Ephesians 6 v 5 – 8
What sort of carpenter do you think the Lord Jesus Christ was? Was he good at the job? Did He work long hours? Were there blemishes in the pieces of furniture that he turned out? Did people come from miles around to buy articles made by Him?
The answers to these questions can only be guessed at based on what we know of our saviour – but none of His woodwork of 2000 years ago is likely to have survived, if we judge that by the aging process of wood in this world corrupted by sin.
But we can take another direction in discovering what sort of workman the Lord Jesus Christ was. We can listen to His word and discover what His standards for work are today, based on His perfect role model – for we know that the Lord never asks us to exceed a standard that He had not Himself achieved as a man.
There was once an old preacher in Chicago who was quite a bit past retiring age. A visitor asked him what his work was. He replied, “ I pack meat into tins to live; but my work is preaching the Gospel.” At first sight this is a wonderful tale that causes us to admire such a man. But let us further reflect on what he was actually saying. Was his attitude right? Was it the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ? We started by thinking of Jesus in the carpenter’s shop. If we apply the old preacher’s statement to the life of our saviour we spot a problem. It is a fact that for the most of His working life the Lord Jesus Christ fashioned wood into beautiful and useful objects. However if His real work, the work of preaching the gospel, started three years before He died on the cross, then we can see the old preacher’s faulty thinking that devalued his secular occupation into second-class work.
The next section of Ephesians 6 is about work. It is about working for two employers – a human employer and a heavenly employer – both at the same time!
Ephesians 6 v 5 – 8.
5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
Again we need to remind ourselves that Paul is being very practical in Ephesians and the letter has as its focus, at the end, rules for Christian living. From chapter 4 onwards it has been an application of the doctrine of chapters 1 – 3. In Chapter 4 v 12 - 13 he states his desire for his beloved brothers and sisters in the churches –
12 for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
He has been telling us how this is to be worked out and how ordinary believers like us can be equipped to follow his ethical lead – Chapter 5 v 18 has the key
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Christians are to submit themselves one to another – not as doormats, but as willing servants one of another, falling over each other to please one another in the fear, or out of respect for God. We recognise each other’s value – together we are image bearers of the most High God, who has created us.
So this next section, following as it does the details of our responsibilities as wives and husbands, children and parents, is about work relationships.
Firstly we have to understand the context of Paul’s words to the Ephesians. In Roman times 2000 years ago vast numbers of people, including many of the members of the early Gentile Christian church, were sold and bought like articles of clothing – they were slaves. There were no Wesley’s or Whitfield’s to lead a religious revolution with the result that the slaves were emancipated – as happened in our country. Slaves were treated as property – some were intelligent and valuable slaves who were endowed with many talents and skills – others were skivvies. All were held in the grip of inhuman laws with vicious cruel punishments for laziness. Many suffered the threat of change of ownership and the death of a kind and benevolent master could bring about a change in the slave’s circumstances that were terrifying.
Slavery was a fact of life in the Roman world in which Paul moved and ministered. Many slaves became believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Fewer slave owners, masters, became believers – but some did.
The master/slave relationship was familiar to all, much as our employer/employee arrangements are familiar to us. Slaves in those days often had in their hearts deep resentments about their lot in life. However the Gospel preacher and messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul, told slaves who had become Christians to submit willingly to their masters. The time had not yet come that the shackles could be removed and as slaves they had one supreme task and social duty – to obey their masters.
We will think about verses 5 – 8 in two parts this morning
1. The Duty of the Christian Servant to his human master.
2. The Duty of the Servant of Christ to his heavenly Master.
As we look at the scriptures we will discover that the instructions in one area are the same in the other.
