First, a Review:
Ephesians was written by Paul to the church in Ephesus while he was in prison. It was a cyclical letter that would have been passed around to the churches in the area. Some of the other prison epistles are Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon, while 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are known as Pastoral Epistles.
A broad overview of Ephesians would have two sections. The first section would be chapters 1-3 and would consist of the church’s blessings in Christ. The second section would be chapters 4-6. This section is a look at spirit-filled living. Now let us break it apart even more. If you remember these 7 words you can remember the whole book of Ephesians. Chapter 1: Blessings. Chapter 2: “But God” Chapter 3: Mystery. Chapter 4: Unity. Chapter 5: Walk and Chapter 6: Armor.
Chapter 1 begins with a greeting to the believers and then a reminder of all the blessing that they, and we have in Christ. First of all, they were predestined in Him. Second, they were adopted as sons through Him. And lastly, having been saved, they were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 2, Paul lists the stark differences between the old, former man and the new believer. The chapter begins with the phrase, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” but then in verse 4, my two favorite words in the Bible, “But God” changes all of that. No longer are we dead, He made us “alive with Christ”. No longer are we separated from Christ, now we are in Christ. No longer are we far off, now we have been brought near. No longer are we strangers and aliens, now we are fellow citizens of God’s household.
Chapter 3 reveals to us a key theme in the book of Ephesians. Can anyone remember what that mystery is? Verse 6 explains that the mystery of Christ is “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This mystery had been unknown to the Jews, but Paul was now sent to reveal this mystery. Gentiles were fellow believers with the Jews now and this new entity is the church.
When you think about chapter 4, one word should come into your mind: Unity. Paul begins this chapter by stating all the ways we have in common. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. Therefore, we are called to live in unity, even though, some are apostles, some are prophets, some are evangelists, some are pastors, and some are teachers. He gave these different offices “until we all attain to the unity of the faith...to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Chirst.” (v. 13) Christ is the head, and we are the body, “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part.” (v. 16) Paul gives another picture of the old self being put away and putting on the new self, “that has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (v. 24) For this reason, we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit through sin, but we are to be kind to each other and forgive each other.
Paul gives us three commands in the beginning of Chapter 5 that lead into the last chapter as well. We are to walk in love, verse 1. We are to walk in light, v. 8. And finally, we are to walk in wisdom, v. 15. In verse 21, Paul begins a section on submission that takes us to our text that we will be studying today. Paul says to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (v. 21). He then begins to list all the different roles where submission is to have it’s way. He begins by telling wives to be submissive to their husbands. Husbands are then told to love their wives just as Christ loves the church in verses 25-33. Paul begins Chapter 6 with telling children to obey their parents and in verse 4, parents are told to bring the children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Lastly we have come to the last paradigm. In verse 5, Paul begins to instruct slaves how to obey their Masters and in verse 9, where we finish, Paul instructs these Masters to be kind to their slaves, realizing that God is their ultimate Master is in heaven.
Now, on Work:
We will divide this passage into 2 sections. Verses 5-8 are directed at slaves and verse 9 is talking to masters. I want you to tell me what phrase keeps popping up in verses 5-7. Paul wants his hearers to get this message. He wanted the Ephesians to realize that everything they did should be done “as to the Lord.” Even when Paul addresses masters in verse 9, the reason they are to treat those under them with respect is because they also have a heavenly Master. Col. 3:24 actually says that, “it is the Lord Christ whom you serve,” not merely earthly masters. Now to make this more applicable. We are not slaves to anyone, but we do have bosses, and we do have those who are in authority over us. We even have work at home where we need to think about motives and attitudes of work. So, while we study this passage, I want you to put yourself into the text. Our lesson today should make us look at all of our work in a different way. We need to have a biblical work ethic and that is what we will study today.
So, let us begin to take apart verses 5-8. Paul will give the Ephesians six ways to look at work biblically. He gives them six ways to be obedient to their earthly masters. These six ways are: (1) with fear and trembling, (2) with sincerity, (3) as to Christ, (4) without eye-service, (5) not as men-pleasers, and (6) from the heart doing the will of God.
First of all, they were to be obedient with fear and trembling. This is a fear that respects, that honors. They were to realize that there was an authority over them and as such, they were to give that one in authority the honor due them. This fear is out of reverence toward God and not men. Slave owners in that day would rule their slaves with fear, believing it would produce loyalty. The Bible clearly says that the slave was to obey his owner in fear, but the fear was not directed at the owner, but toward God. One commentator says that, “their service to their masters, then, is to be rendered out of reverence and awe for [God].” We see this in other parts of Ephesians and Colossians as well when wives are instructed to respect their husbands. Titus 2:5 says that wives are to obey their husbands “so that the word of God may not be dishonored.” You are to obey your husband to bring glory to God, not dishonor.
