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Summary: Paul continues the general teaching of this section of the letter: The Christian is different—a new man—and therefore behaves differently.

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe Date: 1/31/18

Lesson 26: Slaves and Masters (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Ephesians 6:5-9 (KJV)

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;

6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,

8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Introduction

The Roman Empire of the first century was a world of slavery on a grand scale. A century before Paul sent his letter to Ephesus, Julius Caesar reportedly shipped back to Rome somewhere in the neighborhood of a million slaves. They made up anywhere between twenty and thirty-five percent of the population. It has been computed that in the Roman Empires there were 60,000,000 slaves. Without them the Empire could never have functioned as it did.

In Paul’s day a kind of terrible idleness had fallen on the citizens of Rome. Rome was the mistress of the world, and therefore it was beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen to work. Practically all work was done by slaves. Even doctors and teachers, even the closest friends of the Emperors, their secretaries who dealt with letters and appeals and finance, were slaves. For the most part, though, the life of the slave was grim and terrible. In the eyes of the law he was not a person but a thing [a tool].

The abolition of slavery was far from the mind of the apostle Paul. In any case, he was utterly powerless to bring it about and it would have been futile for him to attempt it. Furthermore, Paul operated under the deep confection that social and personal conditions were not the primary issue in life—fellowship with God, freedom from sin, transformation into Christ-likeness, and the advance of the kingdom of God—these were his central concerns.

Here, then, we have apostolic teaching on how the gospel of grace functions in a social order we find intolerable. But the principles Paul expresses are also applicable today to the social order with which we are familiar. We are not slaves. We have not been sold to a master. Yet we have “sold” forty or so hours in the week, in many cases, to a “master.” We do this under carefully controlled conditions [We can withdraw our labor at any time, we have organized support groups (unions), and we do not fear physical reprisals.]. Yet there are lessons here about attitudes and the use of time that we can apply to our own workaday situation.

The Narrative (Ephesians 6:5-9, KJV)

Paul continues the general teaching of this section of the letter: The Christian is different—a new man—and therefore behaves differently. He repeats the specific note he has struck throughout this subsection on basic relationships?The Christian is characterized by a spirit of appropriate submission because he or she has submitted to Jesus Christ. The basic disposition of a believer is different from that of the unbeliever, and his or her style of living is different too. Paul therefore lists several marks of the Christian slave.

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;

SLAVES are to obey their masters, and to do so with FEAR and TREMBLING. The word fear [our word “phobia,” a fear of something] can mean anything from loving reverence to real terror. In the context of this passage, the meaning is nearer the former than the latter. Paul has used it in this sense in 5:21 [We are to submit to one another in reverence, fear, honor, and respect for Christ.] and 5:33 [Where he says that the wife reverences, fears, honors, and respects her husband.].

Here however Paul takes this a stage further. He uses the phrase FEAR AND TREMBLING. Elsewhere, he taught that this disposition is to characterize the Christian in general; we are to work out our salvation with “FEAR AND TREMBLING” (Philippians 2:12). There it refers to the Christian’s disposition towards the Lord. The same expression is used to describe the way the Corinthians received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:15). In both instances it describes a loyalty whose anxiety lies in the thought that a loved one might be let down. Paul is calling for the same godly disposition here, as he adds with a sincere heart, AS you would CHRIST. It is in the relationship of the believer to his or her master that that expression is given to the relationship with heaven that lies behind it.

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