Servants & Masters – Colossians 3:22-4:1

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

May 15, 2011

Servants & Masters

Colossians 3:22-4:1


For the last couple of months we have been concentrating on God’s design for the family as we have been studying Colossians 3:18-21. (See: The Role of the Wife; The Role of the Husband; The Role of ChildrenThe Role of Parents, Part 1,   Part 2, Part 3 – Proverbs on Parenting, The Role of Parents, Part 4 – Transitioning Teens). This morning we come to a separate, but related subject – servants and masters. It is separate in that these are not direct family relationships, but it is related in that slaves were considered to be part of the master’s household. It is also related in that the ability to carry out the responsibilities as either as slave or a master will be dependent on walking with Christ. As those who have been raised up with Christ and therefore seeking the things which are above, Christians are to set aside their old sinful ways such as immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed as well as anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying (Colossians 3:1-11). Believers are instead to walk according to the new man and put on the characteristics and practices of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, endurance, forgiveness, love and thankfulness (Colossians 3:12-17).

Paul specifically speaks about slaves and masters in this passage, but since those are not the relationships that exist in our own society, I am going to apply the principles he makes here to our equivalent – employers and employees. I understand that sometimes you might feel like a slave at work since your boss may act like a master, or as my bother used to expresses it concerning his job – he could never be fired because slaves have to be sold. However, there are some huge differences between being a slave and an employee which is why in 1 Corinthians 7:21 Paul does encourage slaves who were able to become free to do so. What principles do we find in this passage that can be applied to the attitude and behavior a Christian should have toward their job – whether the employee or the employer?

22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who [merely] please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 4:1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

Slaves – Colossians 3:22

Paul begins with a direct statement to slaves and the proper attitude they were to have toward their masters on this earth. The KJV translates this verse as “servants,” but the word here is douloi / douloi which means common slave. The principle Paul makes here does apply to employees, and perhaps even more so since employees do have the freedom to chose their employment. If you find your job intolerable or even just don’t like your employment situation, you can quit that one and find another job. You are not in bondage but can make choices about the work you want to pursue.

Slavery was common in the Roman world and it did not allow any such choices. It was a cruel system that reflected the immorality of its society. The slave’s only distinction above animals or tools was that the slave could talk. The Roman statesmen Cato advocated throwing out old slaves like trash and to not feed a sick slave because it was not worth the expense. He equated such slaves with broken tools.

Some have wondered why the Bible does not speak out strongly against slavery and why Paul would say what he does here rather than encourage slaves to run away or revolt and gain their freedom. The simple truth is that slavery itself is not evil. What makes it evil are the practices of evil men who violate God’s directions concerning slavery. That may sound a bit shocking to some of you, but a careful study of the Old Testament will prove out my statement.

In the Mosaic Law, God allowed slavery in Israel for good purposes, but there were many restrictions. Its good purposes included being a means by which restitution could be made and a welfare system of last resort that would train the one enslaved to handle their eventual freedom. Restrictions included the means by which people were enslaved, their treatment, and time restrictions on the length of service as a slave. I will speak in more detail about this subject when we get to our study of Philemon in a couple of months.

What principles are there in the text for employees to follow?

A) Be Obedient. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who [merely] please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Ephesians 6:5 adds to be obedient “with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.” Employees are to obey their employers in everything at all times. The only exception would be if they are told to do something immoral which would be in disobedience to God. Notice that Paul says “your masters on earth.” It is a reminder that while obeying the boss here on earth is important, there is another obedience that takes higher priority. We also have a master that is not of this world, that is not according to the flesh. Our
allegiance is to the Lord God first and foremost. We cannot violate His commands regardless of what earthly authority figures including our employer’s demand from us. In fact, as those raised up with Christ, every believer is to set his mind on and seek the things that are above and not those that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

You are to be obedient to your employer, but you obey the Lord first. This means that as long as you are not asked to violate any of God’s commands, you obey your boss. How your employer treats you or how you feel about what you are asked to do is not at issue. 1 Peter 2:18-20 makes it clear that this is to be true even if they are unreasonable – 18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this [finds] favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

B) Obey Respectfully. Notice here again that since the purpose of the Christian’s life is different from other people, the true believer can behave differently. Regardless of whom your employer is or what they are like, you as the employee are to respectfully submit to their orders except in issues of immorality. Respect is part of this for as already pointed out, Ephesians 6:5 states this is to be done “with fear and trembling.” This is not the idea of being scared and cowering before them, but of honor and respect given by someone you are anxious to please. Paul used the same phrase this way in 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15 & Philippians 2:12. This is to be more like a dog that is so anxious to do what his master says that his wagging tail is shaking him all over.

