What Are We To Do With This Passage?

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This is a very challenging passage from Paul. He uses words in this last section of Chapter 3 that carry heavy baggage with them: slaves and masters. The section begins with, “Slaves obey your human masters in everything, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord. (verse 22) We are uncomfortable with this language and for many reasons. But does it have a deeper meaning that needs to be considered?

The idea of masters and slaves is abhorrent to us today. The images we have of such a relationship are full of terrible injustice, violence and corruption. Slavery has cast a dark shadow over most of human history. Though slavery has taken many forms, and has been practiced everywhere in the world, all of it has been unjust and evil in its effects on both the slave and the slave owner. Our modern sense of justice abhors such treatment and rightfully so. So what are we to do with this passage?

If we read it carefully enough we see that there is a deeper dimension here. The recognition of the injustice of slavery is here in the passage as well. “For the wrongdoer will receive recompense for the wrong he committed and there is no partiality.” (verse 25) There is no escaping the consequences of our actions. There is no partiality with God. Good will receive its recompense and so will evil, accordingly.

And yet, Paul tells us to be “slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (verse 24) It is in this sense that we are to work heartily. We are to do all things for the Lord, that is, the difficult things, as well as those things that come easily and with pleasure. We are to have this attitude especially when we are called upon to suffer pain and difficult effort in service to God and to our neighbors. Whatever we do, we are to do it for the Lord, not man. If we do all things in this attitude, if we see the face of Jesus in all those we are called upon to serve, we will “receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance.” (verse 24) What is our inheritance for serving the Lord in this way? Nothing less than the rich joy of life in the presence of God, forever in his kingdom.

Lord, help us to serve you in all things. Strengthen us to be your good and faithful servants in this world. Give us the graces we need in order to serve our spouses, our children, our neighbors, and even our enemies with love, compassion, and merciful forgiveness so that we may inherit a place in your heavenly kingdom. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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