History is a time of reflection that can create a sense of pride within us. The wars others have fought, and the freedom they achieved through selfless sacrifice can be an inspiration to all of us. Not all history is the same. The horrific treatment of others mars that same history, most notably that of slavery. Like the old wars, most of us are distant from these events. Our feelings about them are rooted in what we have heard rather than experienced. Why do I say this? Our text today deals with the relationship between the slave and the master. Our challenge is to place ourselves in that time, in those circumstances, and glean from the Scriptures what we can apply today to the glory of our Lord. So, I invite you to take a moment and put on the sandals of an enslaved person and listen to your Lord’s invitation.
“Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh,
not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.”
Depending on your translation, this first word could also be servant or slave. This idea of enslaved people and masters was part of history back then and is part of other countries today. Remember, Paul has talked about the husband and wife relationship, the father-child relationship, and the child to the parent relationship. He does so not merely to promote the spiritually healthy family at home but also to promote the growth of a healthy church family. At this time in history, masters and bondservants were obeying the gospel; thus, their way of interacting with each other would need to change. First, the Lord calls the bondservants to obey their master. The word obey means to hear under, to listen attentively, and by implication, to heed or conform to a command or authority. These words catch my attention: “not with eyeservice, as men-pleases .” I suspect we have all experienced it when a coworker suddenly changes when the boss comes on the scene. In a way, I think this is what Paul is confronting. The ETRV says, “Don’t just pretend to work hard so that they will treat you well.” I think of 1st Peter 2:18, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle but also to the harsh.” I know that comparing slavery to the workplace is like comparing apples and oranges. Still, many of us know the challenges of being Christlike in a work environment where the boss is unfair, shows favoritism and is harsh. In such situations, the mind of the slave (and worker) needs to be vertical more than horizontal. Who were they to please? Not men! Not the boss! Not the master! With a sincere heart, they were to obey their masters “fearing God,” “as to Christ” (Ephesians 6:5), and “with a conscience toward God” (1st Peter 2:19). The desire is to do “the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:6-7). Listen to the ETRV of Ephesians 6:7, “Do your work, and be happy to do it. Work as though it is the Lord you are serving, not just an earthly master.” This attitude should be our approach, not only to those masters who are “good and gentle” but also to those who are “harsh.”
“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that
from the Lord, you will receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ.”
Incentive! Concerning this idea of incentives, one person writes, “The surest way to get people to behave in desirable ways is to reward them for doing so – in other words, to provide them with incentives.” The word incentive means a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something. The Holy Spirit is guiding these enslaved Christians to stay the course, don’t give up, don’t compromise what they know to be true concerning what it means to live for Christ. How, though, especially when your master is unfair, let alone harsh? The answer is simple on paper, but it must have been difficult. Look down the road! Don’t let your present realities in this physical world distract you from your course. Now that they are in Christ, they have been “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:14). There is a reward coming that will make all this more than worth it! To the slave, this is where the rubber hits the road. Where spiritual realities yet received collide with the often brutality of this world. Peter would write, “But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (1st Peter 2:20). It will all be worth it!
I realize that I know little about what it means to be a slave to someone in this world. Still, I know that this topic found within the pages of God’s inspired word can give guidance in this present age. If this was how enslaved people were to conduct themselves with their masters, even those who mistreated them, how much more should we apply these principles to the workplace? Our worship of God is to obey our bosses and do what is right, even when they are not watching. Not bad mouthing them to others when they are not around. We do this sincerely because we want to please our Lord. There is no doubt in my mind we need these principles today.
One final thought as I close out this article. In 1st Peter 2:21, as he speaks to those enslaved of that time, Peter writes, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us as an example, that you should follow His steps…”. One of the reasons for the Christian to live such a life is because there is something more than worth it down the road. But there is also another reason. It is the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is He whom we are to mimic in this world. Let’s commit ourselves to be like Him.