Workplace Fundamentals: The Context

The Christian workplace fundamentals are found in the third chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

To grasp the full meaning of what Paul is saying, a little context is needed.

Paul is writing from jail in Rome in about 62 A.D. to a church in Colossae. And he gives some foundational advice to the Colossians regarding the most common relationships in society: husbands/wives (v. 18-19), parents/children (v. 20-21) and masters/slaves (v. 22-25).

It’s within the context of the master/slave relationship that Paul sets forth the Christian workplace fundamentals and, as I’ll explain, I believe there is a reason God in His sovereignty chose this master/slave relationship for the context of addressing Christian workplace fundamentals.

In the Roman Empire of the first century, slavery was pervasive, but it was not race-based. Not that that makes slavery any less offensive, but slaves were most commonly acquired as a result of war. My guess is the Romans thought they were being humane. The options were to either kill the enemy once they were defeated or let them live and sell them as slaves. The idea of releasing them to fight another day or holding them as prisoners for some undetermined amount of time probably seemed ridiculous to them. I’m not trying to justify it, just explain it. Let’s face it, the Geneva Convention hadn’t been drafted yet. Heck, Geneva probably didn’t even exist yet.

Additionally, children born to female slaves became slaves, and people could sell themselves into slavery to pay their debts. Not surprisingly then, slavery was quite pervasive, and it became a ready source of labor. In fact, it is estimated 20-30% of the Roman population in the first century were slaves.

Slaves ascended to every conceivable job. Slaves became accountants and even doctors.  For many businesses it was probably more economical to purchase a slave than hire an employee. Slaves became a large part of the workforce.

So, when the Apostle Paul addresses the issue of work (v.23-25) he does so within the context of slavery. What he says though is every bit as applicable to employees in the twenty-first century, and it creates the context for the first workplace fundamental, as I will explain in the next post. GS.


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