Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart…
Many of the "servants" of the New Testament were slaves. Their general condition was lamentable. Illustrate this from the penal code, etc. (Smith's 'Dictionary of Antiquities,' art. "Servus"), and from the incident that had recently occurred at Rome (Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 14:42-45, or Conybeare and Howson's 'St. Paul,' 2:468, n.). Paul's connection with Onesimus also brought the subject prominently before his mind. Christianity, by the very divinity of its truths, tended to unsettle the mind of a converted slave if his master were a Christian, and still more if he were a reckless heathen, It came like a torch of truth into an atmosphere laden with the explosive materials of falsehood and fraud. It might easily have lit up the flames of a new servile war. But Jesus Christ came to effect the grandest revolution, noiselessly, by the spread of Divine principles fatal to every wrong (Isaiah 42:2-4, 6, 7). The precept, Matthew 7:12, laid the axe to the root of slavery, as it also under minded the ramparts of every other ancient wrong. Christianity must crush slavery, or it will be corrupted and vitiated by it. Meanwhile it bettered the position of converted slaves. It made them masters of their own consciences. It taught them so to prize their spiritual privileges as not to be over anxious about their earthly lot (1 Corinthians 7:21-24). The same principles are applicable to the present conditions of Christian servants and their masters.
I. THE DUTY AND DIGNITY OF CHRISTIAN SERVANTS. It is significant that some of the most impressive statements of Christian doctrine and duty are found in sections of the Epistles addressed to servants (vers. 22-25; Titus 2:9-14; 1 Peter 2:18-25). In this passage we see:
1. The servant's duty. (Ver. 22.) We are reminded here, as in the previous exhortations, of the qualification implied in the term, "according to the flesh;" e.g. Obadiah (1 Kings 18:3, 4). Masters cannot command the consciences even of young apprentices (cf. Matthew 22:21; Romans 14:12). God only can adjust the shares of responsibility for a double sin (Job 12:16). Servants are especially warned against a common form of unconscientiousness - "eye service;" e.g. wasting a master's time, or hiding up slovenly work done in his absence. The fidelity of Joseph (Genesis 39:3, 6, 22, 23) may be taken as a pattern, and Nehemiah's maxim (Nehemiah 5:15) as a motto.
2. The servant's privilege. (Ver. 23.) Being bound to do everything in the fear of God, he may do everything in the love of God. The great regulating principle of the Christian life may be a motive and an undercurrent of thought in every detail of duty (as the love of wife and children is to a father busied in commerce). As Jesus was "about his Father's business" when at the carpenter's bench, and as Paul was "serving the Lord Christ" when plying the needle or shuttle, so may Christ be served in the kitchen. (Illustrate from George Herbert's 'The Elixir.') Such service being "from the soul" will be such as can be presented to the eye of the Divine Master, who is always watching us, with that "singleness of heart" which is the strength and stay of every true disciple's character (2 Corinthians 1:12).
3. The servant's recompense. (Vers. 24, 25.) The twenty-fifth verse reminds even down-trodden slaves that the wrongs they endure will be no excuse for the wrongs they do. The law of Leviticus 19:15 is the rule of the Divine Judge. But the encouragement precedes the warning. The reward will be proportionate (Ephesians 6:8; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:8). It will consist of an inheritance (Matthew 25:34; 1 Peter 1:4), the chief glory of which will be its sinless service of a Master who, by giving us the honour of thus serving him (Revelation 22:3, 4), will be serving us (Luke 12:37).
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF CHRISTIAN MASTERS. (Colossians 4:1.) Two things are demanded even for a slave.
1. Justice. This could easily be refused; and human tribunals, if they could be appealed to, might entangle the weak, but be powerless to restrain the strong. Plato ('De Leg.,' c. 6) tells us that the noblest specimen of justice is when a man abstains from injuring those he may easily wrong. Christianity demands even more than this. Hence such cautions as some of the rules of feudalism suggest: "Between the servant and the lord there is no judge save God;" "The lord who exacts what is unjust from his servant exacts it at the peril of his soul."
2. "That which is equal." (Cf. Ephesians 6:9.) This extends to slaves the protection of our Lord's "golden rule," and places masters under this royal law. This points towards emancipation, and in most cases enforces it on the enlightened conscience. In our present circumstances the rendering of that which is equal will restrain masters from giving the lowest market price for labour such as bare justice might demand when that price involves grinding poverty; and leaving old servants to "the law of demand and supply." But servants must live under the same law, not forgetting the responsibilities and risks of capital, or nurturing an unreasonable selfishness. Some noble illustrations of how Christianity leavens commerce in this aspect have been seen in England during the "cotton famine" of 1862, and in more recent years, when, for the sake of the workpeople, mills have been kept running and collieries working at a very serious loss. Observe the motive: "Ye have a Master in heaven," "higher than the highest," before whom earthly distinctions are but trifles; who delights to observe every generous act who at any time may call master or servant to give an account of his stewardship; from whom we shall need to receive, not rigid justice, but unmerited mercy, through his own generous gift of grace in Christ Jesus (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 7:2). - E.S.P.
Parallel VersesKJV: Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: