Ephesians 6:5, “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;
The letter is written by the Apostle Paul, to the church in Ephesus, a real location in Turkey, you can visit today, and in the opening words of the first chapter we see the Father’s plan is to sum up all things in Jesus, things in heaven and things on earth will be summed up in Jesus as He comes to restore, reclaim, and renew everything that belongs to Him (Verse 10). That’s the plan!
Therefore, in Ephesians 1, 2 and 3 the Apostle Paul is teaching how this plan of restoration takes place theologically, and in chapters 4, 5, and 6 the Apostle Paul is teaching us how this plan of restoration takes place practically today.
In Ephesians 5 and 6 we see the Apostle Paul starts taking Jesus’ plan of restoration all the way down to the marital level, the parenting level, the children level, and in verse 5 we see the employee / employer level of restoration, and verse 5 starts off with “slaves, be obedient to those who are you masters according to the flesh.”
Now, I am guessing that most of us see the word “slave” in verse 5, and it makes us uncomfortable. We are thinking, “Doesn’t seem like ‘slave’ should fit into Jesus’ plan of restoration, right?
Perhaps we have even had a college professor say that the Bible endorses slavery, and yes, there have been pastors who have used these verses to endorse American Slavery, particularly in the south, but this was and is a complete misuse of Scripture.
The Bible in no way endorses the events of American Slavery. In fact, the word “slave” in verse 5 is not the same understanding of “slave” that we experienced in American Slavery, because the context of this passage is taking place during the Roman Empire, and the Roman Empire was dominated by slavery, but it was different than American Slavery.
The Roman Empire didn’t have the types of banking systems, or credit cards like we have today, so it was common when people found themselves in financial strain in the Roman Empire that they would bond themselves to a wealthier, more established person as a “slave” for a period of time until they could get back on their feet financially.
Therefore, in verse 5 the “slave / master” context would be better understood as “employee / employer” context, and the Apostle Paul is drawing out what it looks like practically to live out Jesus’ plan of restoration of His creation in the normal, every day parts of our lives.
Just as a side note: Right now our culture is talking a lot about race, and American Slavery, and we are about to hit an election cycle, and we need to hold two things in tension when we explore this discussion.
First, we need to lean into empathy, listening, and understanding, especially as a non-black person when we participate in this discussion of race and American Slavery.
You might have an impulse to say, “That happened 200 years ago, what does it have to do with me” but we would be naïve to assume that those horrific events didn’t linger into multiple generations to come, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally, and we need to lean in with empathy, listening, and learning.
Second, there is narrative in our culture today that the local church in the United States has been indifferent to American Slavery as a whole, and yes, there are obvious events where men and women should have spoken up, but that doesn’t mean the whole of the local church was indifferent to American Slavery.
We know historically there was a movement of men and women from the evangelical church, who looked at the Scriptures, looked at American Slavery and said, “That’s not right” and it would be naïve to assume otherwise.
Therefore, as a culture engages this conversation around race and American Slavery, especially as a new election cycle emerges, we need to lean on empathy, listening, learning, not to assuming that the evangelical church is indifferent to racism.
Lets get back to verse 5. In verse 5, Jesus plan of restoration is in full effect, even at the work of our hands, and the Apostle Paul is teaching the employee to work as though he or she is working unto Christ.
Listen, I am guessing some of us are thinking, “I am not working as an employee” but the whole context of the passage is any relationship where we are under someone’s authority.
As a student, we have teachers who function as an authority. On a team in sports, we have coaches who function as an authority. As a child, we have parents who function as an authority. In our church family, our elder’s function as an authority over our spiritual lives, and the Apostle Paul is teaching us in Jesus, our heart attitude, is to work as though he or she is working as to Christ.
Behind that teacher is Christ, behind that coach is Christ, behind that parent is Christ, behind that elder is Christ, and our heart attitude is to work as though he or she is working as to Christ. You with me?
In verse 5, when you see the phrase, “fear and trembling” it isn’t because we are to live in fear and trembling of our employer, teacher, coach, parents, or elders, which is why this couldn’t possibly apply to American Slavery, but our “fear and trembling” is, “As to Christ.”
We might say, “But what if that person of authority is contrary to our faith in Christ?” Yes, there are times we need to stand up, speak up, push back, and perhaps seek employment elsewhere, but even in our “push back” we are doing so with respect, “As to Christ.”
Ephesians 6:6-8, “6 not by way of eye service, 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.”
How many times do we act a certain way because the teacher is in the room? How many times do we work harder because the employer walks in the room?
