Ephesians 6:5-9(ESV)5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ. 6 Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. 7 Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord. 9 And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.
The apostle Paul wrote this to show how Christian workers and bosses should treat each other. It is addressed to slaves and masters, not to employees and employers. The idea of masters and slaves is different from our western way of thinking. Although our text was written to slaves and masters, it applies directly to employees and employers. It shows practically how those filled with the Holy Spirit, who subject themselves to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21), should relate to one another in the workplace. Paul is saying,Your relationship to Christ and the fact that you live primarily for the glory of the Father should transform your relationships at work to reflect His work in you.
Slavery had been a common practice in many ancient societies such as Egypt, China and the Middle East. Most slaves originated from the spoils of war, kidnap or voluntarily to pay for debts. The treatment of slaves varied in the ancient world, but in most cases slaves were the property of the master, with little or no rights or status. This meant that many were treated harshly, although most ancient societies had some laws to regulate slavery, such as the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1750 BC).
Slavery was allowed in the Old Testament, this may shock some that slavery was an accepted practice. It must be noted that the slavery mentioned in the bible is very different to the slavery that occurred in the Americas in the 17th and 18th Centuries which is the popular view of slavery today. Old Testament treatment of slaves was also generally more humane than the slavery practiced in other ancient civilizations.
Throughout biblical times slavery was a common practice. The bible does not condemn slavery but has clear teaching on how slaves should be treated, which was often counter-cultural to the practices of surrounding nations. Biblical slavery amongst Jews was often an act of mercy to provide for the poor rather than an act of exploitation. The bible condemns the abuse of slaves and the forced enslavement of people and slaves were to be treated well in both Old and New Testaments.
The Israelites were to treat their enslaved fellow Hebrews as if they were servants. (Leviticus 25:39-40). They were also to give them the option of their freedom in the 7th year of their service (Exodus 21:2), and give them the means to make a new start (Deuteronomy 15:12-18), although they could remain a slave if they chose.
Exodus 21:16 (ESV) “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.
It’s verses like this that John Newton, the slave trader in England thought of as he wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. He knew full well that because of his sins, he deserved death and yet the Lord granted him repentance and faith.
Slavery was permitted in the Old Testament…
There were reasons for slavery. If an Israelite fell upon hard times they could offer to work for someone else who would in turn look after them (Leviticus 25:39). If a thief was caught and could not make restitution then they were to be sold for the theft (Exodus 22:3). Debtors who went bankrupt could be forced to sell their children into slavery (2 Kings 4:1). These reasons all apply to Hebrew slaves, however, it is difficult to say why the bible allowed them to take foreign slaves. Maybe it was a way of dealing with prisoners of war rather than killing them? Perhaps they needed slaves to prosper as a nation? Both these reasons could apply to David putting the conquered Ammonites to forced labour (2 Samuel 12:31(ESV)31 And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at[a] the brick kilns. And thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.
Slavery is not condemned in the New Testament either.
Paul doesn’t condemn the system of slavery because it isn’t exactly like what we think of when we think of slavery. When it was practiced under God’s boundaries it was a lot like an employer and employee relationship.
Galatians 3:28-29 (ESV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Paul could say this because whether one was a servant or a master, the blood of Christ has made them equal in His kingdom. Rather than condemning slavery, Paul explains that the Kingdom of God is a leveling, equalizing kingdom. Often, in the church of the first century the slave/master relationship would be turned around when they entered the church. In the outside world the slave was the follower. He did what his master told him to do. Once they entered the church, the slave might be an elder and the master would submit to his leadership. Paul was not opposed to the freedom of slaves if the opportunity arose. Paul believed that God had called people to different stations in life and they were to live out the Christian life in the situation in which they were called.
1 Corinthians 7:17-24(ESV)17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
For slaves to disobey their masters would have caused God’s name to be reviled. Slaves were to please God by their service and the brotherly love with a believing master should be another reason for serving him well. Masters were to treat their slaves well because they both had the same master in heaven with whom there is no partiality.
1 Timothy 6:1-2(ESV)Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.
In a list of the lawless and disobedient (1Timothy 1:10(ESV), the New Testament condemns those who take people captive to sell them into slavery, which is consistent with Old Testament Law.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon, he urges Philemon to receive back the runaway slave Onesimus as a brother, but Paul does not command him to be released from slavery.