If your boss wants you to do something that you do not think is best, then certainly appeal to them and ask them if they would consider something different, but leave the matter in their hands and make sure they know you will do it whatever way they decide. Don’t argue, don’t get mad, don’t sulk, don’t talk behind their back, don’t be disrespectful in anyway. Titus 2:9-10 commands “bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” Simply submit and follow your employer’s instructions. Our quest is to demonstrate Christ honoring behavior regardless of any short term consequences to ourselves. This brings up the third principle for employees.

C) Obey with Sincerity . The behavior of our lives is to bring glory to God by living according to His standards in every area of life. We are to have a singleness of mind about this, or as Paul puts it at the end of verse 22, with sincerity of heart . . .” There is to be nothing false in our submission to our employers. We serve them with true hearts. It has become common for employees to “give external service as those who merely please men” or give “eye-service as men pleasers.” These are people that give the appearance of being a good worker, but the truth is that they shirk their work. They are the mice that play when the cat is away. The minimal work they do is a facade giving a false impression. You know the type. They use their company computer for personal purposes and to play games. I have noticed in the past that some computer games have a key that will quickly kill the game screen in an emergency such as the supervisor comes in. Interestingly this is often called the “boss key.”

Usually such people eventually get caught, but there are some that are experts at taking credit for what other people do while flattering the boss and so climb the corporate ladder. They can be very irritating to work with, and even more so if the boss is blind to it. There are many other situations that can make work irritating. Irresponsible and lazy co-workers are just one of them. A boss with any of the following characteristics or combination of them is another – unreasonable, egotistical, proud, ignorant, foolish, irresponsible, lazy. How would you respond to such a boss?

Be honest with yourself. If you cannot perform your work the same way whether your boss is present or absent, good or bad, then your work is merely external and eye-service. You are a man-pleaser giving the illusion of being a great worker while in truth you are delinquent worker awaiting opportunity.

Christians are to approach their work differently. They are to be gracious even to an irritating employer and give the same diligence in following the boss’ directions and toward the work whether the boss is present or absent, good or bad. Why? Because the Christian works with sincerity of heart in fear the Lord. This not the crippling fear of fright, dread and panic. This is the motivating fear of respect that strives to honor and please. The next verse explains further.

Work – Colossians 3:23

Paul gives instruction concerning work. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men;”

Christians are always to do their best because everything we do is to be service to the Lord. I realize that there are those that think that certain professions, especially those in religious ministry, are more sacred that others resulting in thinking those that do them are therefore superior. This fosters pride and is detrimental to the church. We have seen in our previous studies of Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 that every spiritual gift and ministry is needed in the body of Christ and that those often considered weaker and less honorable are of even greater necessity. While I do consider my position as pastor to be very special because of what I am privileged to do with my time, it is in reality no more important in the body of Christ than you serving the Lord with your spiritual gifts and talents.

The same is true when it comes to whatever it is that you do to earn your living. While I believe that God has called me to minister as the pastor of this church, I also believe that God has called you to the job that you are doing. It is God that instills in you your temperament, gives you spiritual gifts, allows you to be trained and equipped and by His sovereign providence places you where you are working and serving Him. The truth that you need to understand is that regardless of whatever you do to earn your paycheck, it is just as sacred and just as much serving the Lord as what I do as the pastor of this church.

Have you considered that if you are out working in the world, that you are working on the front lines of the mission field? That is where the unchurched interact with Christians on a daily basis. That is why we have the sign posted above the door as you leave this building that “You Are Now Enter
ing The Mission Field.”
It is out there that the unsaved gain an understanding of Jesus Christ by seeing His life lived out through you and your verbal testimony. That is why it is so important that what you say and the way in which you live must match for a positive testimony, and that needs to be true regardless of how others treat you including your co-workers and your boss. What impression does your conduct and character make on unbelievers concerning Jesus Christ? Sadly, there are many professing Christians that bring shame upon the name of Christ because they act like everyone else and are men-pleasers.

