1 Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.
2 And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things.
Verse 1 is to slaves with unbelieving masters.
bondservants (v.1) = slaves
under the yoke (v.1) — hard and disagreeable conditions
count (v.1) = belief based on external facts, not feelings or sentiment
masters (v.1) = absolute owners with uncontrolled power
honor (v.1) = valuing with a fixed price, prizing, reverencing (1 Peter 2:18-25)
that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed (v.1) — Unbelieving masters would look upon the rebellion or disobedience of their believing slaves as an indictment against their faith and respond by blaspheming and reviling God the the doctrine Paul was teaching
His doctrine (v.1) — “His” is not in the manuscripts. It’s just “the teaching”
Verse 2 is to slaves with believing masters.
despise (v.2) = think down upon, think little or nothing of
rather serve them (v.2) = lit. “serve them the rather” with emphasis on “the rather” — serve them all the more
benefited (v.2) = good works, kindly acts
those who are benefited (v.2) — The commentaries differ on whether this is referring to the slaves doing kindly acts for the masters or whether the slaves should honor the masters because the masters are believers and do kindly acts.
Wuest’s translation — And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brothers, but render them a slave’s service, all the more because they are believing ones and beloved ones who busy themselves in kindly service. — Wuest, page 91
Men are continually crying for their rights, supposing that they will gain true happiness if they can only get what’s coming to them. But God says to His children: “Do what is right and you will be blessed.” In a word, the word cries: “My rights!” while God emphasizes righteousness.
In Paul’s day, men were held as slaves for varied reasons. Even under the Law of Moses slaves were sometimes acquired in war as the spoils of victory (Deuteronomy 20:13-14), while others, in default of debts could be sold, or could sell themselves, into slavery so that their masters could assume their debts for them (Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:47). Technically, Hebrew masters were not to subject their brethren to abject slavery, but were to treat them as hired servants (Leviticus 25:39-40). However the “wages” paid often consisted of mere lodging, food and clothing — sometimes at the servant’s wish so that the debt might be paid off the sooner. Thieves too could be sold into slavery (Exodus 22:1-4). There was also voluntary slavery (Deuteronomy 15:16-17).
In Colossians 3:18-4:1, the apostle deals with human relations in general. He doesn’t say “Rise and rebel! Assert your rights!” We read “Servants [bondmen], obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.” And this obedience, he goes on to say, should be sincere and from the heart: “not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart … heartily, as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:22-23).
Hence before God the believing bondslave occupies a position not one whit lower than that of his master. In this connection the apostle declares in 1 Corinthians 7:22-23:
For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant [bondslave]. Ye are bought with a price: be not ye the servants [slaves] of men.”
The meaning is clear: it is the Lord who asks the believing bondman: “Do this for Me.” Thus the bondman who thus submits himself to the Lord is not in bondage to any man, but only to Christ. — Stam, pages 127-130
The point here isn’t a defense of slavery. It’s an acknowledgement that this is a sinful, broken world in which some people are subject to the authority of other people. This is wrong but will always be the case in a world where sin reigns. Those who are subject, as believers, should remember their position in Christ and live accordingly, as should those believers in authority.