Sermon: Working for Christ (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Working for Christ

Ephes. 6:5-9 (ESV)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,  [6] not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,  [7] rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  [8] knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.  [9] Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

As we begin to unpack this text today, it’s important that we think Bible and not think society.  As we look at the Scriptures they tell unanimously that slavery within God’s boundaries was not an evil of society.

Many folks have gotten sidetracked as they read texts of Scripture like this one.  They cry out why doesn’t Paul condemn slavery and why doesn’t Paul shout with all his breath that slavery is evil and sinful and that slave owners are unconverted hell bound sinners?  The fact is he doesn’t.  The fact is Jesus doesn’t.  The fact is God in the Old Testament doesn’t.

I thought I’d drop that bomb on you early on in the message in hopes that it will begin to sink in and you will have somewhat recovered by the time we get to the application of these very important divinely inspired words.

Before we begin to look at our text under consideration, let’s set in place a proper view of slavery and especially a view that will take us closer to our text.  Here more than ever, if we are to understand the text we must understand the times in which it was written.

Slavery was common in the ancient world.  In the ancient world, barring the abuses, it was a lot like the employer and employee relationships of today.

In OT times, God permits slavery under certain circumstances.  As a form of Divine judgment God allowed the Israelites to own slaves from among the nations.  The stipulations were that they could not make fellow Israelites slaves but could make slaves from among the godless nations around them.  When this happened, it wasn’t even necessarily against their will.  A poor foreigner could sell himself into slavery.  In this way the person would have food, clothing, and shelter.  It was very similer to being employed by the master.

Leviticus 25:44-45 (ESV)

As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you.  [45] You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property.

Another way a person became a slave was to steal from someone.  If the person was caught and could not make restitution then that person would become property of the person he stole from until the time everything was paid back.

Exodus 22:1-3 (ESV)

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.  [2]  “If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him,  [3] but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

In these cases, slavery was permitted.  We must see that in God’s economy, it was never a type of slavery that was like what we had in our country where entire families were kidnapped and brought to our country.  Stealing people and whole families is a horrible sinful practice that the Scriptures directly condemn.

Exodus 21:16 (ESV)

“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

It’s verses like this that John Newton, the slave trader in England thought of as he penned the hymn Amazing Grace.  He knew full well that because of his sins, he deserved death and yet the Lord granted him repentance and faith.

Slavery was permitted in the OT…

Slavery is not condemned in the NT either.

Paul doesn’t condemn the system of slavery because it isn’t exactly like what we think of when we think of slavery.  When it was practiced under God’s boundaries it was a lot like an employer and employee relationship.

Galatians 3:28-29 (ESV)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  [29] And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Paul could say this because whether one was a servant or a master, the blood of Christ has made them equal in His kingdom.  Rather than condemning slavery, Paul explains that the Kingdom of God is a leveling, equalizing kingdom.  Often, in the church of the first century the slave/master relationship would be turned around when they entered the church.  In the outside world the slave was the follower.  He did what his master told him to do.  Once they entered the church, the slave might be an elder and the master would submit to his leadership.

There were abuses but we must not allow the abuses to cloud our thinking.

Jesus didn’t condemn slavery.

Luke 7:2-10 (ESV)

Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.  [3] When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.  [4] And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,  [5] for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  [6] And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  [7] Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  [8] For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  [9] When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  [10] And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

The centurion’s servant was under his authority and did whatever he told him to do.  The centurion understood authority.  He was under the emperor’s authority; his soldiers were under his authority.  He also knew that the disease that plagued his servant was under Jesus’ authority.  Just like when the centurion gave an order, it was carried out.  He knew that Jesus could just give the order and the disease would obey.

Jesus didn’t say, you should not have a slave.  But rather He healed this man’s servant whom he loved and cared for.

So, I wanted to give you a brief history of slavery from the Bible so we could see together that under God’s system and with His boundaries the slave/master relationship is very close to an employee/employer relationship.

1.  Work as Servants of Christ (Ephesians 6:5-8)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,  [6] not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,  [7] rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  [8] knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

Again we must look to the verses leading up to this text…

Ephes. 5:15-21 (ESV)

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,  [16] making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  [17] Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  [18] And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,  [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,  [20] giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  [21] submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

If you are an employee, the Lord shows us through Paul how He wants us to walk in the spirit and submit at our jobs.

