Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:5a “Servants,. . .”
We now come to the last of three pairs of groups which relate to one another properly when “filled with the Spirit” (EP 5:18) and when submissive “one to another” (EP 5:21). “As the church is subject unto Christ” (EP 5:24), wives are to submit to their husbands, who in turn are to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church” (EP 5:25). Children must obey their parents, who in turn must not provoke their children to wrath (EP 6:1,4). Employees must obey employers, who in turn must be kind to employees (EP 6:5,9).
I remind us, submission does not imply inferiority. The Kingdom of Christ has no second-class citizens. None is superior or inferior to any other. All have equal dignity, worth, and privilege before God and each other.
In group settings, equals must relate to each other on the basis of leaders and followers, “deciders” and doers. For functional efficiency, to avoid chaos and anarchy, any group–nation, family, church, club, etc.–must be built on the two bedrock pillars of authority and submission. Our present text extends this vital truth to the workplace.
Paul’s comments about the workplace are an extension of his discussion of the family. We do few things outside the house which have more impact on our home-lives than do our jobs. They provide livelihood, generate stress we bring home, and determine our schedules. Our work affects our families.
Paul’s words on labor reflect the slave/owner system of his day, but in verse 8 he alludes to all workers, “bond or free.” His admonitions apply to all management/labor situations, including those of our culture. Masters in Paul’s day bought the bodies of slaves. Employers today buy the labor of employees.
Paul here sets before us a mandate, a clear, concise declaration still much needed by both management and labor. Employers and employees have always struggled with each other, and shall to the end of time. The relationship is strained by people’s basic sin nature, which prompts greed on both sides of the issue. We saw this dramatically exemplified in our country’s recent baseball strike–billionaires haggled with millionaires, all wanting more.
By nature, management and labor are selfish and self-centered. Employees want less work, fewer hours, longer vacations, better benefits, and more money. Employers want more productivity, higher profits, improved quality, and increased control of policy. To deal with these problems, our nation developed unions, labor laws, and a Department of Labor. These are all good, but workplace troubles continue nonetheless. We merely solve one crisis in order to start fixing another.
We must do all we can legally to safeguard fairness, but ultimately the solution is not outward, but inward, one which changes hearts. The most stringent laws cannot make a mean boss kind, or a lazy worker productive. Only being “filled with the Spirit” (5:18) produces godly leadership and submission.
As we enter these messages on the workplace, I want to encourage students to pay close attention. In many ways, our schools are an extension of our work-based economy. Many truths about the workplace apply to school.
Eph. 6:5b “. . .be obedient to them that are your masters. . .”
Due to their ownership of, and investment of their money in, a business, employers have the right to determine what an employee should do and, if they choose, how it should be done. Workers might negotiate and offer suggestions, but in the end, their duty is, “be obedient.” Christian workers are to submit to the authority of any supervisor to whom they report.
We do not obey only when we want to, nor do we obey only if we have a good boss. Peter commanded us to submit not only to masters “who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” (1 P 2:18 NASB). An employee is to obey everything all the time, with one vital exception. . . .
Eph. 6:5c “. . .according to the flesh,. . .”
An earthly supervisor rules only “according to the flesh,” and has no authority over one’s spirit and conscience. Employers have a legal and Biblically legitimate right to direct physical acts of labor and to expect productivity, but their authority is limited to these material, temporal, physical interests.
Christian workers are to obey in all things, except when told to disobey God. Earthly taskmasters “according to the flesh” are superseded by a heavenly Master according to the spirit. We are spiritual slaves of Christ our Lord.
When on the job, we are watched from Heaven by Jesus our ultimate ruler. Thus, some things at work we will not do. We will not obey a command to disobey God, nor will we please people by displeasing God. A man once asked a clerk named Robert for an unauthorized favor, and tried to justify his request by saying, “Your master is not in.” Robert solemnly replied, “My Master is always in.” Our Master is all-seeing. Thus, some things we will not do.
