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Colossians Chapter 3 verses 22 through chapter 4 verse 1

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in every respect, not only when they are watching – like those who are strictly people-pleasers – but with a sincere heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, 24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions.  4:1 Masters, treat your slaves with justice and fairness, because you know that you also have a master in heaven. 



Slaves – meaning servants or bond servants. There were 3 million slaves out of a population of 7.5 million total in the Roman Empire around the time that Paul wrote these words.

Slaves in the Roman Empire were obtained the following ways:

  • kidnapped,
  • bought,
  • traded,
  • born,
  • received as a payment for debt,
  • gifted,
  • inherited,
  • voluntary surrendered by choice for money,
  • arrested and sold to pay restitution for a crime,
  • or captured in war.

Although slavery was not commanded in the Old Testament, it was permitted and regulated by the law given to Moses. 

1. Slave service was to be short term rather than a lifetime service for Hebrew slaves.  

Deuteronomy 15:12 (NET) 12 If your fellow Hebrew – whether male or female – is sold to you and serves you for six years, then in the seventh year you must let that servant go free.

2. Hebrew slaves were to be sent out with help. 

Deuteronomy 15:13 (NET) 13 If you set them free, you must not send them away empty-handed.

3. God allowed slavery to help the welfare of poor girls who could be provided for as a wife or concubine for their lifetime. 

Exodus 21:7 “If a man sells his daughter as a female servant,she will not go out as the male servants do. 21:8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he must let her be redeemed.  He has no right to sell her to a foreign nation, because he has dealt deceitfully with her. 21:9 If he designated her for his son, then he will deal with her according to the customary rights of daughters. 21:10 If he takes another wife, he must not diminish the first one’s food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 21:11 If he does not provide her with these three things, then she will go out free, without paying money.

4. Kidnapping others for slavery was forbidden. 

Exodus 21:16 “Whoever kidnaps someone and sells him, or is caught still holding him, must surely be put to death.

5. Protections provided for slaves were commanded by freeing them if they were abused by their master. 

Exodus 21:26 “If a man strikes the eye of his male servant or his female servant so that he destroys it, he will let the servant go free as compensation for the eye. 21:27 If he knocks out the tooth of his male servant or his female servant, he will let the servant go free as compensation for the tooth.

6. God allowed slavery to pay off a crime. 

Exodus 22:3 (NET) … A thief must surely make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he will be sold for his theft.

7. God allowed slavery for those who became bankrupt, and he defined how they were to be treated. 

Leviticus 25:39-46

If your brother becomes impoverished with regard to you so that he sells himself to you, you must not subject him to slave service. He must be with you as a hired worker, as a resident foreigner; he must serve with you until the year of jubilee, but then he may go free, he and his children with him, and may return to his family and to the property of his ancestors. Since they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt, they must not be sold in a slave sale. You must not rule over him harshly, but you must fear your God.

8. God allowed Foreign slaves who could not own land in Israel to be permanent slaves. 

“‘As for your male and female slaves who may belong to you – you may buy male and female slaves from the nations all around you. Also you may buy slaves from the children of the foreigners who reside with you, and from their families that are with you, whom they have fathered in your land, they may become your property. You may give them as inheritance to your children after you to possess as property. You may enslave them perpetually. However, as for your brothers the Israelites, no man may rule over his brother harshly.

The New Testament primarily teaches how slaves should behave:  Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 2. 

The New Testament also teaches the following about slaves…

1. Kidnapping for slavery was called ungodly. 

I Timothy 1:9 realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching.

2. Colossians 3:11 proclaims how Christ resides in both slaves and free.

Colossians 3:11 (NET) 11 Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.

3. Galatians 3:28 says slaves and free men are both one in Christ.

Galatians 3:28 (NET) 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

4. Colossians 4:1  Masters should treat slaves with justice and fairness.  Shown below in this study. 

Interesting historical slavery links..

