I became a Christian when I was 28 years old and had already graduated from college, hopped on a career path and was married. (Children were shortly to follow.) So when this relationship with Jesus Christ started, my life was already well underway and it was necessary to start viewing all of these things through the perspective of following Christ.
The verse that we’re studying today, Colossians 3:22, was important in changing my perspective once I started following Jesus:
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. – Colossians 3:22 (ESV)
My paper version of the ESV begins this verse using the word “slaves,” but the online version uses the term “bondservants.” These words have essentially the same meaning, with the only difference being, as best I can tell, that bondservants may have had the opportunity to go free or be redeemed, but have given themselves over to be totally subservient to their masters. (I hope I got that right.) We see this word used primarily used in the New Testament to describe a Christians devotion to Jesus Christ.
Here, though, both words refer to those who are indeed slaves; they are the property of others with little or no rights. Most of us reading this passage now don’t officially live as bondservants of others, at least not here in the United States of America, but we do serve others and the instructions given in this verse by Paul are very applicable for those situations as well. Let’s take a look at this verse, piece-by-piece.
“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters…” - Here Paul is restating the obvious, but with a different perspective. The true is, people who are truly slaves or bondservants of others must obey those who are their earthly masters. In this particular verse, though, the Apostle Paul is instructing obedience, not merely because of ownership, but because of honoring the Lord.
“…not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers…” - This speaks to the true heart of service. Paul is saying that obedience goes deeper than just checking-the-box on a checklist. It’s also more than doing a super-duper job so that everyone will notice what a fantastic employee you are. No, the obedience described here is more than that. Our obedience is for a different reason.
“…but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” – This is the reason for our obedience. When we do what we do, it should be done out of a sincere heart and with a sense that we “fear the Lord.” On one hand, fearing the Lord means that God has the authority and power to judge us and send us to hell, so we should rightfully fear Him. But fear of the Lord also speaks to a clear understanding of who God is and dictates our behavior toward Him. Paul isn’t necessarily speaking about obedience because we think God will send us to hell. No, I believe Paul is saying to obey our earthly masters because we love the Lord and want to honor Him in all that we do.
Yes, Paul is addressing this verse to those who are slaves of others, but this is also very applicable to our relationships where we are serving others. It could be our job. It could be at school. It could be within the community or our neighborhood. When we honor those in position above us, not just “by way of eye-service as people-pleasers,” but as people who fear the Lord, we honor God and bear witness to the change He is making in our lives.
I mentioned above that I became a Christian at 28 years old. Live was already underway. I had to learn how to serve Jesus Christ in each area of my life. I wasn’t just to honor God at church, I was supposed to live out my faith in each aspect of my life. That sounds very obvious, but it was life changing for me. I realized that God wasn’t just God when I was doing my devotional time each morning, He was also my God at work and in my marriage. My perspective changed (though not perfectly) to serving Him through my service in other areas. I hope this verse helps you as well.