Some deeds at work are disallowed to Christians, because Jesus is watching. The exact same reason, on the other hand, motivates us to do more efficiently what is done. Since we are Christians under God’s watchful eye, we should want to be the most agreeable and most productive worker on the job.
Christians should be benedictions in the workplace. Though our boss “according to the flesh” be grumpy, knowing our boss according to the spirit enables us to find and dispense sunshine where unbelievers cannot see it. The lost are not inclined to heed the testimony of Christian co-laborers who constantly complain. The Gospel is good news, but does not sound like it in the language of whine. Imagine saying, “I hate working here; would you like to be saved? This place is the pits; would you like to know my sweet Jesus?”
Christians, be a blessing at work, and also perform at your best. Unbelievers are unimpressed by the testimony of shoddy, careless workers. Christian job performance makes a big difference in people’s attitudes toward Jesus.
One of the highest compliments ever paid to Christianity’s positive effect on workers was conferred by, of all people, Joseph Stalin. During World War II he relaxed all laws concerning Christianity in Russia. He was forced to admit that his country’s most dependable workers were Christians. He hated their creed, but knew he could rely on them to do their jobs. Stalin could argue against their theology, but not against its results in their work habits. The arch-villain himself was forced to see the effect Jesus can have. “Christianity in practice was making an impression. It always does” (Lloyd-Jones).
Living for Jesus means pursuing absolute perfection in our attitude and performance in every phase of life, in marriage, in child-rearing, and in our job. Our good conduct and productivity at work may be the Holy Spirit’s means of arresting someone’s attention for our Savior.
Eph. 6:5d “. . .with fear and trembling,. . .”
Paul is not saying servants should cringe in terror before their masters. “Fear and trembling” was a proverbial phrase he used to denote concentrated zeal, being focused on the discharge of duty, and anxious not to come short. He said the Corinthians received Titus “with fear and trembling” (2 C 7:15). Paul urged us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (PH 2:12).
Christians should be anxious to do well at work, realizing that what we do there is extremely important. Our “fear and trembling” is not a terror of our employer, but a fear of God. We cannot be careless or lackadaisical on the job, for we dread disappointing the Lord. There must be an element of concern in all relationships “when their essential sacredness is realized” (Murray).
Doing our best on the job requires a sense of “fear and trembling,” an inner zeal which keeps us troubled about not having done enough. We need to be earnest and conscientious, concerned about failing to fulfill our obligations. When the “butterflies in our stomach” flit in every direction due to terror we are crippled and weakened, but when they are marshalled in battle array, we do our best work. A valid spiritual anxiety, true “fear and trembling,” helps us prepare, focus, do our homework, and avoid laziness.
Eph. 6:5e “. . .in singleness of your heart,. . .”
We can do our very best at work only when our hearts are committed to it. A Christian laborer must have “singleness” of heart. Work without duplicity. Be neither two-faced nor hypocritical. Do not pretend to like your job, while actually disliking it in “your heart.” Ask God to help you love your job.
Slaves had to work under the worst conditions imaginable, yet Paul told them to be inwardly content with their jobs. If Paul believed slaves could be content at work, surely you and I can be. In the context of contentment, Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (PH 4:13).
“Christianity does not offer us escape from circumstances; it offers us conquest of circumstances” (Barclay). Whatever our outward situation, the Christian is to enjoy inward victory. The hurricane may rage outside, but inside, the believer rests safe and contented in the eye of the storm.
Success in any enterprise requires an inner calm which produces an undivided loyalty of heart for the task. When a sophomore in high school, I had to come to grips with my distaste for school. To do what I wanted to do as a preacher, I knew I had many years of school ahead of me. I asked God to help me like school. He did. I went to school year-round–Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter–seven years in a row. This outward result never could have happened had there not been a change on the inside of my life. To be your very best at school or work, petition God to give you “singleness of your heart.”
Eph. 6:5f “. . .as unto Christ;”
God watches our job performance. He is our Inspector. A Christian knows, “every single piece of work he produces must be good enough to show to God” (Barclay). No one mindful of the august Presence can do sloppy work.
