The Book of Ephesians Series
“The Christian and Business Relationships”
In our study of the book of Ephesians during the past few weeks we have been looking at the Christian in relationships. We first looked at the Christian marriage where we discovered that a husband is to love his own wife even as himself and the wife is to respect her husband. (5.33) Last week we looked at the Christian family where we saw the children called to obey and honor their parents and parents were called to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (6.1-4) This morning we are looking at the Christian in business relationships. (6.5-9)
Our text this morning will address how Christian slaves are to render service to their earthly masters and how Christian masters are to treat their slaves. Of course, the Apostle Paul was inspired to write this epistle to the Christians in the city of Ephesus during the Roman Empire around 60 A.D. During this time the practice of slavery was widely accepted within the Roman Empire. Within today’s sermon I will address the issue of slavery in the first century and the teachings of Scripture concerning the attitudes and actions of both Christian slaves and Christian masters. But I also want address how we can apply these biblical principles to our lives today in the free world.
Let’s begin by reading our text today from Ephesians chapter six verses five through nine. Hear now the Word of God.
5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
“Slavery among the Romans was even more cruel than it had been among the Greeks. The slave was not considered to have any rights. The law offered the slave no protection. To be sure, there are recorded instances of masters who were kind to their slaves, but these were the exceptions. It is not surprising that a civilization which looked upon labor as “unworthy of a free man and vulgar” would welcome slavery.” (Willian Hendriksen, commentary on Philemon, page 233) And the Romans welcomed and practiced slavery wholeheartedly. Many times, there were more slaves in a Roman city than free people.
Let me say clearly that the Bible does not condone the capture, unjust restraint, or inhumane treatment of any individual. The Apostle Paul refers to slavery as a “yoke” (ITim.6.1) and uses biblical teachings of love, human dignity, and mutual submission to Christ to both Christian slaves and Christian masters. These instructions are given as a response to the burden, brutally, and cruelty that often-accompanied slavery.
I want to make it clear that by addressing Christian slaves and masters the Apostle Paul is not condoning the practice slavery but rather is speaking biblical truth to a social structure as he found it. The fact is there were believers in the church of Ephesus that were part of the social class known as slaves while others in the same church were of the social class known as masters. To ignore this reality would be foolish. So, Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives instruction to both Christian slaves and masters in how to glorify God in their present status.
The Christian Slave
The Christian slave must have gained great encouragement as they heard that their heavenly Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, was also a servant, the servant of Jehovah. (Is.42.1) How they must had identified with the One who girded Himself with a towel and wash the disciple’s feet. (Jn.13.1-20) The gospel must had become vivid as they heard that the Son of God came not to be served but to serve. (Mk.10.45) They must had developed an intimate bond with Christ when they discovered that He emptied Himself, took the form of a bond slave, humbling Himself, and becoming obedient. (Phil.2.7-8)
Our text this morning calls the Christian slave to change from conformity with this world and to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. As the Christian slave discards a worldly mindset and embraces a Christ-centered mindset the Spirit enables him to prove what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom.12.2) Please notice that in each of the four verses in out text that are addressed to slaves, Jesus Christ is identified as the center. Slaves were to be obedient to Christ. (6.5) They were to consider themselves as slaves to Christ not to their earthly masters. (6.6) They were to render service as to the Lord rather than to men. (6.7) They were to seek rewards from the Lord. (6.8) The Christ-centeredness in these instructions is striking. The mindset or worldview of the slave changed when they became a believer in Christ. As a believer the slave had been liberated from the slavery of man-pleasing to the freedom of serving Christ and doing the will of God from the heart. Instead of obeying earthly masters out of fear of punishment and retribution the Christian slave obeys their heavenly Master out of holy reverence and sincerity of heart, as to Christ. Instead of embracing the mindset of this world of ill-will and eyeservice the Christian slave experienced a transformation to willing serve with integrity.
This renewing of the mind is necessary for us today. Even though we live in a free society it is easy for us to adopt worldly mindsets when it comes to our employers, bosses, and supervisors. We must lay aside the old self and be renewed in the spirit of our minds trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. (Eph.4.22-23, 5.10)
The story has been told about a man watching another man pushing his wheelbarrow for hours with numerous loads of bricks. The man who had watched him working for hours eventually asked what he was doing. The working man answered, “I am building a cathedral for the Lord.” This is the Christian mindset as they perform their labor. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. (Col.3.23) The Christian teacher teaches for the glory of Christ. The Christian salesperson sales for the glory of Christ. The Christian manager manages for the glory of Christ. The Christian physician cares for patients for the glory of Christ. The Christian carpenter builds for the glory of Christ. The Christian shop owner and restauranteur runs their business for the glory of God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col.3.17)
The Christian Master
Paul continues his instructions, and masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. (6.9) Again, I want to stress the point that by addressing masters of slaves Paul is not condoning the practice slavery but rather is speaking biblical truth to a social structure as he found it.
