Summary: Presents how Christians are to conduct themselves in the workplace.
Today is Sunday, the first day of the week but better known to most people as the last day of the weekend. Tomorrow is Monday – back to work or to school. Back to the daily grind. Today you are in here in worship, fellowshipping with brothers and sisters. You are nice; you are friendly. Some of you are working – teaching S.S., hosting Community Dinner, going to the Nursing Homes, ushering and watching over the worship service. You do it out of pleasure because you enjoy serving the Lord.
But tomorrow, it’s back to working in a job that is stressful or boring; it’s back to studying. What then? That is the concern of our morning’s passage. It wraps up a section on relations and duties in the home. The roles and responsibilities of wives and husbands have been addressed, then those of children and parents. Now the Apostle Paul turns to the slaves who serve as servants in homes.
This raises immediately the question of the practice of slavery. Does the Bible endorse it? The subject merits a sermon of its own, but for now, to have time for the real issue of the text, you’ll have to settle for the short answer, which is no, the Bible does not endorse the owning of persons as property. Do understand, though, that the system of slavery of the New Testament world was different than that of slavery in the U.S. The duties of slaves, who may have made up half the population of the Roman Empire, ranged from doing menial labor to serving in high positions. Slaves served as teachers, physicians, managers of households, estates, shops, and ships. They were city administrators. They could own their own property. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states:
In outward appearance it was usually impossible to distinguish among slaves, freedmen and free persons. Neither the slave’s clothing nor his or her race revealed a legal or social status. Patterns of religious life, friends, or work did not separate slaves from freed persons or freeborn workers.
Most slaves in Paul’s day could count on being set free by age thirty. Indeed, Augustus Caesar introduced a law to restrict setting slaves free before then because of the common practice of doing it before that age.
So, the issues for slaves are similar to those of anyone today in the workplace, or anywhere in which someone is working under another person’s authority. With that in mind, let’s look at our text:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
When you are studying a Bible text, your goal is to get to the primary point of the passage. Sometimes that can be difficult simply because there is so much to get from Scripture, and sometimes the writer himself is not clear. But every now and then you get a passage like ours in which the writer could not be clearer. To both slaves and masters he instructs, Do your work and relate to your master or slave under the perspective that you ultimately are serving the Lord and are accountable to him. Every verse enforces this message:
v. 5 – as you would Christ
v. 6 – as servants of Christ…doing the will of God
v. 7 – as to the Lord
v. 8 – from the Lord
v. 9 – their Master and yours is in heaven
Paul pastored the church of Ephesus for more than two years. No doubt, his church members would come to him with troubles they encountered. “Paul, my master is so unreasonable. Why do I have to put with him?” “Paul, I am a Christian and my master is a pagan. Why should I have to listen to him?” “Paul, I don’t get any credit for what I do right, and my master is always quick to get on me for the slightest thing.” Or, “Paul, if you had to deal with such lazy servants like I have...” “Paul, if you noticed my servant not in church this morning, it’s because of the punishment I had to deal out to him. He can be so irritating.” Maybe there’s another reason, other than evangelism, why Paul didn’t hang around long after starting a church!