Several weeks ago we began to take a look at a section of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus that began back in Ephesians 5:18 where Paul encouraged the folks to be filled with the Spirit instead of being filled with wine. We learned that being filled with the Spirit of God leads to godly living while being filled with wine leads to debauchery, or ungodly living. Paul then lays out for us what godly living looks like in our closest relationships—the relationships shared by husbands and wives, parents and children, and last of all, masters and slaves, or in our day we would say, employers and employees. It is the last pair of relationships that we will take a look at this morning.
For many followers of Jesus today the thought of God being in the workplace or of our relationship with Jesus having anything to do with “where” and “how” we work is a thought that doesn’t even enter their mind. For many, God is confined to a building on Sunday morning, but those who have this mindset need to be reminded that, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (Psalm 24:1 NIV) For the followers of Jesus every area of life is an invitation to watch God at work, every sphere of life is a mission field, and every aspect of life presents us with the opportunity to surrender it to God’s will. Our work is an opportunity to allow the Lord to work through us, but if we see our work as nothing more than a job, instead of God’s assignment, then our work will be nothing more than that…just work. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning and see what we can learn. Turn with me to Ephesians 6:5-9 and let’s begin.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:5-9 NIV)
In Paul’s letter to the folks in Ephesus, he is describing to them what their relationships should look like if they are being led by the Spirit of God. You probably noticed that he doesn’t talk about employees and employers, he is writing to slaves and their masters. You and I are neither slaves nor masters, but the principles that Paul shares have perfect application for employers and their employees. Before we get into the application for our lives, in our workplace, let’s take a look at the situation going on in Paul’s day.
It has been estimated that there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire. The work of slaves supported and sustained the Roman Empire. The majority of slaves were laborers, but some slaves also served as doctors, teachers, and even within the administration of the Roman Emperor. Even though some slaves served in some very well respected positions, don’t let that lead you to believe that slaves were generally treated with respect in Roman society. William Barclay writes,
Often there were bonds of the deepest loyalty and affection between master and slave…but basically the life of the slave was grim and terrible. In law he was not a person but a thing. Aristotle lays it down that there can never be friendship between master and slave, for they have nothing in common; ‘for a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.’ Varro, writing on agriculture, divides agricultural instruments into three classes—the articulate, the inarticulate, and the mute. The articulate comprises the slaves; the inarticulate the cattle; and the mute the vehicles. The slave is no better than a beast who happens to be able to talk. Cato gives advice to a man taking over a farm. He must go over it and throw out everything that is past its work; and old slaves too must be thrown out on the scrap heap to starve. When a slave is ill it is sheer extravagance to issue him with normal rations. The law was quite clear. Gaius, the Roman lawyer, in the Institutes lays it down: ‘We may note that it is universally accepted that the master possesses the power of life and death over the slave.’ If the slave ran away, at best he was branded on the forehead with the letter F for fugitivus, which means runaway, at worst he was killed. The terror of the slave was that he was absolutely at the caprice of his master. Augustus crucified a slave because he killed a pet quail. Vedius Pollio flung a slave still living to the savage lampreys in his fish pond because he dropped and broke a crystal goblet. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [revised edition], 1976, pp. 179-180.)
Oftentimes, when discussing this section of Scripture, folks get off track by turning from the lesson at hand to discussing why Paul didn’t condemn slavery, which leads to why the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery. In pointing out that the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, it also has to be pointed out that it doesn’t condone slavery either. What the Bible does condemn in both the Old and New Testament is the mistreatment of any person.
Paul, and other New Testament writers, worked within society as they found it. They were a small, insignificant, powerless group in society, but they knew that the teachings of Jesus could transform any human heart, and in turn, any human relationship regardless of the situation within society. I think you will see, as we study our lesson for today, that the application of biblical principles still to this day holds the power to transform hearts and relationships in the workplace. John MacArthur writes,
Although slavery is not uniformly condemned in either the Old or New Testaments, the sincere application of New Testament truths has repeatedly led to the elimination of its abusive tendencies. Where Christ’s love is lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, unjust barriers and relationships are inevitably broken down. As the Roman empire disintegrated and eventually collapsed, the brutal, abused system of slavery collapsed with it—due in great measure to the influence of Christianity. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 324.)
It is because of Scripture like we have been studying for the past month that the Apostle Paul is made out by some to be a male chauvinist and promoter of the injustices of society, like slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we have learned from these studies, women, children, and slaves had no voice whatsoever in Roman society. Men held the power of life and death in their hands for all of those under their authority. Paul takes the household code of the Romans and turns it on its head by calling all of the followers of Jesus to submit to one another. Remember Ephesians 5:21? Let’s read it again. Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV) This is the theme and driving principle for each of the relationships he describes in Ephesians 5:22-6:9.
