Colossians 3:23

The apostle enters into fuller detail in his injunctions to servants, because his intercourse with Onesimus, a Colossian slave now returning to his master Philemon in a new character, had turned his thoughts to the condition and difficulties of the whole class of dependants. His injunctions to them imply that they had a right to be instructed out of the Word, and that if men have less consideration for their interests, the Lord redoubles his concern for them. There was a danger that slaves in the Roman empire might repudiate their relation to their masters, and accordingly the apostle enjoins the duty of obedience to masters, while he announces principles destined ultimately to destroy the unnatural relation.

I. THE FAULTS OF SERVANTS. He specifies five of them.

1. Eye service. There was a temptation to this fault where the master's authority was regarded as unjust and cruel.

2. Hypocritical service, arising out of a divided interest and the absence of singleness of heart.

3. Half service. Servants might not please their masters "in all things," but in such things as pleased themselves.

4. Godlessness. They chose to please men rather than the Divine Master.

5. A base and discouraged spirit, which was to be banished by prospects of heavenly reward.

II. THE DUTIES OF SERVANTS. These are all summed up in the one word "obedience." But this obedience must be becomingly rendered in several important respects.

1. "Not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God."

(1) Eye service is designed to please man. Work will be done only so long as the master's eye is on the servant. There is no thought of pleasing aught but man.

(2) There must be singleness of heart, that is, simplicity and sincerity of spirit, that will lead to an undivided devotion to work, arising from "the fear of God," because they realize that the eye of the Divine Master is ever upon them. Dissimulation, duplicity, pretence, deceit, must be far from Christian servants.

2. It must be hearty service. "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men." Servants, in obeying their masters, serve the Lord. They do the will of God from the heart, not grudgingly or murmuringly, but with a truly hearty obedience.

3. It must be obedience "in all things;" that is, in all things lawful. Bat servants must consider the master's commands as well as his interests, and seek to obey them in everything, however irksome or humiliating.

III. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS OF SERVANTS. "Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ."

1. It is an encouragement for them to know that masters are only "according to the flesh." This limits human slavery. The master cannot touch the soul, which is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16), for the slave is "Christ's freeman" (1 Corinthians 7:22).

2. There is a reward for true obedience as well as a compensation for wrongs endured.

(1) Servants ought to know of their blessed prospects.

(2) Their works will be surely rewarded, reckoned, no doubt, of grace, not of debt. They shall receive "the reward of the inheritance," the heavenly glory, by the Father's bequest. God will be their Paymaster if they are wronged or defrauded by man. Therefore they have strong encouragement to give just obedience to man.

3. There is a retribution on unjust or tyrannical masters for the wrongs they have done to their servants. "But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons." Some think this refers to dishonest servants, or to both servants and masters who may have failed in their duty to each other. It is more natural to regard it as referring to the case of masters, for the passage is designed to encourage servants suffering injustice with the prospect of a day of judgment for those who wronged them. God is "no respecter of persons." Man may make a difference. God finds the claim of the slave as valid as the claim of the master. - T. C.

Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord.
The apostle was speaking to slaves, who must have felt their condition to be irksome and degrading, but he applies a principle which altogether transforms it. They are to feel and act as servants of Christ. This principle is of far-reaching application. We are to serve Christ by discharging all the duties of life so as to please Him. This suggests a train of thought which has a special suitableness to young men. Note then the things which are essential to the realization of this lofty ideal of Christian service.

I. THERE MUST BE A FULL SURRENDER OF THE WHOLE BEING TO CHRIST. "No man can serve two masters." "He that is not with Me is against Me." Alas! how many act as though they bad made a bargain with Christ; that part of their nature should be given to Him, and part retained for the world and self. In certain circumstances they seem devout and earnest believers, in others frivolous and worldly Such a course is dishonouring to Christ, and injurious to their own souls. There are families in which the children having been asked to do something, refuse or delay; then a struggle ensues, involving discomfort to both parents and children. In others the first intimation is followed by prompt obedience. In the one case is love, order, and happiness; in the other the reverse. Why? In the one case the children had learned to obey, in the other they had not. So some of God's children have not learned to surrender their wills utterly to Him; hence every act of obedience involves a struggle; but some have learnt to make the struggle once for all, and are now happy in that service which is perfect freedom.

