Although today’s passage addresses slaves, any worker can benefit from the lessons Paul offers. In the ancient Roman world, over half the people were slaves. It didn’t matter if they were doctors, teachers, or shepherds—they could still be owned by another person. So the admonitions apply to every vocation.
Perhaps you read Paul’s words and think, That can’t mean me—I have a terrible job/boss/customer to deal with. I assure you, the apostle is talking to every believer. In his day, the lowest household servant was responsible for washing the dirty feet of those entering the house. It was a horrible job that left one open to all kinds of abuse. But to the person in that position, and to each of us, Paul says, “Do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (v. 23).
Believers get the most out of their jobs when they take on the role of servant to the Lord. That’s how God sees us. Though we live in a society that prizes independence, we are to be a different kind of people, who perform the work required without complaint. The only time we are authorized to disobey is when we’re asked to violate the Word of God.
Even then, we are to disagree, but with gentleness and self-control. The Bible tells us that God’s ways are not man’s ways (Isa. 55:8), and we have Jesus as our example: He made Himself a bondservant to the Father and came to earth as a man in order to die for the sins of humanity (Phil. 2:5-7). Willing service marks us as followers of Christ—and people who are to be valued for their impact on others.