As we come to this passage we come to the third passage in the household relations or the household code. And we come to the slave and master relationship. Now as we look at what it says here many are surprised that the Word of God does not speak out loudly against slavery. But the intention here is not to alter societal norms, but with the individuals functioning in those norms and how they are to depict the greatness of Christ. Certainly the extension of Christianity brings freedom, and that led to the downfall of slavery in the Roman Empire but we are to show whatever circumstances we are in the beauty of divine grace.
Now as you look at these commands you have to recognize that slaves were connected to the house of their master. Some lived in agrarian societies and the slaves work in the fields owned by their masters. Some were shop keepers and the slaves would work in their shops. Some were merchants and they would do whatever was necessary in order to bring the business forward. So the closest correlation that we have here is between employer and employee relations. We recognize that there is work to be done and there are those who labour and those who are responsible for the labourers. And when you look at employee and management relations you see that there is much dishonesty and distrust. The employees want more money, benefits and an easier work load. The employer wants more productivity and more money coming in. The hatred between the two groups is really fueled by greed. As we get more things and more assets in this life than we want more because greed is something that cannot be satisfied.
And this passage is really timely because so many are struggling with work. And I think that this passage is important for a few different reasons. One is that we think that our work is unimportant and we might even be bored by what we do seeing no lasting value. What the Pastor does on Sunday morning is important but what I do really is not all that important. And then we have this passage that informs us that our work, our labour, really does matter to God. It is important to Him and is a great means of glorifying Him as we work. And that is something that you have to remind yourself of: your work matters to God no matter what you are employed in doing.
Second reason that this passage is so important is that we live in two different worlds. We come to church and have our relations here, but often when we go to work we work with people that never come in contact with my other life. It is just like I exist in two different worlds, and one never impacts the other. Therefore, it is so easy to live inconsistently, and really not live for Christ. It is so easy to adopt unethical practices, and not remember that this is a major aspect of our lives, and God wants us to work and function in such a way that we show that we are believers in Christ and show the worth of our salvation. What we know about God and Christ and salvation should have a major impact in how we work.
The third reason this passage is important is God has sent the people that you work with into your life by divine appointment. They are not their primarily to frustrate you or to anger you or just to laugh with, but they are there so that you can be a divine witness of Christ’s grace through how you work. There should be a joy and purpose as we go to work that causes us to labour in such a way that we show our love and gratitude and delight in Christ in ordaining this job to meet our needs and even above our needs.
So the question becomes: how are you working? What is your theology of work? What is you purpose for going into your place of employment every single day and week? Have you drawn a line about what is secular and what is divine in your life? God wants to change why you work and how you work, and that is why He has given you this passage. As we start this passage I want us to see couple things this morning. I want us to see the command. I want us to see the way we carry out this command, and hopefully realize the glory of labouring for Christ.
1. We need to see the command. V.5
Again, it is amazing when we look at a command like this that so many never seem to be convicted of their sin of not doing their best at work, or that they are always complaining, and just do enough to get by. Many believers just accept the standards of those who are around them rather than accept what the word of God says about their work. And one of the reasons why many do not obey this passage is because of their employers, but as you look at this passage there is no exception clause. There is no clause that says you have to have a boss who is likeable or who showers benefits on you or whatever. No, there are no exception clauses but a command from God. The reason we do less than our best is not because of justice or because we want equity but basically we love self, more than we love God.
Look at the command, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh.” Again the command is not difficult to understand but it is the application to our own lives in the places of our employment. Now let me say that Paul handles the one in the submissive relationship first. This is the extension of 5:21, and also the outworking of one who is Spirit-filled. A person who has saturated his mind with God’s Word will see the necessity of following this command. And let me also say, like the instructions given to the wives these instructions are unique. Usually, any ethical instructions that were given were given to the masters and how they should rule their slaves. But Christianity sees slaves and their labour as significance. And God sees what you do, whatever it is as significant. You can take so much encouragement in this passage again that how you make a living, how you serve others, how you provide for your family really matters to God.
Now this command “be obedient” is in the present tense, and the reason that is significant is because it is ongoing. It is always present. You never have to wonder what the will of God is at work. It is to be obedient. Also, the word “masters” is the Greek word “kurios,” which is the word that is used throughout this epistle for Christ. And Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit explains what he means with the phrase “according to the flesh.” In other words it is their earthly masters or their earthly employers. And the thought here is that there is to be a devotion in our work like we would be devoted to Christ. So this obedience to put a good day’s work in at our places of employment is to be done willfully and joyfully. We are not to do it grudgingly but recognize that this command comes from God, and remember the context that we show the worth of our salvation as we walk in this way. This is wisdom in God’s eyes. Not to do our best in our places of work is not only disobedient but it is to walk in foolishness and therefore disgraceful to God. It is incredible that we can have a huge sector of our lives where we are not following Christ and making much of Him.