1. The Duty of the Christian Servant to his human master. V 5 – 6a
5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 not with eyeservice, as menpleasers;
It may be that as a congregation some of us are getting a little worn out with all these exhortations to be submissive and obedient. Certainly this theme is repetitive in this section of the series of sermons in Ephesians – but Paul has a purpose – he does not want to leave anyone out of his practical applications of God’s truth. If you are not a husband, a wife or a child, then in some respect you are a worker under authority, or if not a worker, we are all subject to someone in society. Even the retired believer, the disabled or unemployed are WORKERS. We all have work of some kind – work is part of life. So let not those who are, for whatever reason not what we called GAINFULLY EMPLOYED, think that this teaching is not for them!
The word rendered “SERVANTS” here is more usually translated SLAVES. It is DOULOS that reminds me of one of the missionary ships run by OM that takes the gospel message around the world visiting ports and places near to the ports.
The first part of verse 5 concerns
1. The Duty of servants to be obedient to the claims of their human masters.
Masters according to the flesh is Paul’s way of distinguishing between the 2 masters that the Christians slaves had. Paul did not state in any way that the Gospel should bring slavery to an end. There are different kinds of slavery that have to be recognised. In the Old Testament Jehovah permitted the possession of slaves under certain conditions. Exodus 22 tells of a burglar who could not make restitution for his crime had to be sold into slavery –
1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. 3 If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
But this never gave any Israelite the right to go and round up men and women from a neighbouring nation and indiscriminately rob them of their freedom and force them to work as slaves in bondage. This is what the slave traders did 300 years ago with Africans and it was unjust and cruel. Kidnapping is a crime according to the previous chapter of Exodus 21 v 16
and he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
No defence of slavery of the kind that went on until abolition in the 1850’s by Wilberforce and his colleagues can be justified by appealing to Moses’ teaching in the OT.
Indeed the Old Testament opposes all cruel forms of slavery absolutely. There was welfare of slaves in God’s mind –
Deuteronomy 15 v 12 And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. 13 And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: 14 Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. 15 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.
The servant /master relationship could actually be beneficial to both parties. Notice how kind the centurion was in Luke 7 – he said that his servant was precious to him and he came himself to Jesus to obtain healing. There was a mutual benefit in that household. There is the story of slaves in a household of a wealthy man who decided, under social pressure to emancipate all his servants and free them. But the slaves went on strike in order that they might stay with their master – such was their happy lives with such a good master.
The Old and New Testaments combine in showing a balanced approach to social situations with the effect that the benefits of freedom and the benefits of being bound to a master are BOTH compatible with belief in God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
So now we can bring this teaching to bear on our own modern society where slavery was abolished 150 years ago but there remains employment of some to work for others. Servants now are those who willingly work for others and they are paid for it. Every employee is a servant of some kind, and has a “master according to the flesh.” For ease of understanding we can see this as our “bodily masters” – those who have a right to our bodies and minds because for pay we make them available to them. But they do not have any right to our souls – only God has the right of Mastery over these never dying features of our humanity. It is an earthly mastery – Christ’s is a heavenly and there is no problem about having two masters in this instance. This is a totally different situation to the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6:24
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Here the saviour distinguishes money wealth and riches, that have the capacity to become objects of worship and therefore a competitor with God Himself. This is different from serving an employer and giving him earthly service, loyalty and diligence, and serving the Lord God. Paul is arguing here that it is legitimate to have an earthly employer master and still serve wholeheartedly our Heavenly Master. This is why he calls these masters “bodily masters.” These masters/employers have legitimate claims on us – our time and effort. And we are to do as they tell us – be obedient to them – they have the right to be the boss. Next
2. The Duty of servants to be in Submission to the claims of their human masters.
With fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart,
The slaves addressed in Paul’s letter were to behave with great humility and respect (fear) with reverence of their masters whether they were believers or not, and to give honour to them, with carefulness not to offend them. They were to react with submission to their reproofs and corrections, and with fear of punishment. We do not like the word subservience do we? In fact it is a quality that we do not admire – we can just about cope with obedience – but we find difficulties with subservience.
