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The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room

Words of Faith 11-21-19

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019


Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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Colossians 3

[22] 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. [23] Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, [24] since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. [25] Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.  [1] Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.


      Paul is giving various instructions to believers in Colosse when he suddenly comes to a category that is not only not part of our modern sensibility, it is glaringly out of place in our Christian mindset.  I call it the elephant in the room. 

      How do we take scripture seriously if it seems to endorse slavery?  There are few institutions in human history that are as abhorrent as slavery.  So why would Paul seemingly endorse it? 

      First, we must understand that in the ancient world, the primary mode of labor and "employment" was slavery.  Rome had artisans, tradesmen, and traders as part of the workforce but most labor—from highly placed domestic servants to common laborers—was done by slaves.  There were over 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, about one-third of the population. As such, slaves were valuable and were "cared for" and "provided for."

      Roman slavery, though brutal at times, was much more humane than the slaughter of conquered populations.  Slavery was not based on race, so slaves operated seamlessly in society and could eventually become “freedmen” under Roman law.  Some freedmen rose to high places in government business. 

      So, we must understand that in Roman culture, slavery operated something like minimum wage employment and often functioned to pay a secured debt leading to freedom.  Nineteenth-century American and European slavery was much more brutal by comparison.

      Neither Jesus nor Paul tried to overthrow the institution of slavery politically.  Jesus may not have confronted slavery directly because it was seldom practiced in 1st century Judaism and He rarely engaged Gentiles.  Paul encountered many pagan institutions and spoke out against many such as idolatry and ritual prostitution, but not slavery.  Paul was mostly concerned with proclaiming the gospel of grace and establishing churches that would live as communities of grace.  Paul proclaimed liberation of the heart.

        So, does the Bible support or commend slavery?  Not at all.  But the agenda of God operates in specific timing.  The Old Testament practice of the year of Jubilee freed indentured servants, and the Torah taught the humane treatment of slaves.  Then Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God declares freedom for the prisoner.  Paul accepted as an existing institution but not as the ultimate reality.  He confronted the practical issues of how slaves and slave owners relate. Paul’s focus was on the change of heart that is rendered by the Gospel of Christ and the work of the Spirit.

       How do we apply these verses?  They are most helpful in thinking about how we do our work, whatever that may be.  When we work, we should do the tasks we are responsible for, not only when we are being watched but all of the time.  Workers at any level should do their work with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord, realizing that ultimately, we work for God.  We should work at our earthly labor with all our heart as unto the Lord.  This is the way that God can use us as a witness and promotes us to places of influence for His sake.

        An amazing story is that of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.  He was sold as a slave by his brothers, but he continually trusted that God was in charge.  In situation after situation, he did his work as unto the Lord, and the favor of God was with him.  Joseph rose eventually to be in charge of the entire economy of the wealthiest nation on earth.  The result was that he was positioned to save the people of Israel and the family of God for the Lord's purposes.

        So do your work today not only when an eye is on you or 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.  You will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.


      Father God, teach me the way of life by which I am always focused on You and working for You.  Use me as a witness and give me Your favor that I may be of influence for Your Kingdom.  In Jesus’ Name.


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The Words of Faith devotion is published five days a week by E-mail, and our website, and our church app, excluding Federal holidays. Please feel free to forward this devotion to a friend who might be blessed by this devotion. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from the New International Version (R) of The Holy Bible. Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. Words of Faith (c) 1997, 2010 Jeffrey D. Hoy. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward this copyrighted material or use portions of it with appropriate notation of the source for non-profit purposes.  

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