A work-related devotional can hardly have a more pointed passage! Although we now consider that slavery is wrong, a violation of personal rights and liberties, it was the way society operated in the 1st Century. However, in some ways there are close parallels with modern employment: some masters being kind benefactors while others are harsh (1 Peter 2:18). Paul neither endorsed slavery nor advocated a social revolution. Instead, he concentrated on the necessity of changing the attitude to work and to the boss, by cooperating with God’s grace. That is still essential for us in the workplace. Some employees have almost unachievable contracts, while others have 'dream jobs'.
Unlike today's employees, 1stC slaves had no rights and no way out - unless they were bought out (redeemed) by a kind benefactor. Paul uses this analogy to describe Christians as 'slaves of Christ', people who have been bought by Him at tremendous cost, and so His ownership of them is absolute (1 Peter 1:17-19). Therefore, Paul's argument does not start with the personal needs of the Christian slaves but with their responsibility to serve and please their divine Master. Serving Him includes obeying the earthly master, gladly from the heart. But this can only happen if the Lord has changed our hearts so that we can be thankful in everything we do (Colossians 3:17) and we can do everything through Christ who give us strength (Philippians 4:13).
Our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ will condition how we respond to others. He is our ultimate Master and He has commanded us to submit to those who are over us (Romans 13:1-5). For Christ's sake we should respect and honour our boss. Sadly, some workers only perform well when others are watching: they obey because they fear criticism but are reluctant to do any more than they have to - because their heart is not in it. That should not be the attitude of any Christian in any working environment, even home-workers.
Those who have learned a servant-heart from Jesus will gradually be noticed as the consistent, diligent, non-complaining, eager and 'go the extra mile' worker. Those who resist the Lord's authority over them will be reluctant to serve anybody wholeheartedly. The most effective workplace ethics are not primarily grounded in corporate-bonding exercises, but in the attitude of the heart which has learned to serve the Lord for all He is worth. Then we will serve our earthly bosses out of reverence for our Saviour-Boss. That is the will of God!
© Dr Paul Adams