In Ephesians 4-6 Paul is teaching us about how our union with Christ transforms our relationships with each other. Paul applies this teaching in the end of chapter 5 and the beginning of 6 to the family and gives us the biblical household code. As we walk under the control of the Spirit, our lives will show forth His transforming power in your family life. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. Children, obey your parents. And parents, don't provoke your children. Now Paul goes on to talk about slaves and masters in verses 6:5-9.
These verses on slaves and masters are not a new section, Paul is still dealing with the household code! In Paul's day the master/slave relationship was a household relationship. Economic activity in the Roman world was essentially household activity. The household could consist of a dozen persons, or thousands of persons. We may not think of that as a household, but remember Abraham who had 318 slaves trained for war?:
When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. Genesis 14:14 NASB
So if you include their wives and children, there would be over a thousand in Abraham's household.
Today our households consist almost entirely of nuclear families. The amount of economic production that goes on in our households is minuscule. Our economic lives are lived in the corporation, whether as employees or as stockholders, or both. Whereas, every member of the first century household was involved in some aspect of the household economy.
Paul's concern is that the Ephesians live as those who are controlled by the Spirit. And since many of the congregation were slaves, and some were also masters, Paul wished to instruct them on how to think about their lives together. Paul did not attempt to articulate a model of ideal economic life. He called Christians to live as citizens of heaven in the midst of the crooked and perverse generation they were in.
The application of this text is much more broad than merely slaves and masters. Our text applies to all Christians, in a variety of ways. Our Lord Yeshua became a slave in order to bring about our salvation (Mark 10:45), and thus also became an example of submission for slaves (1 Peter 2:18-25). Paul often referred to himself as the Lord's slave (see Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:19). Beyond this, every Christian has been delivered from slavery to sin and has become a slave of Yeshua (Romans 6:16-20; 14:4; 1 Corinthians 7:22). And so the instructions which Paul gives to "slaves" applies to every Christian as Christ's slave. And remember that we saw last week that the apostles also considered themselves slaves of the believers.
As we look at this text in Ephesians, it is important that we understand that although our text was written to slaves and masters, it applies directly to employees and employers. It shows practically how those filled with the Spirit, who subject themselves to one another in the fear of Christ, should relate to one another in the workplace. Your relationship to Christ should transform your relationships at work.
As I said last week, in the New Testament there was no effort to destroy slavery as a system. It was a workable system. It was a system of employment in which the employer in many cases literally took over the care of his employee.
In Galatians chapter 3 Paul makes a statement that equalizes both slave and master spiritually. It says:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Yeshua. Galatians 3:28 NASB
When it comes to employment, when it comes to socialization, when it comes to culture, when it comes to economics, when it comes to work, when it comes to the sexes, there are going to be inequalities; not everybody can be on the same level. But when it comes to the spiritual realm, when it comes to the body of Christ; there are no inequalities. Everyone is equal.
U.S. News and World Report said that 70% of employed people in the U.S. don't like their jobs. 90% of the 70% don't feel like getting up in the morning to go to their jobs. Unhappy people are unproductive people. TIME magazine said, "The average worker wastes many hours per week. It causes one hundred billion dollars of drain on the American economy to pay people for what they don't do." How much of your paycheck is unearned? I was shocked when I began to work a civil service job in the early eighties. People get paid by the government to do absolutely nothing all day long.
Have you ever thought about how a slogan like, "good help is hard to find," ever got started? It must have started because good help was hard to find! Why is that? Good help is hard to find because people are basically self-centered and self-serving and are not going to work any harder than they have to. We are consumed with leisure and personal pleasure and little else in America. How will it benefit me? Seems to be the only question many people ask. And good jobs are hard to find because employers are basically self-centered and self-serving. But these things are not to be true for believers, and so Paul gives instructions as to the Christian's work ethic.
We have become an over indulgent, self-seeking, lazy people looking for a free ride. We desperately need to understand what the Bible says about work:
In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23 NASB
He also who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys. Proverbs 18:9 NASB
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Ephesians 4:28 NASB
The Greeks deplored manual labor and relegated it to slaves as much as possible. But the Jews held it in esteem; every Jewish boy was taught a trade regardless of his family's wealth. The Jews taught that working with one's own hands demonstrates love for the brethren because a self-supporting person is not a burden to others.