II. STRIVE TO BE EFFICIENT IN YOUR WORLDLY CALLING. "Whatsoever," whether the work of master or servant, prince or peasant, "do it as to the Lord." When we can recognize Christ as our Master, and our work as rendered to Him, it should make us faithful servants, whoever may be our immediate employer. Unfortunately this has not been always acted on, and religion has been regarded as a disqualification for efficient service. A lad once said, when urged to decision, "I would like to learn my business before being converted, for I notice that the pious men in my father's employ are not generally good workmen." I want you to wipe out this reproach, and try to excel in everything for the sake of Christ — whether in school, workshop, or counting-house, etc. The influence of Christian character and effort is greatly enhanced when connected with superiority in business. A working man who had recently come to reside in a northern village, was asked, as he was strolling in the fields one Sunday, to attend a cottage service where the speaker was going to preach. The invitation was rudely declined, and OH mentioning the matter to an acquaintance who came up immediately, he was asked if he knew who the preacher was. "No." "Why that is Thompson, the best forgeman in the district." "Oh, indeed, I have often heard of Thompson's work; I will go and hear him preach." He did so and became a new man.


1. It will open to you many avenues of enjoyment.

2. It will enable you to discover riches and beauty in the Divine word which would otherwise be concealed.

3. It will help to keep you free from the religious crotchets by which the Christian life is now weakened and disfigured.

4. It will give you greater power to serve Christ. Edward Irving had in his Glasgow congregation the wife of a shoemaker, who was a determined infidel. Irving visited him day after day without producing any impression. But one day he sat down beside him and began talking about his work and the material he was then handling. The man became interested, for he found that the minister knew as much about his trade as he did himself. Next Sunday he went to church, and when taunted by his former companions, replied, "Mr. Irving is no fool, he kens leather."

IV. HAVE SOME SPECIAL WORK TO DO FOR CHRIST. The field of Christian usefulness is wide, and there can be no difficulty in finding suitable work. To help you in this —

1. Be regular and faithful in your devotions.

2. Try to do every day something simply for Christ's sake — repress your temper, speak to some friend about salvation, practise some self-denial, for Christ's sake, and with the help of the Spirit. Conclusion: Are you serving Christ or Satan? You must be one or the other.

(G. D. Macgregor.)

1. When we remember that our destiny is to live with Christ and glorified beings, and that any work that does not fit us for that is a great impertinence, it is alarming at first sight to note that the great bulk of our occupations are of the earth, earthy. All professions and trades are for the purpose of supplying defects in the existing order, and, therefore, when that order is no more, and is superseded by one in which there are no defects, the occupations of this life must necessarily die a natural death. Is there not, then, something which seems inappropriate in the circumstance that all this short life should be taken up in doing what has no reference to eternity, and will be swept away like so much litter?

2. It was just this feeling that gave rise to Monasticism. Men assumed that eternity would be given up to prayer and praise; these, therefore, must be the earthly occupations of religious men. Let us not rail at their mistake, for it is a common assumption that a secular pursuit is an obstacle to a religious mind. Hence a seriously disposed young man is pointed out as destined for the Church.

3. As the pushing of a false theory to its extreme point is one method of showing its fallacy, imagine it to be God's will that all Christians should have a directly spiritual pursuit. What then? The system of society is brought to a dead-lock. Take away the variety of callings, reduce all to that of the monk, and civilization is undermined and we revert to barbarism. This assuredly cannot be the will of Him who has implanted in us the instincts which develope into civilization.

