Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free.
Masters, it’s the same with you. No abuse, please, and no threats. You and your servants are both under the same Master in heaven. He makes no distinction between you and them. (THE MESSAGE)
Back in Paul’s time, many slaves were domestic servants. Many were treated well enough. It was part of the social fabric of society that neither Paul nor Jesus saw fit to radically overthrow. But what we have here is Paul’s attempt to reform that part of the social fabric from within. If such slavery is not to be immediately abolished, it can yet be subject to the commands of Jesus about loving one another.
Of course the great shame is that over many centuries some parts of the church did not challenge unjust treatment of slaves and neglected to call the institution into question when it had the power to do so.
But back to Paul: he is advocating something radical for his time. While many masters treated their slaves well, the emphasis was always on the conduct of slaves rather than masters. Paul challenges both parties to live out the grace and love of Jesus within that questionable institution.
In our day, those in charge of workplaces and those who are employed in them each have responsibilities. It is no point in bosses pointing the finger at workers or workers doing likewise to bosses. Each has to understand that God is neither a capitalist money maker nor a trade union organiser. He wants justice, wisdom and peace from all parties.