The Bible and Slavery
In Ephesians 6:5:9 we have a unique text, "slaves obey your earthly masters as you would to Christ." And then to the "masters" Paul said to "not threaten" them, but to remember that there is a greater One, a "master in heaven." What in the world is the Apostle Paul talking about?
First, he is not condoning slavery. The reality is that throughout human civilization, slavery has been an institution throughout its known history. The first time slavery was seriously challenged and laws passed against it came about through the abolition movement which was spawned by the church in the Europe and United States in the 18th-19th century. The abolition movement came about because society embraced a Christian world view. A view that man is created in God's image and equal before Him.
Secondly, while Paul does not challenge the institution of slavery, he challenges the hearts of both the slave and master. Ultimately they were to remember that there is One greater then themselves. That there is "master in heaven," to whom each one is to give an account. "Slaves are to obey with a sincere heart as would Christ... not as people pleasers... knowing that whatever good anyone does will be rewarded by the Lord Himself." In a similar way "masters" are to remember that God is not partial and He is their ultimate master.
This was a radical teaching in the 1rst century, when there was tremendous cruelty and injustice within the slavery system. The largest group of slaves during this time were captured during warfare from the slavish people of Easter Europe and Russia. That is where we get the word slave from (slavish). Paul is introducing a concept that would one day lead to Western Civilization to repudiate this obscene institution under the guidance of God’s word. No historian could argue otherwise. Slavery became outlawed under the influence of Christ and His teaching.
Finally, while there is no slavery today in most of the world (it still exists in the Middle East and Africa), the application here still extends to us in the employee employer relationship. If you are working for a company or a small business, you as a believer are invited to work unto the Lord. If you are an owner of a company or manager, you are to treat your employee in a way that acknowledges that the Lord Himself is your employer.
May each of us give attention to the attitude of our hearts and minds on this matter! May Christ be exalted in our attitudes and the way we work and manage the lives of others! When we do that God is glorified! When we do that we truly become “salt and light” to others, that they may see the One who is greater. One who is the "Master in heaven," and shows no “partiality” to anyone.