There were abuses in slavery but we must not allow the abuses to cloud our thinking.
Jesus didn’t condemn slavery.
Luke 7:2-10 (ESV)2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
The centurion’s servant was under his authority and did whatever he told him to do. The centurion understood authority. He was under the emperor’s authority; his soldiers were under his authority. He also knew that the disease that plagued his servant was under Jesus’ authority. Just like when the centurion gave an order, it was carried out. He knew that Jesus could just give the order and the disease would obey. Jesus didn’t say, you should not have a slave. But rather He healed this man’s servant whom he loved and cared for.
Slavery has only been explicitly ‘outlawed’ for the last 150 years. The historical momentum of slavery and the slave trade still guides the minds of the elites today because it is everywhere as an economic system. Enslavement is a technique/technology wielded by institutions. Like any technique/technology, improvements and innovations outmode prior models and methods. When automobiles became abundant, horse-drawn carriages were banned from the roadway. This would not be called the “abolition of traffic”.
Slavery upgraded from an apparent system to a not so apparent system. Plantations were replaced by ‘plants’ and factories. Masters of industry are bosses of industry: slave owners were business leaders, moguls, empire-builders, who arranged systems of human employment designed to maintain and reinforce their positions as the elite. A free and endless supply of laborers helps to maximize and centralize revenue. They “put people to work”, they were “job creators”. The overt system of African slave labor built the infrastructure of a more subtle wage slavery system. When the 13th Amendment was ratified and slaveholders lost their ability under the law to “create jobs” and “put people to work” in the old way, they simply used the wealth they had amassed from exploiting slave labor to tweak the process and procedure of slave-taking into something more accommodating. A “soft slavery” was demanded and provided, economic enslavement not imposed by physical brutality and violence, not limited to one marginalized group of humans determined by the color of one’s skin, not upheld by the illusion of racial divisions, but an all-inclusive and sneaky slavery, a slavery that masquerades with the facade of free will. The modern day equivalent to biblical master and slave is …… Employer and employee
This following scripture is the emphasis of the entire Bible. The first and greatest commandment is (Matthew 22:37-39(ESV)37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ) 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 the Lord God, who sent His son Jesus Christ as our atonement on the cross so we can have a right relationship with Him. Everyone has a personal relationship with Jesus. Some are redeemed and some are condemned. A right relationship with Christ is primary!
In this very instructive passage, the apostle deals with three things:
1. There is activity which is required by this relationship.
2. There is an attitude in which that activity is to be performed.
3. There is an awareness of a fundamental principle at work that keeps this whole relationship from degenerating into tyranny.
First, there is an activity required on the part of employees, and it is put in one word — obedience: “obey your earthly masters.” This is the same Greek word that occurs in Chapter 6, Verse 1, with regard to children. “Children, obey your parents.” We looked at that last week. It means to follow orders. It is a military term, and it means that Christian employees are under obligation to those who hire them to do what they say. It is really very simple. Do what the boss says, obey him. Don’t talk bad about him or her behind their back, don’t just give them lip service. Do what they say. If you are a janitor be the best janitor the company ever had. Follow orders.
