5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. 6 Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. 7 Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, 8 knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord. 9 And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. Ephesians 6:5-9 (CSB)
Well…this passage brings me to a spot which reminds me of something a college friend of mine said “back in the day.” Whenever we would get into various discussions or debates (or arguments) he, often at the point of frustration, would ask, “So, what is the bottom line?” As we consider Ephesians 6:5-9, we must ask ourselves that very question: “What is the bottom line Paul is communicating to his audience through these Holy Spirit inspired words?” We find the context, that is to say ‘the bottom line,’ for this passage in chapter five and verses fifteen and twenty-one: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise—… submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” Paul brings the application of spirit-filled living to the full extent of our lives…our lives within the local church…within the marriage relationship…within the family…and within the community through our work.
If we were not to do our due diligence, we might be tempted to make this passage say something which our Lord never intended and never would. Others, who take these five verses out of their context have misused them to assert that God condones and intends to institute slavery as legitimate for all time in every place–even going so far as to justify the race-based slavery which has been such a blight on the history of our nation and world. Doing that makes about as much sense as saying that Paul’s intent in Romans thirteen is to establish the necessity of imperial government for all time in every place. The text simply doesn’t go there (in either case), so me must not either.
Within this context, I believe the key verse of our focal passage…and thus the most significant application of the truth we find here…is verse six: “Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart.” In reality, we are all slaves. The Bible makes this point very clear. We have been created to serve, and as the venerable theologian, Bob Dylan, asserted, “You gotta serve somebody.”
As Christ-followers, we must submit ourselves to the will of our Savior and Lord to do as He commands. Doing otherwise, we find ourselves being mastered by the sin from which our Lord has rescued us. The Scripture clearly calls Jesus the Lord of our lives. Our lives are about everything we say and do. The life of wisdom must be applied to the fullest extent of who we are. We are slaving to serve…in our lives together as His churches, in our lives together as husbands and wives, in our lives together as parents and children, and in our lives together as masters (owners, employers, supervisors) and slaves (employees, workers, volunteers).
Today, and every day, may we approach the aspects of our lives with the submissive heart and mind of a slave. For in this service we find the greatest freedom to be all that God created us to be.