THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE LABOUR PROBLEM
By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
"Slaves, obey your masters in everything; and to it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism" (Col. 3: 22-25, N.I.V.).
"Servants [Gk. ‘bondservants’], obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord: whatsoever ye do, work heartily [Gr. ‘from the soul’], as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ. For he that doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done : and there is no respect of persons" (Col. 3: 22-15, R.V.).
"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which de hath done: and there is no respect of persons" (Col. 3: 22-25, A.V.).
“Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col. 3: 22-25, R.S.V.).
is a most valuable fact that the Holy Spirit has chosen a slave - a class so
low in the social order that none can be lower - to show that every man's
handicraft can be a divine work. The
vast majority of servants in the Greek and Roman worlds, at the moment when
Paul was writing, were slaves, and in most districts the slaves were much more
numerous than the free population - in
So first the Spirit fills the horizon with a new Master. "Slaves"* - slaves by calling, Christians by character - "obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh" - only in the flesh masters, no lords over conscience or the soul; so a lordship, because in the flesh, extremely temporary: "not with eye service" - only while under the master's eye - "as men-pleasers" - thinking of the employer's approval, rather than the efficiency of the work¹ - "but in singleness of heart" - an undivided devotion to excellence of workmanship - "fearing the Lord" (Col. 3; 22) - in whom all lordships are swallowed up, serving in awe of Christ. "And ye masters, do the same things" – act on identical principles - "unto them, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven" (Eph. 6: 9); "render" – ‘supply on your side, as far as you are concerned the force of the Middle’ (Lange) - (Col. 4: 1): “Treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (4: 1, R.S.V.). ‘He must remember that in heaven the servants’ Master is his own also’ (Westcott). Our labour is manward: our heart is to be Godward. Here is the complete and profound solution - if ever it was accepted and obeyed of the labour problem; for, by making God the central and final employer, instead of what Dr. Chalmers called "the dream of making universal selfishness do the work of universal love," it substitutes the working fact of a universal devotion such that both employer and employed are devoted to each other’s interests, because both are devoted to God’s. "It was not Christ’s plan," as Dr. R. W. Dale observes, "to effect an external revolution, but to change the moral and spiritual life of the race."
[* Peter uses another Greek word for domestic servants. (1 Peter 2: 18)]
For the Spirit next buries deep in the Christian slave’s heart a dynamic and revolutionary principle. "Whatsoever ye do, do all" - everything on which the labourer’s hand rests - "from the soul" - with your whole soul, as we say; the ‘soul’ being the sum of the human faculties: act from inward principle, not from outward compulsion - "as UNTO THE LORD, and not unto men" - the earthly employer, often unworthy, thus lost to sight in the heavenly, always worthy of our best. Paul, the greatest of the Apostles, and so of all Christians, describes himself as ‘the slave of Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 1: 1) - as equally bought, indentured, owned, as any other slave: for the Lord Jesus is Master as well as Saviour: so, therefore, ours is to be a devotion to our work even more than a devotion to our employer, for the work is Christ’s. This transfigures the office, the farm, the factory, the shop, the kitchen, the nursery, the school: as it stands, no such work is Christian, for it is equally done by the ungodly; but it can be instantly made so by being done consciously to Christ. As a surgeon’s or nurse’s may be disgusting work, yet it saves life, so the menial drudgery of a slave can match the manual labour of an angel. So the Christian lay-worker is to do his work as though the universe were a huge factory in which there is but one employer - Christ, and but one workman - himself: "with good will doing service, as unto the Lord, and not unto men" (Eph. 6: 7).
To enforce this utterly unearthly conduct, the Spirit now strikes strongly the double chord of hope and fear. "Knowing" - keeping wide awake to the fact ; ‘seeing ye know,’ causal participle, giving the reason for the preceding command (Ellicott); knowing for a certainty "that from the Lord" - a Master (no article) as though there were but one in the universe, the munificent Rewarder who stands in the background of every life - "ye shall receive" - receive in return, receive in proportion - "the recompense of the inheritance" – ‘an inheritance which is a recompense; the inheritance which is the compensation’ (Alford).* No ingenuity of reasoning, no subtlety of intellect, can evade the fact that the inheritance here is a reward, dependent solely on conduct: what the Roman Catholic expositors, fastening on this verse to establish merit for salvation, have missed is that there are two inheritances, the Eternal and the Millennial; and that this is not the Eternal inheritance, unconditionally ours on simple faith; but the Millennial fellow-heirship with the Christ, dependent on a share in His obedience and sufferings. Paul has summed up both once and for ever:- "If children, then heirs": two inheritances follow - one a sheer gift, one a reward for obedience and sanctity: "heirs indeed of God” an inheritance unconditional, absolute, ours for ever; "but [ See Greek ] joint heirs with Christ, IF SO BE that we suffer with Him" - a sharply imposed condition - "that we may be glorified with Him" (Rom. 8: 17).** So then "in the hope of it - and the enjoyment of it could not be very distant - they were to work and suffer and wait, and in the possession of it they would find immediate and ample compensation" (Eadie): “the utterly disinherited - for a slave to be an ‘heir’ was a paradox” (Lightfoot) - would become the most wonderful of inheritors; and the righteous master would acquire an estate beyond stock exchange collapse, and beyond the jeopardy of death. For "whatsoever good thing each one doeth, the same shall he receive again" – ‘as a deposit, or as seed sown’ (Wordsworth) - "from the Lord, whether he be bond or free" (Eph. 6: 8).
