Ephesians 6:5–9comment (0)
March 6, 2014
By Catherine Lawrence
Related Scripture: Ephesians 6:5–9
Bible Studies for Life
Department of Religion, Samford University
Who We Work For
Last week’s lesson reminded Christians that work is a gift from God. This week’s lesson reminds Christians that we work for Christ. Ephesians 6:5–9 forms the biblical foundation of our study.
In Ephesians 5:22–6:9 Paul sets forth the reciprocal duties of members of the household — wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. This week’s session passage focuses on the third set of household members: slaves and masters.
In Ephesians 6:5–9, Paul describes in some detail the duties of the Christian slave and Christian master. The apostle lived in a cultural context in which slavery found wide acceptance, yet in Ephesians 6 Paul seems neither to endorse nor condemn the institution of slavery itself. Instead he instructs those living within that context on how they ought to relate to one another in light of knowing Christ. While not every aspect of the master/slave relationship applies to our current context, the passage still offers valuable insights for Christians concerning the employer/employee relationship.
The Christian slave had one fundamental duty: to obey his master. But Paul framed that obedience in light of the slave’s relationship with Christ, so that obedience to an earthly master now became something the slave did as unto the Lord Himself. Christian employees have the same duty: we must obey our employers or supervisors (unless asked to do something illegal or immoral), realizing that it is our Christian duty to do so. That is, we obey our employers as an expression of obedience to the Lord Himself. Thus no matter the situation Christian employees find themselves in — whether with a difficult or a favorable employer — employees must seek to be obedient “as to the Lord and not to men” (v. 6).
When obedience to earthly masters is set in the context of obedience to Christ, every aspect of the slave’s work should reflect a high standard. Paul mentions a number of qualities that should characterize the Christian slave who works as unto the Lord: conscientious — “with fear and trembling” (v. 5); sincere — “in singleness of heart” (v. 5); works hard always, whether or not the master is watching — “not only while being watched, in order to please them” (v. 6); wholehearted effort — “doing the will of God from the heart” (v. 6); enthusiastic attitude — “render service with enthusiasm” (v. 7). Paul encourages the good efforts of Christian slaves by reminding them that the Lord Himself would reward them for their obedience and enthusiastic service.
What qualities characterize our work? Are we lazy? Do we complain? Do we give our full effort at all times? Do we seek to please Christ in how we work? Does our attitude at work represent Christ well? Paul suggests that knowing we work for Christ should positively impact how we work.
The Christian master also had duties. For one, the master was to act toward the slave with the same awareness of Christ and the same heartfelt attitude that the slave exhibited in his work for the master. The master also was not to threaten his slaves. Slaves in the New Testament era sometimes endured brutal treatment at the hands of their masters, but Paul commanded Christian masters not to treat slaves poorly. A master instead should treat his slaves with respect and kindness. The motivation to do this lies in the master’s accountability to God. In fact, both master and slave have the same heavenly Master who shows no favoritism.
Christian employers or supervisors can learn from Paul’s commands to Christian masters. Employers should desire to please Christ in the same manner as those whom they employ. Also employers should treat their employees not harshly but with
respect, for employers themselves are subject to God, and God is no respecter of persons.