Summary: Whether we’re at the top of the heap, in the middle, or at the bottom, we serve one Master, to whom we will give account (#13 in The Christian Victor series)
“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; not by way of eye service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 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.”
I recently watched an episode of “Law and Order”, in which the police uncovered a very large ring of slave traders. They were smuggling very young children, kidnapped from their homes in Nigeria, into the states and selling them to wealthy people as slaves.
I don’t know if anything like that has actually happened in recent history. The show advertises that its stories are ‘ripped from the headlines’, but I don’t remember hearing about such an incident. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or couldn’t.
Whether isolated cases such as this do occur or not though, by and large slavery has been abandoned in this country. It is illegal. I know a lot of people in the workplace who wish someone would tell their bosses about that.
Nevertheless, Ephesians 6:5-9 is not, by any stretch of the imagination, rendered meaningless for us by virtue of the abolition of slavery in the free world.
Paul has been giving instructions for the maintenance of Godly relationships; wife to husband, husband to wife, child to parent and parent to child, and now slave to master. Servant to superior. Employee to Employer. And visa versa.
But you may remember that in each case, the real picture; the real purpose; has been to typify some aspect of the relationship between Christ and the church.
Husband/wife, Christ and His bride. Child/parent, The church and God the Father, Christ and the Father. So here, we will see this relationship through yet another side of this prism.
ALL SERVICE AS TO CHRIST
Now we’re going to start at the foundation of this passage and build on it. The key phrase here, I think, is ‘as to Christ’.
We cannot just spiritualize this passage and ignore that there is sound and practical counsel here for the one in service to another; whether it be forced slavery, domestic servitude (such as a modern day live-in servant) or employees in the modern workplace.
Paul says, “be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh,” so we cannot shrug it off and move on. There are those who have a problem with this, when they just read it and go on without thinking it through.
We would all agree, I think, that it was not God’s original intent for any man to own another man, or have such power over him as to keep him in bondage and forced labor. He looked with pity on the children of Israel, in the bitterness of their bondage to Egypt, and He delivered them.
To Moses He gave laws concerning the treatment of servants, and even provided for their release after seven years of service; so that even indentured servants would not be forever under the thumb of another.
So why does Paul admonish slaves to be obedient to those who are their masters according to the flesh? Why not tell them to run away? Take the underground railroad and start a new life of freedom in a distant land?
Well, for one thing, during the time Paul was writing, if Christians had revolted in that way against slavery, which was legal and accepted by the most powerful government in the world, Rome certainly would have done its best to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth.
Sure, they did try, but there would have been a very deliberate effort to crush the new church completely and finally, and people would not have been dying for Christ, or for the gospel message, but for political rebellion.
Christians, from the very first, have never been called upon by God to change society. They have never been expected by God to reform society.
The commission of the church is not to actively rebel against the oppression of government, or march out as activists to cure society’s ills and try to mandate morality.
The mission of the church is to tell the good news of the shed blood and resurrection of Christ to the world. Social reform, moral improvement, Godly government, are ultimately the result of the furtherance of the Kingdom of God in any society.
If you re-read Matthew 28:18-20 in this light, you will notice that the only commission Jesus gives to His disciples, and therefore to us, is to make disciples of men, baptize them, and then, to teach them to observe His commandments.