Study Notes

Colossians 3:22-4:1


The context of the third chapter of Colossians is that Paul has been talking to us about relationships with other people. How to deal with each other and talk to one another. We're not supposed to lie to each other (9), or speak abusively to others (8). We are to be compassionate, kind, patient, and gentle (12) , and bear with one another and forgive each other (13). And whatever we do or say to one another, it must be done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (17).

Last week, we talked about family relationships, with husbands, wives, children, and fathers. Today, we talk about masters and slaves.

3:22 Slaves And Masters

When we think of slavery, we tend to think of those people who were kidnapped from the African continent and sold to wealthy landowners in the United States. But slavery has a history that is almost as old as mankind. Three million Jews were enslaved and abused in Egypt. At one point in the Roman Empire, there were 60 million slaves. We'd like to believe that our world is more civilized now, that slavery is a thing of the past. But the sad fact is that slavery is alive and well in the world today. According to Anti-Slavery International, which is the world's oldest human-rights organization, there are at least 27 million slaves in the world today. And we know from the Scriptures that slavery will l continue until Christ returns to this earth. Three times in the book of Revelation, free men and slaves are mentioned in contrast (6:15; 13:16; 19:18), and slavery is listed among the cargoes exported from the city of Babylon, which had,

Rev. 18:13 ...wheat and cattle and sheep, and {cargoes} of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives.


Slavery has been so much a part of the human condition that in many cultures throughout time, it wasn't even considered wrong. In the early days of the church, many wealthy Christians owned slaves. Even as our Christian culture dictates what is and is not acceptable for Christians, owning slaves was not considered in Paul's day to be "un-Christian."

Masters And Slaves Together In Church

As the gospel was being preached throughout the known world, people from all levels of society were hearing the message and being saved.

How strange it must have been for masters and slaves who had become Christians to attend church together! They heard messages preached like,

1Cor. 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Gal. 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

No Calls For Revolt

Interestingly, the church didn't call for a revolt against slavery. They knew that,

Rom. 8:18 ...the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Plus, they knew that Jesus has not called us to establish His kingdom using the ways of the world. He said,

John 18:36 ..."My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting..."


So, instead of revolt, the church taught,

1Cor. 7:21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.

If they were able to become free, that was better. Purchasing their lives back or being released by a compassionate owner were options for release. But running away was not. Runaway slaves were either killed, or branded on their foreheads with an "F" for "FYOO-git-ivus," meaning "Fugitive."


It is interesting that this letter to the Colossians was delivered by two Christian men, one of whom was a runaway slave. Onesimus had run away from his owner, met up with Paul, and was led to Christ. Then, Paul sent Onesimus with a man named Too-khee-KOS to Colossae with two letters that would end up in the Bible: Colossians, written to the Colossian church, and Philemon, a personal letter to a Christian man who was a leader in the church.

The strange twist is that Philemon was the master from whom Onesimus had run away! Knowing that history, Philemon is a great one-chapter book to read, and I highly recommend that you pick up the tape.

External Service As Men-Pleasers

So, in the midst of this society permeated with slavery, Paul tells the Colossians how slaves and masters should live their lives before God. He first tells the slaves to obey their masters. Not just on the outside, but on the inside as well.

This is the difference between simple obedience and godly submission. Obedience is begrudging and forced. It's like the child who is told to go sit on his bed who replies, "I may be sitting on the outside, but I'm standing on the inside!" Submission is found not only in action, but in sincerity of heart.

It is motivated not by love or respect for the authority, but by the fear of God. After all,

Rom. 13:1-2 ...there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

I don't submit to the authorities only when I respect them or agree with their rules. I submit to them because God has allowed them to be put in place, and to disobey them would be to bring condemnation upon myself.

3:23-25 Work Heartily

This is what it all comes down to. Whether you're a wife stuck in a marriage that is making you miserable, or an employee whose boss is making your life miserable, the fact is that your submission and your work is ultimately for the Lord.

The way we need to look at it is, "You may sign my paycheck, but God is my boss. Therefore, I'm going to to the best job possible." You may never give me a raise, but I'm going to store up treasure in heaven. Therefore, I'm going to be the best employee this company has ever had."

4:1 Masters Grant Justice And Fairness

Masters are now told to be just and fair. Jesus said,

Luke 6:31 "And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way."

God has established that we will be treated the same way we treat others:

Matt. 7:2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you."

Since God is our master, we can expect Him to deal with us in the same way that we're treating other people under our authority.

If you are a boss, owner, manager, or supervisor, make sure everything you do is just and fair.

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