Consider as well that because it is the Lord that we serve, then He is our true boss and therefore we should do all our work heartily. What kind of job would you do if the product you were making was to going to be given to God? How would you treat your customer if it was Jesus Himself? What kind of work would you do if it would be the Lord that would sit down with you for your performance review? How would you use your time on the job if Christ was your company’s efficiency expert or production supervisor? If your labor would change in anyway in answer to these questions, then you need to change it now because the Lord is all those things to you.

The Christian is to be a God pleaser, not a man-pleaser. You are to strive to do the will of God heartily, that is, from your inner most being – your heart, your soul. Everything you do is to be done as if it were unto the Lord for the reality is that you work for Him regardless of who signs the paycheck. Every Christian is a slave of God and righteousness (Romans 6:18-22) for we have been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18). The standard of what other people do is never good enough for the Christian for other people are neither our benchmark nor our motivation. We go beyond the common to do the extraordinary because we are the Lord’s and He is our benchmark and motivation. We work for Him, not just mere men. That is a truth you must keep in mind when you are discouraged or oppressed by the sinfulness that surrounds you in the world and the ill-treatment you will receive at their hands. You work for the Lord Jesus Christ, not them.

Reward – Colossians 3:24

The Lord is a better boss in all respects which includes His faithfulness to reward us for our work – “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Ephesians 6:8 adds, “knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”

The Christian is to work heartily as for the Lord because he knows that he will receive a proper reward from the Lord at the proper time. It was very seldom that slaves would receive compensation for their labors much less just compensation, and it would seem that workers have always found something to complain about regarding their pay. In general, workers seldom think they are paid enough and employers often think they are paying too much. But for the Christian, while the rate of pay may determine whether a job is taken or kept, ultimately the rate of compensation is a “so what?” question for two reasons.

First, the Lord has already promised to meet the needs of His followers. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained to His disciples that they were not to worry about what they eat or drink or how they could clothe themselves for God would care for them just as He did the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25-34). We do not need to fret about the things we need for life. As Paul pointed out in 1 Timothy 6:8, “if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” Contentment removes us from the temptations and snares that come with the greedy quest to become rich, and we already saw in our earlier study of Colossians 3:5, greed amounts to idolatry. Compensation for labor is not a primary motivating factor for Christians because we are content with God’s promise to take care of us.

Second, the Christian lives with an eternal purpose in view, not just a temporal one. We are working toward and living for eternity’s reward, not just what occurs in the here and now. According to Jesus’ teaching, we are seeking to lay up incorruptible treasures in heaven, not on earth where they can be destroyed or stolen (Matthew 6:19-21). We understand that there is no profit in gaining even the whole world at the cost of your soul (Matthew 16:26). We do all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) including our work knowing that is the Lord that we serve and at the proper time we shall receive from Him the promised inheritance.

So we not only have the Lord taking care of us in the present, and His care is more than sufficient, but we also have the promise of reward of salvation and eternal life in the presence of the glory of God (Matthew 19:29; Hebrews 1:14; 1 Peter 1:4, etc.). We may feel at times like Asaph did in Psalm 73 and become envious of the wicked who have greater prosperity and comfort in this life than us, and even more so if we are suffering, but we must also remember their end and our eternal goal. Like Asaph, we must learn to desire nothing on earth but the Lord who is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26).

An elderly missionary couple that returned to the U.S. from Africa is a good example for us. They returned on the same ship as Theodore Roosevelt who was greeted by a great crowd. The missionary was quite discouraged at first as he thought about the great welcome Roosevelt received for shooting game animals, while there was no one to welcome him after a lifetime of gospel work among Africa’s people. Then he was reminded that all was as it should be in this world. They had received no acclaim or reward yet because they had not yet reached their home in heaven.

Recompense – Colossians 3:25

Paul also gives a warning in verse 25. “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

Paul’s warning here is not in reference to our salvation in Jesus Christ, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Jesus suffered the consequences of all the sins the Christian has committed when He died on the cross of Calvary as the price of our redemption that delivered us from the domain of darkness and reconciled us with God. We studied these truths in detail in our earlier study of Colossians 1. (See: The Prayer for the Colossians, Pt. 2 )

This is a warning to workers who would do wrong about the natural consequences of such actions. Eliphaz observed this general truth and stated in Job 4:8, “According
to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity And those who sow trouble harvest it.”
Solomon also made this observation stating in Proverbs 22:8, “He who sows iniquity will reap vanity, And the rod of his fury will perish,” and as a more general principle in Proverbs 11:18 ,”The wicked earns deceptive wages, But he who sows righteousness [gets] a true reward.” Paul stated the same principle in Galatians 6:7 that whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.

