Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart…
The early preachers of the gospel were wise in not provoking futile and fatal attempts at a social revolution by denouncing slavery. Nevertheless, they laid the foundation of that revolution and secured its peaceable and bloodless accomplishment. Slavery could not permanently survive the establishment of the principle of Christian brotherhood. Meanwhile under the then existing circumstances Christianity taught certain necessary duties of slaves and masters, the essential ideas of which apply to so much of the present state of society as is at all analogous to that of the first century.
I. THE DUTIES OF SERVANTS.
1. The duties.
(1) Obedience. The position of service, whether forced as in slavery or freely accepted as among us, implies obedience. Indeed, where the condition of service is voluntarily entered upon for the sake of adequate payment the duty is so much the stronger. The disobedient servant commits a double sin; he is unfaithful to his engagement, and he is robbing his master of unearned wages.
(2) Singleness of heart. Half-hearted service is semi-disobedience.
(3) No eye-service. How common is this degrading and dishonest habit in all walks of life, from that of the maid who is idle when her mistress is away, to that of the statesman who works for what will win the applause of the multitude to the neglect of the real welfare of the nation, or the preacher who preaches popular sermons to catch the ear of the congregation and hides unpopular truths that men much need to hear!
(4) Serving the Lord. We are all to serve Christ in our daily work. This consecrates the most menial task.
2. The reward. Gross injustice characterized the old-world treatment of slaves, and tempted to disloyal service. This injustice will not be seen at the great reckoning. The slave will be as fairly judged as his master. The lowliest work will win as high a reward as the most pretentious if the motive is equally good. Here is an inducement to faithfulness in little things.
II. THE DUTIES OF MASTERS. It was hard to teach a slave-holder his duty. Yet it is fair to observe that in many households the rigor of servitude was much softened, and kinder and more humane relations maintained than those that sometimes characterize our modern commercial connection of workman and employer, relations out of which all humanity seems to have vanished. It is interesting to see that in the New Testament a hired servant is considered to be worse off than a household slave (e.g. Luke 15:17).
1. The duties.
(1) Fairness. "Do the same things unto them." The duties are reciprocal. Masters have no right to expect more devotion to their interests from their servants than they show to their servants' interests.
(2) Kindness. "Forbear threatening." It is cowardly to use the power of the purse, as old masters used the whip, to gain an unfair advantage over a servant. In the end sympathy and genial friendliness will secure the best service.
2. The motives.
(1) Servants and masters have one common Master. Both are alike servants of Christ; both must give account to him of their stewardship.
(2) Christ will judge without respect of persons. The advantages of social superiority are but temporary. They will be of no use at Christ's judgment. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;