4. But if this cannot be the will of God, then it must be His will that this man should ply some humble craft; that this other should have the duties of a large estate; that a third should go to the desk; a fourth minister to the sick; a fifth fight the battles of his country. Now if this be the case the greatest harm is done when a man thrusts himself out from his proper vocation. Each man's wisdom and happiness must lie in doing the work God has given him. So thought St. Paul. He did not urge his converts to join him in his missionary journeys, but to abide in his calling with God.

5. "With God." This wraps up the secret of which we are in search, how we may serve God in our daily business. How can this be done? By throwing into the work a pure and holy intention. Intention is to our actions what the soul is to the body. As the soul, not the body, makes us moral agents, so motive gives action a moral character. To kill a man, of malice prepense, is murder; but to kill him by accident is no sin at all. A good work, such as prayer, becomes hypocrisy if done for the praise of men.

6. Now the great bulk of life's work is done with no intention whatever of serving God.(1) The intention of some in their work is simply to gain a livelihood: a perfectly innocent and even good motive, but not spiritual and such as redeems the work from earthiness.(2) Others labour with a view of gaining eminence. The effects of work done in this spirit, if it does not meet with success, are sad to witness.(3) Others mainly work from energy of mind. They would be miserable if idle; but that work has of course no spiritual character.(4) Another class work from the high and elevating motive of duty; but if the intention have no reference to God's appointment it has no more spirituality than might have been found in the mind of or Seneca.(5) A great mass of human activity has no intention at all, and so runs to waste from a spiritual point of view. Multitudes work mechanically, and by the same instinct of routine as a horse in a mill. But man is surely made for something nobler than to work by mere force of habit.

7. Now what is the true motive which lifts up the humblest duties into a higher atmosphere? This — "Whatsoever ye do," etc. The primary reference is to the duties of slaves, the lowest imaginable. The a fortiori inference is this, that if the drudgery of a slave admits of such a consecration, much more does any nobler form of business. No man after this can say, "My duties are so very commonplace that they cannot have a religious dignity and value."

8. Practical counsels.(1) Before you go to your task fix it in your mind that all lawful pursuits are departments of God's harvest-field in which He has called Christians to labour.(2) Pursue your own calling with the conscious intention of furthering His work and will.(3) Then put your hand to it bravely, keeping before you the main aim of pleasing Him with diligence and zeal(4) Imagine Jesus surveying your work as He will do it at the last day, and strive that there may be no flaw in it.

(Dean Goulburn.)

Were I to ask, "What was the purpose for which you were sent into the world," I should get a variety of replies. But the right answer would be, To work. So the Bible tells us, and Providence and the worm around. Work is not an evil, but a good. There is work in heaven. Adam unfallen was a working man. If there had been no sin the world would not have been a world of idleness. And what is true of us is true of all God's creatures. Take water; it never stands still. Take horses, or even the birds, how soon they have to work for a living. Our text tells us how to work and for whom to work. Take then its instruction as a guide for —

I. SCHOOL WORK. Many wish there were no such thing. This is foolish, for schools make all the difference between us and heathens. How hard it is for a man to get on in life who has had a poor education. School work is hard, but it will be made all the lighter ii done heartily and to the Lord; and then there would be no need for the coaxing and bribing and threatening that are so common.

II. HOME WORK. Young people should make themselves useful at home, and not expect that everybody should be attending upon "them. Home work is an important part of the training for after life; and there is nothing in it beneath the dignity of any girl. And what a comfort it would make you, and what a saving you might be to mother's cares. And the reason it is repulsive is because you do not take to it in a right spirit. Throw heart in it, and it will soon be enjoyable.

III. BUSINESS WORK. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well — the work even of a message-boy, crossing sweeper, or shoeblack. It is often when people are busy at their work that God comes with a blessing. Moses, Gideon, Elisha, the shepherds, the apostles were all called when at their work. Is yours humble? You can exalt it by taking it as Christ's, and by doing it with all your heart.

IV. SOUL WORK. This is done more for us than by us. And yet we have to "work out" what God works in. This will have to be done heartily and unto the Lord, or literally not at all. We have to escape — which surely involves earnestness — to Jesus.