Was Paul demanding subservience to masters in this verse? It would appear not – but he does exhort Christian servants/slaves to be absolutely subservient to the Lord Jesus Christ – utter yieldedness to Him and His commands. Bringing this up to date again the Christian employee must be afraid – but not afraid of his employer or superior, but afraid of disobeying His Lord.
Indeed if we as employees, whatever our jobs, do not show wholehearted respect to our employers, we are disobeying the Lord!
“Singleness of heart” means to do your work honestly and with wholehearted dedication to the task at hand. Today there is a trend to do the minimum possible that you can get away with; shoddy workmanship from men charging high labour fees is common; people who watch the clock so that they are not at the workplace a minute longer than they have to be – all of these and many more describe the servant/master ethos. It seems that shirking and slacking on the job is considered a clever thing to do, and when an employee is taken to task along comes a Union Rep to fight for that person’s right to remain on the job, disregarding how lazy, incompetent, indifferent or insolent he is – no matter how he lies and reports late for duty, or tries to disaffect the other workers – the union man will fight his corner. Why is this? The union has taken away his fear of man. Presumably this worker never had any fear of God either – singleness of heart did not come into it!
The Christian employee is at work for the Lord Jesus Christ. This does not mean that he is to be witnessing every minute of the day with spiritual conversations and giving out tracts! It means that he is to be the best employee that his boss has, whether he be a builder’s labourer or a shop worker. The Christian on the factory shop floor who is living his life for Christ and doing the best job he can, is the only tract or Bible that some of his colleagues will ever read! His singleness of heart is as unto the Lord. Is this the testimony of those of us who go to work outside the home? Do we ever join in with disrespectful talk amongst other workers about our bosses? Or can we honestly say that we have singleness of heart as unto Christ? Are we truly working for the Lord?
3. The Duty of servants to be diligent in the interests of their human masters.
6 not with eyeservice, as menpleasers;
How many of us can remember this situation at school? We were working away in class very hard under the watchful eye of the teacher, a teacher who was in good control and stood no nonsense. All the class had their heads down doing calculations and in modern parlance “on task.” A knock comes at the classroom door and the teacher is called out of the room leaving the class alone. What usually happens – can you remember? One by one we stopped working – conversations were struck up – distractions abounded and work ceased. What had happened? Simply this – while we children were under the eye of the teacher, while we were being watched, we worked. As soon as he left we shirked.
While he watched us we were diligent; after he had gone we were negligent.
So it can be in the workplace. Some will only work when they are being watched and supervised. I am ashamed to say that, as a child that just about summed me up in my school reports – “Needs constant supervision!” I had a “butterfly brain” one teacher said, flitting from idea to idea with little concentration. Growing up and maturity and kindly discipline along the way sorted me out.
The Lord is looking for reliability in His workers, as they work for employers, who can be trusted to work unsupervised.
There is another term here with respect to our relationship with our employers – not as menpleasers. There are those who seek to please their masters. They do a really good job when the boss is around – helpful courteous and nothing is too much trouble. That employer thinks so highly of him and has him in line for promotion. What the boss doesn’t know is what the employee gets up to when the boss is on holiday or out of the office – lazy, calls in sick when really he is healthy, wasting his bosses time in idle conversation or even conducts personal business in work time using the boss’s phone. This is a manpleaser in action and it is a way of the world, and not for the Christian worker.
There was once a Christian sales assistant who was asked to give a customer more than he was paying for. The customer said, “It’s alright, your supervisor’s not looking.” The Christian replied, “My Master is ALWAYS looking.” This is how the Christian is to think. Even when the human master is absent the Lord Jesus Christ is always there, watching.
All of these things – obedience, submission and diligence are for the Christian, as unto the Lord. The best way to witness at work is to do a good job. It is not long before work colleagues find out that you are a believer. Then you will be under the spotlight. How does a believer do the job? How does a believer cope with gossip, with risqué jokes, with the office fiddle? How will the believer cope with the employer’s goods being taken home – and it happens doesn’t it?
