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.