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8. Relating To One Another In Harmony, Pt. 3: The Harmony Of Servants And Masters (6:5-9)

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This article continues our series on “Living Together in Community” based on Ephesians 4 to 6 (please see the previous articles). Ephesians 5:22-6:9 deals with harmonious relationships in the Christian community.

Relationships in the ancient world were not always harmonious. Husbands lorded over their wives, fathers were harsh with their children, and masters abused their slaves.

In addressing each relationship, Paul isn’t trying to change the social structure of the day but to change the perspective of his readers by pointing them to Christ. We’ve already noticed that (1) wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord; (2) husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church; (3) children are to obey their parents in the Lord; and (4) fathers are to raise their children in the training and admonition of the Lord.

Today, we come to the last relationship in this passage, the relationship of slaves and masters. We don’t have slavery here in Canada, fortunately, but it still exists in some countries. The influence of Christianity finally helped to eradicate the system of slavery in England through statesmen like William Wilberforce and William Pitt and through preachers like John Wesley and George Whitefield. The root of the problem wasn’t the social system but the human heart. And that problem is still with us today.

Since we don’t have masters and slaves anymore in our society, I’m going to apply this passage to relationships in the workplace, servants (employees) and masters (employers) where the human heart is still a problem

Harmonious relationships stem from a Christian perspective, a Christian perspective of who you are and whom you serve. Even with slavery, Paul didn’t try to change the existing social structure but he tried to change their perspective so that Christian slaves and their masters could enjoy harmonious relationships in Christ.

The Christian perspective is (1) that you are a child of God and that your life’s work is to serve the Lord; (2) that you respect the authority structure God has established in the family, the church, and society; and (3) within that structure you practice mutual submission.

Remember our thesis for this section: Unity in the church depends on harmony in all our relationships. The key to harmonious relationships is mutual submission and mutual submission stems from the perspective of seeing ourselves in Christ. When mutual submission is practiced in the workplace, employees and employers work together in harmony.

Harmony in the workplace is generated firstly by…

I. The Obedience Of The Christian Employee (5-8)

Bondservants, be obedient to your masters according to the flesh (5a) - i.e. earthly masters. If you’re employed, be obedient to your superior. This isn’t conditional. It’s not based on fair or kind treatment by your employer. Rather, you are to keep on being obedient no matter what. 1 Peter 2:18 says, Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.

Christian obedience is radical. If you’re told to do something, then do it joyfully, willingly, and obediently. Don’t grumble and complain. Don’t say: “It’s not my job!”

The term earthly masters infers …

1. That our submission to them is temporal

a) Our obedience to earthly masters only lasts for a while – it only covers our earthly employment

b) It has nothing to do with spiritual or moral matters.

2. That we also have a heavenly Master to whom we owe final allegiance and who is perfectly loving and just and kind.

So, how do we show this radical, Christian obedience?

1. Christian Obedience Is Shown In Your Attitude

It’s an attitude of respect - with fear and trembling (5b). This doesn’t mean that you cringe with fear before your employer. It doesn’t mean that you cower like a scared puppy in fright. Rather, it means that you honour and respect your employer, that you revere them, you acknowledge that the source of their authority is God.

It’s an attitude of sincerity - in sincerity of heart (5c). You are to be undivided in your loyalty, devoid of hypocrisy, with no ulterior motives. Your attitude is marked by integrity, wholeheartedness, uprightness, purity of motive.

It’s an attitude of submission - as to Christ (5d). This is the perspective that makes such obedience possible. Your obedience to your earthly master is actually obedience and submission to Christ. Your work becomes an opportunity to work for Christ and to submit to Christ. This is the fundamental Christian attitude – one of submission and obedience to Christ.

It has nothing to do with the character of your boss or his treatment of you. It has everything to do with submitting to Christ. Christians ought to be the most obedient, upright, respectful employees because they work as to Christ. This can make your testimony very believable and powerful. If your work ethic is different from unbelievers, if you speak, think, and act differently, you can have a powerful testimony. But if you always arrive at work late and leave early, do poor quality work, take long lunch breaks, and constantly complain about your boss, your testimony won’t be believable.