Paul admonition to Christian masters was radical for those living in the middle of the first century in the Roman Empire. The mindset of the world was for masters to be physically abusive, domineering, and oppressive. But here the Apostle calls upon Christian masters to change from conforming to this world and to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. They were to do the same things and put Christ at the center of their relationships with their slaves. Instead of following the culturally accepted behavior of cruelty and brutality the Christian master was to show human dignity and respect.
Secondly the Christian masters were instructed to give up threatening. Basically, they were to stop using fear and threats to manipulate obedience. And lastly, they were to show no partiality between themselves and their slaves. They were to treat slaves with dignity and respect knowing that they both serve the same heavenly Master. Again, these principles would have been radical for the first century. I can only imagine the astonishment of the Christian masters as he heard this verse were read in public worship. I can imagine how they must had flung themselves at the feet of Christ asking forgiveness for the past and for a spirit of renew for the future.
The Christian and Business Relationships
Of course, we thank God that we live in a country where slavery no longer exists. But I believe we can take the principles expressed in this passage and apply them to our business relationships as Christian employers and employees. I believe there is a direct application of the principles and attitudes given to Christian slaves with the Christian employee today. And a direct application to the principles given to Christian masters with Christian employers today.
The Christian Employee
First the Christian employee should consider their obedience to their boss as to Christ. They are to consider themselves as slaves to Christ not slaves to the job. They are to render service as to the Lord rather than men and seek rewards from the Lord. Basically, the Christian employee should be Christ-centered doing the will of God from the heart. As believers in Christ we do our jobs not out the fear of getting fired but out of a holy reverence to our heavenly Master with a sincerity of heart, as to Christ. All of this requires a renewal of the mind.
I want to share with you two other passages written to Christian slaves that are relevant for Christian employees today. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.”(ITim.6.1) I want you to notice that Paul’s instruction is given to slaves who masters are not necessarily Christian. Regardless of the master being a Christian or not, the Christian slave was called to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor. We all know that it is easy to respect those who respect us, but it is difficult to show respect to those who don’t show respect. But the call of God is for us to seek God’s Spirit to enable us to regard everyone as worthy of all honor regardless if they are a believer or not. Maybe you don’t have a Christian employer, boss, or supervisor and that makes it easy for you not to show them honor but that type of attitude goes against Scripture.This verse teaches us that how we do our jobs and our work relationships are ways to honor God.
God Himself is the One who ordained work by placing man in the garden to cultivate it and keep it prior to the fall of humanity. (Gen.2.15) Even though work has become a hassle after the fall of humanity we still should do our work in a way the honors God. Paul mentions that our relationships with those over us should reflect what we believe saying, “so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.” Have you ever considered that the way you talk about your boss can diminish the greatest of God’s name and the Christian faith in the eyes of others? One the worst things to hear someone say is, “And you know he claims to be a Christian.” Sometimes we encounter bosses and supervisors who are unkind and inconsiderate, but we always need to be careful that our words and our attitude reflect the glory of God.
The other verse I want to share with you speaks to Christian employees who have Christian employers. Paul again wrote to Timothy saying, “Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.” (ITim.6.2) The Apostle instructs young Pastor Timothy to be diligent to teach and preach these practical principles of Christian living. Paul wants Timothy to instruct those who have Christian masters to know that it is not appropriate for them to take advantage of their Christian master, or employer. Yes, it is true that in Christ there is neither slave or free but that doesn’t give us the right to take advantage of our Christian employer. (Gal.3.28) As a matter of fact, the Christian employee should serve their Christian employer better than others because they are fellow believers and beloved.
The Christian Employer
As we seek to apply the principles given to Christian masters with Christian employers, we see that the Christian employer should set the example of working as unto the Lord and not just to make a profit. Even though you are in charge doesn’t mean that you are the master. Both the boss and the employee have the same heavenly Master and both share a mutual submission to Him. The Christian employer shouldn’t consider themselves to be part of a special class or superior because there is no partiality with God. A Christian employer should give up threating as a way to get employees to do what you want. Paul wrote to Christian masters in the church of Colossae, Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. (Col.4.1) And I believe this granting of justice and fairness is what sets Christian employers apart from others. Justice comes by treating everyone equally and providing days off, benefits, and personal leave. Fairness comes by paying fair wage for a day’s work and giving equal opportunity for advancement and promotion.
As we close out this section in the book of Ephesians on Christian relationship, I want you to see the common tread throughout these verses is living our lives in submission to Christ Jesus as Lord. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (5.22) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church.(5.25) Children, obey your parents in the Lord. (6.1) Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters . . . as to Christ. (6.5) And masters, do the same things to them. (6.9) The words of the Lord Jesus come to mind, “whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Mt.16.25) This is the common challenge for all believers whether you are a husband or a wife, a child, or an employee and employer. All are called to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and live for the glory of God in every aspect of our lives.