|Series Theme: Meditations in Ephesians|
Meditation No. 48
Meditation Title: Employment Harmony
Eph 6:5,6 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
Perhaps before we get into the teaching of these verses we need to consider the subject of slavery and face the question why Jesus and the church didn't speak against it. First of all, in Israel itself, the Law required that Israelites must not make their fellow Israelites slaves, and those slaves they had, should be well cared for. Second, and this is only a suggestion, I would suggest that God, Jesus and the early church did not approve of slavery but recognised that the world was not ready to abolish slaves. It would be many centuries before such a thing could come about. Even once men began actively speaking against slavery it took many years to abolish it (and it still exists in some parts of the world). Paul's letter to Philemon is the only direct reference in the New Testament to the life of a slave and that sheds a very different light on such a life when Christ is involved.
Slaves were a fact of life and Paul recognises that some slaves had become Christians and so he gives very real advice to them. If we want to apply these verses to life today, let's simply call them employees. Remember the context is the unity of the body of Christ, the church. He starts out: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” This is a very high calling so that, even though a slave, they were to obey their masters to the same level that they obey Christ – which would be wholeheartedly. And note that he doesn't say, “Obey them if they are good employers.” Our Law says that an employee should obey all lawful instructions of the employer, issued within the course of carrying out the business. Being a slave meant obey any and every instruction. Today we would be content to obey our Law but Paul wants us to have a different motivation: “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” See your work as working out the will of God is what he has just said. You want to know what God's will is in respect of your work? Do it to the best of your ability; do it as if this is the pure will of God for you.
But Paul continues it beyond the verses we have at the top of the page: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” (v.7) There, if it hadn't been clear enough before, it should be now: work as if you are directly serving God. Then he gives a reason: “because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” (v.8) Wow! Your working well, as an example of a child of God, will mean God will bless you as His child, because He blesses anyone who determines to do good, and so will especially bless His children. So when you go to work, see yourself first and foremost as one of God's children and you are going off to live out the life you have been given at the moment in such a way that your heavenly Father will be blessed by you and will in turn bless you
For many of us, work can be tedious and boring and we see little value in it. See it now as an opportunity to shine as a child of God, being an example to the world, and particularly those you encounter at work. Be the best worker you can and bless those you meet in the course of your work so that their hearts may be touched by you but, even more importantly, your Father's heart may be blessed because of you.
But this is a two sided coin, this employment business; there are ‘masters' or employers. Our Common Law speaks of employers as ‘masters', seeing them as those in charge of the business. Now you may the employer, the one who owns the business, or you may be his or her representative, their manager, responsible for people below you. So Paul now addresses these people: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (v.9) Again, as we said above, he recognises that slavery was at that time a fact of life and so instructs them to deal well with their slaves. When he says, ‘ in the same way' he means use them as if you were doing it before the Lord. The Lord sees slaves and employees as people, significant people, and so if we are an employer we too should treat them as significant people. If we are both Christians, we are to remember we are both members of the body of Christ – and that might throw a very different light on the situation.
The roles of employer and employee should, through Christ's eyes, be seen as a relationship, a meaningful, mutual-blessing interaction. I wonder, if we were able to refresh our understanding of our work and see it in this light, what changes it might bring? Dare to think it through with the fresh eyes of faith.