A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:5-8. 3) The duty of slaves (continued).
It is immediately remarkable that in his *Haustafeln* Paul should address himself to slaves at all. The simple fact that he does so indicates that they were accepted members of the Christian community and that he regards them as responsible people to whom, as much as to their masters, he sends a moral appeal. If children are to obey their parents, slaves are to obey their *earthly masters* (verse 5), and for the very same reason, namely that behind them they must learn to discern the figure of their *master…in heaven* (verse 9), namely the Lord Christ. In each of the four verses addressed to slaves Jesus Christ is mentioned. They are to be obedient *as to Christ* (verse 5), to behave *as servants (literally ‘slaves’) of Christ* (verse 6). to render service *as to the Lord* rather than men (verse 7), knowing that they will receive good *from the Lord* (verse 8). The Christ-centredness of this instruction is very striking. The slave’s perspective has changed. His horizons have broadened. He has been liberated from the slavery of ‘men-pleasing’ into the freedom of serving Christ. His mundane tasks have been absorbed into a higher preoccupation, namely *the will of God* (verse 6) and the good pleasure of Christ.
Exactly the same principle can be applied by contemporary Christians to their work and employment. Our great need is the clear-sightedness to see Jesus Christ and to set him before us. It is possible for the housewife to cook a meal as if Jesus Christ were going to eat it, or to spring-clean the house as if Jesus Christ were to be an honoured guest. It is possible for teachers to educate children, for doctors to treat patients and nurses to care for them, for solicitors to help clients, shop assistants to serve customers, accountants to audit books and secretaries to type letters as if in each case they were serving Jesus Christ. Can the same be said in relation to the masses of industrial workers with tedious routine machine-minding to do, and to miners who have to work underground? Surely yes. The presence of Christ in the mine or factory is certainly no excuse for bad conditions. On the contrary, it should be a spur to improving them. At the same time their situation is not nearly as bad as slavery in the Roman Empire, so that if the work of Christian slaves could be transformed by doing it *as to the Lord*, the same must be true of Christian miners, factory workers, dustmen, road sweepers and public lavatory attendants.
Once Christian slaves were clear in their minds that their primary responsibility was to serve the Lord Christ, their service to their earthly masters would become exemplary. First, they would be respectful, obeying them *with fear and trembling* (verse 5), which implies not a cringing servility before a human master but rather a reverent acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus whose authority the master represents. This is plain not only from the usual contexts of the expression ‘fear and trembling’ but also from the fact that the equivalent Colossians passage it is replaced by ‘fearing the Lord’ (Col.3:22; cf. Eph 5:21). Next they would obey in *singleness of heart* (5), with integrity or wholeheartedness, without hypocrisy or ulterior motives. Thirdly, they would be conscientious, not offering *eye-service as men-pleasers*, working only when the boss is watching in order to curry favour with him, but *as servants of Christ*, who is in any case watching all the time and is never deceived by shoddy work. Fourthly, their service would become willing and ‘cheerful’ (NEB) instead of reluctant or grudging. Because they would consciously be *doing the will of God*, they would do it *from the heart* (verse 6) and *with a good will* (verse 7). As we might say, their heart and soul would be in it. And all this because they know that their Lord is also their judge, and that no good work, whoever does it (*slave or free*), is ever left unrewarded by him (verse 8).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.