he was concerned that certain errant views had gained a foothold in
the Colossian church that called into question the all-sufficiency of Christ for
salvation. Paul wrote these
Colossian Christians to remind them that in Jesus Christ alone they had full
access to the “invisible God” (1:15). Only
in the mysterious indwelling of Christ’s Spirit could they have any “hope of
glory” (1:27). Paul used the
doctrine of Jesus as the Christ – known as Christology – to bolster the
Colossians’ faith in that Christ as their only sufficient Savior.
apparently wrote this letter to a group of Christians he had never seen.
He indicated in the letter that the church in Colossae had been
established by his associate Epaphras (1:7).
The church as Colossae was probably established during Paul’s extended
stay in Ephesus in A.D. 52-55. During
this time Paul dispatched Epaphras on a mission inland up the Meander and Lycus
Rivers. Epaphras succeeded in
establishing mission works in several cities in this river valley, including
Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (4:13). Paul’s
Letter to the Colossians was intended to formalize his relationship with these
new churches. It may have been one
of a pair of circular letters he had sent both to Colossae and to Laodicea (see
Paul’s day this particular region of Asia would have had a sizable Jewish
population.1 However, the Colossian church was primarily Gentile in
makeup (1:21, 27; 2:13). Paul warned
his readers of the futility of a set of beliefs that compromised the principle
of the sufficiency of Christ for salvation.
Scholars have traditionally termed this set of beliefs the “Colossian
heresy.” The exact substance of
this errant teaching has been the subject of heated debate.
Paul nowhere detailed the contents of this teaching in Colossians.
But we may recover some of the basic principles that were at issue.
This false teaching emphasized the “worship of angels” (2:18).
It stressed the importance of religious visions (2:18).
It stressed radical self-denial as a pathway to holiness (2:21).
And it accented the need to observe certain days of the calendar in order
to be right with God (2:16).
are not united over the origins of these teachings.
Some students see in these teachings the influence of the pagan mystery
cults that were popular in the Greek culture of the day.
Mystery cults were pagan religious groups that promised personal
salvation to those who dedicated themselves to the worship of a particular god
or goddess. This worship often
included a secret initiation rite that introduced the convert to the
“mysteries” of the deity. Paul’s
use of the term “mystery to describe the Christian experience in Colossians
(1:26-27; 2:2) has reminded some interpreters of the initiation rites employed
in these mystery cults.2 Others have speculated that the Colossian
heresy was a form of gnosticism (NOSS-ti-siz-um).
Gnosticism was a widespread philosophy that claimed that the physical
world is entirely evil and that persons are saved out of it by gaining secret
knowledge (Greek gnosis) about spiritual, divine realities.
These interpreters have said that Paul’s use of the term “fullness”
to describe Christ’s relationship to God in 1:19 and 2:9 recalls the use that
later gnostic teaching made of that term.3 Still other scholars see
an entirely Jewish backdrop to the heresy at Colossae.
Paul’s references to extreme self-denial (2:21); the observance of
festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths (2:16); and the worship of angels (2:18) may
have indicated some type of overzealous interest in the Jewish law or some sort
of Jewish mysticism as the problem at Colossae.4
debate continues as to the exact theological nature of the problem at Colossae,
scholars agree that the basic problem there was one of Christology – the study
of what it means to affirm Jesus as the Christ or Messiah.
For Paul, affirming Jesus as Christ meant that “Christ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures” (1:Cor. 15:3, NIV), that God raised Christ
from the dead and exalted Him as Lord (Phil. 2:9-11), and that only the Lord
Christ is sufficient to deliver us from the power of sin (Rom. 8:31-39).
Apparently, some of the Colossian Christians had doubts about Christ’s
full sufficiency to secure salvation for humans.
So the Colossians had begun to explore other avenues of access to God.
Drawing on various ideas from mystical Judaism and pagan Greek religion,
these young Christians sought assurances of their salvation outside the gospel
message about Jesus Christ.
basic response to this Christological crisis was to affirm Christ’s
all-sufficiency for salvation and to encourage the Colossians to root themselves
in Christ and in no other teaching or philosophy (Col. 2:6-8).
Two aspects of Paul’s response to the Colossian crisis are particularly
important here. One is Paul’s use
of the phrase “elemental spirits of the universe” (2:8, 20, NRSV).
This phrase may have been a term used by those advocating false teachings
at Colossae. And the meaning of this
term seems to be pivotal to Paul’s argument.
