Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; Ephesians 6:5
Paul now turns from the immediate family within the household, to those who are almost as close, and maybe even closer, as far as daily contact is concerned. The term “bondservant” is as good as one can get from the Greek word doulos. The term applies to one who is bound to the service of another. This could be a voluntary subjection or an involuntary duty, and it can also go as far as being a slave.
Their rights were extremely limited even in the best of cases. In some instances, they had virtually no rights at all. And yet, there is an irony in this status which will be fully revealed in verse 9. Without jumping ahead in too great of detail, it can be said that all are slaves in one way or another.
For the Christian bondservant, Paul instructs them to “be obedient to those who are your masters.” Despite the many difficult rigors often suffered under cruel masters, Paul simply makes the command. He doesn’t qualify it with, “If they are good masters,” nor does he give any hint that they have a right to rebel. The status of slaves or bondservants was simply a fact of life. Those who were so bound were to accept it. However, he does give a note concerning slaves elsewhere that is worth citing –
“Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21 Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.” 1 Corinthians 7:20, 21
However, as long as a person was bound, they were to be obedient to their masters. And yet, Paul adds on a descriptor for them to consider. It is a master “according to the flesh.” In other words, there are human limitations which are being spoken of here. Paul is implying that they are bondservants of Another as well, which is not according to the flesh. It is for this reason that they were to be obedient to their human master.
The same phrase is used again in Colossians 3:22. By using it as he does, Paul is letting them know that these human limitations to this human slavery have no control over the spirit. Man may subjugate their bodies, but their spirit is owned by, and in the complete control of, the Lord. It was an encouragement to them that their time of freedom would surely come.
And so, for whatever duration of their bondage to human masters, bondservants were to be obedient “with fear and trembling.” This same term is used by Paul on several different occasions, and it is particularly used of a person who is under a special responsibility to the Lord. Even though they are under the will of a human master, they are to be concerned that this will is satisfied. This is to be true even to the point that they would be afraid and ashamed if the master was displeased. The desire for this should be so ingrained in them that it is not just an external fear and trembling, but one which is “in sincerity of heart.”
They should be truly concerned that their performance was spotless before their masters, just as it would be “to Christ.” The highest devotion of any man – slave or free – who has been redeemed is to the Lord, but Paul wanted the bondservants to show that same devotion to their earthly masters. The reason should be obvious. They were representatives of Christ. To be slack in their human duties would then reflect on their spiritual devotion to the Lord. Paul wanted this to never be the case.
Life application: In today’s world, we have employers rather than masters. But the premise of this verse should hold true in such cases. Our duties to our employers should be performed to the highest degree of trustworthiness as possible. In so acting, they will see that our conduct is without fault and will note that we can be trusted. If this is so, then it may lead them to wanting to know the Lord as well.
Heavenly Father, we have responsibilities to others, such as our employers. They will make an evaluation of our Christian lives based on our conduct towards them in regards to the fulfillment of our duties. Help us to be the epitome of faithful employees, volunteers, or in whatever other capacity we interact with those who have responsibility over us. In this, they will hopefully see our actions as glorifying of You. In turn, we can then hope that they will want to know Christ our Lord as well. Help us to never bring a stain upon His great name through the less-than-faithful care of our responsibilities. Amen.