If your employer is a Christian, don’t think that you are entitled to special treatment. Christian employers are entitled to even more respect and obedience because they are brothers or sisters in the Lord. Give of your absolute best no matter who your employer is and in so doing you glorify God. If you can’t tolerate your work, then find something else, but don’t slack off so long as you work there. Keep on working as to Christ, be punctual, reliable, and co-operative.

First, then, Christian obedience is shown in your attitude. And second…

2. Christian Obedience Is Shown In Your Diligence (6-8)

A diligent Christian does not work with eye service as men pleasers (6a). You don’t seek to be the boss’s favourite. You don’t curry his attention or his recognition. Your objective is not just to make an outward impression. You don’t work just to catch the boss’s eye.

Don’t be superficial. Don’t “obey” in order to curry the boss’s favour. Don’t just work hard when the boss is looking and stop when he turns his back. That’s deceit. Integrity of heart excludes such behavior. Don’t do a good job just to make an impression or to please men for your own selfish ends, but rather, work hard whether you are recognized or not. Work diligently whether you are rewarded for it or not. A diligent Christian doesn’t work to please men.

Rather a diligent Christian works as a servant of Christ (6b). Regardless of denominational loyalties and official creeds, your true god is the one you serve. We are servants of Christ. A servant of Christ does the will of God from the heart (6c). You’re not just going through the motions at work. You’re not just attentive on the outside but miles away on the inside. Rather, you’re engrossed in doing the will of God from your innermost being, from your soul. Your heart’s desire is to glorify God in doing his will on the job.

Doing the will of God from the heart is part of your everyday life – at home, at work, at school, or at church. God’s will is all-encompassing. It is generated inwardly in your heart and soul and it is expressed outwardly in your attitude - your diligence, your wholeheartedness. What a contrast with those who do eye service, those who pay lip service, but have no inner conviction about how they work!

A servant of Christ serves with enthusiasm doing service as to the Lord and not men (7). The one who does the will of God does the work of God with all your strength (Eccl. 9:10), being fervent in spirit (Rom. 12:11), doing it heartily as to the Lord (Col. 3:23). Your enthusiasm comes from a new perspective. You no longer see yourself as a slave of men but as a slave of Christ, doing service as to the Lord and not men.

A diligent Christian, then, does not work to please men but as a servant of Christ.

And a diligent Christian works for God’s reward: …knowing that whatever good you do, you will receive the same from the Lord, whether you are a slave or free (8). This is the assurance that sustains the right attitude. Your boss may not adequately or properly compensate you for all the extras you do but God will, for all things are open and naked before him (Heb. 4:13). Work diligently because you know the Lord is the final judge - not your boss, not your Board of Directors, not your principal, not your manager, but God himself.

Rewards for doing good aren’t a matter of social position. It’s not just management people who are rewarded for results. We all have a profit-sharing plan with God whether you are an employee or employer. It’s this end-view perspective that makes it all worthwhile. You know that when you do the will of God for the glory of God that God will take note, that no good deed will go unnoticed or unrewarded. Whatever good deeds you do for the glory of God are never done in vain.

Many years ago, an elderly missionary couple returned from Africa to retire in New York City. As their ship steamed into New York harbour, they were cast down because of their bleak situation – they had no pension, their health was broken, they were discouraged and fearful about the future. What made it worse was that on board their ship was President Teddy Roosevelt, returning from a big-game hunting expedition in Africa. As the ship pulled into the harbour, a band was playing on the dock and a huge crowd had gathered to welcome the returning president, including the mayor of NY. But no one was there to meet the missionaries. They slipped off the ship and found a cheap apartment on the east side, hoping the next day to see what they could do to make a living in the city. That night the man’s spirit just broke. He said to his wife, I cant take this. God is not fair! We dont even know anyone to help us, or where to go. If God is faithful, why doesnt he meet our need? Why dont you ask him? replied his wife. All right, said the man, I will. He went to his bedroom and prayed for a while. Later, he seemed completely changed. His wife asked him what happened. Well, he said, the Lord settled with me. I told the Lord how bitter I was that the president should receive this tremendous homecoming when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord simply said, But youre not home yet!’”1

That’s a great truth, isn’t it? We may not receive just rewards in this life from our earthly masters but God will hand out the final reward when we get home. Any deed done for God will receive its just reward in the day of judgement.

