Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. (Eph 6)
In this new series I want to look at some verses I’ve stumbled across in the New Testament recently that have tied up some important loose ends in my understanding of how God expects us to live. As I’ve said in my post about slavery, we are too willing to agree with the world in accepting that the bible is wrong about slavery. However this verse adds a further dimension: as well as being required to suffer as slaves, they are also promised to ‘receive the same again from the Lord’ when they ‘render service with enthusiasm’. In the context of the Christian faith, where our hope is primarily focused on our eternal home, where true justice will reign, it becomes reasonable to refuse to obsess about the issue. If this life is all that there is, then to be enslaved is a horrible fate. If however it is merely an infinitely small preface to our eternal life with God, when ‘He will wipe away every tear’, then it’s not an issue of the most overwhelming importance that we can sometimes be led to believe that it is; ultimately evangelism – offering people forgiveness of their sins and so an escape from the wrath that they deserve – is more important than releasing people from temporal slavery.
But note: God promises reward for faithful service. It’s not just a matter of surviving the bad, but slaves can look forward to positive consequences from service to their earthly masters in the next world. This is also a reminder that our faithful service to our worldly employers – which is sometimes described as ‘wage slavery’ – is also rewarded, it’s not purely wasted the time we put in at our desk at work, but can be a means of earning reward from God.
Of course this is not intended to downplay the horrors of slavery. It is a serious wrong, and we do well to see it as evil in our modern society. But this context allows us to justify a refusal to be wholly focused on it at the expense of all other forms of Christian service. We must live our lives by God’s standards; these are not the same as the world’s, and if we become conformed to the world’s entirely, we lost our perspective as Christians.