Lesson 26 - Slaves and Masters Page 1 of 2 (series Lessons on Ephesians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians
By: Tom Lowe Date: 1/31/18

Lesson 26: Slaves and Masters (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Ephesians 6:5-9 (KJV)

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;
6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,
8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.


The Roman Empire of the first century was a world of slavery on a grand scale. A century before Paul sent his letter to Ephesus, Julius Caesar reportedly shipped back to Rome somewhere in the neighborhood of a million slaves. They made up anywhere between twenty and thirty-five percent of the population. It has been computed that in the Roman Empires there were 60,000,000 slaves. Without them the Empire could never have functioned as it did.

In Paul’s day a kind of terrible idleness had fallen on the citizens of Rome. Rome was the mistress of the world, and therefore it was beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen to work. Practically all work was done by slaves. Even doctors and teachers, even the closest friends of the Emperors, their secretaries who dealt with letters and appeals and finance, were slaves. For the most part, though, the life of the slave was grim and terrible. In the eyes of the law he was not a person but a thing a tool.

The abolition of slavery was far from the mind of the apostle Paul. In any case, he was utterly powerless to bring it about and it would have been futile for him to attempt it. Furthermore, Paul operated under the deep confection that social and personal conditions were not the primary issue in life—fellowship with God, freedom from sin, transformation into Christ-likeness, and the advance of the kingdom of God—these were his central concerns.

Here, then, we have apostolic teaching on how the gospel of grace functions in a social order we find intolerable. But the principles Paul expresses are also applicable today to the social order with which we are familiar. We are not slaves. We have not been sold to a master. Yet we have “sold” forty or so hours in the week, in many cases, to a “master.” We do this under carefully controlled conditions We can withdraw our labor at any time, we have organized support groups (unions), and we do not fear physical reprisals.. Yet there are lessons here about attitudes and the use of time that we can apply to our own workaday situation.

The Narrative (Ephesians 6:5-9, KJV)

Paul continues the general teaching of this section of the letter: The Christian is different—a new man—and therefore behaves differently. He repeats the specific note he has struck throughout this subsection on basic relationships―The Christian is characterized by a spirit of appropriate submission because he or she has submitted to Jesus Christ. The basic disposition of a believer is different from that of the unbeliever, and his or her style of living is different too. Paul therefore lists several marks of the Christian slave.

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;

SLAVES are to obey their masters, and to do so with FEAR and TREMBLING. The word fear our word “phobia,” a fear of something can mean anything from loving reverence to real terror. In the context of this passage, the meaning is nearer the former than the latter. Paul has used it in this sense in 5:21 We are to submit to one another in reverence, fear, honor, and respect for Christ. and 5:33 Where he says that the wife reverences, fears, honors, and respects her husband..

Here however Paul takes this a stage further. He uses the phrase FEAR AND TREMBLING. Elsewhere, he taught that this disposition is to characterize the Christian in general; we are to work out our salvation with “FEAR AND TREMBLING” (Philippians 2:12). There it refers to the Christian’s disposition towards the Lord. The same expression is used to describe the way the Corinthians received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:15). In both instances it describes a loyalty whose anxiety lies in the thought that a loved one might be let down. Paul is calling for the same godly disposition here, as he adds with a sincere heart, AS you would CHRIST. It is in the relationship of the believer to his or her master that that expression is given to the relationship with heaven that lies behind it.

All this is qualified by the keywords “AS TO CHRIST” (or, “as you would Christ”). Obedience was to be “as unto Christ”. The slave was to look upon his obedience as a kind of Christian duty, a service performed as though it was done unto the Lord Himself. This point of view would lift it to the highest level and constitute strong motivation for carrying it out. The disposition of the converted slave towards his master is explained only by his disposition towards his true Master. For that, rather than the mere human context, is his incentive to live out the new life of the gospel.

Because of this, the believing slave—and Paul assumes that both slaves and masters would be sitting in the assembly—works whole-heartedly for his earthly master. Just as thankfulness motivates obedience to Christ it also spills over into quality service—out of love and reverence for Him.

This same spirit is transferable to the work place in the contemporary world, transforming our daily work and simultaneously enhancing our witness for Christ.

It is a surprise to some people that the apostles did not denounce slavery in unequivocal language and demand its immediate and violent overthrow. But the apostles did not conceive of themselves primarily as social reformers; they were first and foremost heralds of the good news of salvation in Christ. Yet they did not condone slavery. Indeed, they announced the very principles (such as that of the complete spiritual rebellious of slaves and master) which ultimately destroyed this terrible blot on civilization.

6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

The gospel has a rebellious character. The earthly master who is not a believer cannot understand why the Christian slave is so responsive, so gracious, so diligent. Obedience to the master is not by way of EYE-SERVICE, as PEOPLE-PLEASERS. “EYESERVICE” graphically depicts the conduct of the person who works only when he is watched. Such persons are “MEN-PLEASERS,” that is, a workman whose highest aim is to curry favor with their masters. Those who serve properly perform their duties “as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” The believing slave was to see himself as Christ’s slave and to understand that in the performance of his daily tasks he was doing God’s will. For this reason his work was to be done heartily (literally, “out of the soul”) and with “good will.” Indeed it does not have the earthly master, ultimately, in view. It is always an expression of obedience to Christ, the True and Best Master, in whose service is perfect freedom. The slave’s goodwill to his master is an expression of his love for his Lord. Thus a slave would enjoy an inner freedom from the master who regarded himself as the center of the universe—but was too short sighted to notice that his Christian slave was looking far beyond earthly masters to a heavenly one and was serving Him (6:8)!

When we learn to do things for Christ we are set free from earthly servitude and find joy and pleasure in our labors. We know that they can never be in vain when they are done for the Lord―“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Moreover, since we do them for His pleasure they bring Him pleasure and this in turn is our greatest pleasure. The motive of service is what counts with the Lord. . . not the external show. The labor of those who were in the ministry was never in VAIN, but was made useful by the Lord for the conversion of sinners, and the edification of saints. This would be their joy, and crown of rejoicing on some future day; and it must be no small encouragement to labor; and labor in any kind of good work has its usefulness. It is profitable unto men, and though it does not merit eternal life, yet the good works of the saints will follow them. Christ will not forget their work and labor of love which they have shown to His name and people, but will take notice of them as fruits of His own grace, and bestow His rewards upon them, though it will not be given as payment for a debt, but from pure grace; which the doctrine of the resurrection assures, and encourages us to hope for.

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