V. CHRISTIAN WORK. Every work is Christian if done for Christ, but there is work more especially done for Him. When a little girl's mother comes to visit her at school, she wants to introduce all her friends to her. Your work is to introduce them to Jesus. You need not be missionary to do this.

(J. H. Wilson, M. A.)

It is related that when Phidias, the great sculptor who carved statues for one of the temples of antiquity, was labouring with minute fidelity upon the hair on the back of the head of one of the historic figures which was to be elevated from the pavement to the very apex of the building, or placed along the frieze, some one expostulated with him, saying, "Why do you take such great pains with the hair? It is never to be seen." His simple reply was, "The gods will see it." So he laboured thoroughly in the minutest things, not for the eyes of men but for the eyes of the gods.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ
Christianity, though altogether opposed to those levelling theories which disaffected men industriously broach, places the highest and the lowest on a par in the competition for eternity. Christianity is the best upholder of the distinctions in society; and he can have-read his Bible to little purpose who does not see the appointment of God that there should be rich and poor in the world, master and servant; who does not perceive that want of loyalty is want of religion, and that there is no more direct rebellion against the Creator than resistance to any constituted authority, or the endeavour to bring round that boasted equality in which all shall have the same rights, or to speak more truly, in which none shall have any. But if Christianity makes it sinful to repine against servitude, it gives a dignity to the servant who would still remain in servitude. It tells the servant, that ii faithful here, he may rank with his master hereafter, even though the employment of the master has been the advancement of Christ's cause on earth. And oh! it should be a surprisingly cheerful thing to those who have to wear away life in the meanest occupations, that, as immortal beings, they are not one jot disadvantaged by their temporal position, but they make as much progress in the Christian race as those placed at the very highest summit in the Christian office.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)


1. For the development of character.

2. For success in life.Glory, self-interest, benevolence, each gives unity and force, whereas a man without any such governing principle becomes weak; and it is only by making one object predominant and seeking that object that great results are achieved.


1. He is the unifying principle of Christian theology.

2. Of the inward life of the Christian.

3. Of his outward and active life.We have an illustration of this in Paul, in his theology, experience, and work. Negatively he did not seek wealth or honour, either as his main or subordinate object. He simply sought the glory of Christ.


1. Because it is our duty. This is the highest thing we can do. Whatever else we do will, in the end, be regarded as nothing.

2. Our inward holiness and happiness will thereby be best advanced.

3. Only thus can we be really useful. Thus only do we associate ourselves with the saints and angels. The extension of Christ's kingdom is the only thing worth living for.

4. Christ has died for you, redeemed you. You are not your own but His. Serve Him, then, under the constraint of His love.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)

It would be truthful to say that all "serve the Lord Christ." Some against their will — Pharisees, Pilate, Judas, etc. Some unconsciously — all who spread the true refinement of art, the researches of science, the charities of philanthropy. But Paul is not now speaking to such, but "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossae." And these words indicate about the life service of all true Christians.

I. ITS MOTIVE. The constraint is "for Christ's sake." Such motive is —

1. Deep enough. It has its hands on all the hidden springs of purpose and love.

2. Abiding enough. To please others who may change or die, or please self, which is fickle and disappointing, cannot ensure the prolonged service men can render to the eternal and unchanging Christ.

II. ITS PATTERN. In some warfare the commander says, "Go"; in this He says, "Follow Me." "He was in all points tempted," etc. "He has left us an example."

III. ITS HELP. The fishers after their night of bootless toil, Peter walking on the waves, Paul receiving grace to endure a hidden sorrow, are specimens of men needing and receiving help from Christ.

IV. ITS COMPREHENSIVENESS. It includes all circumstances, whether of partizan or statesman; all ages, whether of child or patriarch; of all spheres, whether of the inward or outward life. "Whatsoever ye do."

V. ITS CONSUMMATION. It has now the approval of conscience and the Master; it will ultimately receive "the reward of the inheritance."

(U. R. Thomas.)

I. HONOURABLE service. We serve the LORD Christ — King of kings, and Lord of lords. The servants of royalty are nobles; so we are kings and priests unto God.