Like with all the rest of the relational texts and examples, we are to obey the Scriptures for the glory of Christ.  You are to work hard at your job, not to get ahead but to bring glory to your Lord.

To begin with, workers are called to obey their employers with fear and trembling. However, we must notice that the fear and trembling is not because your boss is mean but because you represent Jesus at your job.  You want to do a good job and work hard because whether your boss is a believer or not, will see the difference Christ makes in one’s life.  It goes on to say, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,

The bottom line is that whether you like your boss or not, whether your boss notices your efforts or not, you are to be diligent in your work.  Sooner or later someone will notice that you don’t stand around and do nothing even when there’s nothing really to do, you find something.  Even this is not for your benefit.  We don’t want noticed to get ahead.. [6] not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,  [7] rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, At times when other employees are grumbling and complaining you are hard at work.  When we work hard and are faithful to our employers, we will get noticed and compensated.  Because we are really working for the Lord and not for our employer, He will justly reward our efforts.

[8] knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

The thrust of this passage inescapable, we are to do our work as if Jesus was our employer.  We are to do it diligently but with a proper attitude.  Realizing that Jesus is our employer is the only way we can labor under certain less favorable conditions with a godly attitude.

The Lord takes us a step further here than to simply say as an employee…work hard!!  Jesus would tell us to work hard with a proper attitude.  The only way this can take place is if we are walking in the Spirit.  It’s not the deed done well only but the motivation is just as important.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us a story of some folks who were doing some of the right stuff but they were doing it for the wrong reasons.

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

We very plainly see in this example that Jesus declares to these folks who were doing good things with a wrong motive that He didn’t even know them.  More importantly, what really made the difference was that they were not His.  He says that He didn’t know them.  Their motivation in doing these acts was a selfish one.  They were not doing them for God’s glory but for theirs.

It may be that one way to tell if you are converted is to look at your motivation in doing whatever you do.

1 Cor. 10:31 (ESV)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

If you’re a worker, work for the greatest Boss in the world, work for Jesus.

You may not be an employee, you may be an employer.  If that’s the case, here’s your text:

2.  Lead as a Servant of Christ (Ephesians 6:9)

[9] Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

In this world, God has made some leaders and some followers.  If you are responsible for employees the Lord has given you a verse.

What Paul has in mind in this verse is that Christian employers just as 1st century slave owners must look out for their employees.  Promote the welfare of your people as you, in turn, expect them to promote your welfare.  It’s very unreasonable to expect a worker to have your best interest in mind if you do have his in mind.

He tells us to stop your threatening. In other words, let your approach be positive rather than negative as you deal with the people who are under you.  As a Christian boss you must care for them regardless of their attitude toward you.

Why must Christian employers treat their employees this way?

knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

God doesn’t care if you’re an employee or an employer.  There is no special treatment for masters, employers or leaders.  God is impartial.

The Lord requires a certain standard of behavior from His people.  Walk in the spirit whether you’re a wife, husband, child, parent, employee or employer.  As we follow these commands, our Lord will be lifted up.

Case Study-

Philemon and Onesimus

Here is an example of a master and a slave in the 1st century and how they respond properly to each other.

The text leads us to believe that Onesimus the slave had stolen from his master.  At the time of this incident, the slave was unconverted.  He meets Paul and through the gospel, the Lord opens his heart to believe.  Onesimus the thieving slave is changed.

As I read this text, look at the confidence in which Paul writes his beloved friend Philemon the master…

Read Philemon

We don’t have proof, however, by the simple fact that this is in our Bibles, we can be confident that Philemon did as Paul asked.

We never know about the consequences that will take place as a result of us acting in a way that honors Christ.  In church history we may have caught a glimpse of the runaway slave 40-50 years after his return to his master.

The story goes that Ignatius, one of the great Christian martyrs, is being taken to be executed from Antioch, his church, to Rome.  As he goes, he writes letters-which still survive-to the churches of Asia Minor.  He stops at Smyrna, and he writes to the church at Ephesus, and in the first chapter of that letter, he has much to say about their wonderful bishop.  And what is the bishop’s name?  It is Onesimus; and Ignasius makes exactly the same pun as Paul made-he is Onesimus by name and Onesimus by nature, the profitable one to Christ.— William Barclay

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