Christianity lifts everyday details to a higher context. There is no disgrace in work. A laborer has nothing to be ashamed of. Christ dignified labor. He was a worker, a carpenter. He was also a servant, one willing to wash feet.
As we realize we work “as unto Christ,” for God’s sake, drudgery becomes divine, the mundane becomes stately. “As unto Christ” ennobles every station. It can make the laundry room a suburb of heaven; wash and iron at your best and then whisper, “For you, sweet Jesus.” Cook as if Jesus will eat the meal. Clean house as if Jesus is coming. Build houses as if Jesus will live in them. Type letters as if Jesus will read them. Do term papers and take tests as if Jesus will grade them. Handle accounts as if Jesus will do the audit.
Three workmen were once helping construct a cathedral. Asked what they were doing, one replied, “Chipping stones.” Another said, “Making a living.” The third said, “Building a great cathedral.” Look up, Christian laborer, “as unto Christ,” you are involved in a great work, a wonderful enterprise.
Nowhere does Paul ever hint that one needs to quit their occupation in order to serve Christ and promote His cause. If God calls you into full-time Christian service, surrender. If He does not, your present occupation is your full-time Christian service. Our place of employment is our mission field.
When William Carey applied for foreign missions, someone asked, “What is your business?” He replied, “My business is serving the Lord. I make shoes to pay expenses.” Every Christian engaged in any occupation–whether working in a factory, behind a desk, on a tractor, etc.–should be able to say, “My business is serving the Lord, my vocation pays expenses.”
Wherever you work, whatever you do, give your best. You are doing God’s work. The very fact Paul said we are to do our work “with fear and trembling” shows he meant for us to approach our jobs with the same zeal and intensity with which he preached the Gospel. Speaking of himself, the Apostle said his ministry at Corinth began “in fear, and in much trembling” (1 C 2:3).
Many of your co-laborers on the job rarely frequent church and come under the preaching of God’s Word. I wish I could preach to your co-workers, but they do not attend church. Each Sunday morning I have the privilege of preaching to about 800 people. If each of you affects and influences five people for Jesus, then my sermon’s influence extends to 4000, some five percent of our city’s population. If the preaching, though, does not affect your work, and is stifled by your silence or sloppy performance on the job, then our church walls truly are prison bars, incarcerating and smothering the preached message.
Where you work or attend school–that is where East Side’s true mission lies. On Sunday morning, God’s people known as East Side gather as a family in one place for worship. On Monday morning, we are still God’s people, we are still the East Side family, but we scatter to many places on mission. We never cease being God’s people, being a family, and being on mission.
Labor “as unto Christ.” Preach through your deeds, evangelize through your job performance, verbally witness when given opportunity. Go where I cannot go, preach where I cannot preach, impress for Jesus where I cannot.
Don’t let Jesus down on your mission field. Labor “with a finesse, and with a glamour and a glory that the world can never produce” (Lloyd-Jones). Do all “as unto Christ.” Make all of life, including your job, a sacrament.
Eph. 6:6a “Not with eyeservice,. . .”
As far as we know, the term “eyeservice” was used by no one prior to the Apostle Paul. He evidently coined it. The word is so descriptive that it tells its own meaning. “Eyeservice” is service done to please the eye, labor rendered “only under the compulsion of inspection” (Moule).
Workers guilty of “eyeservice” take their rule of conduct from the eye of their master, and labor only when the boss is watching. They are diligent in the boss’ presence, dilatory in his absence. They look busy and dependable when watched, but are idle or careless when the boss is away.
Christian workers and students should not need to be checked up on. They ought to do their best whether anyone is watching or not. Joseph was dependable. His master Potiphar “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat” (GN 39:6a).