The whole economic structure of the Middle East and Roman world was based upon masters and slaves. It's not much different today with employees and employers.
As we apply this passage to our work, we see that we all fall in the two categories Paul addresses—employee and employer, or worker and supervisor. So, what are his instructions to us?:
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; Ephesians 6:5 NASB
"Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters"—the word "slave" is the Greek word doulos, which comes from deo, which means: "to bind." The chief idea that it conveys is that the slave is bound to his master; a person who is in a submissive subjection to someone else. The present tense of the verb hupakouo (obey) stress the constant obedience expected.
"Masters"—is from kurios. There is a word play here on the Greek kurios, translated: "masters" here and "Lord" in verse 7. The contrast is between their earthy masters and the Lord who is in heaven.
So slaves/employees are to be obedient "to those who are your masters according to the flesh"—the prepositional phrase "according to the flesh," refers not to the manner of obedience, but to the kind of masters, their human masters. Some translations say, "human masters" and some say, "earthly masters." Slavery is really a matter of the "flesh" and not of the "spirit." That is, a slave master's authority is limited to the "flesh" of his slave.
"With fear and trembling"—were they to be living in fear of their masters, and are we supposed to be living in terror of our boss? Many see it that way, but if we look at the parallel text in Colossians, we see it is the Lord we are to fear:
Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Colossians 3:22 NASB
Whom do you fear? Are you more afraid of what your boss thinks of you, or what Yahweh thinks of you? Paul commands us to live our lives in fear of Christ.
The word "fear" refers to an attitude of reverence toward the Lord. We desperately need to recover a sense of awe and reverence for Yahweh in our day. We must begin to view Him in the infinite majesty that belongs to Him, who is the Creator and Supreme Sovereign of the universe. There is an infinite gap in worth and dignity between Yahweh, the Creator, and man, the creature. The fear of Yahweh is a heartfelt recognition of this gap.
Can you imagine how important this statement was to the slaves Paul addressed? A slave might very well fear his master, for the master had power of life and death, as well as power to sell him into other types of servitude. But Paul tells the believing slave not to fear the master or to live with an attitude that an earthly master was sovereign over his life. Instead, the Christian is to be "fearing the Lord."
How can we do this in our own setting? It demands that we consciously see that we are serving the Lord, not man, in whatever our vocation might be. We must also have an intense desire to not displease the Lord who has called us to serve Him.
"In the sincerity of your heart"—this prepositional phrase modifies the verb "to obey." The terms rendered "sincerity" has the nuance of singleness of focus, conscientiousness, along with liberality. It means that you give it your all, with undivided attention and effort. You don't waste time on the job.
"As to Christ"—this adverbial phrase indicates who was the slaves' ultimate master. The Ephesians were not instructed to obey their masters and Christ, but to obey their masters in obedience to Christ. The fundamental obedience is therefore not to masters, but to the Master.
Paul drives home through repetition the centrality of our relationship to Yeshua as Lord. Note: (6:5) "as to Christ"; (6:6) "as slaves of Christ" "doing the will of God from the heart"; (6:7) "as to the Lord"; (6:8) "receive back from the Lord"; (6:9) "their Master and yours is in heaven…."
You can't miss it: as a believer, your relationship with Yeshua as Lord is the primary, governing fact of life. Christ must be at the center of all that we think and do.
Your relationship with Christ should make you the best employee or employer on the job. The key concept is, you do not work primarily for your employer. You work primarily for Yeshua who sees your every motive and action.
This is the emphasis of the entire Bible. The first and greatest commandment is:
And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. Matthew 22:37-38 NASB
The second greatest commandment is that we love one another. But the Lord does not put that command first. It is deliberately second, because the primary thing in life, the foundation for everything else, is that you love Yahweh your God.