Discussion Questions:

How would you argue Biblically against the practice of American slavery which existed before the American civil war?

What government programs do we have today that remove the need for the type of slavery allowed in scripture?

Since we do not have legal slavery in our culture today, how can this passage be applied to us in our time?

obey your earthly masters in every respect – meaning slaves should listen and willing comply with the commands of their earthly master in everything that is asked in bodily service.  The phrase, every respect, certainly must not include sinful behaviors.

Discussion Question: Can you give specific examples when you should not obey an employer or teacher, etc.?

not only when they are watching – like those who are strictly people-pleasers – 

1. meaning slaves should obey and serve at all times during their service, not just when the master or others are watching.

2. And they should not work only for the reward of the praise of men, people pleasers.

Discussion Question: What specific things do ‘people-pleasers’ do when nobody is watching?

but with a sincere heart, fearing the Lord – 

1. meaning the slave should obey purely, in truth, and without deception,

2. Fearing the Lord means knowing that their Heavenly Master sees all and will judge them rightly.

Discussion Question:  Has your conscience ever convicted you of doing what you shouldn’t at work or school or for slacking off?

Whatsoever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people –

1. meaning no matter how important or meaningless the task assigned seems,

2. the slave should work at it with enthusiasm, goodwill, heartily, cheerfully, and with pleasure

3. as if they were working for their Heavenly Master Himself.

Discussion Question:  How can you work with enthusiasm if you are not interested in the work?

because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward – meaning the slave has hope that although he is not a son of his earthly master and will not receive an earthly inheritance, yet he will receive a heavenly-eternal inheritance as His reward from his Heavenly Master.

Serve the Lord Christ – directly commanding slaves to actually serve Christ in their service to their earthly master.

Jesus said, when you gave drink, gave food, clothed others, and visited others in prison you actually did it unto Me. Therefore, when slaves serve their earthly masters, they are actually directly serving their Heavenly Master.

Discussion Question: Other than our employment, what are ways that we serve the Lord Christ by serving others?

For the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions – meaning the service of the slave will be judged by God. He will either be repaid in this life, or the next, or both. Even a slave cannot think that his low estate will be reason to avoid God’s justice. He will be judged along with everyone else.

1 Cor 3:11 For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ.12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw,13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done.14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward.15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 4:5 (NET) 5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

Ephesians 6:8  because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

Discussion Question: If our sins are forgiven, then what will be judged at the judgement seat of Christ?

Masters – meaning the earthly masters of the slaves already mentioned.

treat your slaves with justice and fairness – meaning masters were to deal with their slaves

1. rightly and

2. equitably.

Some commentaries think that this verse may have ended American slavery without ever commanding it to be abolished. After all, how can you treat your Christian brother with justice, righteousness, fairness, and equitably while forcing him to serve you?

because you know that you also have a master in heaven – the earthly master should treat their slaves properly because they are being watched and will be judged for their actions by the Master of the universe.

Discussion Question: How can we apply these verses regarding earthly masters in our culture?


Listening Prayer method – a method where you write what you think God would say to you after meditating and studying a Bible passage.


Is Jesus your boss at work?


Be grateful that you are free because there is still illegal slavery in the world.

Examine your attitude and your work ethic at your place of employment.  Do you feel tempted to rebel?  Are you taking advantage of your employer’s time?   Are you getting lazy and slacking off?  Work as if I am your Manager.

Also examine your other services toward your children, family, friends, church members, and outreach.  Push your body. It wants to be at ease, but serve others as if you were serving Me.

Serve with the right attitude. Don’t serve grudgingly or out of obligation, but serve others joyfully as if you were serving Me directly.

Be balanced and take care of your own health. You can’t totally neglect yourself for the sake of serving others.  You will be able to serve others better if you are properly fed, exercised, and rested. Your body is also My possession, therefore take care of it appropriately that you may serve Me in the best possible way.