We need to do our best no matter who our employer happens to be. He might be a believer and when you sit with him in service both of you are on the same standing, and function the same, but in the place of employment you are in a place where you have to submit. Your boss might be difficult and hard on you but listen to 1Peter 2:18, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but those who are unreasonable.” This is how you reflect God. Titus 2:9-10 says, “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” Think about what that passage is saying. We show what we believe about God by how we work and even how we talk about our employer or talk about them. We show our doctrine according to our work ethic. As you look at your work ethic what does it say about God and your love for Him? What does it say about the worth of your relationship with Him? And this is where we come to our next point.
2. We need to see how we carry out this command. V.5b.
God just doesn’t want us to muster up the moral fortitude to work hard, but wants us to see that the key in carrying out this command is your relationship with Him. Your motivation is Christ. That is why your relationship with Christ has to be preeminent whether in marriage, or in bring up a family or in our work place. The key to carrying out this command is having a world view that has God at the center. We go through extremes when looking at work that are unhealthy. One is that success at work means success at life. All of his efforts are put into advancing at work no matter what the cost. A person might be successful at work but his home life might be disastrous, and we certainly would not look at that person as a success. Another is that we go to work in order to earn a living. Work is nothing else but a way of putting food on the table and providing for my family. It is a necessary evil of life, but has little purpose beyond that. That means that a large portion of our lives are not lived for Christ or have very little impact for His glory and kingdom. If you carry around those views, which the majority of the world does, it will affect your relationship with Christ and your testimony with Christ. God wants us to see how we carry out this command.
Look how Paul says we carry out the command to be obedient to those who are over us: “with fear and trembling.” This is the kind of obedience that men and women should have to their employers. The idea behind these two words is that they are often used of our worship and reverence before God. The idea of fear and trembling is not like an unbeliever who cowers from God but has the idea of reverence, honor and respect. This is the kind of attitude that you need in front of your employer. Now he or she might not be all that he or she needs to be, and the abuse of power and authority has always been with us, but you have to remember that God is the one that put him in that place of authority, and God knew about your circumstances. You have to have this attitude under God. Faithful believers will recognize the sovereign goodness of God and will respond in the way this verse commands. This is how you are to be a testimony to Christ in your place of employment.
Now look at the phrase, “in the sincerity of your heart.” The idea here is that this is not hypocritical but this obedience derives from the inside, and not from ulterior motives but with sincerity or with a single minded focus. The focus is to do their job with a focus of being a blessing to their masters. That is their objective. This is done without bragging or complaining but as the Lord has blessed you, you need to be a blessing to your employer.
Now Paul really brings out the purpose of having an undivided and singleness of mind with the next phrase: “as to Christ.” Don’t you love that? Doesn’t that give you purpose in the work place? The way or reason for obeying those who are over us is also given as the reason or way that wives are to submit to their husbands in 5:22. The idea here is just like we obey Christ you are to obey your master or employer. It is not the idea of being belligerent or hard to get along with or whatever, but doing so with a single-minded focus of glorifying Christ. You are to labor and are laboring “as to the Lord.” And that is the key throughout this section of instructions given to servants. Verses 6 explains, it as “slaves of Christ,” and verse 7 says, “as to the Lord,” and verse 8 indicates that God will reward someone for their faithful service in their place of employment. The key here as in all of these relations is worship to Christ. It is making much of Christ. Think about it if you love God than you want to do what God wants you to do. You are not only serving man through your employment you are serving Christ. If you are doing anything beneficial such as working retail or building cars or investing or whatever, then do it to your greatest ability for the sake of Christ. Remember 1Cor. 10:31, “Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Why do we work in this way? It is for the glory of God.
God not only has redeemed you to Himself, but has redeemed work also. Work is not given because of the fall. We recognize that God is a working God. All you have to do is look at creation and we recognize that. God commanded man to keep and tend the garden before the fall. No the curse has to do with the futility of work. We have to do the same things and it never ends. There will always be new weeds in the garden. No car lasts forever but begins to wear out and rust and that process is part and parcel of the curse. God has made us to live with purpose and for reason. If your work is no more than earning a paycheck then you will always struggle with why we work, and work will seem bland and boring and needless in an otherwise good life. Your business and boss will never seem worthy of your devotion or your best effort.
But when you bring Christ in the picture it changes every moment and every day that you work. The reason you work and labor is not because of the worthiness of your employer or the big fat paycheck that you get but the worthiness of your Saviour. It is because and for Christ that you labour. The sovereign God is glorified when you come home and you are fatigued because you have put a good day’s labour in. You glorify God by your effort who gave you that job. Glorify Him and all that you do.You might not get what you deserve at work just like the ancient slaves many times did not. You might have a job where you work below your abilities. It might seem that there is so much loss at work but redeem your work by making much of Christ. Know that you can glorify Him by all that you do and say.