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 last three of seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office. You can read the first four here.
5. Christ is your coach.
Not only does Christ oversee our labors, he also teaches us how to “work” as he worked. First of all, he liberated us from having to render service to the Lord by accomplishing a work we never could achieve. By dying on the cross, Christ paid the full price for our sins and in his resurrection, he is now building a temple for his people to dwell with his Father (Eph. 2:19–22). This is the work he does, and one we cannot do.
But in watching him work, we learn how me might imitate his craftsmanship. In fact, this is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10. For those who have been saved by faith and not by works (2:8–9), the Father has prepared good works for his new creations to walk in (v. 10). For some these works will include labors in the church, but many good works will be done “outside of church.” Still, it is in the church where disciples learn from Christ and his people how to work.
And thus, we find Paul giving a how-to in verses 6–8. In three consecutive participles (italicized, Paul says “doing the will of God from the heart”; “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man”; and “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.”) In these three verses, Paul teaches Christ’s disciples how to work like Christ.
First, he calls us to learn the will of the Lord. Because Christ is the perfect example of God’s will, this instruction leads people to watch the Lord in his work. It is in this way that we can say Christ is our “coach,” “mentor,” or “teacher.” To be sure, the Lord doesn’t teach us medicine or metallurgy, but he does teach us principles of mercy and justice, wisdom, and goodness. These impact every area of work and therefore apply to all people, regardless of calling.
For Paul, working unto the Lord—whether as a bondservant or a master—was a call to do everything with an eye to the Lord, an awareness of his presence, and a passion to bring glory to God.
Second, by learning from Christ, we learn how to have a good will in serving the Lord. Just as Christ did everything in service to his heavenly Father, so must we. And we learn how to do that by looking to Christ. Hence, one of the most important habits a Christian can cultivate for “success” in their vocation is the study of God’s Word, especially the person and work of Christ. Only those who know Christ and his ways can render service with a good will.
Third, our motivation to do the will of the Lord, in the ways of the Lord, is increased by looking to the future reward promised to those who work by faith in Christ. Indeed, faith impels Christ’s followers to labor in love; however, hope is also needed to grant endurance in good works. As various vocations put into practice love of neighbor, difficulties will mount. In response, how will the Christian press on without growing discouraged or turning from the Lord’s ways? The answer Paul gives is to keep looking to the future reward. By sowing good seeds in the hope of future reward, the follower of Christ looks forward to a harvest that goes beyond company goals. This is what empowers God’s people to endure. And again, no one has modeled this better than Christ.
For all these reasons, Christ’s servant leadership and humble obedience models for all Christians how to work for God’s glory. Therefore, we should look to him and learn how Christ’s attitudes and actions inform our vocation.
6. Christ, not your career, is the source of your value and worth.
In Ephesians 6:9, Paul turns from bondservants to masters. Again, he puts Christ at the center of his instructions. Importantly, Paul uses the same perfect participle (knowing) in both verses to address bondservants (v. 8) and masters (v. 9). And in between Paul says the reward from Christ is irrespective of the workers class: “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”
With an economic valuation that comes from heaven (see v. 9), he encourages masters and bondservants that their eternal rewards are not dependent on their earthly standing. Rather, the reward comes from Christ who looks at the heart. Moreover, by saying in v. 9, “Masters, do the same to them,” he stresses the reciprocal nature of masters and bondservants.
In principle, then, Paul teaches the value of work is based on someone’s relation to Christ and eternity, not to his income, education, or competence. To be clear, those things are not unimportant, for each of them come with a particular stewardship to glorify God. But ultimately, one’s value in Christ’s eyes is not based on his or her work; it is based upon their standing in Christ. “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” is the uniform praise God gives to his children regardless of their earthly standing.
7. Christ is the ultimate motivation for work.
Finally, we return to the first point, because Paul comes to it again with masters. The ultimate motivation for work is the glory of God. And we see this point in verse 9 when Paul says, “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Again, these words are meant to humble masters and to prevent the abuse of their power. Like bondservants, they too are to use their position to reflect God’s character. Only in this case, their position of authority requires their humility to look like kind-hearted service to those under their care. Why? Because they too are servants under the wise and loving care of Christ, their master in heaven.
In this way, Paul concludes this section like he began, with a Christ-centered motivation for masters to glorify God with their lives and their livelihoods.
Remembering Christ’s perfect attendance
Paul finishes his instruction about submission (going back to Eph. 5:21) by stressing the fact that God in heaven is looking down on all actions and attitudes of his people. And he calls masters (and all of us) to attend to this fact: God is always present.
Enthroned in heaven with all creation under his feet, Christ is never absent from the world and its various markets. And while false motives and unjust practices abound in the world, God is calling Christians to do more than bring Jesus to work. He is calling Christians to realize he is already there. As “little Christs” (i.e., Christians), we are to see him in our daily workspaces so that we might work to reflect his ever-present glory.
Indeed, for Paul, who at times worked in the marketplace to provide for himself, such service included far more than just making money for ministry or being a witness to co-workers—although both of those motives also exist. For Paul, working unto the Lord—whether as a bondservant or a master—was a call to do everything with an eye to the Lord, an awareness of his presence, and a passion to bring glory to God.
Such a motive should grip all of Christ’s followers today, too. Though the economic systems of the West are far different from first-century Ephesus, these inspired words abide the test of time. There continue to be occupations of authority and others of submission, and usually they are an admixture of the two. Thus, we can apply Paul’s words today, because they are centered on Christ and the calling of disciples to work as unto the Lord, by remembering his perfect presence and imitating his humble service to the Father’s glory.
This article originally appeared here.