5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
I had a preacher recently tell me that he thought the best way to honor God in his preaching was by preaching the disciplines of the New Testament. So how does that work itself out on a passage like this? How do we discipline ourselves to be mistreated without first understanding the Gospel and loving the Lord who is represents?
Maybe it is a non-issue, since we don’t have any slavery problems in our town. At least not that I am aware of. But look at this passage. It was written for people who were really dealing with this. And look at Paul’s advice, “obey your earthly masters.” Wouldn’t that be a hard message to hear? Doesn’t the concept of slavery go against the principles of Jesus? Shouldn't Paul tell them to seek their freedom?
It all goes back to a heart issue. The changed life because of the gospel issue. Not “do this discipline because by doing this discipline you glorify God and will enter into His kingdom.” But treating your master as if he were Christ himself, so that by the shining of your changed heart, you bring glory to God. Maybe your master will see that change and be changed himself, and maybe he won’t. But you did not do it for that reason, you did if for the Lord and for Him alone. You are not concerned about results or praise from men or winning a soul, you desire is to worship God thorugh your life and shine His light in all that you do.
They were told to do it “as to the Lord and not to man.” Any obedience that we perform must be birthed out of an understanding that mere obedience is meaningless. Without tying our heart into that obedience, it is nothing, a mere filthy rag before God. Without seeing Christ as Lord and Master of our lives, it is nothing.
And there are words for masters too. Not words that tell them to set their slaves free, but words that tell them to “stop threatening.” (No, I do not see this as making any type of slavery acceptable.) Again, it is a heart matter, because now as a master, your desire should be to see that your slaves are won to Christ. Setting them free won't do that, they will probably just end up as someone else's slave.
I don’t think you discipline yourself to submit to a master, nor do you discipline yourself to treat your slaves better. I think that is why Paul did not command them to set the slaves free. Perhaps as a result of a changed life, the Holy Spirit would lead them to that decision if it were appropriate, but it doesn't have to be.
Look back at Deuteronomy 15. There was a choice a slave could make to remain a slave forever. I doubt that the slaves who made this choice were treated badly. Slavery is not a bad thing if the master is good. And God is good.