Second Corinthians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                      Date: 1/31/18


Lesson 26: Slaves and Masters (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Ephesians 6:5-9 (KJV)

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; 

6 not by way of eyeservice, 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.

 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.



The Roman Empire of the first century was a world of slavery on a grand scale.  A century before Paul sent his letter to Ephesus, Julius Caesar reportedly shipped back to Rome somewhere in the neighborhood of a million slaves.  They made up anywhere between twenty and thirty-five percent of the population.  It has been computed that in the Roman Empires there were 60,000,000 slaves.  Without them the Empire could never have functioned as it did.

In Paul’s day a kind of terrible idleness had fallen on the citizens of Rome.  Rome was the mistress of the world, and therefore it was beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen to work.  Practically all work was done by slaves.  Even doctors and teachers, even the closest friends of the Emperors, their secretaries who dealt with letters and appeals and finance, were slaves.  For the most part, though, the life of the slave was grim and terrible.  In the eyes of the law he was not a person but a thing [a tool].

The abolition of slavery was far from the mind of the apostle Paul.  In any case, he was utterly powerless to bring it about and it would have been futile for him to attempt it.  Furthermore, Paul operated under the deep confection that social and personal conditions were not the primary issue in life—fellowship with God, freedom from sin, transformation into Christ-likeness, and the advance of the kingdom of God—these were his central concerns.

Here, then, we have apostolic teaching on how the gospel of grace functions in a social order we find intolerable.  But the principles Paul expresses are also applicable today to the social order with which we are familiar.  We are not slaves.  We have not been sold to a master.  Yet we have “sold” forty or so hours in the week, in many cases, to a “master.” We do this under carefully controlled conditions [We can withdraw our labor at any time, we have organized support groups (unions), and we do not fear physical reprisals.].  Yet there are lessons here about attitudes and the use of time that we can apply to our own workaday situation.

Commentary (Ephesians 6:5-9, KJV)

Paul continues the general teaching of this section of the letter: The Christian is different—a new man—and therefore behaves differently.  He repeats the specific note he has struck throughout this subsection on basic relationships―The Christian is characterized by a spirit of appropriate submission because he or she has submitted to Jesus Christ.  The basic disposition of a believer is different from that of the unbeliever, and his or her style of living is different too.  Paul therefore lists several marks of the Christian slave.

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; 

SLAVES are to obey their masters, and to do so with FEAR and TREMBLING.  The word fear [our word “phobia,” a fear of something] can mean anything from loving reverence to real terror.  In the context of this passage, the meaning is nearer the former than the latter.  Paul has used it in this sense in 5:21 [We are to submit to one another in reverence, fear, honor, and respect for Christ.] and 5:33 [Where he says that the wife reverences, fears, honors, and respects her husband.].

Here however Paul takes this a stage further.  He uses the phrase FEAR AND TREMBLING.  Elsewhere, he taught that this disposition is to characterize the Christian in general; we are to work out our salvation with “FEAR AND TREMBLING” (Philippians 2:12).  There it refers to the Christian’s disposition towards the Lord.  The same expression is used to describe the way the Corinthians received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:15).  In both instances it describes a loyalty whose anxiety lies in the thought that a loved one might be let down.  Paul is calling for the same godly disposition here, as he adds with a sincere heart, AS you would CHRIST.  It is in the relationship of the believer to his or her master that that expression is given to the relationship with heaven that lies behind it.

All this is qualified by the keywords “AS TO CHRIST” (or, “as you would Christ”).  Obedience was to be “as unto Christ”.  The slave was to look upon his obedience as a kind of Christian duty, a service performed as though it was done unto the Lord Himself.  This point of view would lift it to the highest level and constitute strong motivation for carrying it out. The disposition of the converted slave towards his master is explained only by his disposition towards his true Master.  For that, rather than the mere human context, is his incentive to live out the new life of the gospel.

Because of this, the believing slave—and Paul assumes that both slaves and masters would be sitting in the assembly—works whole-heartedly for his earthly master.  Just as thankfulness motivates obedience to Christ it also spills over into quality service—out of love and reverence for Him.

This same spirit is transferable to the work place in the contemporary world, transforming our daily work and simultaneously enhancing our witness for Christ.

It is a surprise to some people that the apostles did not denounce slavery in unequivocal language and demand its immediate and violent overthrow.  But the apostles did not conceive of themselves primarily as social reformers; they were first and foremost heralds of the good news of salvation in Christ.  Yet they did not condone slavery.  Indeed, they announced the very principles (such as that of the complete spiritual rebellious of slaves and master) which ultimately destroyed this terrible blot on civilization.