Is it primary for you? Did your schedule last week reflect that fact? Did you meet alone with God in His Word to learn more about Him and how He wants you to live? You can't begin to have the right perspective towards your job or your boss or your employees until you first get right with Yeshua. As Paul makes clear, you work primarily for Him. As he puts it in the parallel text (Col. 3:24), "It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."
Man was created to work, and all of our work is a sacred duty:
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 NASB
Now, let's just say this in a digression: that tells me that there is no distinction between the secular and the sacred. You can't say: This is my business world, or this is my employment world, and this is my Christian world, because Paul just blows it out of the water with what he's just said. Your employment has to be unto Christ, and he is saying this: "Even in your work, your menial task— whatever it may be; if it is a good work, it can be done for Christ." Now there's a term that is bandied about within Christian circles: "full time Christian service." Now I know it's an expression of convenience for those who are evangelists, and missionaries, and pastors, and so on, but it's not accurate, it's not Scriptural, because Paul is saying here that we are ALL in full time service for the Lord, for we are all to be working as unto Christ!
You are in full-time ministry all the time, ministering to the glory of Christ whatever you do. It's no different for you to do your job to the maximum ability for the glory of Christ than it is for me to prepare this message to preach for the glory of Yeshua. Paul put it this way to the Colossians:
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, Colossians 3:23 NASB
A little more than 300 years ago, a middle aged man named Nicholas Herman entered a monastery in France and lived the remaining 30 years of his life as a cook. He worked in a kitchen, he peeled potatoes, he cut carrots and brussel sprouts, and cooked them, and served the monks. Though his life was lived in obscurity, he accomplished one thing that destined him for greatness. He sought and eventually achieved the ability to walk continually in God's presence.
As he approached the end of his life, he wrote about it in a book that came to be called The Practice of the Presence of God. This book has influenced countless Christians over the centuries, helping them discover the joy of living day-in and day-out in God's presence.
Brother Lawrence said, "I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God's presence, and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment."
In one of his writings, he said: "If I were a preacher I would, above all other things, preach the practice of the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding souls in the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God's constant presence, if for no other reason than because His presence is a delight to our souls and spirits."
"I honestly cannot understand how people who claim to love the Lord can be content without practicing His presence. For there is nothing in the world sweeter or more delightful than a continual conversation with God."
The whole point of the book is that every moment of every day we can know the presence of God in our life if we concentrate on Him, if we shut out every other thought of anything else and just concentrate on Him. One of the things that Brother Lawrence says in the book is: As he worked in the kitchens, even if he were called to lift a piece of straw from the ground, he would do it for the love of God, and that's how he practiced the presence of God: by doing everything unto the Lord.
Bottom line is this: A housewife is to cook a dinner as if the Lord were going to dine with them! A teacher is to educate children, doctors and nurses to treat patients, solicitors to help clients, accountants to audit books, secretaries to type letters, shop assistants to serve the public, and builders to build buildings to the glory and to the service of the Lord! It all has to do with attitude, that's the key: if you're doing it as unto the Lord. Whatever you do, if you do it for God's glory, it is sacred service. Remove the line you've drawn between the secular and sacred.
Your attitude when you get up in the morning should be, "I have to go serve Christ today. I'm going to serve Him with my hammer and nails, I'm going to serve Him in my classroom where I teach the children, I'm going to serve Him while I fix some cars, I'm going to serve Him while I'm making hamburgers, I'm going to serve Him while I'm pushing papers across my desk, I'm going to serve Him while I'm traveling around selling people whatever I'm selling them. I'm not working for men, I'm serving Yeshua the Christ in the midst of a watching world, I am His slave."
Martin Luther said, "The role of the shopkeeper and the role of the housewife are as sacred as the role of clergy and priest in terms of its relationship and reference to God."
William Tyndale said, "There is difference betwixt washing dishes and preaching the Word of God, but as touching pleasing God there is no difference at all."
Every job and every task is of spiritual value because when it is integrated into the life of a Christian, it becomes the arena in which that Christian lives out his spiritual existence.
