5 Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; 6 not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. – Ephesians 6:5-8
There are five great texts in the New Testament dealing with the Master/Slave relationship: Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; 1 Peter 2:18-21; Tit. 2:9-10. “About three times as much space is given to the subject of the responsibilities of slaves as that of the masters. The reason for this is not that the one is more crucial. But the slaves would obviously be less content with their lot and more inclined to rebellion against a system whose oppression touched them personally” (Green, Ken, Lessons in Ephesians, Gospel Anchor, 4f). Although we no longer have to deal with slavery, much conflict still exists between workers and management. What Paul teaches about submissive employees and employers in this section certainly applies to Christian’s and their bosses today. Paul gives seven commands which should be followed by today’s employees.
1) Be Obedient
The first command to “bondservants” is to “be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh” (6:5b). God created work and said it was good (Gen. 1:31). A Christian should not focus primarily on whether his boss is a good man and treating him well. His first concern must be whether he is doing right by his employer. Obedience is commanded in regard to all bosses “not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh” (1 Peter 2:18b). Paul adds to this command in his letter to Titus that servants are “to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Tit. 2:9-10). All bosses will mistreat their employees from time to time. Employees will be disobedient. However, whether or not the treatment is fair and the pay equitable, obedient service is still required by God.
There is an obvious exception to the Christian’s obedience to his boss. God does not expect us to disobey Him while serving our employers. The apostles were commanded by the Sanhedrin to stop preaching Jesus and His resurrection. “But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge…. “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19; 5:29). “An employer wanted his secretary to be deceptive for him in responding to a telephone call. She explained that she was a Christian and could not do that. He fired her. Two weeks later, he called her back. He had not been able to sleep. Now he has begun to worship in the church and is beginning to practice biblical principles in the workplace. She was willing to give up her job for Christ and her boss now is trying to adorn the gospel in his life.” (Caldwell 303). Christian employees preach sermons to their employers by how they conduct themselves at work.
2) Be Respectful & Serious
The attitude which is to accompany obedience is “with fear and trembling” (6:5c). Peter similarly wrote, ”Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear” (1 Pet. 2:18). This fear is not shaking in our boots before the boss. It is a seriousness associated with respecting the position and authority. Again, this is true even if we do not believe our boss to be honorable and deserving of our respect. In addition, as an employee one must have a healthy fear of disobeying the Lord by not obeying his boss.
3) By Sincerely Serving
Next Paul speaks to the motivation of the employee. Work is to be done “in sincerity of heart, as to Christ” (6:5d). “Sincerity” means “singleness of heart.” Literally, it comes from a compound term meaning “without wax.” When a vendor was selling fine pottery in the market, a buyer had to beware. When a crack was found in the product a vendor would conceal the flaw with some wax. A wise purchaser would hold up a piece of pottery to the sun to see if the “sun test” would reveal any dark lines of wax. If the pottery passed the test, it was considered sincere or without wax. Many employees serve their bosses out of love of money or in hopes of gaining approval and thus privileges. Christians are to work without ulterior motives or hypocrisy. They are to work with single-mindedness, that is, focused wholeheartedly on the task at hand.
4) Being Properly Motivated
A negative example of insincere service is given. Work is to be done “not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ” (6:6a). This motivation for work is clearly exposed when the employee is working only when the boss is paying attention or working extra hard when the boss is watching. Work is not to be performed just to attract the attention of the boss. The hypocrisy of this type of worker is evident in the secretary who types fast when the office manager is present but visits with her friends when her boss is not around. Or the man who calls in sick when perfectly healthy. Others include those who arrive late and/or leave early, conduct personal business while on the clock, give their work to others, have a lazy attitude of doing just enough work to keep from getting fired.
The employee who is a child of God must remember at all times God is watching. The Master of all masters and every Christian is always present. If an employee is a Lord-pleaser he will not have to worry about pleasing his boss.
5) Working for God
Notice the focus in this passage is not the master but Deity. “Bondservants, be obedient … as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God …as to the Lord…from the Lord.” Christians are working for God when at work. Employees are to be “doing the will of God from the heart” (6:6b). Christ is the “Lord” or master or boss. This is true on all submissive relationships. The wife submits to her own husband “as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22), and the husband loves the wife “as Christ also loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). Children obey their parents “in the Lord” (Eph.6:1), and parents raise their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
How much better all employees would be if they looked from their heart to serve the will of the Big Boss. Whenever Joseph worked for his father, Potiphar, the prison keeper, or Pharoah of Egypt, his desire was to please God.
Working for God from the heart may also involve the idea of doing it enthusiastically. Elsewhere Paul wrote, “and whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Col. 3:23). Solomon advised, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Eccl. 9:10). The kind of employee that pleases God will put his heart and soul into his work.
6) By Cheerfully Serving
Workers who enjoy working and do so with a smile are also pleasing to God: “with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (6:7). The term “goodwill” could also be translated “wholehearted” or “cheerfully” or “pleasantly”. This is not the employee who goes around with a downtrodden look upon his face. This tells everyone that he does not want to be there and doing his job. It is much more pleasant to work for a boss who smiles and puts his whole heart into his job. The same is true when working with employees who have the same disposition.
7) By Trusting God to Reward
One can stand anything for a few days, if there is a happy prospect of brighter times ahead. Paul’s final encouragement to Christian employees is “knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” (6:8). God will reward righteous service. He will see that no good deed is done in vain. Every employee will reap what he sows (Gal. 6;7). Great men of the Bible were first servants before God made them rulers: Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel, Nehemiah, etc. Remember, payday from our Master does not come at the end of the week. Our reward is at the end of our lives. When this life is over and our work here on earth is done may the faithful Christian worker here the Master say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).
The poor employee will give a thousand reasons why he cannot do his job well, with the right attitude and motivation. However, the Bible gives him one reason why he can: his Lord and Master is who he is serving every day he goes to work. Both employee and employer can sit next to each other at work. They can sit next to each other in worship. But in either place they are still serving the same Master.
Paul referred to himself frequently as a slave of Christ (Gal. 1:10). All men today are slaves. Some are slaves to sin, but Christians are slaves of righteousness. “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).
– Daniel R. Vess