During the last couple of decades, many companies have switched from offices filled with cubicles to an open office concept. The idea behind the open office is that employees can collaborate more effectively and not feel isolated. Employers appreciate the accountability an open office brings. The design of the office is supposed to influence what happens in the workspace.
In today’s reading, Paul continues to describe how knowing Christ should transform the relationships in the household. Here he focuses specifically on the relationship between slaves and masters. Ancient households included more than just the nuclear family. They often included grandparents, unmarried aunts, and slaves. Although slaves were technically considered the property of their owners in Roman society, Paul chooses to address them directly (v. 22), treating them as responsible and valued members of the church.
Paul encourages slaves to “obey your earthly masters in everything” (v. 22). Two points stand out with this verse. Paul calls their owners “earthly masters,” with the implication that they have another master in heaven. Secondly, Paul urges their sincere obedience because they are really working for the Lord Jesus who sees them and will reward them (vv. 23–24). Jesus cares about the work they are doing and is honored by quality work done for Him.
Paul also addresses slave owners. He encourages them to treat slaves not as property but as fellow persons deserving just and fair treatment. Paul gives a stern warning, “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs” (v. 25). Paul’s words in this passage apply to all workers who answer to an earthly authority. He reminds us to see ourselves as “working for the Lord” (v. 23). Each of us will give an account to the real “Master” in heaven (4:1).
John Calvin urged his congregation to live their lives coram deo, in the presence of God. As Christians, we should not need an open office to keep us accountable. Paul’s exhortations to Colossians are relevant in today’s workspace. Whether you are an employer or an employee, everything you do is done in the sight of God.