In the Roman household code there was no need to tell masters how they should treat their slaves, they could treat them however they wanted. Yet, Paul gives masters clear instructions. Also, it needs to be said that Paul encouraged slaves to gain their freedom when they had the opportunity to do so. In 1 Corinthians 7:21-23 we read,
21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. (1 Corinthians 7:21-23 NIV)
Paul says that slaves, who are in Christ, are the “Lord’s freed person.” You see, the key for you and me, as well as those who were reading Paul’s letter in the 1st century, is not our position in society as much as it is our position in Christ. I have a young friend who sits in prison this morning while you and I are enjoying our freedom. At this point in his life he has recognized the error of his ways, he is walking with the Lord, he is seeking God’s will for his life, and he is more free in prison then many folks who have absolute control over their time. Regardless of our situation in life we can find meaning and purpose, escape the mundane and meaninglessness, if we will recognize God’s hand at work in our life and our position in the workplace. Let’s take a look at Paul’s counsel to slaves found in Ephesians 6:5-8.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8 NIV)
Four verses devoted to how slaves, who are followers of Jesus, are to do what they are given to do. Did you notice something interesting about each of these four verses? “Christ” is mentioned in each verse. In verse 5, the slaves are to obey their masters as if they were being obedient to Christ. In verse 6, they are to serve, not to gain the approval of their masters, but as servants of Christ. In verse 7, they are to serve wholeheartedly as if they were serving the Lord, not people. Finally, in verse 8, they are told that they are to serve knowing the Lord will reward them for their work.
These principles, if followed by the slaves of Paul’s day, would transform the way they viewed their masters as well as the way they did their work. What is true for the slaves of the 1st century is true for you and me. If we will seek to learn and apply these principles to the way we see our supervisors and our work then we will view our work differently and those we work with will witness a transformation in us. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
Paul says that we are to be obedient to our bosses out of obedience to Christ. As long as our boss doesn’t ask us to do something that is unethical or breaks some law then we are to be obedient. We aren’t to complain or have an attitude; we are to do what we are told out of obedience to Christ. In another letter written by Paul, the letter to the church in Colosse, Paul writes,
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:22-24 NIV)
“Whatever we do…” What do you do? Are you a plumber, stay-at-home mom, an architect, mechanic, doctor, caregiver in a nursing home, janitor, teacher, attorney, volunteer in an organization, or…it doesn’t matter what it is that you do, or who you work for, you and I are to obey those we work under so that it might bring glory to God. You are not to do a good job because you like your boss or because your boss likes you; you are to do a good job because God has given you a job to do.
Paul says that we are not just to do a good job when our supervisor is watching us so that we might get a raise or a promotion. We are to do our job with “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” The Greek word Paul uses, which is translated, “sincerity,” is the word, “ἁπλότης” (haplotes), and it means, “singleness, simplicity, sincerity, or mental honesty. It describes the virtue of the person who is free from pretense and hypocrisy. In the very next verse, Ephesians 6:6, Paul gives us guidance as to how we are to work under the authority of others. He writes,
6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. (Ephesians 6:6 NIV)
Both the King James Version and the New American Standard Version of the Bible translates this verse like this: “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ…” The work we do, we do with all of our hearts, with full commitment, not to gain the approval of people, but rather because we are servants, slaves if you will, of Jesus our Lord.
I remember not too long after I came here to Britton Christian Church. Some people on the Board came to me and said that they wanted to come up with a Job Description for me. When they came to talk with me it was almost like they were defensive, like they were prepared for me to be resistant. What I didn’t know at that time was that they had problems with the pastor who was here before me. That experience helped to shape their expectations when they came to me. So, when they said they wanted to create a Job Description I said, “That would be fine.” I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do remember that they were not really convinced that I would be “ok” with it. Finally I said, “Whatever expectations you come up with will not be nearly as demanding as the expectations I already have of myself.” I wasn’t being arrogant or flippant; I simply wanted them to know that the sense of responsibility and accountability that I felt concerning the job that God had given me provided me with the motivation to try to do my job with excellence. Still to this day, after more than twenty years of being here, I do what I do not because I want to get a raise or because I want people to like me, I do what I do because the Lord has given me an assignment and I want to please Him.
It is that sense of responsibility and accountability to the Lord, a sense of God “calling” us to do what we do, that makes us a teachable, diligent, joyful asset to whoever we are working for in life. This is what gives us meaning and purpose in our work regardless of what kind of work we are doing and regardless of how difficult and demanding our job may be at times.
Howard Hendricks, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, had boarded an American Airlines flight when the announcement came that the flight would be delayed. The longer the delay the more rude a certain passenger became. Dr. Hendricks watched a flight attendant treat the obnoxious man with class. She was unwavering in her demeanor. When he was rude, she was polite. She was caring when he couldn’t care less. Howard was so impressed that he walked back to the flight attendant and told her what a good job she did, and that he was going to write a letter of recommendation to American Airlines. The flight attendant said, “Thank you sir, but I don’t work for American Airlines, I work for Jesus Christ. It’s Jesus Christ who gives me the power to be patient with people.”
The flight attendant is a glowing example of the mindset that we all are to have as we go to work each and every day. We do what we do, we seek to be a blessing to the company we work for, the employees we work with, and the customers we serve not because we want to get a raise, promotion, or the commendation of people, but for the glory of God. It is this mindset alone that can transform your work into a calling. Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke to a group of kids. Listen to what he had to say.
