Ephesians 6:5–9 (ESV)
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 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.
Paul’s charge here is abnormal. It goes against all the traditions and expectations for both bondservants (or slaves) and their masters. While first century Ephesian servitude in may not have been as nasty as it was in antebellum America, it certainly wasn’t anything like what Paul is describing here.
Paul’s instructions to bondservants is so extreme, it’s hard to imagine anyone following them. He tells them to stop pretending to be obedient and start actually being obedient with a sincere heart. They’re not to just look like they’re obeying so as to please people. That’s what, “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers,” means.
Paul adds an incentive to inspire slaves to meet this challenge – the Lord will make it worth their while. But the bigger incentive is that not obeying your master is not doing the will of God. In addition to being bondservants of an earthly master, you’re supposed to be bondservants of Christ. So, act like it.
But if Paul’s challenge to slaves is extreme, his challenge to their masters is off the charts. Masters, do the same to them. What the heck does that mean?
To Paul, masters aren’t any different than slaves. That’s what he’s getting at when he says, “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”
He’s trying to get them to think in terms of the kingdom of heaven.
The equivalence between bondservants and their masters is one of the key distinguishing characteristics of Christianity. If you want to know if someone understands the kingdom of heaven, watch how they treat different status people. If they treat everyone equally, they get it.
Don’t over-interpret this. There are some ways that different people should be treated differently. Our job isn’t to buck the system or to put ourselves in danger; it’s to see everyone as created in the image of God.
All men are created equal. – The Declaration of Independence
That doesn’t mean we’re all the same height. We’re all the same in terms of what we are – human.
Treat everyone with equal dignity. This is one of the foundations of evangelism. We’re citizens of another kingdom, and we alert people to its existence by doing things that make them wonder.
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