Do not allow yourself to be tempted to do your work the same way everyone else does it. They will compromise moral practices in order to gain short term profit and advantage. They will eventually reap the consequences of the wrong they do both here on earth and in eternity. You are to work for the Lord from whom you will receive a better reward of an eternal inheritance.

Those are the commands and principles that slaves and workers are to follow, but what about masters and employers?

Masters – Colossians 4:1

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.” Paul says almost the same thing in Ephesians 6:9, “And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”

Paul addresses masters here, but we will apply the principles to employers which are the equivalent in our society. These commands apply to everyone, Christian or not, but again, it will be the Christian who is walking with Christ that will most easily be able to fulfill them. In short, employers are to be just and fair, do good and give up the threatening. Their attitude toward their work is to be the same as we have already seen for employees. They are to be respectful and run their business and direct their employees according to God’s standards of righteousness, truth and honesty. Their first priority is also to be doing everything as unto the Lord seeking His will above their own.

The employer is not to let his authority go to his head and feed his pride. That may be common in the world, but it is wrong. He is not a superior of such nature that he cannot associate with his laborers. He is not someone who is set apart and unreachable. His leadership will be demonstrated in his own example. He is to care personally about his employees and their welfare understanding that the business is for their benefit as much as it is for his own. A wise employer will be humble and openly receive suggestions from his workers.

The employer is to lead his workers without threatening them. Threats are bluffs designed to scare a person into working – “If you don’t do this and that then I am going to do this to you.” The employer is to be just, fair, equitable, patient, and truthful. He makes no threats because he is just and fair and so makes it clear from the beginning what work is expected and the rules of behavior for the business along with the consequences of not fulfilling and keeping them. Because he is just and fair, he is not to be arbitrary in his decisions nor treat employees with favoritism. He should listen carefully when there are complaints or disputes and then make a just decision. The employer is to do all this because he too has a master in heaven.

The employer may own the business, sign the checks and have the responsibilities, power and authority over what happens in the business, but he is also accountable to one who holds all power and authority – the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why this applies to Christian and non-Christian alike.

There is no partiality with the Lord. He plays no favorites. Whatever position you have in life has more to do with His grace and mercy to you than anything else. There is no room for pride before Him, and He will judge all with righteousness and justice. The non-Christian employer should obey God’s commands out of fear of that.

The Christian employer has additional and better reasons for obeying the Lord’s commands. First, all believers have an equal standing before the Lord Jesus Christ because in Him there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 2:28). There is no room in Christ for an employer to become proud and condescending to his employees. Second, because Christian employers recognize that they too are slaves of Christ, they should oversee their employees accordingly. Their purpose and goal is to please the Lord Jesus Christ in all that they do including their business.

Final Thoughts

A Christian employer should be the best employer for whom to work because they are fair and just and run their business according to God’s commands and for His glory. A Christian employee should be the best employee to hire for their work is as unto the Lord for His glory. But let me close this morning with a special warning concerning the situation in which the employer and the employee are both Christians.

When this situation occurs there is sometimes a presumption that leads to abuse on both sides. Paul warned about this in 1 Timothy 6:1-2, “Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and [our] doctrine may not be spoken against. 2 And let those who have believers as their masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but let them serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.”

When Christians work with unbelievers the need for a good testimony in how you treat them is obvious, but sometimes Christians will not treat one another with the same decency they will a non-Christian. The basic reason is the same as why husbands and wives will sometimes say things and do unkind things to each other they would never do to anyone else. There is a presumption that they will be kind, understanding and forgiving. They will accept me as I am so I don’t have to be as careful in striving for righteousness with them.

The thought also comes up that since you are one in Christ, then your employer is not superior so you don’t have to be as formal or respectful as everyone else. You might even get the idea that you should be treated as more of a partner than an employee, so you take advantage of your boss expecting them to overlook what you do or don’t do.

These things ought not to be. You are to work as unto the Lord – period. No matter who your boss may be, they deserve the best work you can do. Within the church, employers and employees can worship alongside each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. You can even have the situations where the employee is more spiritually mature and so disciples his boss or is even a church leader with spiritual auth
ority over his boss within the church. But be careful, for on the job, the employer is still the boss and the employee is to freely and respectfully submit because that is a witness to his submission to the higher authority of God’s Word.

