“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.” Ephesians 6:5-8
People, in large part, approach God’s Word like a buffet, picking and choosing the parts that are most palatable to them. I know this is true, not only because I have been guilty of this very thing, but I continue to witness this reality again and again as I teach God’s Word. When people don’t hear what they want to hear, or when what they hear displeases them in some way and makes them feel uncomfortable (or convicted), they leave. Or perhaps it’s a matter of misunderstanding. Many parts of Scripture seem difficult to understand, so rather than studying it and digging deeper, those parts are pushed aside and neglected. I think, perhaps, that this portion of Ephesians might just be one of those passages.
Right away, we find ourselves in the middle of controversy with the opening word “slaves”. “Clearly God’s Word doesn’t approve of slavery, does it?” Some may find themselves asking this very question. And yet, the question I’m posing to you today is, “Are you a good employee?” What does that have to do with anything? When reading and studying Scripture, it is vital that we do so in its original context. The apostle Paul was addressing a group of people in the city of Ephesus that were very accustomed to slavery, and not necessarily the type of slavery that we might think. Our minds probably immediately jump to The Civil War and civil rights issues, whereas that was not necessarily the case in Paul’s time. At least half of the time, people would enslave themselves to those that they owed a debt to that they could not pay in order to pay off what they owed through work. This wasn’t forced on them. They chose it themselves. Other times, a person or family would enslave themselves to an affluent family that would provide shelter and food for them in exchange for their service.
So, there is a principle that we are to take away from these few verses, and it is not Scripture’s endorsement of slavery. The principle is this:
“Obey your earthly masters.”
That word “obey” has a tendency to almost induce a gag reflex in our culture. We do not want to be told what to do and when to do it. We want to be the boss of our own lives. The fact of the matter is, however, that most of us work for someone else, or at least from time to time report to someone in authority over us, and all of us have some form of authority over us (police, the government, etc.). What is the attitude of our hearts in response to our authority? Do we readily and willingly submit to their leadership? Do we obey them? Because the command is not simply to obey and respect our earthly “masters”, but we are to do this as we would obey and respect Christ Himself. That raises the bar a bit, doesn’t it? Do you ever think about the fact that Jesus Christ is ultimately your boss? Because He is. Does your work reflect that reality? Do you fulfill your daily duties and requirements as if working for the Lord Himself? Because you are. Does the work that you produce point towards your faith in Jesus or are you just giving enough to get by? Are you a good employee? Because like all other things, God looks at the motive of the heart. He sees past the outer façade that we portray and looks right to the heart of the matter. Verse 5 not only tells us to obey our earthly masters, but to do so with a sincere heart. Do you only obey when you’re being watched? Do you use company time for personal affairs? Do you only give half the effort that is expected of you because you’ve learned how to get by with the least amount of effort? Are you working as unto the Lord and not men, understanding that God is your boss and it is Him that you will answer to?
As always, it comes down to a matter of the heart. Man will always judge by the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. Is your heart in the right place in this regard? Would your boss consider you a good employee? And why am I even asking the question today? Because it’s a matter of obedience. God cares about this. Therefore, so should we.