There are several passages in the New Testament regarding the relationship between slaves and masters. I think it's easy to read across these sparely, since we are no longer a people who practice indentured servitude or slavery. I think this skipping over is a mistake, though, as there are several lessons to be learned. ( Let's Do a Little Reading First )
There's a lot right there, a lot to read and understand without my humble words in addition. Still, I think that there is more that we can take from this text.
The first thing that pops into my mind is that the slave/master relationship is not so dead as we might tend to think. Many of us have paying jobs; granted, being an employee has many characteristics that are not share with slavery. Still, we sign away a certain amount of our freedom and self-will when we agree to be employed by another person. If we look at these verses with this in mind, how are we "wage slaves" doing? Are we grumbling? Chafing? Eager to speak out against "The Man"? Are we serving our employers as though we were serving God? Or are we serving resentfully, angrily, moodily?
The second thing I think of is that it is very easy to put ourselves into the "slave" role here--but many of us are also "masters," aren't we? Even if we don't have employees, many of us have people in our lives that we boss around: children, volunteers, spouses, coworkers. Are we harsh? Are we making it hard for these "slaves" of ours to serve willingly?
A third thing is that God gives us no easy "out" here. There's no qualifier of "if the master is a nice guy" or "if your slave is obedient and cheerful." Instead, we are explicitly told that we are to serve well or manage well regardless
of what the other person in the relationship is doing. That is, we are to be obedient and capable servants whether the master is Godly or not, because we are not serving only that human. We are serving, with our work, our Lord.
Likewise, we cannot say, "Well, I was harsh because he's a lousy servant," because we are serving under God's authority as well.
I think a nice summation of this comes in Hebrews 13:17, where we read, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Even the face value of this is hard to do. Make someone else's job a joy? Even when they make our life havoc? Well, yes. But let's look at this in the opposite direction. If we are a leader, if we are in authority, wouldn't it be to our advantage to make it easy for that servant to obey? Easy for that follower to do as he is asked or told? Yes.
How is your work life? Whether you work at home, with children shifting between servants and masters? With your husband? With your wife? With your employer? With your employee? Could an investigative report be run on your work habits and turn up no black marks or black looks?
Let's use today to start putting our hearts right and to start speaking God's name through the excellence of our work habits and relationships.