The term translated “elements” referred in ancient Greek to the basic
items in any series, such as the notes in a musical scale or the letters of the
alphabet. In Greek philosophy it was
used to refer to the four basic elements of the universe: earth, air, fire, and
water.5 But the term was also used in Greek religion to refer to
cosmic forces or spiritual beings who were in charge of the heavenly bodies and
who attempted to control human destiny.6 Paul’s reference to the
”principalities” and “powers” in 1:16 may well be an allusion to these
cosmic forces. These forces may have
been astrological in nature. But
some scholars see a Jewish background to these elemental spirits.
In some Jewish mystical traditions, the pagan “gods” worshiped by the
Gentiles were believed to be angels whom God had put in charge over the various
aspects of His creation. When
mortals offered these angels idolatrous worship as gods, they rebelled against
the authority of the one true God and enslaved their devotees to sin and
spiritual darkness. Worshipers
supposedly could placate these rebellious spirits only through acts of rigorous
self-denial and through worship of the angels as deities (Col. 2:18).7
response to this emphasis on the “elemental spirits” was to declare that
they are created beings, whereas Christ Himself is eternal, uncreated, and
preeminent over these powers (1:15-16). His
sacrifice on the cross won Him victory over the principalities and powers,
taking them captive and robbing them of their dominion over humanity (2:15).
other important aspect of Paul’s response to the problem at Colossae was his
use of the “Christ-hymn” in Colossians 1:15-20.
The rhythmic qualities of the Greek attest to the hymnic character of
this passage. Scholars debate
whether Paul composed this hymn himself or whether he adapted it from some other
source.8 Clearly, however, this hymn is the core of the Christology
of Colossians. This hymn declared
Christ to be the image of the invisible God, the One through whom the universe
was created, and the One through whom the universe will eventually be reconciled
to God.9 Several ideas dominate this hymn and drive home the concept
of Christ’s sufficiency. Verses 15
and 16 stress the superiority of Christ as Creator.
Christ is the visible manifestation of the invisible God (v. 15).
The term “firstborn over all creation” as applied to Christ does not
imply that He is a created being. The
phrase instead refers to Christ’s preexistence prior to creation and to His
sovereignty over it.10 In verse 17-18 the hymn highlights Christ’s
continuing activity in the created order. Christ
is the One who literally holds the universe together.
His sovereignty is not limited to His past creative acts.
It also extends to His present redemptive activity as the One who was
“firstborn among the dead” and “head” of the church (v.18).11
Paul used the expression “firstborn among the dead because he believed that
God’s raising of Christ signaled that the general resurrection of the dead and
the final judgment could not be far away (1 Cor. 15:20).
Christ’s status as “head of the body, the church” extends the
metaphor that Paul used elsewhere of the church as the body of Christ (Rom.
12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12).
in Colossians 1:19-20 the hymn stresses Christ as the “fullness of God.”
In gnostic thought the term “fullness” was used to refer to the sum
total of intermediary spirits that lay between humans and God.
The Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, used this same Greek term to
describe how God’s glory “filled” the earth (Ps. 72 (71):19; Isa. 6:3).
Paul commandeered this term and applied it to Christ (v. 19; 2:9; see
also Eph. 1:23; 4:19). Christ is the
only and all-sufficient mediator between God and sinful humanity.12
Furthermore, Christ’s reconciling and mediating work on the cross extends to
all the universe, aiming to reconcile all of creation to fellowship with God
attempt to get the Colossians to reaffirm the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ
over everything in the universe speaks powerfully today to Christians who are
plagued by the same doubts as those shared by the Colossians.
In the face of even the deepest spiritual needs, Jesus Christ is still
our all-sufficient Savior, capable of redeeming us from the powers of darkness
and preserving us from all forces that seek to separate us from God’s love.
Antiquities of the Jews, 12.149.
O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 44 (Waco:
Word Books, 1982), xxxiii-xxxviii.
Plumacher, “STOICHEION,” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament,
vol. 3, Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993),
Colossians, 132; F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to
Phileman, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New
Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 27.
Colossians, 132; G. B. Caird, New Testament Theology, completed
and edited by L. D. Hurst (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 102.
Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL; Inter Varsity Press,
O’Brien, Colossians, 51-52; D. S. Lin, “Fullness,” Dictionary of
Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds. (Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 320.
Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2000
What is the Answer To & Where in The
Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found:
What prophet’s word caused the Syrian soldiers to be struck blind? Answer
Last Week’s Question: What judge from Gilead
was called to be a commander against the Ammonites? Answer: Jephthah; Judges 11:6.