Secondly, they were to obey with sincerity. To put it another way, they were to obey with truthfulness, with genuineness, or in all honesty. It could also refer to a wholeheartedness. Maybe this master did not deserve to be obeyed? They were still to obey, not because that master deserved to be obeyed, but because God, the ultimate Master has put that one in authority and so to disobey the one whom God has placed in authority is to disobey God. Romans 13:11 says that “there is no authority except from God.” What if the one in authority asks something that is contrary to Scripture? If you were asked to do something against scripture, you should do what the Bible says, once again, realizing that Christ is the ultimate Master. If you need an example, study Acts 5, in particular verse 29 where Peter says, “we must obey God rather than men.”
This brings us to our next point. The Ephesians were to be obedient to their earthly masters as to Christ. Notice once again how many times this particular phrase is mentioned. We see “as to Christ” in verse 5. We see that we are “slaves of Christ” in verse 6. And lastly, in verse 7, we see “as to the Lord”. Yes, Paul was speaking to slaves who were in bondage. Some of them may have even had unjust owners, but Paul wants to emphasize that they were to do everything as if they were doing it for Christ. Remember to have a God-centered or theocentric mindset. This is how you can have joy even in the midst of trials. As Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him,” even unfair bosses, hardships, and trials that seem to hard to handle.
The next 3 ways that these slaves were to obey their masters are linked to each other. Paul says that they were to be obedient, “not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” First, we will examine the first two. As you can see, they are in the negative. The Ephesians were not to only do well while their masters were there watching them, they were to do well, even when the master was not around. For instance, some people only do good works to be seen, because they want praise or they want something in return. Do you only do good when you will receive something back? Secondly, they were not to be men-pleasers. They were not to simply to try and make their masters happy, but to please their heavenly master, Christ. Do you only try to please men or do you work with a theocentric mindset, to please Christ? The last part of the phrase is our 6th way in which these slaves were to obey their masters. It is stated in the positive. They were to do everything from the heart, knowing that it is the will of God. Ultimately, they were not slaves of their earthly masters, they were slaves of their heavenly master and it is He whom they were to please. It is interesting to note that Paul calls himself a slave a Christ in Galatians 1:10. Also in 1 Corinthians 7:22-23, Paul refers to the slave as Christ’s freedman and the one who is free, as Christ’s slave.
As such, slaves and masters as well need to remember Christ’s present Lordship and future judgement. This could either be encouraging or discouraging in light of verse 8. Somebody please read verse 8 again. In Ephesians, Paul states it in the positive. There will be reward for good done. In Col. Paul states it in the negative, there will be consequences for wrong done. For the slave who does good, “as to the Lord,” there would be real reward, not simply material reward or praise from the master, but eternal, heavenly reward. This is directed at those who were free as well as to those who were not, as stated at the end of verse 8. Remember, live eschatalogically or with a heavenly mindset.
Now that we have studied how slaves were to serve their masters, let us look at verse 9, where Paul addresses the masters in his audience. First we need to notice that Paul says that they were to do the same things to their servants that he told the servants to do for their masters. So, in short they were to treat them with a mutual honor and respect, realizing that they both have the same heavenly master. It is interesting to note the stark difference between what Christ is calling for here and how the world believed the masters were to treat their slaves. Aristotle tells of the relationship between slave and master: “For there is nothing common to the 2 parties; the slave is a living tool and the tool is a lifeless slave.” At this particular time, ⅓ of the population of Greece and Italy were enslaved. But, Paul is teaching that the masters were “fellow slaves” of Christ with their own slaves. So although they have power, they were not to abuse it. They were to give up using threats to get what they want, for this heavenly Master does not show partiality between the master and the slave. Partiality comes from a Hebrew expression that literally meant, “I receive a face”. God would not show partiality based on a face. This also harkens back to where Paul told the slaves not to please by eye-service. Neither slave nor master would be able to expect God to show them partiality, and so they should treat each other with respect.
My husband leads our family Bible study every evening and right now we are going through Philemon. Onesimus had escaped from Philemon and was now in jail with Paul. Paul had led him to the Lord and now that Onesimus was being released from jail, Paul sends him back to Philemon with this letter in hand. Paul calls on Philemon to “have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother in the flesh and in the Lord.” (v. 16) In Christ, they were now beloved brothers, not slave and master. The end of verse 9 also points ahead to a future, heavenly judgement where Christ will either reward or punish.
So, I want you to think about how this might affect you. What is your work ethic? Whatever work you are given, do you do your best? Do you do it as if you were doing it joyfully for Christ? Even the most menial of things, like cleaning around the house or making supper or teaching your children. Do you treat those who have an authority over you, like your boss, or even your husband, with fearful respect and sincerity of heart? Do you always look for earthly reward, or are you keeping your eyes focused on what is ahead in heaven? Do you treat those with whom you have authority over with mutual respect and honor, realizing that your heavenly master is also their heavenly master and He will not show partiality? What is your ultimate allegiance? There is no distinction based on a social status, so how is Christ Lord in your every day life? Let us continue to consider these things.