“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…” Ephesians 6:5-6
Someone once described integrity to me as being consistent moral character, even when no one is watching. In other words, your public display should also match your private display. What does this look like? You’re not only a church attendee on Sundays, but you’re a pursuer of God Monday through Saturday. You’re honest in your dealings with people. Your private prayer life surpasses your public one. This is what integrity looks like. It is a life lived for the praise and approval of God and not man.
Today’s passage is somewhat of a tricky one. The Bible doesn’t speak against slavery itself, but rather it speaks against its abuses. Mistreatment and abuse of mankind will always be something that grieves the heart of God. However, since our context for slavery would primarily fall under its sinful expressions, when we read these verses, I imagine we wonder at them. Is God condoning slavery? Does the Bible say it’s permissible? Slaves were very common in Biblical times, and they were commonly abused by their owners. Because Paul’s audience was very familiar with the presence of slavery, there was a great need for this to be addressed.
My approach to our passage today will not be one of addressing slavery. Instead, I want to speak to the principles that I believe Paul is addressing here: integrity and respect. In order for us to be able to apply this teaching to our lives, let’s look at this in regards to the employer/employee relationship. The command to be obedient in verse 5 literally means to maintain a continuous submission to one’s earthly master. For us, this would refer to our boss. Who do you report to? Even if you are the boss, there is some level of accountability that should be above you. Are you obedient to those that have been placed over you in authority? Do you only obey or submit when they are watching?
The matter at hand is respect for authority and integrity in it. I’ve already confessed that this is a tough one for me; however, we are not off the hook just because this obedience is hard. Scripture doesn’t tell us to respect those that deserve respect or those who are respectable. We are told to unequivocally respect those above us in authority. Period. As with the previous teaching on submission from Ephesians 6, God never requires us to submit to authority when it comes to sin, but in every other way, we are to submit to and respect the authority that God has placed over us. The reason we are to respect them is not because they might deserve our respect, but it is because we are to be respecting them “as servants of Christ”, or as we would respect and serve Christ Himself. Essentially, Paul is telling us here that to serve your employer with a sincere heart and with respect is to serve the Lord well. This, my friends, is an act of worship.
When it comes to our obedience, God is after our hearts, not our hands. He cares far more about our motivations and intentions than our production or performance. While man looks at the outward appearance and judges based on performance, God looks at the heart. Are we working as unto the Lord in all things? Are we seeking to be honest and integral at work? Do we demonstrate respect for our authority, both publicly and privately? Because, what we do when no one is watching is who we really are.