We all have the same Master. Let us be sure that we do all our work for Him, whether employer or employee, so that He is glorified


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Count how many times the terms employer and employee are used. Discuss with your parents the qualities that make a good worker and a good boss.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What difference should being a Christian make in being a good employer or employee? What advantages does an employee have over being a slave? What was slavery like in the ancient Roman world? Is slavery inherently evil? Why or why not? What commands are given in the Scriptures concerning slavery? What limits are there in being obedient to an employer? In what practical ways should the Christian demonstrate respect for their employer? Should the quality of your boss make any difference in the quality of your work? Why or why not? What kind of work is done by those who give external eye-service because they are men-pleasers instead of a God-pleaser? Is your job, whatever it is, a sacred calling from God? Why or why not? Would the answer to that question make any difference in your job performance? What motivates you to do a good job? What effect should the Lord’s promises have on your job performance? What is your purpose in life and how is that being fulfilled in your work? What are some of the natural consequences for those who do wrong? What are the eternal consequences? Why should employers be humble, just and fair? What are some of the ways an employer demonstrates being just and fair? What difference does being a Christian make in being a good employer? Christians should be the best employers and the best employees – what dangers should Christians who work for Christians be careful to avoid – 1 Timothy 6:1-2? In what ways can you improve your testimony for Christ on your job? Make a plan to carry out the needed changes.



Sermon Notes – 5/15/2011 –

Slaves & Masters – Colossians 3:22-4:1


    These principles _______to employers and employees – though slavery and employment are not the same

Slaves – Colossians 3:22

    The principle applies even more so to employees since they can ____________ their employment

    Roman slavery was ____________ and often very cruel reflecting the immorality of the society

    Slavery is not itself _________ but becomes evil when God’s directions concerning it are violated

    Slavery served as a means to make restitution and was the last resort _____________ system

    God gave _____________ concerning whom, how long and the treatment of those enslaved.

Be Obedient

    Employees ______their employers in everything at all times unless it requires violating God’s commands

    Your own thoughts and feelings about your employer are ______________to obedience – 1 Peter 2:18-20

Obey Respectfully

    Respect is to be _________ of obedience – Ephesians 6:5

    You can make an appeal to your boss, but must respectfully leave the _______in his hands – Titus 2:9-10

Obey with Sincerity

    Obey with sincerity of _________ – nothing false in your submission – it is not just external eye-service

    A bad boss can make work irritating – but sincerely obey anyway out of fear for the __________

Work – Colossians 3:23

    God “_____” you to your work according to your temperament, spiritual gifts, training & His providence

    Those working in the world are on the front lines of the _____________ field.

    Do all your work _____________for it is the Lord that you serve regardless of who signs your paycheck

    Be a _________________, not a man-pleaser giving external eye-service

Reward – Colossians 3:24

    The Christian works heartily knowing he will receive a proper reward from the Lord at the proper _____

    The Lord has promised to meet the _________ of His followers – Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Timothy 6:8

Christian lives with an _____________ purpose in view, not just a temporal one

    The temporal prosperity of the wicked and suffering of the righteous is offset by the eternal _____of each

    The reward and acclaim come when you reach ____________

Recompense – Colossians 3:25

    This verse is not in reference to _______________ for Jesus died as our substitute and delivered us.

    There are natural consequences for doing _____________ – Job 4:8; Proverbs 22:8; 11:18, Galatians 6:7

    Don’t be _________to work like the unrighteous – they will reap consequences in this life and in eternity

Masters – Colossians 4:1

    These principles apply to employers – both Christian and _______________________

    Employers are to run their business according to _________ standards of righteousness, truth and justice.

    Employers are to avoid ______while using their authority to be successful for themselves and employees

    A just and fair employer has no need for making _______________

    His decisions are not ________for he listens, avoids favoritism and remembers he has a master in heaven

    Christian employers and employees have an ____________ standing before the Lord

    Christian employers are also _____________ of Christ and should oversee their employees accordingly

Final Thoughts

    Christians should be the ___________ employers and the best employees

    1 Timothy 6:1-2 Christians should never be presumptuous or ___________________ of one another

    ______have the same Master, so both employer and employee are to do their work for Him and His glory

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