II. REASONABLE service. The master had a claim upon the slave as his property won in war or purchased by money. We have been bought with a price. Christ has a right based upon His service of love; we should respond with gratitude.

III. ENTIRE service. The slave was his master's altogether — self, family, belongings, etc. So Christ claims all we are and all we have — time, money, secularities, and not merely Sabbaths, worship, etc.

IV. HAPPY service. Sometimes the road is rough, but the motive for treading it makes it smooth, and the companionship of Him we love relieves its tedium and lightens its darkness.

V. EASY service. "Take My yoke upon you... and ye shall find rest." Love is the magic power which makes what is irksome pleasurable.

VI. The service of FRIENDSHIP (John 15:15). It is the badge of true Christian discipleship — not creeds, professions, sentiments, etc.


1. It is its own reward here.

2. It has an exceeding great reward by and by.

(A. C. Price, B. A.)

Sometimes when a man's limb has been broken, and long weeks of rest are necessary in order that the fractured bones may reunite, there is danger lest the limb should become permanently contracted; so as soon as it is safe to do so, the patient is ordered to exercise the limb. At first the exercise gives acute pain, but after awhile, as vigour and strength return to the limb, in the thrill of health that he feels, the man forgets the pain and is glad. Now sin has dislocated man's moral nature, and though by grace it may have been reset, still God's wise exercise of it is exceedingly painful; but then this exercise begets spiritual health, and that health sends such a thrill of pleasure through the soul that the very act of obedience to, and service of, Christ, gains strength to obey and serve; and with increasing strength difficulty after difficulty disappears, pain goes, pleasure comes, and the Christian is master of his work, and delights in it.

(A. C. Price, B. A.)

That huge piece of timber which lies there in that quiet creek, from which the tide has receded, leaving it dry and immovable in the sand; try to shift it, and it is only with the utmost difficulty that you can do so. But wait till the tide comes in, and the waters flow around it. Make the attempt now, and with what comparative ease you accomplish it! Even so there are ten thousand things in the way of duty laid upon us by God which, so long as the heart is unrenewed, seem hard and burden some, but all of which yield when once the love of Christ has once entered and filled the heart, are cheerfully taken up and done with ease and joy to the Loved One. A little child had given to her by a friend a bunch of ripe, beautiful grapes. Just as she was about to eat them her mother said, "My child, will you give me those grapes?" The little one looked at the grapes and then at the mother whom she loved; and then after a pause, as the mother's love came rushing with full tide into her heart, and overmastering every other feeling, she flung the grapes into her mother's lap, and with a kiss surrendered them all (Matthew 18:3). The love of Christ makes sacrifice easy and delightful.

(A. C. Price, B. A.)

You cannot serve two masters — you must serve one or other. If your work is first with you, and your fee second, work is your master, and the Lord of work, who is God. But if your fee is first with you, and your work second, fee is your master, and the lord of fee, who is the devil; and not only the devil, but the lowest of devils — "the least erected fiend that fell." So there you have it in brief terms — work first, you are God's servants; fee first, you are the fiend's. And it makes a difference, now and ever, believe me, whether you serve Him who has on His vesture and thigh written, "King of kings," and whose service is perfect freedom; and him on whose vesture and thigh is written, "Slave of slaves," and whose service is perfect slavery.

(John Ruskin.)

When Calvin was banished from ungrateful Geneva, he said, "Most assuredly if I had merely served man, this would have been a poor recompense; but it is my happiness that I have served Him who never fails to reward His servants to the full extent of His promise."

