‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.’ (Ephesians 6:5 NIV)
When we just read this verse from a 21st century perspective we can lose the impact of what Paul is saying. The very fact that he is addressing slaves was a radical notion. The very fact they were being included and that they actually had a choice about how to behave would have seemed ridiculous to 1st century ears.
The Roman Empire didn’t think of slaves as people, rather they were tools to be used and disposed of as and when you wished. They were treated in a similar way you and I would treat our mobile phones: Turn it on and off when we want, use all of its various functions to serve us and then when it’s passed its best-before date, trade it in for a newer model. Our phones have no ‘rights’; we do with them as we want. Same with slaves!
But here Paul is addressing them as full members of the church, in the same way as he has been addressing husbands and wives, and parents and children. They are every bit as included within the Christian community as their masters, and they are treated as human beings with dignity and respect.
Just as he gives guidance on how people are to behave in their family relationships, Paul also gives advice to slaves about their behaviour:
‘Obey your earthly masters with respect and fear’.
But the real shocker is that they are to do so
‘with sincerity of heart’. In other words they are to serve wholeheartedly, even when the boss is not looking. (V.6)
How might this apply to us today?
We are all included in the assembly of believers whatever our status because everyone has been included in Christ’s work of salvation.
Although we are not slaves we can often feel that we are. Others call the tune, and we have to dance. We may have a particularly nasty boss at work or a strict, officious teacher at school; how should we as a Christian react?
We could ‘rage against the machine’, but that’s not what Paul is saying here.
We are to approach our tasks diligently, even when we have a ‘bad master’, and do things sincerely.
The real point is that we work for a greater master:
‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people’ (V.7) and God will reward us as we do the right thing (V.8).
I wonder: How might that approach transform our attitude towards the jobs that confront us?
Why not give it a go and see.
Dear Lord, teach me that everything I do, I do for thee.
Have a good week working for the Lord.