Summary: What a believer looks like at home is at the same time the most accurate and difficult measure of our walk with God.
A Godly household
Love and Wisdom; God and you
Paul was sending a slave back to his master, and he was concerned that Philemon’s gracious treatment and this slave’s escape and rebellion not be seen by other slaves as an opportunity to copy Onesimus’ earlier, rebellious example. These other ideas are not big problems for the Colossians, but Paul briefly mentions and explains them.
What does a believer at home look like? First ask what is my primary identity or identities at home:
Then there is a basic guideline that applies to you because of that identity.
• Wives are in submission to their husbands
• Husbands love their wives
• Children obey their parents
• Parents do not provoke their children
• Slaves obey their masters
• Masters treat their slaves justly and fairly
Each of these guidelines are defined more specifically or given a rationale.
• Wives submit ... because it is appropriate
• Husbands love ... in spite of the temptation to fight
• Children obey ... because it pleases God
• Parents do not provoke ... in order to encourage your children
Introduce the elephant
There is a big thing here about slaves and masters and it raises several questions:
• Is Paul condoning slavery?
• Does it have anything to do with a society where slavery is not tolerated?
• Is there anything at all we can get out of it?
Paul is not condoning or condemning slavery. He is acknowledging it as a reality. For the most part, since it is not a reality in our world, some like to draw connections between Paul’s instructions and employment. That is ok, as far as it goes. But at any given time, we may quit our jobs and go somewhere else. It has strong implications for people who have little flexibility or who have unusual power. Perhaps few jobs are out there. This gives bosses more power.
Here Paul has little to say to slave keepers. He says all that somewhere else. Mostly, he speaks to slaves like Onesimus, the slave who is delivering this letter.
So to slaves and keepers, Paul says:
Be fair and be just. Always be aware of the treatment God, your master, gives you. Don’t be harsh, but treat slaves with respect. Some ancient writers took his instruction to mean that masters should provide well for their slaves, even paying them for their work. But none of us keep slaves. Suffice it to say that if you hold an unusual amount of power over anyone, it is wrong for you to exploit that power and it is right for you to treat him with respect and fairness.
The biggest point Paul makes in the passage is in the way a slave should behave. Again, none of us ever will be slaves, but every single person finds himself in the legitimate power of someone. This is not bad, it is real. So, how should we respond? With obedience.
What kind of obedience? The kind that has integrity. It does not matter whether or not the cat is away, the mice do not play. We work at the orders of others because it is right for us to do so. The quality of our work should never be dependent upon supervision.