The Lord's Day Evening
October 1, 2006
“God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LVI)”
God's Household Rules: Marriage and Family (11)
The Obligations of Householders and Servants
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. Please be seated.
You may not appreciate how relevant that catechism question is to our current situation. Some of you may know that in both the Navy and in the Air Force directives have come down to the chaplains just in the last few months indicating to Christian chaplains that they may not pray in the name of Jesus Christ in their capacity as chaplains. I had an army chaplain in my office on Friday afternoon talking about that very issue in connection with her husband's or an Army officer talking about this in connection with her husband who is a chaplain in Iraq. Now, that directive has not come down in the Army yet, but given the Air Force and the Navy's actions, it may well becoming soon and so that catechism question is very, very relevant.
One of the things that we talked about in our conversation is that whether a Christian formally closes a prayer with the usage of the phrase, “in the name of Christ or in Jesus' name or in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit”, no matter how a Christian formally closes a prayer there is no Christian prayer that is not in the name of Christ. Whether we use that formula or not, all Christian prayer is in the name of Christ. And so we said that one of the things that we would need to talk with public officials about is if you’re going to require that not to be done, in fact, whether Christians use that inscription or ascription or not, all Christian prayer is in the name of Christ. So if you don't want prayer in the name of Christ, then don't ask a Christian to pray because whether that Christian uses that formula or not, that Christian is praying in the name of Christ.
The other thing is, there's this little matter of the First Amendment and I seem to recall our founding father's saying something about not prohibiting the due exercise of religion, but that's another story for another day. Just shows us how relevant the children's catechism is to our current situation.
Now, let me ask you to take your bibles in hand and turn with me to Ephesians 6 again. Tonight we're going to look at verses 5 to 9. I just want to remind you of where we've been. We’re in the middle of the household codes where the Apostle Paul is talking to husbands and wives, parents and children about how we relate to one another.
And the significance of that is the Apostle Paul wants us to live out the gospel and live out the Lordship of Christ in our relationships at home. That's why the hymn, Take My Life and Let It Be is so appropriate for us to sing because the Apostle Paul is wanting us to give our whole selves to Christ and for us to live out the gospel and live out the Lordship of Christ in our relationships with husband and wife, parent and children, and also, in this context, householders and servants. And that means that a Christian husband can't decide that he's going to be a faithful follower of Christ, but Christ's Lordship and the gospel are going to have nothing to say about his relationship with his wife. And a Christian wife can't say, “Well, I'm going to follow Christ. I belong to Christ, but the gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, they’re not going to have their way with the way I relate to my husband in Christian marriage.” That's why when someone says, “You know, I'm just unhappy in marriage.” No grounds for divorce. This person just says I'm just unhappy in marriage. Well, a Christian can't do that and say, “Well, I'm just unhappy in marriage. I'm gone.” A Christian can't do that because the Lordship of Christ, the gospel, is of controlling significance in marriage and so we live out the Lordship of Christ. We live out the gospel in the way we deal with those particular problems.
The same in terms of parents and children: a Christian parent can't just say, “Well, you know, rearing children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, I really, I'm not interested in doing that. I’ll just send to school and whatever they learn from their teacher's, that's fine. I'm not interested in rearing them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” No Christian parent can do that and no Christian child can say, “You know, I'm not in to respecting my parents. It's not something I'm in to. I’ll leave that to really, you know, wacko, right-wing fundamentalist kids. They can be respectful of their parents. I'm not in to that.” No Christian young person can do that. Respecting our parents is actually the manifestation of the Lordship of Christ and of the gospel in our experience alone.
By the way, young folks, one of the most profound ways that you can bear witness to your Christianity and to the reality of the gospel in our culture is simply to respect your parents. Do you realize that merely by showing respect, gospel respect, to your parents in this culture today, you are sending a message as loud as if speaking on the megaphone to your peers about your gospel embrace of Jesus Christ? Because respect for authority is at a premium in our culture, there's so little of it left and parental respect from young people who don't resent their parents being concerned about where they are and what they do and how they relate to their friends and what friends they choose and how they behave when they’re with their friends. Respect for parental authority — what a tremendous message you send to your peers when you show that you don't resent that and that you embrace it and that you even appreciate it and you recognize it as your responsibility. It's a living out of the gospel.
Well, the Apostle Paul is concerned about all those things and now he comes to this passage, which deals with slaves and masters and very frankly, it's an uncomfortable passage. It's an uncomfortable passage because there's a lot of history in our city, in our state, in our region, in our nation pertaining to this very issue, but it's a very important passage and I want to do two things tonight. I want to look at this passage first from the standpoint of what it meant for those who were masters and slaves in the first century world when the Apostle Paul was first delivering these words of direction from God.
