In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, Paul makes five explicit references to Christ in five verses.Thus, as with marriage (Eph. 5:22–33) and parenting (Eph. 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.
Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and bondservants in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue to speak to marketplace Christians today. Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week.
Here are the first four of seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office.
1. Christ is the ultimate motivation for work.
In verses 5–8, Paul addresses bondservants (ESV), and he calls them to “obey” their earthly masters (“masters according to the flesh”). Why? For the sake of Christ. Verse 5 reads, “Obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ.” Paul explains that in obeying earthly masters, those in the service of another are evidencing their commitment to Christ.
There are many ways this teaching has and can be abused by those in authority, but in the original context, Paul is urging Christians to respect and obey their “employers” for the sake of Christ. This is the ultimate motivation for the worker, and as we’ll see, for the master/employer. Money, fame, pleasure, pride, prestige, power—none of these can be ultimate motivators. Neither can goodness, justice, love, or anything else be the ultimate motivation. In Christ, the Spirit-filled believer will long to glorify Christ, and as Paul says in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Every other motivation must be tempered by and trained to serve the first priority—to serve others as the Lord.
2. Christ is your vocational supervisor.
If Christ is your motivation, he is also your supervisor. As verse 6 puts it, the disciple of Christ does not work “by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers.” As Galatians 1:10 indicates, such workers cannot serve Christ. Why? Because their man-centered devotion will ultimately lead them away from the Lord.
Built into this instruction is the reality that in our fallen world, every worker will be confronted with decisions that will demand them to answer this question: Will they serve God? Or will they serve man? As Jesus says, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). In context, Jesus is talking about God and money, and Paul seems to be making a similar point. Every worker will be working to please God or themselves or some other human supervisor.
Therefore, we learn from Paul that no matter the company, institution, office, etc., the Lord claims precedent over them all. And Christians bought by Christ’s blood are not first and foremost slaves of their earthly master; they are slaves of Christ. And thus, what he says matters most. This, of course, does not mean that Christ permits workers to reject the authority of their earthly supervisors. Just the reverse, his oversight motivates us to humbly respect and obey our earthly “lords.” This is why Paul uses the word “obey” when speaking to servants.
3. Christ and his Word is your standard.
If Christ’s supervisory role calls us to affirm our allegiance to him, it also beckons us to work with diligence, skill, and honesty. In truth, our earthly masters may not see our dishonesty, and others may not care. As long as pragmatism reigns, there will be many work environs where productivity, not integrity, is prized.
But unrighteousness cloaked by effectiveness is not what pleases the Lord. As the Proverbs speak so often about hard work, honest scales, and righteous speech, the Lord longs for his sons and daughters to do more than get the work done. He longs for them to reflect his character in their carpentry—whatever their vocation may be.
In Ephesians 6:6 Paul calls for Christ’s disciples to do the will of God from the heart. In other words, work for the Christian is not just a means to some spiritual end (e.g., evangelism, money for the church, etc.). Work is a context—perhaps the most enduring context—Christians put God’s will into practice. Therefore, with respect to speech, decision-making, work relationships, etc., God’s Word—not man’s praise—is the standard by which our labors are judged.
4. Christ’s name is on your contract.
If Christ is our motivation, supervisor, and standard, it is not surprising he is also the one who “hires us.” This doesn’t deny the people and companies who sign our contracts, but it does recognize (1) the sovereignty of God in preparing us and placing us in our current occupations and (2) the sovereignty of God to lead, guide, and direct us in our vocations.
In fact, Paul’s words do more than draw the implicit connection between God’s sovereign rule and man’s work. He actually says that in fulfilling our calling, we are to “render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (v. 7). This does not deny the human element in any vocation, but it does heighten the calling to serve God. He is our Lord and thus all that we say and do, is because of him, for him, and by him—by the Spirit of Christ (see Eph. 5:15–21).
Once again, Paul’s point of view is radical. It grates against any sense of self-achievement and crushes the desire to boast in one’s resume, education, or accomplishments (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7). To the self-confident, sought-after contractor, this way of thinking is repulsive. But to the Lord who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34), this exactly what he wants. He’s not looking for high-end employees to boost his lagging company; he’s looking for children who seek their Father’s glory alone.
Paul, therefore, reminds us who ultimately signs our contract—it is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. To work with wisdom and grace, we must acknowledge him. The alternative is to look upon the work of our hands like Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4) and invite God’s judgment.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article next week. This article originally appeared here.