When we work as unto the Lord we serve others even more excellently than if serving them were our main goal. Working as unto the Lord does not mean serving God instead of other people.
Paul tells slaves to obey their masters—and not just to obey, but to obey in everything. It sounds absurd, but he explains:
Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men…. You are serving the Lord Christ.
So slaves should obey their masters completely (at least completely enough that Paul didn’t feel a need to qualify). Apparently complete obedience to their masters is a key part of how they really serve Jesus, not their masters.
They serve Jesus by working even better than they already are for a person they’re not actually, in the end, even working for.
This command to slaves comes after a list of specific examples of other ways to live “as for the Lord and not for men”:
- Wives, submit to your husbands.
- Husbands, love your wives.
- Children, obey your parents.
- Fathers, don’t provoke your kids.
Obeying the parts of that list that apply to us is what it looks like for us to live for God and not for other people. But who is being immediately influenced and served by this obedience to God?
- When wives submit to their husbands for the Lord who benefits? Husbands.
- When husbands love their wives for the Lord who benefits? Wives.
- When children obey their parents for the Lord who benefits? Parents.
- When fathers encourage their kids for the Lord who benefits? Kids.
- When slaves obey their masters for the Lord who benefits? Masters.
Do these beneficiaries deserve our submission, love, obedience, encouragement, or work? Not always.
But we’re not doing it for them. We do it for the Lord.
We serve God by serving others. We love him by loving others.
We are not standing in the middle of two masters with each calling our name. We do not have to turn our backs on one to follow the other.
No, God stands on the far side of the other people in our lives. We can only reach out to him if we reach out to them. We live for them to live for him.
They’ll receive blessing and we’ll receive Jesus.