It is easy to come to a text like Ephesians 6:5-9 and think that there is really no relevance for us. The text concerns instructions for slaves and masters. How could this paragraph have any use for us today? I believe the application is obvious. If God gave these instructions for how slaves and masters should conduct themselves, a relationship that one could not get out of as a slaves, then how much more are these instructions true for the employee/employer relationship, where we do not have rights and freedoms that those in the first century did not enjoy. It is important to note that slavery in America in the 18th and 19th centuries was different than the slavery under the Roman Empire. The slavery found in America where a person was stolen and forced into slavery is condemned in the scriptures (cf. Deuteronomy 24:7). There is much that can be said about these differences that I don’t think is worth the time for what we are studying in this lesson. But I do want us to have a sense of what it meant to be a slave in the Roman Empire. Slaves possessed few legal rights, lacked honor, were subject to whatever punishments their masters deemed appropriate, were not allowed to own property, and could be separated from their spouses by the slave master (Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, 421).
With this in mind, I want us to consider that the prescription given in the scriptures is not to overthrow Rome and start a new system of government where there is a democracy. The scriptures always guide about how to live under the law and circumstances presented to us because of our government. We are to show ourselves to be Christians, even if we disagree with the actions and policies of the government. When Paul wrote to the Romans to obey the government (Romans 13), it was not a free market, democratic government that he wrote to Christians to submit themselves to. Too often we act like our obedience to the laws of the land are contingent on having a moral, godly, democratic, capitalistic government. Nothing could be further from the truth. We immediately learn that we submit no matter what system we find ourselves in. Presently, we find ourselves in an employee/employer relationship for daily living. So let us look to these scriptures to see how we are to act under these conditions.
How To Be A Servant (6:5-8)
Paul is now going to tell us how these slaves were to serve their masters. As we read these we must consider that these will help us learn how we are to serve on our job.
Serve like you are serving Jesus (6:5, 7).
The first point is that slaves are to obey their earthly masters with fear and trembling. We are to obey those who have charge over us on this earth. Consider how broad this teaching reaches. Anyone who has rule or authority over us, we are to obey them. Notice the character of how we are to serve: as we would serve Jesus. This is what is to be going through our minds when we work: we are going to serve and work as if we are working and serving Jesus. Paul tells us that this means we will serve wholeheartedly and genuinely. Obedience to Jesus is with a sincere heart and we are to offer the same heart for our work to our masters. I think it is important to notice that there is no excuse for if we have bad masters. Paul does not tell us that we do not have to serve with our heart if our master really stinks. This is usually the justification we give for half-hearted service. The person I am working for is clueless and does not know what he is doing. Therefore I am not going to work hard for him. So we overcome this thinking with a determination to obey and serve from the heart as an expression of our commitment to the Lord. Imagine if Jesus was telling you to the mop the floor. Imagine if Jesus was telling us to do computer work. Imagine if Jesus is telling you to do the work. Work with that kind of attitude.
Serve with integrity (6:6).
Paul shows that how we serve matters to the Lord. We are not to work only when the boss is watching. This is something that drove me crazy when I worked in the secular world. How many will only work when the master is watching! If he was gone, then little work was done. When I had my job as an accountant for Wendy’s, there was a difference in how people worked with our boss was present. Now, I will admit that I did not do my hard work because I knew I was serving Christ. I did it because I’m not a gabby, stand around the water cooler kind of person. People would waste time talking away about everything rather than working hard. Christians are supposed to be different. We are to work whether the boss is watching or not. Paul teaches that we cannot go to work and do as little as possible, for this is not how we serve Christ. When I worked at a gas station, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone came in or one of my co-workers jokingly asked if I was working hard or hardly working. If you said you were working hard, you were scorned and ridiculed. You were supposed to be hardly working. But this cannot be our answer nor our attitude. I went to the movies last week and the movie ticket clerk could not be bothered to lift her head out of her hands as we bought our tickets. She was not going to give any effort to this job. But Christians give their all. We are always working hard for the Lord.
Serve for a heavenly reward (6:8).
Verse 8 gives us another reason why we work with all our heart and obey our masters. We are to know that we will be rewarded by God. This helps us overcome the feeling that our employer is taking advantage of us. I am sure that these slaves in the Roman Empire were regularly being taken advantage of. That is why many wanted to run away. This feeling of injustice and sense of fairness often leads us to steal supplies from work, work half-heartedly, or steal time that is not ours to take. Taking personal time when we should be working. Taking advantage of our situation because we think we deserve it. We fight this thinking by recognizing that what we give in our work is seen by God and will be rewarded. Paul says that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord. God cares so much about the work we give to our masters that he will reward us for the work we do. There is not time when we are not showing the glory of God. Work is one of the places where we spend a significant amount of time each day. The hard work is to show that we serve Jesus first and foremost, even if we do not like our work and even if we feel we are treated poorly. Young people need to hear this today. I am tired of young people thinking that they should start at the top. Work is work. That is why people have to pay us to do it. Work is not fun. Work is not vacation. There should not be a work that we think is too low for us. Do the work. You are serving Jesus and Jesus does not care if you flip hamburgers, work on cars, and are CEO of a large technology company. We work for the heavenly reward.
How To Be In Charge (6:9)
Paul also instructs how we are to deal with those who are below us. We may not be at the top of our jobs but we often have people who work for us. Whether on a project, or if we are middle management, or just have charge over a certain task, there are times when we will have authority over others on the job. God has directions for us when we have those situations as well. How we treat those below us also matters to God.
Paul begins by saying that everything that was told to the servant is also true for the master. “Masters, do the same for them.” Therefore, those with authority must exercise that authority with integrity, giving all of your heart and effort to the work. We will exercise the authority given to us in such a way that will be pleasing to the Lord because we know the Lord is watching how use our position. We are serving God in the way that we manage our position.
Notice that Paul says that even if we have authority over another person, this is not a license to threaten those who are subject to us. Since we are working for the Lord, then we are not going to threaten other people or bully others to do their job. Think about how transforming this would have been in the Roman Empire. Masters would threaten their slaves all the time to get the desired result. They could threaten them with punishment and beatings. But God’s people will not do this. Even though they had the power and the right to do such as a master over the slave, God’s people will not do this.
There is another motivation given to the Christian. Though you have authority, you are not the ultimate master. God is the ultimate master and you are a slave to him. Further, Paul says you share the same Master with those who are in subjection to you. We all serve the same God regardless of position. This is equality in God’s economy. On earth we may have different positions but before God we are all slaves. There is no partiality with God. This is part of what it means for God to not be partial. He doesn’t care who you are or what you think you are. All people stand equal before God: slave or free, employee or employer, rich or poor, male or female.
John 13 is the great example of this truth. Jesus, the Master and Teacher, washed the feet of the disciples. The master served. So also, if we have some kind of earthly authority, we use that authority appropriately. One final thought about this before we close. Elders are given charge by God over the local church. So does this mean that elders can be threatening and force people? It does not matter that this is a spiritual relationship. Jesus is the chief shepherd and all of us are his sheep. Elders cannot let authority lead to pride or power. This is why Peter specifically instructed that the oversight that elders have is not out of compulsion over others or domineering those in their care. We instruct and direct. We do not compel.
God cares what you are doing Monday through Friday. God cares about what is going on at work and is watching what each of us are doing and what we are experiencing. Whatever position we are in at work, we are working for the Lord but just for people. Therefore we work with integrity and give what we are supposed to give to our jobs as an expression of our commitment to Jesus. We do this with two motivations: we love Jesus and want to show the world our love for him through how we work and we know we will be rewarded by God for our hard work.