The nine verses of Paul’s instructions to Christian households wrap up with this one:

Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (Colossians 4:1).

It’s tempting to scoot by this verse, all nothing to see here. We don’t have slaves.

But we do have a Master.

And we do have authority. When this was written, slaves and servants ran the household and ordered the universe. Now, we have appliances and machines, schedules and systems. We have charge over our days, our loves, our plans. We control our wallets, our companions, our meals, our choices — where to go, what to own, what to watch tonight on Netflix.

There has never been a time in history when we, as individuals, have more tools for mastery over what we do and what we become.

A thousand little bondservants.

The world says You own this. You’ve got this. Bring even more moments under your control — increase your power — don’t waste a second beyond the life that’s best for you.

God’s Word says to treat that which is under us justly, fairly.

Matthew Henry, the 18th-century pastor and author of the world’s most-read Bible commentary, who also wrote in a time and place when slavery was also an expected and tragic norm, explains acting justly and fairly to bondservants this way:

“Require no more of them than they are able to perform; and do not lay unreasonable burdens upon them, and beyond their strength.”

Know what they’re able to do and what they’re not. 

In our lives, we act justly and fairly to the systems and tools and plans we control in the same way — by seeing clearly what they can give us and what they cannot — by respecting the limits of the life we control.  We will be constantly tempted to wield authority over our little bondservants in the pursuit of self-construction, laying an unreasonable burden of fulfillment upon them, asking for a peace beyond their strength.

We resist abusing this power over our lives by knowing we also have a Master in heaven, and He is the end game. To treat the life under us justly and fairly, we must be reminded:

It is possible to gain the whole world and forfeit our souls (Matthew 16:26). It is possible — and sobering — that we can build a healthy body, a solid career, a great marriage, a well-managed household, a peaceful schedule, and successful kids and still reap death in the end.

We make plans. We pursue dreams. We use the tools our world offers. But — to be a faithful master of our authority — His glory must be the goal of our goals.

In the end, whatever serves us must serve Christ.