What is happening on the job for you is the single greatest articulation of Christianity that you will ever have in your life time. The most hindering force to the conversion of the lost happens in the work place. Where do most people come in contact with Christians? It can also be the most effective place for evangelism. I was led to Christ by a co-worker:
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 NASB
Where are you most before men? At work! William Purkins said of work, "The true end of our lives is to do service to God by serving men."
Now some of you might be thinking: That's easy for you to say, you really don't have an earthy boss. But my boss isn't fair, he's unjust and I hate obeying him. Look at what Peter says:
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 1 Peter 2:18 NASB
Even to those who are abusive, even to those who are unreasonable, you are to submit yourselves:
Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. Titus 2:9-10 NASB
What is the motive for our obedience and submission to our employer? "That they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." This is astonishing if you really think about it.
We look at the doctrine, the message of redemption, the Gospel. We see its beauty, its splendor, and its perfection. We see sinful man, born in sin, separated from God, and headed for eternal damnation. We see God's love providing what His holiness demanded, a sinless substitute. Yeshua the God-Man dies for our sin. By placing our faith in Christ, we can be eternally forgiven and delivered. Through the Gospel, sinful man can become a child of God. We see its beauty. And then to think that by our daily conduct on the job we can decorate, we can add to its beauty, its splendor, its perfection! That is amazing! That's how important your conduct is on the job.
St. Francis said, "The most powerful effective evangelism takes place on the job as you live out your Christianity in the face of unbelievers."
We learn from historical books that Christian slaves were a higher price than heathen slaves! Why? Because they were better slaves! They took to heart Paul's instruction and fleshed it out.
Imagine how the Book of Ephesians could transform the world-view of a Christian slave. From Ephesians chapters 1-3 the slave would marvel that God chose him in eternity past, and that He sent Yeshua to die for his sins on the cross of Calvary. From these chapters he now comes to grasp the fact that he has been joined together with believing Jews, and is a part of God's glorious church. And for all the blessings which he has already received in Christ, there is yet to come the glorious return of Yeshua and the establishment of His kingdom:
not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Ephesians 6:6 NASB
In other words, you don't just work hard when your boss is looking, in order to get his approval, and then slack off when he's not around. It happens in the office, in factories, in retail businesses, that employees will slack off if the boss is not around, then be "Mr. Efficiency" when he is nearby. One researcher said that only one-fourth of employees give their best on the job, and that around 20-percent of the average worker's time is wasted.
William McDonald says this: "The Christian's standards of performance should not vary according to the geographical location of the foreman."
"As men-pleasers"—we all struggle at times with the sin of pleasing men rather than pleasing the Lord. In a crude way, this kind of sin gives the position of sovereignty to someone else, at least in the person's eyes. Instead of realizing that "promotion comes from the Lord," it is resorting to whatever techniques or smooth words or deceitful actions might be necessary to persuade an earthly boss to grant favor:
With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, Ephesians 6:7 NASB
In the 26 times "Lord" is mentioned in Ephesians, it consistently has reference to Christ rather than to the Father, except twice when it refers to human masters. Believers are to render service to their new Lord who is Yahweh the Christ.
The Christian slave submits inwardly as well as outwardly to his earthly master. The Christian slave obeys his earthly master as an expression of his submission to the Lord:
knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. Ephesians 6:8 NASB
The phrase "from the Lord" is emphatic in the Greek. The ultimate reward comes from God, not from our employer, because you are ultimately serving Christ, not your employer. This is crucial knowledge if we are going to live a qualitative Christian life.
This whole attitude called for is important in our own day. If our dependence is unduly upon a company rather than the Lord, we can be gravely disappointed. Companies collapse; the Lord is eternal. I am not suggesting that it is unimportant to have company benefits or retirement plans. Those things demonstrate prudence on our part in taking care of temporal needs. But we need to learn to live with a view that the Lord is ultimately our provider. We need to beware of sinking our energies on the temporal to the neglect of the eternal inheritance that belongs to the child of God.
