Serving Earthly Masters

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (vv. 5–6).

- Ephesians 6:5–8

In gratitude for the benefits granted in their union with Christ by faith alone, all believers must serve the interests of everyone united to Jesus (Eph. 2:8–9; 5:18–21). And as we have seen in Ephesians 5:22–6:4, our relation to others in the body of Christ determines the practical outworking of our Christian service. Husbands serve their wives through leading them in godliness self-sacrificially. Wives serve their husbands by willingly following their husbands’ authority. Children serve their parents by honoring them with obedience. Parents serve their children by raising them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

The aforementioned examples represent the most common relationships within the church, so it is relatively easy to follow the apostle’s guidelines for these familial bonds today. Ephesians 6:5–9, however, discusses another relationship often found within the first-century church but foreign to the experience of most of us today. We are speaking, of course, of the master-slave relationship.

Our study of Philemon a few months ago looked at ancient slavery, how it differed from slavery in the American South, and how God’s regulation of a practice in Scripture does not necessarily mean the practice is His design for humanity. Thus, instead of focusing on such matters, today and tomorrow we will consider the broader principles behind these commands for masters and slaves and how we apply Paul’s teaching in a modern context. We can all learn from these principles, for we all have authorities over us, and many of us have authority over others.

The fundamental tenet Paul unfolds in Ephesians 6:5–8 is that we serve our earthly supervisors with an eye to the Lord. We are servants of Christ before all else (v. 6), and key to serving Jesus well is doing the will of those in authority over us, insofar as that will does not violate God’s law, of course. Our Creator rules His creation through delegated authorities (Rom. 13:1–7); consequently, to obey the directives of authorities is to obey God Himself. Simply put, we cannot claim to be Christ’s servants if we do not heed those whom God has put over us. Such obedience must be rendered with respect, not begrudging contempt.

Coram Deo

Tomorrow we will discuss in greater detail the proper roles of servants and masters. We note today, however, with Matthew Henry that “service, performed with conscience, and from a regard for God, though it may be to unrighteous masters, will be accounted by Christ as service done to himself.” Not all of our earthly supervisors are Christians, but we owe them respectful obedience as long as they do not demand that we violate God’s law.

Passages for Further Study

Jeremiah 36:8
Matthew 8:5–13
Colossians 3:22–25
1 Peter 2:13–17

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