Submissive Employers

And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. – Ephesians 6:9

A “bondservant” was literally a slave. At the time of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church the Roman Empire had about sixty million slaves. This was due in part to the fact the Romans considered work to be beneath their dignity. Slaves were considered to be property or tools instead of a legal person. Roman law did not grant them legal rights. Thus, slaves were not always treated well. Juvenal wrote of a slave owner whose greatest pleasure was “listening to the sweet song of his slaves being flogged.” Roman law allowed a master to kill his slave. Yet this was rare due to the fact the slaves were too valuable. Such treatment of slaves led to slave uprisings, such as the legendary one led by Spartacus.

All employees have had the unwholesome experience of working for a mean and/or inept boss. One late afternoon a lady was called into the boss’s office and told she was to be given a raise and promotion immediately. The next day when she reminded him of this promise, he responded that she should never take him seriously in the afternoon because he was always drunk by that time. Although the Bible has a lot more to say about employees than it does about employers, the Lord and Master has several commands for bosses to consider.

Remember Position is Temporary

Paul begins by addressing employers: “And you, masters” (6:9a). The Greek word translated “master” is from the Greek kyrios. It is usually translated in the New Testament as “Lord”. Paul is using a wordplay between “masters” in the flesh and the Master in Heaven. Employer’s authority according to the flesh is only temporal.

Reciprocating Responsibilities

Paul sums up the duties of the masters to their servants by simply saying: “do the same things to them” (6:9b). Just as servants are to be obedient, respectful, serious, sincere, properly motivated, working for the Lord, while being of a cheerful disposition, and awaiting their reward from the Lord, so must they be. The master/servant relationship is a two-way street. The employer expects a fair day’s work so he must give a fair day’s pay. This is an application of the Golden Rule. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). A good boss is one who seeks to be pleasing to his Master. He will obey his boss, show respect to his workers, be serious about the work being done, be sincere and transparent. He will not be motivated by greed and the need for his ego to be stroked. Effective employers are servant leaders who are a joy to work with and work for.

Respond with Kindness

Paul informs masters that they must stop doing something which is very common to their position. They must give “up threatening” (6:9c). A management by intimidation is not acceptable to God. The Law of Moses warns, “You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God” (Lev. 25:43). They refrain from using their position to bully or harass or make unreasonable demands. With power comes the temptation to abuse such power. Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Being in a position to give orders to others often feeds the ego and inflates pride. This is often met with rage and resentment from the workers.

Although men are impressed with the elevated position of other men, God is the Creator and Ruler of the Universe and is not that easily impressed. The heart of a man is God’s focus. He wants bosses to treat others with respect Boaz in the book of Ruth greeted his workers with “The Lord be with you.” And they replied, “The Lord bless thee” (Ruth 2:4).

On a side note, what if a Christian is suffering while serving a mean and contemptible boss? Peter writes, “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:19-20).

The employee is tempted to wonder: “How can I soar with the eagles when I have to work with turkeys?” There are times when one needs to seek different employment.

Reverence Your Mutual Master

Seneca: “all slaves are enemies.” But Philemon was a master, Onesimus was his slave. Both of them were Christians. Both the slaves’ Master and their own Master is in heaven, and both are accountable to him. This is easy for master to forget. Paul reminds them “knowing that your own Master also is in heaven” (6:9d). Master and slave are equal before God (Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:11). Both are serving the same Master and should be seeking to please Him. Both have a higher-ranking Master in Heaven. All will die and go to judgment before Him.  As the boss respects His Master, he will be able to show respect for other workers for him that serve the same Master.

Respect Not the Person

Paul gives them a negative command: “and there is no partiality with Him” (6:9e). This may be literally translated, “takes the face”. Employers can show favoritism based upon many different traits of the employee and the selfish ambitions of the employer. Paul is saying that he cannot play favorites. Just as his Master is not a respecter of persons. Every employee is made in the image of God and has a valuable soul for whom Christ died.

The New Testament nowhere directly attacks or condemns slavery. Paul did not condemn slavery here; he did not condone it. The applied principles of Christianity did result in the end of this human institution. Dummelow said, “It freed slavery of its evils.”

Today, by applying Paul’s commandments to employers and employees, the relationship between them can be reformed and everyone’s Master can be glorified.

– Daniel R. Vess

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Categories: The Forum