Devotional # 112. 11/24/14. Ephesians 6:5-9.
Intro. This week Americans are celebrating the United States holiday Thanksgiving. And regardless of whether you live in Hungary or anywhere else in the world we have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we?! It bugs me when preachers try and force a holiday into the Scripture they are studying. But in reading over today’s Scripture I see a special correlation to the holiday of Thanksgiving. For most of us we don’t have a lot of experience being a slave, or owning slaves. It’s interesting how the Holy Spirit uses our current circumstances to bring a different perspective to help us understand His wisdom.
I also find it fascinating that Abraham Lincoln is known for his work with anti-slavery but did you know that he’s the President who made Thanksgiving a national holiday? It’s no coincidence that a man so impacted by the Bible would stand up for the helpless yet recognize the blessing that God has poured out on everyone.
v. 5. Paul points out that masters are only over slaves “according to the flesh” which means masters on earth are over slaves only while on earth. By inference he’s encouraging slaves to not worry about the material realm but focus on the spiritual.
Paul says “as to Christ” which was the same mindset that children were to have towards parents in last week’s study. Notice that just in this little section that we’re studying Paul says this 6 times*: that a slave is not working for his human master but instead to Jesus, working the will of God.
But if Paul is encouraging slaves to obey their masters because it will only last a little while (while on earth) why does he tell them to it with “fear and trembling”? It is the same as a couple weeks ago when we studied Ephesians 5:21 when we Christians were supposed to submit to each other “in the fear of God.” Remember this type of “fear” of God was to revere Him and be awed by Him (Devotional # 109)? So it made sense that if God had established other Christians for “all the duties of the respective places and stations that God has allotted to us in the world” (Source 1) than we would submit to each other, everyone equal under Christ. In Rome many Christians owned slaves (we’ll see reasons why it was “acceptable”) as well as non-Christians. So am I off base by relating this to the same type of “fear of God” we saw in Ephesians 5? No, I’m not off base (I bet you thought I’d say that!) But it’s because both go back to the exact same origin: that God is in control. So if all Christians submit to all other Christians recognizing that it is the Lord who has commanded this and that He will guide them, then in the same way a Christian slave can recognize that they should submit to someone God has commanded be over them and that God will guide that master (even if not a Christian). It goes back to the proper understanding of Romans 14 which many Christians don’t follow (at least not in word, if in deed).
*working for God. v. 5 once: (“as to Christ”), v. 6 twice: (“as bondservants of Christ” and “doing the will of God”), v. 7 once: (“as to the Lord”), v. 8 once: (“he will receive the same from the Lord”), v. 9 once: (“knowing that your own Master also is in heaven”).
v. 6. I fail this verse pretty much every day. But I love this verse because it tells me how I SHOULD be living. Most of the time I work really hard when my boss is watching, I prepare something when I know one of the VP’s is going to ask about it, I pick up trash and set up chairs when our lead pastor is watching, I do the dishes when I want something from my wife. The list goes on and on.
But Paul’s exhortation is that Christians need to be known as honest, hard-working people regardless of whether their boss is around or not. I need constant reminders of this so I have it hanging on my work station so I see it every day. I also have another verse hanging there: Psalm 75:7 which says, “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (NIV). These two verses put a nice little parameter around my work time. They tell me: ‘Don’t work to impress anyone because you won’t get the raise or the promotion or job unless God puts you there.’
Another part that gets me is to work “from the heart.” It’s not enough to work hard regardless of whether someone is watching – we need to have a good attitude. This makes sense since God is always interested in the heart. Interestingly when we do our work cheerfully regardless of who is watching (and regardless of how much we hate our job) we are modeling Jesus for the people who end up seeing us when we’re unaware.
