Summary: Slavery, work, and being a servant of Christ.
What Employees and Employers Owe One Another
Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free [Eph. 6:5-8].
Servants (lit., slaves) are to be obedient to masters according to the flesh, meaning the masters down here on earth. Servants are not to serve with eyeservice -- with one eye on the clock or working only when the boss is looking. They are not to serve as "men-pleasers." In other words, they are not to butter up the boss. Service is to be done as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the soul.
There is a responsibility put upon a believer who is a laborer and also a responsibility put upon one who is an employer. This is the employer-employee relationship. In Paul's day it was an even sharper division than it is now -- it was really master and slave. Remember that this entire section began in chapter 5, verse 21, which says, "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." That sounds all right for Sunday, for the church service, but what about Monday morning when we go to work?
Perhaps 6 million people living in the Roman Empire were slaves. Christianity never attacked the evil of slavery. Rather it reached down to the slave in his degradation and lifted him up, assuring him of his liberty in Christ. The very nature of the gospel condemned slavery. It eventually broke the shackles of slavery from the bodies of men and cut the fetters from their minds and souls. Multitudes of slaves came to Christ, as we learn in Romans 16 -- many of those named there were slaves or members of the Praetorian guard.
In the United States of America the South had to lose the Civil War. They had to lose because slavery was wrong. That doesn't mean that the North was right in the method used, but it does mean that the principle of slavery was wrong. A good question to ponder: Which side would you honestly have been on if you lived then?
"Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters." Notice the Word of God says to "be obedient." This reveals that Christianity did not recommend revolution against the evil practice of slavery. It preached a gospel which was more revolutionary than revolution has ever been. Revolution has always had bad side effects, leaving bitterness and hatred which has lasted through the centuries. The gospel of Christ will break down the middle wall of partition -- which in our day is prejudice and discrimination of one race against another -- and will replace it with real brotherly love.
If the Word of God were preached as it was in the early days of the United States, and if those who profess to be Christian were obedient and loyal to those to whom they owe obedience and loyalty, it would change the entire complexion of American life today.
J. Vernon McGee: "A man is not a Christian just because he has made a profession of Christianity and calls himself a child of God on Sunday. Whether or not he is a genuine Christian is revealed by fruit, such as his loyalty to his employer, to his family, to his home, to his church, etc. When a professing Christian is disloyal in these areas of his life, the chances are he will also be disloyal to Christ. He certainly has no effective witness for Christ."
"Servants, be obedient to...your masters according to the flesh" makes it clear that slavery applied only to the bodies of men and not to their souls. This obedience was to be with "fear and trembling." This does not mean abject and base cringing before a master, but it does mean treating him with respect and dignity.
"In singleness of your heart" means there should not be any two-facedness. There should not be the kissing of the ring of the employer when he is around and then stabbing him in the back when he is away.
The servant's obedience is to be done "as unto Christ." This shows that the slave has been lifted from the base position of degradation where he sullenly worked as little as possible and only when his master was watching. Now he is the slave of Christ, and Christ has made him free. He is to look above the earthly master in his attempt to please his Master in heaven. An earthly master could control only the bodies of the slaves. The slaves of Christ have yielded their souls to Him, even their total personalities. Remember that Paul called himself the bondslave of Jesus Christ.
"With good will doing service" means that their attitudes should reflect their Christian service. When a child of God -- whether a slave or a master, employer or employee -- gets to the place where the motive of his life is to please Christ, then the hardships of work life are more easily passed over.