5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
(Ephesians 6:5-9 NIV)
Paul continues on with his instructions for practical daily living. Today’s text is still under the topic of submission of ourselves to one another out of reverence and respect for Christ (chapter 5, verse 21).
Paul covered the family (5:22 through 6:4); he now goes on to cover employer-employee relations.
Paul uses the terms “slaves” and “masters”, as that was the primary employer-employee relationship in his day. Since we don’t use those terms in our culture, we’ll substitute “employee” and “employer” instead. The Biblical principles are the same.
The basic idea that Paul expresses is still pointed back to chapter 5 verse 21, where submission to one another is the key to making everything work.
Paul is speaking about the character of the relationship, not the legal or contractual obligations of the relationship. Paul is not defending the slavery system, with its cruel and inhumane injustices, which was the norm in Roman civilization. He was speaking about normal household domestic or agrarian help, where people worked for money, food, or some combination of both.
Paul addresses employees first, encouraging them (and us) to serve faithfully, as if we are working for the Lord, and not for our employer. This means both a good boss and a bad boss.
Peter also addresses our attitude as employees, in both situations:
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
(1 Peter 2:18 NIV)
Paul then goes on to address employers, warning them to not take up the practices of the Romans, and treat their employees with threats of harm (physical, emotional, financial, or any other kind). Paul reminds us who are bosses that, as followers of Christ, we all work for the bigger boss, God, who is in heaven, and He has no favorites for employees.
Isn’t it great to know that God loves us all the same and treats us with justice and mercy? We don’t deserve it, but He does anyway. We may all go through different situations; God never promises to be “fair” and make our lives easy or comfortable. But He does promise justice to those who treat His children wrongly, and mercy to us when we sin.
May we work as employees and employers, remembering that we all serve our Master, Jesus Christ. It is Him that we ultimately desire to please, not those here on earth. Our earthly employers and employees are a by-product of our relationship to Christ, and our daily walk and direction by His Holy Spirit.