Part 33 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
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Bondservants, 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 bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him (6:5-9).
Slaves of Christ
This passage is addressed to slaves (“bondservants”) and masters. “It is estimated that slaves composed about one-third of the population of a city like Ephesus” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2273). This is a difficult passage to apply to modern life since slavery is no longer an acceptable practice. (The New Testament never condones slavery. We must also keep in mind that the Roman institution of slavery was different from the institution of slavery in North America during the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. For example, the slavery of Paul’s day was not based on race. Paul’s focus was not on politics. His mission was to preach the gospel so that the hearts of individuals would be changed. As hearts are changed, people’s attitudes towards issues like slavery change.)
We can see within these verses not only the relationship between slaves and masters but also our relationship with Christ. One of the titles for Christ in the New Testament is “Lord.” The Greek word for “lord” is kyrios, which can also be translated “master.” Paul refers to “earthly masters” (v. 5) because all Christians have a heavenly Master (v. 9), the Lord Jesus Christ.
To be a Christian is to be a slave of Christ.
The Greek word for “slave” is doulos. (The word is also translated as “servant” or “bondservant.”) In his book Slave, John MacArthur states that there is a crucial difference between servants and slaves: “…while servants are hired, slaves are owned. Believers are not merely Christ’s hired servants; they are His slaves, belonging to Him as His possession. He is their Owner and Master, worthy of their unquestioned allegiance and absolute obedience. His Word is their final authority; His will, their ultimate mandate” (p. 198). Our slavery to Christ is not forced; we are his willing slaves. And, paradoxically, slavery to Christ brings freedom. (In Romans 6:15-19, Paul writes that everyone is either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness.)
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave [doulos] of Christ. You were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 7:21-23). And Peter urges his readers, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants [doulos] of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Every Christian is called to serve both Christ and others. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
Church leaders are not exempt from service. A church elder is called “the Lord’s servant [doulos]” (2 Tim. 2:24). The Greek word for “deacon” (diakonos) means “servant.” Jesus said to his twelve disciples (future church leaders), “Whoever would be first among you must be your slave [doulos]” (Matt. 20:27; Mark 10:44).
Several times in his letters, Paul calls himself a “servant” (doulos) of Christ (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1). Paul also viewed himself as a slave to others, “Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people” (1 Cor. 9:19). “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants [doulos] for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
Even Christ, our Lord, humbled himself and took “the form of a servant [doulos]” (Phil. 2:7). To the shock of his disciples, Jesus performed the duty of a slave by washing their dirty feet (John 13:1-11). His ultimate act of service was his death on the cross for our salvation. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; cf. Matt. 20:28).
Living as Christ's Slaves
As Christ’s slaves, we must remind ourselves of the following two truths.
1. Whatever we do, we can do it to serve Christ.
Paul tells salves to obey their masters “as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (vv. 5b-7). Even the most mundane task can be seen as service for our Lord.
2. Whoever we are, we will be impartially judged by Christ for our service.
Paul motivates slaves by telling them that “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (v. 8). And he motivates masters by reminding them that “he who is both [your slaves’] Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him” (v. 9). Christ will not favor them over slaves based on their social status. We are all equal in Christ’s eyes. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul urged Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus (who had since become a Christian) not merely as a slave, but as a “beloved brother” (Philem. 1:16).
We are saved by grace, not by works. But one day we will all stand before Christ, and he will evaluate our works. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). What we do matters.
In this life, we spend much time and effort working toward many goals. We want to earn a university degree. We want to advance in our job. We want to make improvements to our home. We want to save money for retirement.
But in that moment when you and I stand before Christ, we won’t be thinking of our university degree or our job position or how nice our home was our how much money we saved. What will matter most of all will be whether or not we hear from our Lord Jesus Christ the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21; cf. Luke 19:17). May you and I strive each day to please the one who die for us.