6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 

The gospel has a rebellious character.  The earthly master who is not a believer cannot understand why the Christian slave is so responsive, so gracious, so diligent.  Obedience to the master is not by way of EYE-SERVICE, as PEOPLE-PLEASERS.  “EYESERVICE” graphically depicts the conduct of the person who works only when he is watched.  Such persons are “MEN-PLEASERS,” that is, a workman whose highest aim is to curry favor with their masters.  Those who serve properly perform their duties “as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” The believing slave was to see himself as Christ’s slave and to understand that in the performance of his daily tasks he was doing God’s will.  For this reason his work was to be done heartily (literally, “out of the soul”) and with “good will.” Indeed it does not have the earthly master, ultimately, in view.  It is always an expression of obedience to Christ, the True and Best Master, in whose service is perfect freedom.  The slave’s goodwill to his master is an expression of his love for his Lord.  Thus a slave would enjoy an inner freedom from the master who regarded himself as the center of the universe—but was too short sighted to notice that his Christian slave was looking far beyond earthly masters to a heavenly one and was serving Him (6:8)!  

When we learn to do things for Christ we are set free from earthly servitude and find joy and pleasure in our labors.  We know that they can never be in vain when they are done for the Lord―Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).  Moreover, since we do them for His pleasure they bring Him pleasure and this in turn is our greatest pleasure.  The motive of service is what counts with the Lord. . . not the external show.  The labor of those who were in the ministry was never in VAIN, but was made useful by the Lord for the conversion of sinners, and the edification of saints. This would be their joy, and crown of rejoicing [on some future day]; and it must be no small encouragement to labor; and labor in any kind of good work has its usefulness. It is profitable unto men, and though it does not merit eternal life, yet the good works of the saints will follow them. Christ will not forget their work and labor of love which they have shown to His name and people, but will take notice of them as fruits of His own grace, and bestow His rewards upon them, though it will not be given as payment for a debt, but from pure grace; which the doctrine of the resurrection assures, and encourages us to hope for.

7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 

In Matthew 6:1-7, 16-21, Jesus clearly teaches that whatsoever we do we should do to the glory of God. . . we should not do it to be seen of men, but “AS TO THE LORD,” and if we do what we do as to the Lord, He who sees in secret will reward us in full, openly, “at that day.” Paul said, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12b).

I am glad that whatsoever we commit unto the Lord Jesus, He is very capable and able to protect and keep for us until “that day” when we stand before Him to receive our just reward.  Servants, give your master good measure . . . heaped up, pressed down, running over.  Do it as unto the Lord—not to please men, but because you are a son of God.

Were you to review the life of Jacob, Lot, David and others I’m sure you would find that God’s love wondrously covers sin when sin is confessed and forsaken.  But forgiveness, past, present and future, depends upon Calvary—because at Calvary God was at His best, delivering heaven’s best for earth’s worst—and only through the shed blood at Calvary can such grace be bestowed upon sinners. 

Therefore, if God so loved us, we certainly ought to love Him; and if Jesus served out of a heart of love in order that we might have salvation, if we claim to be followers of the Lord Jesus we should serve out of a heart of love.

I wish I could get this across to all believers who work in public work: According to Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., one of the old-time saints, “IT IS A SIN TO DO LESS THAN YOUR BEST.” To every born again person who is in public work, let me say, you may get by with a lot of things.  You may play on the job and get away with it.  You may say, “Well, all of the other employees take their liberties.  They stand and talk, they kill time . . . why shouldn’t I?” I will be very happy to answer that for you: The poor unbeliever is working only for a salary—but my dear brother and sister in Christ; you are serving the Lord even though you work in a textile plant, a plastic plant, or any other commercial work.  You are on your honor.  Your employer may trust you in every detail; but if you kill time on the job you are grieving the Lord.  We who are saved are to do whatsoever we do to the glory of God.  As a believer we should give our employer a good full hour for every hour we are paid for.  If he pays us for eight hours and we give him seven and a half, we have stolen a half hour of our pay.  IT IS WRONG TO DO LESS THAN YOUR BEST, regardless of what you are doing. 

