Colossians 3:18-4:1 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
This again stresses that though we are to keep our eyes on things above, we have an obligation to live a certain way in the life God has given us.
In Philippians 2:15 we were told we are to be shining lights in the world. Paul’s point of view seems to be that though a human life in this world may not be a long one, it is to be lived in all of it’s dimensions, as long as it lasts.
This section contains the earliest Christian prescriptions for family life known to us. The Jews of course always spelled out God’s requirements for family and social life, but the motivation was different. First, Christians who are in the Lord are to do what pleases the Lord. Second, the superiors have obligations to the inferiors, not simply the other way around. There are rights and duties on both sides.
Slaves occupy a large section of this passage, probably because there were so many back then. It’s been estimated that there were between 200,000 and 300,000 slaves in Rome in Paul’s day, which would have been about 1/3 of the population.
Under the Christian ethic, no man is without rights, but equally, no man is without his obligations. This was a new thought. Under Jewish law, a woman was a thing; she was the possession of her husband. In Greek society a woman lived in basic seclusion. She was never on the streets alone; she lived in the women’s apartments and didn’t even join the men for dinner. All privileges belonged to the man. Also back then a parent, under law, could do anything he liked to a child, even selling him to slavery or believe it or not, condemn him to death AND carry out the execution!
So you can imagine where a slave stood!
Christianity says, in any home the whole tone of personal relationships must be dictated by the awareness that Jesus is always an unseen, but ever-present guest. He is the 3rd person in a marriage. His relationship with His Father is our parenting example.
Martin Luther’s father was so stern with him that Luther, for his whole life had trouble praying “our Father.” Luther himself taught that while “sparing the rod spoils the child” is true, he also said, “you should also keep an apple to give him when he does well.” We must give discipline and encouragement in equal parts.
And finally third, (back to a Christian’s motivation in family life) love is the central ingredient in harmonious and effective domestic life. Love is that unselfish, other–regarding attitude that puts others’ interests ahead of our own.
The direction given to a Christian slave can apply to all of us, whatever our job. We must do everything as if we were doing it for God. If we are sweeping the floor, we don’t sweep the dirt under the rug. And I think this goes back to being shining lights. People should be able to pick out Christians from the crowd, not because we are pious and grim, but because we do our tasks well, we are conscientious, we treat people well and they can count on us. We give a testimony by the quality of our lives.