To labor with “eyeservice,” to do well only when watched, is a beggarly way to work. Such oversight is for little children in kindergarten and for mere hirelings. One never thinks of overseeing noble-spirited workers. Did anyone have to supervise Raphael, Michael Angelo, or Beethoven? Did someone have to keep a time-chart on Luther or Calvin? Christian workers should not need the governance and stimulus which comes from the oversight of mortal men. We have a higher calling. God’s Spirit impels within us. Thus, a Christian should never have to wait to be compelled into action by mere mortals.
Eph. 6:6b “. . .as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ,. . .”
“Menpleasers” seek only human applause, not God’s. They try to make a good impression on others solely to promote their own selfish welfare. Politicians who seek only the applause of multitudes and neglect the true welfare of a nation are “menpleasers,” as are preachers who discuss only popular topics people want to hear while avoiding unpopular truths people need to hear.
Christians do want to make a good impression on their boss and fellow workers, but for the right reasons. “Menpleasers” seek to impress only in things seen by people, and do so in order to gain selfish or undeserved favor.
Christians, though, deem themselves “servants of Christ.” We do well not primarily for our own advancement. If a Christian worker receives a raise or a promotion, this is well and good, but only secondary, incidental to our primary motive and desire of being “servants” who honor and glorify “Christ.”
Eph. 6:6c “. . .doing the will of God from the heart;”
God wants Christians to work well, to be motivated from their innermost being. Outward service is not enough. God wants to see something in “the heart” the boss cannot see. Jesus looks for fervor and zeal in our inner quadrants. To God, the spirit of the work is as important as the output of the work.
“I hate my job” is a grumbling akin to Israel’s murmurings in the wilderness. As a believer, one must come to grips with the burning question, “Is my present job in God’s will for my life?” If yes, then “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (EC 9:10). If no, then why do you work there?
If convinced your job is not in God’s perfect will for you, seek a transfer, for a Christian’s work must never be done only outwardly and formally. We must give wholehearted effort to our jobs. Labor heartily, from the depth of our being. God wants us discontent with formal, perfunctory, bored discharge of duty. Let Him give us an inner compulsion which drives away listlessness.
Please do not be a laborer who, between glances at the clock, looks for ways to get out of work. Take your allotted lunch hour, enjoy your morning and afternoon coffee breaks, but the rest of the time, work with all your heart.
Always keep your heart right, for if it ever turns bad and sour, temptations to slack off increase in number and intensity. The heart is our most powerful source of inner motivation. Our best labors are those thrust into motion by a willing, vigorous heart. As the stroke of a piston drives a huge machine, even so a throbbing heart empowers activities and gives zest to our work. The worth of our productivity often depends on the heartiness we throw into each detail. Wholeheartedness helps us work hard, work happy, and work well.
Eph. 6:7a “With good will doing service,. . .”
Christian workers are to labor not only wholeheartedly, with readiness and eagerness, but also with “good will,” with a disposition which wishes others well. “Good will” involves a loyalty to employers, company, and fellow-workers.
This was Paul’s way of speaking against “the suppressed indignation which swells the bosom of slaves” (Calvin). Slaves by and large hated their masters, and usually responded to their commands with lethargy, doing only the bare minimum to get by. This is never acceptable for the Christian worker. We labor “with good will”–no griping, no criticizing the work of others, no being disruptive. We neither work in a grudging manner, resenting the profits made by our company or its owners, nor resent promotions co-laborers receive.
Eph. 6:7b “. . .as to the Lord, and not to men:”
Christian laborers, never yield to the temptation of working badly because paid poorly or treated cruelly. By serving others, however difficult they are, we serve God, and wed the work of earth to the worship of heaven.
Christians are only incidentally the servants of an earthly boss. “Beyond their master they see their Master” (Hendriksen). We are not our boss’ or our own. Bought with a price, we belong to Jesus. What we do is done for Him.
Henry Ward Beecher told of a poor immigrant stonecutter. Homeless and friendless, ashamed to beg bread, yet hungry, he took a job in Brooklyn for room and board. Each day, from sun to sun, he was given stones on which to carve ferns and flowers. The stonecutter did not know what his carvings were for, but did his very best on each one. One day, he paused to admire the city’s new Art Gallery. There, all along the front of this edifice which was the beauty of the neighborhood, were his carvings. As tears dropped from his eyes, he said, “I am glad I did it well.” When doing the work itself, he did not realize how important his job performance was, but each day he passed the Art Gallery and looked up at his work, he was always glad he could say, “I did it well.”