Second, and this is the important thing which he says four different ways, Obey with a sincere heart. Ephesians 6:5-7(ESV)”with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” This means without divided loyalty, freedom from the tension that is created by conflicting loyalties. In other words, settle it once and for all in your mind that you are not there merely to please the boss, you are there to please the Lord. You are to carry your relationship of concern for the Lord to your work as well as to your church. You are to work as unto Christ, and your supreme concern is your loyalty to him. If you are trying to please two different forces, those around you and the Lord, you will be torn apart with a conflicting tension that never lets up. To begin with, workers are called to obey their employers with fear and trembling. We must notice that the fear and trembling is not because your boss is mean but because you represent Jesus at your job. You want to do a good job and work hard because whether your boss is a believer or not, will see the difference Christ makes in one’s life. It goes on to say, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
The bottom line is that whether you like your boss or not, whether your boss notices your efforts or not, you are to be diligent in your work. Sooner or later someone will notice that you don’t stand around and do nothing even when there’s nothing really to do, you find something. Even this is not for your benefit. We don’t want noticed to get ahead. Ephesians 6:6-7(ESV)6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, At times when other employees are grumbling and complaining you are hard at work. When we work hard and are faithful to our employers, we will get noticed and compensated. Because we are really working for the Lord and not for our employer, He will justly reward our efforts. So he says, obey “doing the will of God from the heart”. Paul expresses the same idea negatively, “not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers…” Then positively, “…but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”
Four times the idea is put forth: never work for men, you Christians, work only for God. You can work under a man’s direction, but remember that you are working unto the Lord, that your daily task is work that he has given you to do, and you do it unto him. What a glory this gives to every task. The first sign is eye-service. Do you know what that means? That means working only when the boss is watching. When he turns his back, you quit working. That is eye-service. It is that attitude that so widely invades our society today, the idea of working only when the boss is watching. If you are a Christian, this is absolutely forbidden if you want to be faithful to your Lord. Remember, the eye that watches you is not a human eye. Therefore, the first sign of a divided loyalty is eye-service.
The second sign of failure in this respect is men-pleasing. Notice how the apostle is putting his finger on the attitudes that are found so frequently in this relationship of labor and capital. Men-pleasing! What is it? It is playing office politics, buttering up the boss. It reveals a double heart, the lack of a single eye. It reveals that we are trying to get on by making men happy but disregarding what God thinks.
One other factor is added by way of motivation. There is to be an awareness, Paul says, of an unseen but powerful fact: Ephesians 6:8(ESV)8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. It does not make any difference what your status in life is. When work is done unto Christ, he undertakes to correct the conditions that make for unhappiness, or else to make compensate on another level. Notice that he does not promise always to correct the condition, because God’s will is that Christians must sometimes live as his Son lived, under very difficult and contrary conditions, and manifest his grace anyhow. They are poor homes, but homes where happiness dwells. It does not take wealth to be happy.
Third, There is an awareness of a fundamental principle at work that keeps this whole relationship from degenerating into tyranny. Employers must be certain that his or her lifestyle is not a contradiction. Any attempt to bring Christianity into the workplace will backfire if the employees or customers see hypocrisy in a boss’s personal life or ethics. When Christian employers consider themselves first and foremost servants of Christ, they will see their position as a divine assignment from God. (Romans 1:1(ESV)Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, They will make all decisions based on pleasing Jesus as the real Boss.
Treat them justly and fairly. Christian bosses have no right to treat employees as personal possessions. They are not existing for your enrichment. You have no right merely to extract money from them, to exploit them, to use the sweat of their brow only that you may become richer. No Christian master has the right to think this way. Treat them as people with problems, and listen to their problems, do something about them. This is his exhortation.
If you are an employee, the Lord shows us through Paul how He wants us to walk in the spirit and submit at our jobs. Like with all the rest of the relational texts and examples, we are to obey the Scriptures for the glory of Christ. You are to work hard at your job, not to get ahead but to bring glory to your Lord.
Ephesians 6:8-9(ESV)8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Whether employer or employee, children of God should live every day in the fear of the Lord. When our relationship with God holds top priority in our lives, all other relationships will benefit. One major relational shift that faith in Christ should produce is the servant attitude Jesus had. Mark 10:42–45(ESV)42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. We all come the same way: broken, humble, and repentant. We leave justified and forgiven, but with a new heart to love and serve others. Even if employees do not know Christ, a Christian employer can demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) with humility and patience. If the boss isn’t a Christian the employee can still show the fruits of the spirit as well and serve the boss knowing he is doing his or her work as unto the Lord. The thrust of this passage inescapable, we are to do our work as if Jesus was our employer. We are to do it diligently but with a proper attitude. Realizing that Jesus is our employer is the only way we can labor under certain less favorable conditions with a godly attitude. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
If you’re a worker, work for the greatest Boss in the world, work for Jesus.
The Lord takes us a step further here than to simply say as an employee…work hard!! Jesus would tell us to work hard with a proper attitude. The only way this can take place is if we are walking in the Spirit. It’s not the deed done well only but the motivation is just as important.