We may be tempted to lump this in to our service to God (and there is nothing wrong with a good work ethic when it comes to the ministry) but that would be incorrect. By context this applies specifically to slave/master and since within the Mediterranean culture slavery was everywhere (just in the Roman Empire there were 60 million slaves) (Source 2) it makes sense to apply this to the employee/ boss, work relationship.
vv. 7-8. Notice that Paul doesn’t say, ‘standup for your rights!’ He doesn’t say, ‘take hold of your God-given freedom – rise up and don’t be a slave anymore.’ What he does say is as a “bondservant” of Jesus (v. 6) if you do the Lords will, if you bear fruit as the Spirit leads you (i.e. “good” things) then you will be rewarded for them. The idea isn’t to escape the difficulties that you go through but to make the best of them. God has made you capable of handling whatever situation you’re going through. Yes, one of the points is that you will have to rely on Him. We’ve discussed the idea of a “bondservant” before; it was a slave who realized that they had it so good with their master that when they were finally set free they decided to stay with the master and continued to serve. We, as Christians, have realized that it is good to stay with our Master! Even if we are a slave on earth our human master isn’t really our master…it is Jesus and as such we do His commands and who better at keeping His word and being faithful than Jesus? So when He says we will be rewarded and He will take care of us we know it to be true.
v. 9. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t tell masters to stop owning slaves. First, lets discuss what the 3 things slave owners are commanded to do: 1. To “do the same things to them”: treat your slaves as you want to be treated. 2. Stop “threatening” your slaves: just as parents aren’t to provoke their children, masters shouldn’t abuse their power. 3. Recognizing that they have a “Master” who is “in heaven” and He doesn’t show favoritism: although Romans masters were used to being flattered, Jesus isn’t partial to people (Source 3).
The next question is why doesn’t Paul (or any other NT writer) demand everyone to emancipate their slaves? For quite a few reasons: 1. Because the entire society functioned that way it would cause anarchy and everything would fall apart with many people dying. 2. Paul is speaking to a group of people (Christians) who were small and “insignificant” belonging to an illegal religion and “politically powerless.” 3. Even if they had immediately freed all their slaves, they would be sentencing their slaves to poverty and ultimately starvation, because… 4. Rome was set up where masters free’d a slave and then would establish them (often times the slave would become better off than the master!) 5. Laws were causing the treatment of slaves to get better and better (Source 3). So although slavery was never OK and eventually it was Christians who often ended slavery in many places* what God was giving Paul here were instructions on how people were supposed to make the most of their circumstances. And understand that in God’s eyes everyone is equal.
*Christians who stood against slavery: I love the stories of John Newton and William Wilberforce. For more listen to my “Early Church History” part VI here (http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=5214036176 ).
Conclusion. Both the Christian slave and the Christian free person should be thankful. The free person has been blessed by having freedom and the slave is blessed because God is using them through trials. But both are blessed because they have spiritual freedom and a home in heaven!
Knowing the context that we read verses is almost as important as a verse itself. When I break up verses for these devotionals it is not because I am trying to take them out of context or make them say something that they aren’t saying but so that we can focus on a part at a time. The reason I say this here is because the next verses are about the armor of God. It will mean more when we study the armor of God if we understand that Paul has been talking about healthy submission. Specifically here, the slave, having read that when they work they are serving God, will move onto hearing that spiritually he is dressed as a warrior. What do you think that does for the neglected? Can you imagine being told your whole life that you were less than human and then finding out that you could chose a Master, one who loved you and died for your sins but beyond that, He would fit you with a spiritual sword, shield and breastplate? It would give you a spiritual confidence. What about each of us reading this? Are we slaves? Are we masters?
Certainly most of us are not in the way that Paul’s intended audience was, but all have to work for a human boss and many of us have influence over others in some way or another. I won’t make a sin correlation because that’s not what the context is saying. But I think we can take encouragement on how to act and the proper mindset to have when it comes to our bosses. I also think that if we are tutors or managers or teachers or any other leading role then we can learn how to correctly treat our subordinates.
Source 1: Matthew Henry, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Eph/Eph_005.cfm?a=1102001
Source 2: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, p. 250, 1979.
Source 3: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, pp. 254-257, 1979.