“Though the work which you are doing seems small, put your heart in it; do the best you can wherever you are; and by and by God will show you where He has put that work. And when you see it stand in that great structure which He is building you will rejoice in every single moment of fidelity with which you wrought. Do not let the seeming littleness of what you are doing now damp your fidelity” (Beecher).
Laborers and students, work “as to the Lord, and not to men.” Cease being ho-hum drones. Lift yourself to a height where you say with conviction, “I am glad I did it well.” Let it never be said a Christian did only enough to barely stay out of trouble, or tried solely to do “the minimum for the maximum reward” (Lloyd-Jones). Always do your best wholeheartedly, “as to the Lord.”
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.
Eph. 6:9a “And, ye masters,. . .”
“Masters” refers to bosses, teachers, and all others who, holding supervisory positions, have people under their authority. Being fair and consistent, Paul required duties not only of people in submission, but also commanded reciprocal responsibilities from those in authority. In interpersonal Christian relationships, cooperation, submission, and duty always travel a two-way street.
Husbands, as well as wives, have assigned duties to perform. Parents, as well as children, are to act in certain prescribed ways. Paul will now tell us that masters, as well as servants, have behavioral obligations to fulfill.
The principles Paul taught here are now, in varying forms, a common part of modern leadership seminars and books. Enlightened management took only about 2000 years to catch up with the Bible, God’s perfect, holy book.
Eph. 6:9b “. . .do the same things unto them,. . .”
The regulations the Apostle prescribed for servants (6:5-8) recoil, where applicable, back on masters. At least four of the principles Paul found pertinent for employees and students can apply directly to employers and teachers.
First, employers and teachers must supervise “with fear and trembling” (6:5d). They must fear God, show concentrated spiritual zeal, and be anxious of falling short, of disappointing the Lord. Any supervisor who forces people to work in unhealthy, dangerous, or nerve-racking conditions, should worry primarily about God, not OSHA. He jots everything down in His record book.
Second, employers and teachers must supervise “as unto Christ” (6:5f). Supervisors, act as if each laborer or student were Jesus Himself. Look over their shoulders and see the image of Christ. Treat them as we would treat Jesus. Let our handling of others be lifted up as an offering pleasing to God.
Third, employers and teachers must supervise, “doing the will of God” (6:6c). Never do, or ask a laborer or student to do, anything contrary to the plain teachings of Scripture. A servant is regulated by “the will of God” in service rendered, a master is ruled by the same standard in service required.
Fourth, employers and teachers must supervise “with good will” (6:7a), a disposition which wishes others well, and truly seeks to promote their best and highest good. Encourage and uplift your laborers and learners. Make them comfortable in their work and study environments. Give them adequate tools, state-of-the-art equipment, and ample supplies to do their assigned tasks.
Always be counterbalancing concerns about the welfare of your business with concerns for the well-being of your workers. Juggle the two. Keep them in equilibrium. Striving for increased profits is okay if we at the same time continue to seek what is best for those under our charge. No Christian has a right to build a business on the broken spirits and shattered dreams of laborers. Workers are “the image of God,” not tools to be manipulated for our profit.
Christian supervisors, we do not own our supervisees. Each person working for us is a spiritual being with a divine purpose to fulfill, and a life of their own to lead before God. We buy their work-time, not their essence.
Remember, Paul’s words here about the work-place are in the context of the family. To be a supervisor is an awesome responsibility, for he or she often determines the climate which prevails in the homes of those who work under him or her. Bosses and teachers can make the home life of workers and students miserable. May this awful thing never be said of a Christian supervisor.