Harmony in the workplace is generated by the obedience of the Christian employee. It is also generated by…

II. The Example Of The Christian Employer (9)

Christian masters need to demonstrate 3 principles…

1. Do To Others As You Would Have Them Do To You

Masters, do the same to them (9a). Treat your employees the way you want them to treat you. The culture in any organization stems from the top. If you want them to show a good attitude toward you, then you better show a good attitude toward them. Respect them, be sincere toward them. If you want obedience from them, make sure you show a submissive spirit yourself. Demonstrate mutual submission. If you want them to be conscientious and genuine toward you, then you make sure that you treat them honestly. Don’t you try to dupe your employees into doing what you want for your own selfish motives. If you want them to work diligently for you, then you’d better be diligent in providing them with good working conditions, wages, and benefits. If you want them to work with enthusiasm, give them something to be enthusiastic about - a happy environment, fair treatment.

Don’t get a high opinion of yourself because you’re the boss. Don’t think that you can practice different standard of ethics from everyone else. You aren’t protected by your position. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t exempt you from showing courtesy, respect, fairness. Do the same to your employees as you expect from them.

Make sure that you do the will of God from the heart, that you carry out your duties with zeal, that you conduct your business with God’s reward in mind. Give yourself a reality check once in a while. Ask yourself if you are working to please the Lord or self, if you want the Lord’s favour or man’s.

The first principle to be practised by Christian masters is “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The second principle is...

2. Don’t Misuse Your Power

giving up threatening (9b). Don’t use threats to get your own way. Slaves were powerless before their masters – they had no legal rights. To be threatened was a frightening thing for them. They had no place to turn.

But a relationship based on power isn’t a proper Christian relationship. Threats push people apart. Threats are a weapon of the powerful over the powerless. So, don’t use your position of authority unlawfully or to the detriment of those under you. Don’t provoke them like some fathers do their children. Don’t throw your weight around. Don’t lord it over them.

The third principal for Christian masters is this...

3. Remember, You’re Accountable Yourself

…knowing that your own Master also is in heaven (9c). You have a master as well - the ultimate Master in heaven. He holds ultimate power. His decision is final. You’re accountable to him. He’s your Master as well as theirs, so you are fellow servants of Jesus Christ together. You and your Christian employees are accountable to the same Master.

You aren’t any more important to God than your employees because there is no partiality with Him (9d). Your heavenly Master isn’t influenced by position, rank, or power. You may be used to being pampered and favoured by others because of your position but your heavenly Master shows no partiality to anyone. So, don’t be deceived into thinking that somehow He will favour you. He plays no favourites: He’s an impartial Judge. He loves you equally with those who work under you.


Harmony in the workplace is a matter of Christian perspective. It’s a perspective that allows you to see all your relationships differently and that you’ve been liberated from the slavery of pleasing men to the freedom of serving Christ. It’s a perspective that makes it possible for a housewife to order her household as though Jesus were her guest, for a teacher to teach children as if Jesus were in the classroom, for an accounts payable clerk to pay the bills as if Jesus were her customer, for a secretary to type correspondence and a factory worker to operate machinery as if they were serving Christ, for that is exactly what they are doing – serving Christ.

This is a perspective that generates harmonious relationships:

1) Because the superiority of the boss and subservience of the worker is replaced by mutual respect and admiration.

2) Because the worker obeys his boss wholeheartedly and the boss is kind to his workers.

3) Because the ill-will and dishonesty that was so prevalent in slaves is replaced by willing service, integrity, and industry; and

4) Because the cruelty and brutality of masters is replaced by consideration and love.

That’s what we must work for - a community of faith that is gloriously transformed into a new community in Christ where inequities are abolished, where we share our possessions, where we are all equal before God, where we practice mutual submission, where individuals are respected for who they are, and where harmony reigns supreme in all our relationships, a harmony toward which we are moving and which will ultimately be displayed in all its beauty and perfection in the New Jerusalem where we will be one with each other and with the Lord

1 Ray Stedman, “Talking with My Father,” 27.

Related Topics: Christian Life

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