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

The gospel does not barely supply us with directions, but furnishes us with reasons and power for obedience. The apostle knew that the conditions of believers are various, and therefore laid down distinct precepts for masters and servants, etc., but proposed a common motive for all. Our translation is in the indicative and states the fact — "Ye serve the Lord Christ." Is that so? If not, the original will bear rendering in the imperative — "Serve ye the Lord Christ." What an exaltation for a slave of Satan to become a servant of Christ. "Thy gentleness hath made me great." It is a greater honour to serve Christ in the most menial capacity than to occupy the throne of the Caesars. To serve us He laid aside His glorious array and girt Him with the garments of a servant. In our turn let us serve Him alone and for ever. Ye serve the Lord Christ —

I. IN THE COMMON ACTS OF LIFE. The fact that the text was addressed to the lowest is instructive. He does not address this choice saying to masters, preachers, deacons, magistrates, or persons of influence, but to slaves. He goes to the kitchen, the field, etc., to his toiling brethren. If the poor slave should serve Jesus how much more ought I?

1. Those who are in a low estate serve the Lord Christ.(1) By a quiet acquiescence in the arrangement of Providence which has placed them where they are. While the race is as it is some must serve. When a man can say, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content," that is obedience and the service of Christ.(2) By exercising the graces of the Spirit in the discharge of our calling. An honest, trustworthy servant is a standing evidence of the power of religion, and preaches in the nursery, workshop, and many places where a preacher would not be admitted, a silent but effective sermon. This was how the gospel spread in Rome.(3) By displaying the joy of the Lord in our service. Many have been won to Christ by the cheerfulness of poor Christians. It was so in Paul's day. The Christian slave would not join in the jollity of the heathen festivals, but whenever any one was in trouble he was the cheerful comforter.(4) By performing the common acts of life as unto Christ's self. To the man of God nothing is secular, everything is sacred. "What God hath cleansed, that call thou not common."

2. This view of things —

(1)Ennobles life. The bondsman is henceforth free; he serves not man but God.

(2)Cheers the darkest shades.

(3)Ensures a reward.

(4)Should stimulate zeal.If you serve the Lord Christ, serve Him well. If you had work to do for Her Majesty you would try to do your best.

II. IN RELIGIOUS ACTIONS. Every professor should have something to do for Christ. It would be well if our Church discipline permitted us to turn out every drone. They are of little use in honey making and are at the bottom of all quarrels. But all who work are not necessarily serving Christ.

1. Some serve in a legal spirit. This spirit has a measure of power in it, as the lash drives the slave. But Christians are free and should serve Christ from gratitude and not from fear.

2. Some in a spirit of formality, as a part of the general routine of their existence. It is the proper thing to go to a place of worship, to give their guinea, etc. Christ is not served by such mechanical working.

3. Some in a party spirit, who serve not Christ but their own denomination, and who would almost be vexed at Christ being honoured by any other sect.

4. Some out of the ambition to be thought useful. Our parents or friends wish us to be active in the Church, and therefore we do it.

5. We must rise above all this. What we do we must do for the Master alone.

III. IN SPECIAL ACTS DONE TO HIMSELF. We desire not only to aid our friend in his projects, but to do something for him himself. So we want to do something, personally, for our Divine Benefactor.

1. We can adore Him. We may be doing nothing for our fellows while thus occupied, but Jesus is dearer to us than the whole race. And as we adore Him in secret so we should extol Him in public.

2. We should pray for: Him. "Prayer shall be made for Him continually." It is delightful to pray for sinners and for saints, but there should be special prayer for the extension of Christ's kingdom, that He may see the travail of His soul.

3. There should be much communion with Him. "If any man serve Me let him follow Me, and where I am there shall also My servant be." To be near Him is one of the essentials of service. Let no day pass without a word with Jesus. You are His spouse — can you live without a loving word from your husband?

4. You should sit at His feet and learn of Him, studying His Word. Martha prepared a feast for Christ and did well, but Jesus gave Mary the preference.

5. You must obey Him. "If ye love Me keep My commandments," not simply build chapels, etc.

6. You must be willing to bear reproach for His sake.

7. Care for His Church. "Lovest thou Me? — feed My sheep." If you cannot serve with your tongue you can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these," etc.

8. Bestow upon Him little wastefulnesses of love — breaking alabaster boxes of very precious ointment on: Him. Think of something now and then that you could not justify in prudence.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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