Bosses and teachers, show concern for your workers and students. They are your company or school’s most valuable asset. Do a “well-being inventory” of your people. Know their physical health, the state of their marriages, their family members’ names, their dreams for the future. Strive to make the ugly things often connected with work and school rare under your leadership–ulcers, accidents, shouting matches, exhaustion, nervousness, tension, daily humiliations, anxiety. Do not have on your hands your workers’ divorces, their non-attendance at church, their mental and emotional breakdowns.
Let me be an advocate for a moment to insert here a kind word for single adult parents. Supervisors, be part of an informal support group for these dear people. Surely corporate America will not collapse by giving a worker a little extra time some morning to make child-care provisions for a sick little one.
Christian employers and teachers, ponder the significant role you play in your people’s home lives? They depend on you for their livelihood, for their self-esteem, for many of the things which make life worth living. Realize the gravity of your position. If workers and students are to do service unto you “as to the Lord” (6:7b), then you are to respond to them as if you were the Lord. You stand, as it were, in the very stead of God. You are His representative, and your life should be an accurate reflection of His true nature.
What a great privilege and opportunity this affords employers and teachers. When laborers and students see Jesus in their supervisors, Christianity is highly commended to unbelievers. History verifies this conclusion. In the second century, as Christianity was taking the Roman world, Justin Martyr said the lost were being won for Christ “from having watched the constancy of their Christian neighbors. . . .or from doing business with Christians.”
The battle for a nation’s soul is ultimately won or lost out in the neighborhood, not inside church buildings. We Christians are extremely careful about being on our best behavior when attending public worship, but the way we act at work or school determines how much impact the Church will have on society. We have far too long divorced our spiritual lives from our secular spheres. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Our spiritual life is to overshadow and, from that preeminent and predominant position, to saturate our everyday lives.
Christians, run your businesses and classrooms as Jesus would if He were present in the flesh. Our Master set the example, and clearly stated the standard, for all persons in authority to follow, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (JN 13:13-14). Our Lord expects supervisors to act like Him, to cultivate a servant’s heart, one like His.
Do the people who watch us up close every day see Jesus in us? When your workers say, “I work for a Christian boss,” do they say it with a smile or with a sneer? When your students say, “My teacher is a Christian,” do they say it with pride or with a snarl?
It is time for Christians to put the teachings of Jesus into practice in the marketplace. “We have had too much talking of high truth coupled with low living” (Ironside). Our head knowledge often has not affected our feet. The Psalmist prayed, “Order my steps in thy word” (PS 119:133). Christians, we need to “talk the talk, and walk the walk” at work and school, where the real battle is being fought.
Eph. 6:9c “. . .forbearing threatening:. . .”
Paul singles out one negative command for masters. There is one thing bosses and teachers must never do. Supervisors, quit using threats.
“Forbearing” refers to giving up something. In other words, “threatening” was an ongoing practice. Paul wanted it stopped. “Threatening,” verbal intimidation, was the prevailing public vice among Roman slaveowners. They were not known for being careful or courteous in the exercise of their authority. Slaves, considered little more than beasts, were treated as barely human, and were terrorized into subjection by regular threats of physical punishment.
By attacking this prevalent cruelty, Paul wielded his axe at the root of all harshness from supervisors. Christian bosses and teachers have the right to require responsibility with accountability, but should also foster cordial environments of freedom saturated with love. Boaz is a good role model. He was the acknowledged master of his laborers, but when he came to the fields, he greeted his employees heartily, “The Lord be with you,” and they responded, “The Lord bless thee” (RT 2:4). He was their master, yet warm and affable.
A person in authority is confronted with many temptations, including the lure to become a bully, to lord over others. A Christian supervisor must never yield to the lust of acting from a premise of tyranny. Let your initial approach to a problem be positive, not negative. When dealing with a difficult situation, courageously use your authority rather than cowardly hiding behind your anger. Be straightforward, take care of business, but forego displays of temper. We show our right to be a master by governing our own soul. If at work you yell, or show other outbursts of temper, get right with God, and attend a good leadership seminar. Rule others only after you have ruled yourself.