No doubt that some disobedient slaves had brought shame to the name and the testimony of the Lord Yeshua because of their disrespect towards their master. That's why Paul wrote to Timothy and instructed him to tell all the slaves in his congregation:
All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against. Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles. 1 Timothy 6:1-2 NASB
We are to count our boss worthy of "all honor." Honor means respect and service. You are at work to serve the needs of your employer and not yourself. Don't let your work habits cause people to speak against God. The way you work relates to how people will perceive God and biblical teaching.
It could have been that the slave in the assembly was a teacher or an elder, and perhaps the master in the assembly is just a member. And when they come into this work relationship there is a resentment because of their capacity and their responsibility in the assembly, and vice versa.
It also provided a sort of strange situation, because the Christian was being told in his meeting with the other believers that they were all equal. And then he would go to work and some other Christian would be telling him what to do, and in the early church they were trying to sort that all out:
And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. Ephesians 6:9 NASB
It is interesting to note what is not said to masters, here or anywhere else, in the Scriptures. It is not said that masters should free all their slaves.
Paul's word to Christian masters would have been very shocking, just as his words to the husbands and fathers were shocking. In the Roman Empire at this time, a master could give his slave a beating, or he could kill his slave if he wanted to. The laws and the culture were slanted completely towards the masters. So again we see that Christianity is radical; it is cross cultural.
When Paul says, "do the same things," he does not mean that the masters were to serve their slaves. Rather, as Charles Hodge explains, "As masters Paul commands two things: First, be fair and just. In imitation of Christ, do not show partiality or favoritism. Being fair and just means be fair to them, and not by the culture's standards, but by Christ's. Masters are to act towards their slaves with the same regard to the will of God, with the same recognition of the authority of Christ, with the same sincerity and good feeling which had been enjoined on the slaves themselves."(Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians [Eerdmans], p. 368),
There is but one specific command given to masters, and that is to "give up threatening." Threatening must therefore have been a very common practice among slave owners. And no doubt the slaves were often threatened with their lives:
and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; Matthew 20:27 NASB
A Spirit-controlled, Spirit-filled employer is gentle, never abusive, never threatening.
During the same time that Paul wrote Ephesians from prison, he had met and led to Christ a runaway slave named Onesimus. Runaway slaves were usually executed or at least punished so severely that it served as a lesson to other slaves not to try the same thing. But Paul wrote to Philemon, the Christian slave owner, telling him that he should now treat Onesimus as a beloved brother in Christ. This was radical stuff that went against the culture of the day! But that's how Christian employers should treat their employees, "knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him."
The Christian master and boss has to always remember that they are not the final authority, that they have another Master, one in heaven, and they are His slave and His servant.
The slave's devotion to his master is the result of his relationship to Christ. So, too, the master's care for his slaves is the outgrowth of the master's relationship to the Master. The master is just as much a "slave" of Christ as his slave is. And just as the Christian slave obeys his earthly master, looking to God for his reward, so the slave master fulfills his obligation to his slaves, knowing that he will give answer to his Master, in heaven. So wether slave or master we are all slaves of Christ.
"There is no partiality with Him"—"partiality" is a bad translation of the Greek verb prosopolepsia, which is a combination of the word "face," and the word to "receive." It means: "to receive by face," i.e., to judge on the basis of some external or superficial factor. "Yahweh doesn't receive your face." is what it really says. Yahweh is not in the business of receiving anybody's face. It probably should be translated: "There is not respecter of persons with Him."
I may be splitting hairs here, but Yahweh does show partiality, but He is not a respecter of persons. Yahweh has favorites, and they are those who He chooses, but He does not choose them on the basis of their social standing or personal excellence. His choice is based totally on His will.
The point of the whole of this passage is: be controlled by the Spirit! And if you are controlled by the Spirit, you will do all things to the glory of God. In the Spirit filled family the wife will submit to the husband and the husband will love the wife, the children will obey their parents and the father will not provoke the children, the slaves will submit to the master and the masters will treat their slaves fairly.
The Scriptures do not urge us to overthrow institutions, but to submit to them, and by living our lives to the glory of God, showing how the Christian faith can endure and even thrive in the worst circumstances.
So go to work tomorrow, whatever you do, and do it to the best of your ability to the glory of Yahweh.
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