But, in verse 6 the Apostle Paul writes, “not by way of eye service, not as men-pleasers” but, verse 5, “With sincerity of heart, “we work as though everything we do is unto the Lord” and then the Apostle Paul places all of this conversation in context and writes, “Not as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”
Much of the language in the local church today about our faith in Jesus is largely what we receive in Jesus. We talk about freedom, joy, power, becoming new, sons and daughters, are all those things are true, but Scripture is really clear that there is another layer to what we receive in Jesus and it is, “As slaves of Christ.”
Now, you might not see this phrase, “slaves of Christ” as bold as it is in verse 6, and it is because many times the original word is translated into English as “servants, and bondservants” because it is softer, but in the original language the word is “slave.” In fact, in the original language the word “slave” is used 130 times.
Additionally, the Apostle Paul refers to himself as a “slave of Christ” Romans 1? Both Peter and John refer to themselves as “slaves of Christ” Acts 4? James refers to himself as a “slave of Christ” James 1. Jude refers to himself as a “slave of Christ” Jude 1. Epaphras, not an Apostle, but a follower of Jesus is referred to as a “slave of Christ” Colossians 1.
Now, remember this isn’t American Slavery, but it is the connotation of someone who is in debt, and our debt is not financial, but spiritual, and it is a spiritual debt that goes all the way back to Genesis 3, what we talked about last Sunday, when we become slaves of sin.
Illustration: As American’s and Western thinkers we will say to ourselves, “I am not a slave of sin.” We have been taught we are masters of our fate, captains of our ship, and it sounds great on one of those inspirational posters, and then we look at our lives, and we don’t see a life of freedom.
We try to stop eating, but we can’t. We try to sleep, but we can’t. We try to get our life organized, and we can’t. Even Netflix is like, “Are you still watching?” It is because we are all born into sin, spiritual darkness, and spiritual slavery. (Romans 6)
The good news is that a Savior has come to set us free. His name is Jesus. Jesus comes to take the curse of Genesis 3 upon Himself at the cross. Jesus comes to break the bonds of death, Psalm 107. Jesus comes to pay our spiritual debt, Colossians 2.
We are crucified with Christ, Galatians 2:20. The doors to the prison house are swung open, Acts 16, and we are not set free to wonder out on our own, but we are ushered into a slavery of righteousness, Romans 6.
That’s why 1 Corinthians 6 says, “We are not our own. We have been bought with a price!” And Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is not just a warming story, but Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Master, and we are “slaves of Christ.”
Listen to me, it is possible you might have this connotation of Jesus putting you in a headlock and dragging you into this relationship, but this is the greatest news because Jesus is the greatest Master.
Jesus is the One who loves us while we were yet sinners. Jesus is the One who is despised and rejected, and yet Jesus pursues you to the point of death. Jesus is the One holding all of creation together. Jesus is One bringing breath into my lungs right now. This is the best news ever. Jesus is the greatest Master to serve.
Perhaps it helps to think of it like this. Recently someone gave us some houseplants, and our house faces North / South, so we don’t really have any windows that get sun throughout the day, and after about a week of this house plant living in the darkened caverns of our home it started to wilt.
The leaves started to turn yellow, then brown, and this once thriving plant is starting to look sickly, and wilt, so last week I found one window in my house in a back bedroom that gets a little bit of afternoon sun, and just after a few days the plant is starting to thrive under the healing rays of the sun.
It is similar to humanity. In our spiritual death we are wilting, trying to find nutrients and sustenance just to make it through the day, but then Jesus comes to rescue us from death, and bring us into His eternal light, so that we come alive.
In Jesus, we are not only forgiven, we are made new. We are not only slaves, but we are sons and daughters. We have been set free from reign of sin to live under the reign of His righteousness. This is the best news ever.
Ephesians 6:9, “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.”
In verse 9 we see the passage is not only applied to the slave, but also to the masters, because any “master” on earth in Jesus is still a “slave of Christ.”
Therefore, consider the areas of responsibility that Jesus has entrusted to you, and apply this passage to your life. Just as the slave is called to serve with honor and respect, so is the master called to lead with honor and respect.
Just as the slave is to serve with sincerity of heart, as to Christ, so is the master to lead with sincerity of heart, as to Christ. Just as the slave is to serve as though he or she were serving unto the Lord, so is the master to lead as though he or she were leading unto the Lord.
I hope that encourages you this morning. I hope that brings some zeal into your day. We aren’t just working for our earthly masters who change their opinion of our work on a whim, but we have a Heavenly Master that considers us His treasure as He restores His creation.
Might that fire you out of the bed every day, because everything you do that day is an act of worship unto Him! When you are using that hammer it is an act of worship. When you are teaching those children it is an act of worship. When you are taking notes in class it is an act of worship.
When you are changing that diaper, mowing that yard, taking that nap it is an act of worship. It is an act of renewal, reclaiming, and restoring that will come in Jesus, and is taking place in the work of our hands every day, because Jesus is the greatest Master we could imagine.