Remove “threatening” from the supervisor/supervisee setting. Threats destroy personal relationships, and cause people to don masks of insecurity, distrust, and fear. Threats depersonalize. Better things are expected of Christian supervisors. Our task is to encourage personal dignity. Masters, find ways to be submissive to servants (EP 5:21). Express submission by never violating the latter’s dignity. Avoid being abusive or inconsiderate. Do not scorn your workers and students. Never take advantage of your supervisory position by using it to crush the spirit of one who works for you.
Eph. 6:9d “. . .knowing that your Master also is in heaven;. . .”
Bosses and teachers attain to a certain level of position and power. These trappings of this world can cause one to forget about the other world, about what “is in heaven.” Above all earthly masters is a heavenly Master into whose ears come the cries of the oppressed (EX 22:21-24; DT 24:15; JM 5:4).
When dealing with supervisees, we supervisors must remember, we are their master, God is ours. As we deal with them, so shall God deal with us.
Supervisors often act as if they have no one above them to be accountable to. They assume God does not strictly scrutinize their dealings with supervisees. Be not deceived. No position of earth, including king, is so absolute that it contains no obligations to perform kindnesses toward subjects. When bosses or teachers behave in an unchristian way, God sees and punishes.
Bosses and teachers are entrusted by God with means and opportunities which He intends to be administered for the advantage of others. We will someday answer to God for our stewardship, and give an account of how well we dispensed to others these benefits He entrusted to our watch-care.
Eph. 6:9e “. . .neither is there respect of persons with him.”
The Lord shows no partiality. He has no favorites. “In God’s sight each man counts for one, and no one counts for more than one” (Gore). All people hold equal worth and dignity before their Maker.
Our text struck a blow at the caste system of Paul’s day. The Biblical teaching that all are equal before God has been the driving force behind western culture’s efforts to make all equal before law. Breakthroughs have come far too slowly, but there has been, and continues to be, progress nonetheless.
A higher earthly station will procure no one any special indulgence or consideration on Judgment Day. God will not warp justice due to one’s social standing. All class distinctions will last only through this present age. They will be obliterated with other time-distinctions. The authority of bosses and teachers is God-given, but only “functional and temporary” (MacArthur). In time our stations differ, but in the timeless realm we are equals before God.
Families which traveled west in Conestoga wagons had many details to handle along the journey. They expressed their oneness and equality by beginning and ending each day together in one place, but for efficiency’s sake, they scattered during the day, finding it practical to divide among themselves various chores. One family member determined the best route to take each day. Another drove the wagon while a third travelled ahead to secure the night’s lodging place. A fourth handled the finances. A fifth packed and unpacked baggage each day to ensure that at least one person knew where everything was. A sixth hunted food, a seventh prepared it. The family members began each day as equals together, divided as equals during the day to accomplish assigned tasks, and returned to each other at night as equals. In a similar way, all human beings are born equals, created in God’s image. At the final day we shall be equals. In between we are still equals, just accomplishing along the daily journey of life different tasks as assigned us by God.
Bosses and teachers, avoid disdain. We are sadly mistaken if we think our workers and students are of little value to God. Our Master consecrated and ennobled service–not only the performance of service ourselves, but also the way we view others who render service. In God’s eyes, you bosses and teachers are not superior to any of your workers or students. They are servants; you are, too. They have a master over them; you do, too.
Bosses and teachers, the Golden Rule applies to you as well as to your workers and students. Put yourself in their place. Have compassion. Act toward them as you would want to be treated. You want respect, give respect. You want commitment to your company, be committed to your employees’ families. You expect loyalty, be loyal. You desire pleasantness, be pleasant.
Always show Christian courtesy. Most people are not as worried about their position or station in life as they are about being treated with dignity, as being regarded as having real worth. Act as if all your laborers and students are created in God’s image, for they are. Convey the message to all under your influence, “You are somebody. You are created in God’s image. You have ultimate value not because of what you do, but simply due to the fact you exist.”