Some employers expect some pilfering and they turn a blind eye. This was being discussed by two believers who observed the terrible waste of plastic tubes being destroyed as surplus when somebody could have used them. One Christian said to the other, “Doesn’t the Bible say, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn?” Shouldn’t you allow an ox to pick up what it can while it is on the job? Doesn’t that mean that we ought to be allowed to take what we need from what is being wasted at our work?
The other shrewd believer replied, “That’s fair enough for girls in a sweet factory – but what about those who work at the Bank of England’s printing works?”
The point is, waste is wicked, but so is stealing!
2. The Duty of the Servant of Christ to his heavenly Master.
Verse 6b but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
The emphasis now switches to the work of the believer who is working for Christ although the distinction between secular and sacred is a false one given all that has been said already. All service and work is on a higher plane for the Christian. We are in God’s will when we do secular tasks working for a boss, and we are in God’s will when we do so-called sacred, Churchy type tasks. In the verses we see an abolition of the distinction between the two. John Philips remarks
“We are all of us in the ministry – in full time service – the plumber as much as the preacher, the economist as much as the evangelist, the policeman as much as the pastor, and the miner as much as the missionary.”
Here in these verses the Lord Jesus Christ is the master and all of His believing people are his willing slaves. We are working for the Lord, no matter what we do, in his will. Therefore all work must be done from the heart. How is this worked out?
When our minds are convinced that our work is God’s will then we are motivated by a heart of duty saying, “I ought to.” When our minds are compelled to believe that our work is God’s will then we are motivated by a heart of discipline saying, “I have to.” But when our minds are captured by the Lord in order to serve him then we are motivated by a heart that is devoted saying, “I want to.”
What was the motivation of our Lord Jesus Christ when He went to do the work of redemption at Calvary? His heart was full of duty – for the covenant had been made. He ought to die. His heart was full of discipline – he had to die. But His heart was also full of devotion – He wanted to die for His people –
Mark 10 v 45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
But as we come to a conclusion, what about this 8th verse
Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
It has been said that the Lord’s payday is not at the end of the week – it is at the end of our lives! I had a friend who used to say when some kind deed had been done by someone, “He’ll get his reward in heaven – he won’t get it here!” That is not strictly true because sometimes the Lord does reward us a little along the way. But whatever we receive are only tokens of what we shall receive one day in glory. Payday is at the judgment seat of Christ.
There is a story of the old missionary who was returning home to America after many years of service in Africa. On the same ship was President Theodore Roosevelt, returning to the states after a big game hunt in a safari Park also in Africa. When the ship docked in New York great crowds greeted the president and the press was there to cover the story. The old missionary and his wife walked off the ship unnoticed and made their way to a cheap hotel to spend the night before travelling onwards.
“It just doesn’t seem right!” the missionary said to his wife in a rather bitter tone, “We gave our lives to win souls to Christ in Africa, and when we arrive home there’s no one here to meet us and there’s no reward. The President shoots some animals and gets a royal welcome home.”
As they were praying before bedtime it seemed that the Lord spoke to them and said, “Do you know why you have not received your reward yet, my children? It’s because you aren’t home yet!”
One final thought on slaves. In the Roman slave markets of the first century Christian slaves fetched a higher price than heathens. Why was this? It was the difference that the Lord Jesus Christ made to their work.
The Lord Jesus Christ makes a dynamic difference to any man or woman, boy or girl. He is able to save them from hell and the penalty of sin. He transforms sinners and makes them into saints, whatever their position in life. Has this difference come to you yet my friend? Are you saved? Born again? Have you repented and asked the lord to save you?
These converted slaves were reliable, respectful, diligent and faithful. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ had so transformed them that they were worth paying extra for. Does this not tell us that it should equally be true of us who are Christian employees – that we are worth having on the payroll – that we will be worth more to our bosses than others – may it be so for all of us who work in any capacity, not merely those in gainful employment – but any who have any task however small – let us do it with all our might – as unto the Lord!