Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart…
The treatment of slavery by Christianity is one of the most interesting of themes. Because Christianity did not preach a servile war, that is, did not propose emancipation by force, it was imagined that it was a conniver in the selfish plot against the liberties of man. But Christianity confines itself to spiritual means. It is by a spirit that it regenerates mankind. Force and mechanical appliances may subserve its purposes, judgment may have to take place in consequence of men's selfishness and sin, but the instrumentalities of Christianity are not carnal, but spiritual, and so mighty through God to the pulling down of the diabolic strongholds. It can be shown that the Mosaic legislation, as well as the Divine judgments in Old Testament times, were hostile to slavery. But we are now concerned with Paul's policy about slaves. Suppose, then, that he had advocated revolt and immediate emancipation. The slaves would have been separated from their masters, and a chasm created between them which would not have been filled for generations. Christianity would have been the disintegrater instead of the unifier of mankind, and the evils of separation would have been excessive. Was it not better to infuse a new spirit into service and masterhood? Was it not better to carry both into a Divine light, and so secure the master and slaves dwelling together in unity? Christianity consequently told master and slave how they were each related to the one Master in heaven, and so made them one. The actual emancipation has been the outcome of the Christian spirit.
I. BOND AND FREE WERE TOLD ABOUT A COMMON MASTER IN HEAVEN. (Vers. 7-9.) The slave was thus asked to look past his earthly master to his heavenly. He might be possessed by a master on earth, but a Master in heaven told him he was not his own, but bought with a price, and so bound to serve him with his body which was God's. This lifted life at once to a new plane and infused into service a religious spirit. The Christian slave became the conscious property of Jesus. But at the same time, he felt that this slavery to God was "perfect freedom," that to be God's "slave" was to be at the same time his "freeman." He was thus spiritually emancipated. Again, the master was given to understand that he had a Master in heaven, and was the slave of God. Hence his spiritual life gave to him the ideal of what authority is when its spirit is love. Lovingly dealt with by God above, he had a model of masterhood evermore set before him, and his own relation to his slaves was of necessity modified thereby.
II. THEY WERE ASSURED THAT HE WAS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS. (Ver. 9.) Here a blow was struck at the caste prejudices of the time. Here persons were lifted into the light of eternal justice and seen in their native equality. Now, if God took no account of personal distinctions so as to draw any line between bond and free, if the distinctions dwelt on by men were of no account with him, the truth tended to annihilate the distinctions. Here was a great Leveler before whom high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, were absolutely undistinguishable. It is this primary truth of all men having equal rights before the Supreme which has led in time to all men having equal rights before enlightened law, as for example in Britain, and which has secured the emancipation of men from meaning, less distinctions. The method taken by Christianity has thus been to bring unmeant distinctions into the light of God's countenance, and when men realize that he disregards them, they are sure to see eye to eye with him in the end. It is by reason, not by force, that the emancipation is accomplished.
III. THEY WERE ASKED TO SERVE EACH OTHER FOR THE HIGHER MASTER'S SAKE. Mutual service for God's sake was the ideal set before masters and slaves by the gospel. For God himself became incarnate," not to be ministered unto, but to minister." He came to show that "it is better to give than to receive." He came to consecrate service, to glorify devotion to another's welfare. When masters and slaves learn this, their relations will contract a cordiality, and be mutually helpful in a degree impossible otherwise. The gospel has thus quenched Tyranmes by the dazzling light of Gods unsuspected justice. There was wisdom in the arrangement. Another policy would have disorganized society and brought evils greater than existed. Onesimus goes back to Philemon to be a son in his house rather than a slave, and to help his master in his progress home to the common Master in heaven. Patiently waiting in his spiritual freedom and doing his part, he can assure himself that the political emancipation will be realized in due season. - R.M.E.
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;