Christianity is not a fire insurance policy against hell.  We are the only Bible this careless world will read.  We are God’s signboards in a sinful world.  Men watch us, and they judge Jesus by the way we live, work, act, and talk.  The most menial tasks—even cleaning out the gutters, janitoring at the church or a public building—the most menial routine of drudgery must be done AS UNTO THE LORD, and if we fail, we are not failing our employer—we are failing our Savior.  We are not to do what we do to please men; we are not to do what we do to be seen of men.  A person, who stands idle on the job until the footsteps of the boss are heard and then runs to take up his tools or his position at his desk, is a poor specimen of Christianity.  You should not serve your boss or employer any less faithfully when he is in another city or another state, than you serve him when he is standing beside you where you work!  Remember—AS SONS OF GOD, WE ARE TO DO ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD.

8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

“KNOWING THAT WHATSOEVER GOOD THING ANY MAN DOETH, THE SAME SHALL HE RECEIVE OF THE LORD, WEATHER HE BE BOND OR FREE.” Think of it!  Knowing that whatsoever good we do―if we do it as if we were working for the Lord; as if the Lord signed our paycheck―we shall be blessed by the Lord [usually in kind].  The Lord keeps a strict and careful account of all services rendered by His children—from the greatest to the most humble task.  The Lord Jesus is a faithful Paymaster—nothing misses His eye, nothing is overlooked by Him.  The Lord keeps a record of whatever we do—even to the giving of a cup of cold water in His name.  Or if, as the widow, we have only two mites to give, that most humble of gifts will not go unrewarded.  We will receive “in full” from our Paymaster when we are rewarded for our stewardship.  The Christian slave can know that his Heavenly Master will not fail to recompense his work.  Every “GOOD THING” done, whether by “BOND OR FREE,” is known to the Lord and shall be rewarded by His grace.

To those of you who are masters, let me give a warning: Do not be a slave driver.  Do not be lords over God’s heritage.  Do not be overbearing and threatening, because you, too, have a Master—even the Lord of heaven—and one day you will stand before Him.  I am sure you want your Master to deal with you in mercy, love and kindness—but remember, as we sow—we reap!

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.

Paul now turns to Christians who were slave owners.  Why doesn’t he tell them to free their slaves?  Probably many Christians did exactly that.  But in effect that would have had no immediate impact on the practice of slavery.  Did Paul realize that God has His time and place for everything, and understand that sometimes more is accomplished through deprivation than through liberty?  It is the suffering of believers rather than their prosperity that God characteristically uses to advance His kingdom and build His church.

But the Christian master had then (and has now) important responsibilities.  As owner and employer the gospel must transform his perspective.  He is called to serve Christ, to be a master who expresses in practical ways what it means to be a new man in Christ.  But masters are to do the same to them (i.e. their slaves).  That is, despite very different social spheres both master and slave live out the same kingdom principles in all of their relationships.

As a result, in sharp contrast to many ungodly slave owners, the Christian MASTER does not threaten [The ESV translation―“stop your threatening” suggests that some Christian masters still needed to work this principle through, as doubtless some Christian fathers needed the words “do not provoke your children. . .”6:4].  Grace transforms threats into encouragement.  Imagine what a surprise it must have been to slaves whose master was converted when the spirit of the entire household was transformed!

The Christian MASTER does not show partiality.  Like his MASTER he will begin to demonstrate grace without qualifications.  The MASTER realizes that he is not lord.  Christ alone is, and He is Lord of both SLAVES and MASTER.  Before Him both are equal.  He judges all by the same impartial, divine standards; therefore, the master who is over the servant is not a special one in the eyes of the Master in heaven.  They are all in the same category—sinners who need a Savior; and we are all saved in the same way—through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This is a unique view of life.  One lesson it teaches us is how muddleheaded it is to regard work and witness as two different realities for the Christian.  We witness in the work we do, by the way we do it—as if we were doing it for the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we are His, we are.

Have you learned that the gospel can work anywhere, under any circumstances?  The grass always seems greener somewhere else!  The gospel’s power is not dependent on favorable human situations or sympathetic people but on the power of God, the grace of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  This made first-century slaves free men and women in Christ long before the abolition of slavery.

If the gospel of Jesus Christ can work under those circumstances, it can surely work where you spend forty hours or more each week.


Summing Up

Before leaving this section of our study of John’s Revelation, let me point out that you will receive from the hand of Almighty God exactly what is coming to you—no more, and no less.  As we sow, so shall we reap.  As we treat those who are under us, so shall we be treated when we receive the reward for our stewardship.  You may rest assured that faithful service unto the Lord will receive a full reward, while unfaithful service will certainly cause your reward to be burned.

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