Hi, welcome to Redeem the Commute. I’m Ryan, your host of The Daily Challenges and today is Tuesday, so it’s the day we take the topic we’ve explored this week and we try to see what the Bible has to say about. Yesterday I talked about how following Jesus means a reset to everything in life, including our attitudes around our work. That can be hard because work is such an overwhelming aspect of our lives. It can drive so much of what we do and say in life. We spend most of our waking time working. Even if it’s unpaid work, it’s still work that we find ourselves engaged in day to day. We need a sense of how do followers of Jesus see work a little differently than others. It’s going to come from an unlikely source. It comes from a letter than Paul wrote to Christians in a city called Colosse. It’s called the letter to the Colossians and as part of that letter, directly addressed what he called bond servants.
Here’s what he had to say. Bond servants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye service, as people pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, hearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your bond servants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a master in heaven. Well, bond servants isn’t really a term we use very much today. For us, it’s probably analogous to employees, but back then, bond servants were sort of a blend of what we would know as employees and what we would call slaves today. It’s hard because slavery has changed over the centuries.
When we think of slavery in our culture, we generally think of North American slavery and the horrors and oppression of that mode of slavery. No kind of slavery is all right, but we just want to understand a little bit of the culture that Paul was writing to. It was a culture where slavery was very much a reality. It may have been an unquestioned reality for people. It was just the way of the world worked. What Paul does is he undermines a little bit. He subverts it. You can hear him speaking directly to the bond servants, the slaves. Those who, for one reason or another, found themselves wholly owned by someone else. What he does is he tells them they are not wholly owned, even though that’s what it may say on paper, even though that’s what people may assume in their culture.
Those who happen to be followers of Jesus are being told directly by one of Jesus’ first followers, one of his apostles, that they are not wholly owned by their earthly masters. He distinguishes between the earthly masters and their Heavenly Master. They are actually wholly owned by their Creator, by God. Although in this world, the kingdom of this world, there maybe people who think they wholly own other human beings, they are not. Can you imagine the freedom that comes from knowing you are not wholly owned when everybody you know thinks you are and when the legal system thinks you are wholly owned by someone else. Imagine the freedom that that gives to someone in a system that oppresses them, knowing that they are free.
Now, unfortunately, this passage and others like it, have been used to condone horrific abusive forms of slavery like those we’ve seen in North America in the last few centuries. Those need to be condemned and they have been condemned by Christians. Unfortunately, there are those who have found in the Bible words that they could twist and use to justify terrible crimes. That’s happened. It continues to happen and Christians need to continue to read the Bible as a whole to wrestle with God’s words in the whole of the Bible about the dignity of human beings and speak out when that kind of oppression happens at all and especially when it’s justified using the words of the Bible twisted for people’s selfish gain. One of the biggest hints that this passage can’t really be used to condone slavery where people are wholly owned and abused and oppressed is that Paul addresses his passage to the bond servants and to the slave owners. What he wants the slave owners to know is that they need to remember the dignity in every human being. That those who work for them are not wholly owned by them. Those slave owners will have to answer to God some day because He is the one who created us all and who owns everything on this earth including the atoms that we were put together with. They are all His and although we have care of it for a time, what we could call stewardship, like an investment advisor takes care of somebody’s money, we take care of God’s creation.
We need to remember that we are not our own and we are especially not in any position to own and control and abuse another human being. He wants both slave owners and the bond servants to have the same attitude of seeking out first the kingdom of God where all humans have equal dignity, where all humans are equal in the sight of God, where all humans have a responsibility to care for one another, to be generous with one another. There is a lot of great material in this passage, obviously, and it’s culturally hard for us to catch because it does speak about bond servants and slave owners and that’s hard for us to understand today. Tomorrow we’re going to try to enlighten what this has to do with our modern working life. In the meantime, I want you to try to think about that. Your question for today, which I hope you’ll share with others, maybe start a little discussion group, is this, what might this say to employees today? Is there any way that we, today, can be owned by our work?
Well, I hope you have a great discussion. This one is certainly a topic that can get people going, so I really hope you do share this with somebody. Remember, we’re reading the Bible in sync as a community. If you’ve been following us for a little while, make sure you’re reading our daily Bible passage as well. It’s just another way that our community tries to stay in sync even though we’re not meeting together in person very often. We can continue learning to follow Jesus as one community in scattered mode so our gathered mode is all the more exciting when it happens. Have a great day. I will see you tomorrow.Read the Bible in Sync Today