Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:8a “Knowing that. . .”
Faith makes a difference! The truth presented here is “a certainty of the Gospel” (Moule). Salvation is by grace, but we know for sure that what we do as a result of grace yields benefits. Rewards matter, and Paul is unashamed to cite them as incentives. They help motivate us as workers and students.
Eph. 6:8b “. . .whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall
he receive of the Lord,. . .”
No “good thing,” no worthwhile effort put forth “as to the Lord” on the job or at school, is ever overlooked or forgotten by God. The obedience of love is welcomed and remembered by the loved One to whom it is rendered.
Conscientious work on the job and at school is not always appreciated and rewarded by earthly bosses and teachers. Faithful workers and students sometimes receive no thanks on earth. Our only harvest here is often criticism and misunderstanding. Unbelieving bosses and teachers do not appreciate Christ’s sacrifice; be not surprised if they do not appreciate yours.
Fortunately, though our boss or teacher may be impossible to please, Jesus is smiling. He sees our efforts. A supervisor may fail to compensate us adequately, but our work done “as to the Lord” will receive proper recompense.
Every “good thing” resonates, echoes on and on, sounds and re-sounds, reverberates through the cosmos, and somehow boomerangs back to the doer. The “good thing” is transformed, so to speak, into the currency of Heaven, and then recycled back to the doer. This may not be fully accomplished in this life-time, but rest assured that by the end of Judgment Day everything shall be settled fairly and equitably. On the final day, justice will be perfect.
Eph. 6:8c “. . .whether he be bond. . .”
“Bond” referred to a slave bought with money. Our Father, the God who rewards good labor, looks upon the heart, not at one’s social station.
Paul has been criticized for not advocating a worldwide slave rebellion. He is sometimes accused of being anti-labor, expecting workers to cowtow, to be wimpy pantywaists and Milquetoasts. Paul is said to say workers should never seek to improve their station (i.e. “Know your place and stay in it”).
He is accused of telling workers to be unrealistic about their difficulties. His teachings have been maligned as an opiate, a drug which numbs people into using mind-games to fantasize things are better than they really are.
This caricature of Paul’s position is terribly unfair. Put yourself in his shoes. What were his realistic options in dealing with slavery? Barely a century earlier, rebellion had been attempted by Spartacus, who failed miserably.
Liberty could not be purchased. Under Roman law, slaves were entitled to nothing; their earthly possessions were nil. Rome thereby crushed any vestige of self-esteem and self-worth in a slave. Their ideology was simply and brutally stated–anyone who receives or owns something is a somebody; letting slaves receive or own nothing constantly reminds them they are nobodies.
Paul could not tell the slaves to flee. Our country had underground railroads to help runaway slaves, but Rome did not. There were no hiding places to run to. Caesar’s long arm reached to the end of the known world.
The Apostle did the best he could do. He helped set in motion certain forces which would eventually undermine the institution of slavery. In the meantime, until the open, bleeding wound of slavery was stanched, he offered slaves “a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name” (see MT 25:40-42; MK 9:41).
Is showing concern an opiate? Would high and mighty critics of Paul begrudge slaves a handkerchief to dry their tears or a cool cloth to wipe their brow? “It was a tender and touching thing in Paul first to stoop to wipe the sweat from the brow of slaves” (Grant, in B.I.). Thank you, Paul, for caring.
Paul helped to make it hard to keep Christian slaves down. Even if shackled, their spirits could soar on the wings of his words. Andrew Young, when our Ambassador to the United Nations, said the national revolutions sweeping across Africa were a direct result of the preaching of Christian missionaries. If we tell people long enough that they are somebody, they are equal, they are children of the King, eventually they believe us and determine to rise to a station in life appropriate to their position in Christ.
Paul gave slaves a glimmer of light, a gleam of significance. Women and men who bore life’s inequalities, lived with injustice, ate hardship, and drank torment–these were enabled to say, “I am not the property of this tyrant. My soul has a higher calling. I am somebody, for I am a child of the King.”
Paul’s words have been the only respite many a slave ever knew. In our country, what did slaves do to keep their hearts from exploding? They prayed, sang spirituals, and met privately for worship. Their faith sustained them.
Paul paused to pity the irksome lot of slaves. He knew he could not break their chains quickly, but did seek to lighten their load and burden. Paul sweetened their lot by telling them Jesus did not despise them. He lifted their spirits by saying God would reward them for good deeds others deemed menial. He convinced them that “nothing well done is ever done in vain” (Foulkes).
Eph. 6:8d “. . .or free.”
”Free” denotes people who hire out themselves of their own free will. They sell their labor, not their self. Thus, these teachings of Paul refer to us, “free” Christians who live in a twentieth century capitalistic system. We, too, shall receive the true value of our deeds according to God’s accurate estimate.
R. G. Lee told of a missionary who retired from a life-time of service in Africa. He came home to America on the same boat which was returning President Teddy Roosevelt from a hunting expedition in Africa. A huge crowd came out to welcome the President home. The boat’s main gang-plank was reserved for Mr. Roosevelt. All other passengers, including the missionary, left the boat by a smaller gang-plank less visible to the cheering crowd. The President was escorted from the dock by a grand parade featuring a huge marching band.
Soon all the people, including the passengers, were gone, with one exception. Left standing alone, deserted on the dock, was the missionary, the one who had given his whole adult life to God’s service. No one came to meet him or to cheer him. Even the people who were supposed to pick him up forgot to come. He waited a while, and finally began walking to town alone, grieved and hurt. His inner agony was almost unbearable. He felt cheated. It was unfair for people to treat a hunter so royally while snubbing a missionary coming home. Then he inwardly heard a voice saying, “But son, you are not home yet.”
Dear Christian worker or student, “you are not home yet.” The rewards being withheld on earth will be dispensed in Heaven. Our deeds do go before us to Heaven to meet us again when we arrive. “Thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (MT 6:18). “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt” (MT 6:20). These things are true–“knowing that”–we have every right to revel in them as believers.