[* “The recompense with the article denotes a recompense in prospect, while the preposition (See Greek) indicates that it is one compensating for the present privations" (Lange): "the double compound involves the idea of exact requital" (Lightfoot).]
[ ** "‘If, at least, we are suffering with Him’: i.e., ‘if (provided that) we are found in the course
of participation in Christ's sufferings’" (Alford). Wherever the
millennia! Kingdom is named in the Apocalypse - four times, the earth-number
for the earthly Reign - it is described as the
Spirit now strikes the second chord of fear, by disclosing a tribunal to which
all forcible redress of social or individual wrongs must be postponed, and
which reserves to itself all ultimate jurisdiction. "For"
- that is, ‘what follows is to be a motive of conduct’
(Lange) - "he that doeth wrong" - whether master or slave -
"shall receive again" -
receive as recompense: ‘receive back, as it were a
deposit’ (Ellicott) - "for the wrong that he hath done" – ‘not the wrong itself, but for it, the
wrong in the form of punishment’ (Eadie) ; "and there is no respect of persons" - which
therefore sweeps into the ambit of judgment - for one recompense or the other,
for reward or penalty - every slave of Jesus Christ. "This,"
as Dean Spence observes, "is the judgment of
Christians: we are inclined to forget this while warning publicans and
sinners of coming judgment." A penal recompense is thus balanced against
a recompense of reward, and both are the other side of the grave. Neither the recompense nor the penalty
falls in this life.* "The Divine judgment," says Bishop Westeott, "lies essentially in each deed of man. The good which we do remains ours still, and the evil also. The doer in each case will receive what he has
done: 'that each may receive the things
done in the body' (2 Cor. 5: 10)." The adverse recompense is again stated by Paul
to be Millennial and it is a forfeiture
of the secondary inheritance:- "know ye not that wrong-doers" - the same word as here,
(see Greek) shall not inherit
Thus before the eyes of the whole Church the Spirit of God erects the purging vision of the Judgment Seat of Christ; and so transfigures all daily drudgery - if consciously and deliberately done to our Lord as part of our work for Him - as an alchemy changes all base metal into gold. That there is no respect of persons establishes a tribunal of incorruptible impartiality. As Ambrose says:- "the judge discerns causes, not persons"; and the idea that the slave is more exempt than the master is wholly unscriptural - "thou shalt not favour a poor man in his cause" (Exod 23: 3). The face of Christ is not against either master or servant, either employer or employed, either spiritual believer or carnal, but He is against all wrong-doing in all: so that the want of bias in God as judge is equally a terror to the deceitful wage-earner and the tyrannous capitalist; and the wrong-sufferer of every class and kind will find that his wrong-doings are not cloaked by his wrong-sufferings. So also, on the contrary, the lowest drudgery done for Christ is coining royalty. The slave gets his keep, or otherwise he would die, and his master lose him; and the employee gets his wage, for in a slaveless community labour can only be purchased; but the keep may be beggarly, and the wage a pittance: nevertheless - and even if both are adequate and generous - all work fully and faithfully done to Christ, either by master or slave, is recompensed with a coming glory inconceivable, to which no royalty now on earth can be compared.
[* Thus the drawing of the sword for freedom, bitter class conflict, or armed rebellion - all forcible redress on this side of the grave - is swallowed up in the Tribunal to which alone forcible redress is finally possible, and which alone is absolutely competent. Even to the slave Paul's word, paraphrased by Bishop Westcott is this :-" Seize not liberty by force but embrace it with joy" (1 Cor. 7: 21).]
‘The efficiency of the work’ is being impaired by those who refuse - (either because of the fear of man, the possible loss of earnings, or friends) - to disclose much of what they recognise as scriptural truth. We often hear how we ought to act as responsible servants of Christ, but we seldom hear of the dire consequences facing all unrepentant servants who do not so act as they ought. "The whole delineation of the terrific punishment prepared for the unfaithful servant [slave] bears the character of the justitia retributiva. Those who believe that from the evangelical position one cannot properly speak of any punishment in the judical sense, but only affectionate chastisements for the moral amendment of the misled, can hardly measure aright the fearful earnestness of declarations such as those of Luke 12: 45-48."
"Is the ambassador of an earthly potentate at liberty to decline the duty which he has deliberately undertaken, and with which he has been entrusted, on account of obloquy or even danger attending the faithful performance of it? or is he at liberty to alter or modify the terms of his instructions in order to shield himself from reproach or from peril? Assuredly not. And shall the ambassadors of the King of kings venture to tamper with and distort the message which they were commissioned to deliver? Shall they presumptuously attempt to amend the terms on which the Lord of heaven and earth declares that He will treat with His rebellious subjects? Or shall they leave out of the proclamation whatever it may be unpleasant to these subjects to hear?" - P. HOPE, B. D. (See 1 Cor. 4: 2).
[Such cowardly behaviour is prevalent in Christendom today: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine ; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts ; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables" (2 Tim. 4: 3, 4).]