Just as in the verses before, this passage is deeper than what might expect. In fact, it is not about slaves or masters at all. Previously Paul spoke about the institution of marriage and how it’s faithful love / respect dynamic demonstrates the unity within the godhead. Then he spoke of the submission structure in a typical Roman household and how mutual submission demonstrates the function of the godhead. And now, he uses Roman slavery ( tacitly different than chattel slavery in America) to show how that type of mutual submission extends to every facet of society. Roman slaves were not based in race, they were based in a multitude of factors. Many came into slavery as punishment, as well as a means of life security.
In the whole spectrum of it, Paul’s charge is to continue to be submisssive to God and the cultivating of his fruit and will in our lives. The irony of this is that in Rome, as in America, this mentality within slavery actually helped to undo its practice. This equally true in regard to the common loveless practice of Roman marriage and the common loveless abandonment of unwanted children in Roman society.
A quick and honest survey of church history will easily demonstrate that in every way that Christians perform their daily lives in submission to God, and insert that into a corrupt institution, reform therein is inevitable. Through the active reflection of the trinitarian relationship with God, we can first find peace in systems that are abusive, and eventually find victory over them all together. Slavery is evil. God’s way destroyed slavery without force, but by changing the hearts of men to be sickened by it. This is exactly the type of change we need if we are ever to rid ourselves of the long shadows cast by our sinful and wicked hearts.