Thursday, January 01, 2009

Ephesians 6:5-9

5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.

Paul has pointed to the created order as a primary motive for obedience in the marriage and parenting relationships, but there is no created order in regards to the master/slave relationship. So Paul’s instruction here is different. He doesn’t appeal to the created order; instead he appeals to Christ. Paul could have pointed to Old Testament law for his remarks here. Instead he looks at Christ and writes of the importance for slaves to respect authority, and he looks at Christ and writes of the importance for masters to treat slaves with respect in the same way. Paul’s culture was a slave culture; people would voluntarily sell themselves into bondage. This was a big deal, because even indentured servitude was a dismal, permanent lifestyle. Masters did not treat slaves well, and slaves often despised their masters, pitying themselves for their condition. Regardless, respect for authority was an absent virtue in Paul’s culture, and it is much the same in ours. We may be tempted to make a simple crossover from the master/slave topic that Paul addresses to the employer/employee relationship of our day. While the principles are good, we must remember that Paul is addressing slavery, not mere employment. Nevertheless, Paul makes clear, most importantly, the truth that our vocation is a spiritual matter.

Slaves are to do four things as Paul reveals. First, in v5, they are to respect their masters, just as they would respect Christ. Second, in v6, they are to obey their masters from the heart, as slaves of Christ, and not out of selfish motives. Third, in v7, they are to serve wholeheartedly as if they were serving the Lord. And fourth, in v8, they are to do good work, knowing that the Lord will reward them. (I can’t help but mentioning what was said earlier, about how God issues a command and when we obey and merely do our duty, we receive rewards (Colossians 3:23-24). How gracious! There is a saying in the world that no good deed goes unpunished. In other words, when we do good in this fallen world, we may suffer for it in one way or another. But that won’t be true in God’s eternal Kingdom. Good deeds done with right motives will be rewarded.) In all four instances, we see that slaves are to live their temporal lives of being under their masters with an eternal focus of being alongside Jesus Christ.

Paul also reveals four things to masters, all in v9. First, there is a principle of reciprocity. Masters are to treat their slaves “in the same way,” meaning with respect, or according to Calvin, “that which is just and equal” (Colossians 4:1). Calvin adds, “Masters and servants are not indeed on the same level; but there is a mutual law which binds them. By this law, servants are placed under the authority of their masters; and, by the same law, due regard being had to the difference of their station, masters lie under certain obligations to their servants. This analogy is greatly misunderstood; because men do not try it by the law of love, which is the only true standard.” Second, there is to be no threatening. Oftentimes, masters would threaten a severe beating to a slave for non-compliance or a bad attitude. Masters could even execute their slave for whatever reason they saw fit! Paul says not to threaten. Slaves knew their status in the world, and nothing good came from threats. Third, masters and slaves have the same master, Jesus Christ, so they are in essence, both slaves and would desire equal treatment from their heavenly master. Furthermore, the masters are here encouraged to consider that they will give an account before God regarding the treatment of their slaves. Fourth, along those same lines, God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34). Jesus is impartial when it comes to judgment. It won’t matter who was the slave and who was the master. Jesus will note each individual’s respect for authority (earthly and heavenly authority), regardless of social position.

All believers are called to share the humiliation of Christ and His sufferings, though Paul would not make anyone’s sufferings greater than they need be (1 Corinthians 7:21-23). Slaves are to work diligently and willingly, and masters are to treat slaves as Christ would treat His followers, since that is what we who follow Christ are – His bond-slaves. Paul is not a social crusader, but he knows that the gospel transforms lives of masters and slaves from the inside out (see Philemon). Christianity undermines slavery from within. Externally, one may be a master or a slave, but internally, we are brothers in Christ; and the internally reality ought to be reflected externally.

Vincent Cheung offers a conclusion, saying, “Conversion does not dissolve human relationships, obligations, and authorities. If you are a wife, you must still obey your husband; if you are a child, you must still obey your parents; and if you are a slave, you must still obey your master. However, there is one great difference: all Christians now have one common Master, and ‘there is no favoritism with Him,’ and ‘the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free’… The passage (6:5-8) provides the foundation for the matchless biblical work ethic that Christians had been famous for in times past, but now so few of them still demonstrate. This work ethic calls for a sincere respect and fear toward one’s superior, but also to look beyond them to the Lord: ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.’ Alas, many professing Christians today are just as slothful and unproductive as the non-Christians. But Paul writes, ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received’ (4:1).”

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