Slavery is always a difficult issue for us to deal with as modern readers of the Bible since, at least in the West, slavery has been outlawed for around one hundred and fifty years or longer, depending on one’s homeland and its history. Many wonder why Scripture itself never outlaws the practice. Others who despise the Christian faith often point to the institution of slavery in the Bible to deny its inspiration. We do not want to minimize these questions surrounding the practice of “owning” human beings, and we will look at these and other issues related to slavery next month when we study Philemon. At this point, however, we can make a few observations.
First, those who criticize Scripture for not directly calling for the abolition of slavery have no ground to stand on if they are philosophical materialists. If the physical world is the only one that exists, then the fact that slavery occurs is ultimately the result of chemical processes that have no moral value. Second, even if Paul does not call directly for slavery’s end, that does not mean that he thinks it represents the ideal design for human relationships. He is applying the gospel to a society in which slavery is a given, not working to transform immediately every element of the culture.
Colossians 3:25 continues Paul’s instructions to slaves, reminding them that they will be repaid for any wrong they might do, if not at the hands of their earthly masters then at the hands of the Lord Christ, who is their ultimate King (v. 24). Though they are on perhaps the lowest rung of the social ladder, their trials and tribulations could not excuse sins of laziness, theft, and others to which they might have been susceptible. Incidentally, Paul’s principle here can be applied to our own system of dealing with criminals. While the criminal justice system and government officials are wise to consider how socioeconomic status and other background factors contribute to crime, lawbreakers cannot be excused simply because they might have had a rough life. The apostle’s reminder that with God “there is no partiality” (v. 25) reflects the biblical teaching that laws apply to the rich and poor alike (Lev. 19:15).
Slaves who remember that God shows no partiality and work heartily unto Him, however, are promised an inheritance from the Lord (Col. 3:24). Let us also recall this truth when we labor in what we might consider intolerable settings.
We can be tempted to make excuses for our behavior based on our backgrounds or conditions in which we find ourselves. But we must always remember that the Lord requires righteousness from us no matter our condition, and we must strive to obey Him even when it is costly or difficult. Are you making excuses for laziness on the job or any other failure? Repent of this sin today and pray that the Lord would help you to do what is right.