And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures…like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
We are to do the work the Lord has given us as if we are rendering service to the Lord because that is exactly what we are doing. Let’s turn our attention to the bosses, the masters, those of us who are supervisors and employers. Paul writes,
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:9 NIV)
Remember, the underlying command to all believers is to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” To submit to one another means to place the welfare of the other person above that of our own. So, for employers, and those in authority in their place of work, you and I are to seek the welfare of those who work under us. John MacArthur writes,
A Christian employer’s relationship to his employees should have the same motivation and goal as a Christian worker’s relationship to his employer: the desire to obey and please the Lord. An employer is to use his authority ‘as to the Lord,’ just as workers are to submit to authority ‘as to the Lord.’ That is an expression of their mutual submission in being ‘subject to one another in the fear of Christ.’ (5:21) (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 329)
If you are a supervisor or employer then you need to know that you have been placed in your position by the Lord alone. He opened a door for you and He opened that door so that He might use you to bless your employees, those who work under your authority. That doesn’t mean that you are a pushover or that you go “easy” on your employees, but it does mean that you serve them, that you seek their welfare, and that you have as your goal that they see something different about you. The difference you want them to see is Jesus.
Being a boss or supervisor can have a disastrous impact on one’s relationship with the Lord. That may sound strange to some of you, but if you stop to really think about it, Jesus cautioned His followers about the temptations that come from having power. He urged them to be servants and not to “lord it over” others. Let me show you what I’m talking about.
In Matthew 20, the mother of James and John went to Jesus and asked that He allow her boys to sit at His right and left hand when Jesus established His Kingdom. After He finished His discussion with their mom we read where Jesus called all of the disciples together. Let’s pick up in Matthew 20:25.
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)
Jesus came to serve, He calls His followers to serve, and when we are placed in positions of power we tend to abuse it. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The late Chuck Colson, who was a powerful, influential man in President Nixon’s cabinet, said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
It is interesting that when Paul gives direction to the masters, or employers, he tells them that they are to do the same things that he tells the slaves, or employees to do—they are to do what they do out of reverence for Christ and for the glory of God. The one difference in Paul’s counsel given to slaves and masters is found in verse 9 where Paul writes,
…Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:9 NIV)
Bosses are not to threaten their employees. Godly discipline, training and correction, are something altogether different than threats. Paul tells the masters, and he would say to the supervisors and employers today, train and correct those under your authority, even fire them if you must, but don’t misuse your authority to keep those under you walking on eggshells.
When you stop to think about it the thing that sets employees and employers who are followers of Jesus apart from the rest of the employees and employers is purpose. Those who find meaning and purpose for what they do, outside of themselves, will stand out from the crowd. Those whose only purpose in their work is to make money will become bored, disillusioned, and dissatisfied with their work regardless of what they are paid or what perks they are given.
Before we leave here this morning I want to dig a little deeper than merely talking about employees and employers and the purpose and meaning we derive from our walk with the Lord. I want to talk about life. Just as boredom and dissatisfaction will eventually characterize the person whose only purpose in going to work every day is make more money and acquire more things so the person who lives only for themselves will become bored and dissatisfied with life. It doesn’t matter how exciting life can be the excitement will die down if we don’t have a purpose beyond ourselves.
Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna, Austria. He went to medical school and in 1940 was the head of the Neurology Department at Rothschild Hospital in Vienna. On September 25, 1942, Dr. Frankl, his wife, parents, and his brother were arrested in Vienna and taken to a concentration camp in Bohemia. All but Dr. Frankl would die at the hands of the Nazis. Dr. Frankl was prisoner #119,104. He would spend time, over the next three years, in three different Nazi concentration camps living under the most harsh conditions. Dr. Frankl had every reason to give up hope. He not only survived Auschwitz and Dachau, but he learned one of the most valuable lessons in life—regardless of the circumstances, a person still has the freedom to choose how they will see their circumstances and find meaning in them. Dr. Frankl didn’t get mired into the suffering of the concentration camps, he found a reason outside of himself to endure such suffering. He wrote a book once he was released called, Man’s Search for Meaning. The book has sold over 10 million copies and been translated into 24 languages. It was voted one of America’s ten ‘most influential books’ in a Library of Congress survey. In another book, written in 1978, called The Unheard Cry for Meaning, Dr. Frankl writes,
For too long we have been dreaming a dream from which we are now waking up: the dream that if we just improve the socioeconomic situation of people, everything will be okay, people will become happy. The truth is that as the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. (Frankl, Viktor E., 1978, The Unheard Cry for Meaning: Psychotherapy and Humanism, New York: Washington Square Press. pg. 21)
We all have the means to live, but most people have no meaning to live for. People can find all kinds of reasons, motivations, and inspirations to do what they do, but ultimate meaning comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. He will not only save you from eternal separation from God, but He will save you from yourself and give you a new reason to live, a new reason to love, a new reason to serve and care for others even more than you care for yourself. Won’t you invite Him into your heart today?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 10, 2013