And then secondly, I want to look at what significance these words have for us in our various roles in our vocations today. So let's look to God's Word in Ephesians chapter 6 beginning in verse 5 and we’ll pray before we read the Word of God.
Heavenly Father, we thank You again that on this Lord's day evening we have the privilege of hearing the Word of God read aloud. We ask that You would speak to us by this Word, that we would hear Your message for our hearts, that we would respond in faith and that we would trust and obey. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”
Amen and thus ends this reading of God's Holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul in this passage is once again showing us how wide and how deep is the reach of the gospel into our lives. And it's very significant even that he chooses to address this subject in the context of living out the gospel in our households. Even in the Mediterranean world in this problematic relationship of master and slave, he is willing to bring the gospel to bear on it and to talk to Christians in terms of this as a part of their household duties, of their living out the gospel in their home and in their vocation. Even as he as concerned for Christian parents to live out the Lordship of Christ in their treatment of their children and for Christian children to live out the Lordship of Christ in their response to their parents. Even as he is concerned for Christian wives to live out the Lordship of Christ in their relationship with their husbands and for Christian husbands to live out the Lordship of Christ in their relationship with their wives. So he is interested in both slaves and masters who are Christians living out the Lordship of Christ in that relationship.
Now, it's very important for us to pause for a moment and recognize that there's something that quite different what the Apostle says to masters and slaves in verses 5 to 9 and what he has said to husbands and wives in chapter 5 verse 22 down to the end of the chapter and what he has said to parents and children in the first verses of chapter 6. And that is in this passage there is no direct appeal to the creational order and that's because this relationship did not exist in the creational order whereas the relationship of husband and wife is something that goes back to the very beginning of time and to God's perfect, original design. There is no such mention of this kind of relationship in the creational order.
In fact, in this passage, it's very interesting that the Apostle Paul doesn't even go back and quote the Mosaic Law. He could have done that. There were laws in the Mosaic code. All you have to do is go to Exodus chapter 20 to 24 and look at the Mosaic code as the Book of the Covenant is worked out for how Israel is to relate at a national level to one another and the civil code that is established for them and you’ll find laws pertaining to masters and slaves. Laws which in and of themselves are extraordinary and they stand in contrast to the dominant codes of laws found in the ancient Near East in the second millennium B.C. Compare those laws to the code, for instance, of Hammurabi, and you’ll find many significant differences and a very frank superiority of the Mosaic code. But Paul doesn't even go back to the Mosaic code. In fact, in this whole passage, do you notice what he constantly brings both slaves and masters back to? Christ!
Over and over, it is a Christological example that the Apostle brings slaves and masters back to. That is important because the Apostle Paul shows no interest anywhere in his writings in establishing the legitimacy or the beneficialness of this relationship as he does with the relationship of husbands and wives and parents and children. He will go out of his way to root those relationships in the created order and in God's perfect plan. He never does that when he addresses the issue of slavery. Rather, he draws the attention of both master and slave in Christ to Christ.
Now with that having been said by way of introduction, I want you to see two things tonight. First of all, the significance of these words for Paul's first century audience, initially the Ephesians and other Christians who lived in the Roman Empire in a time in which slavery was a dominant form of economic relationship.
And secondly, I want us to think about what these words mean for us today. Very often, you will hear pastors immediately go to an application of these words to employers and employees. Now, I don't think that is an illegitimate application of these words. In fact, I'm going to talk about that a little bit tonight, but I think it can be misleading to move too quickly to that application and recognize that Paul was not initially just talking about employers and employees, he was literally talking about masters and slaves. And there's actually something to be learned from that.
Now secondly, however, you will hear sometimes people will be very critical of pastors who apply these words to the employer/employee relationship in the modern world because that relationship is so fundamentally different than the relationship of the master and slave. But I'm going to argue tonight that the principle applications here in the way of how much more do apply to modern-day Christians. That is, if these particular principles are to be applied in an imperfect relationship like the relationship of master and slave, how much more ought they to be applied in the context of our own relationships as employers and employees.
Now, I do think that there are principles for us to learn for that relationship here, but let's look first at the significance of Paul's words for Christian masters and slaves in the first century.
You need to know that a very high percentage of the population of the Roman world would have been slaves. It has been estimated, I have no idea how it was estimated, but it has been estimated that there were as many as 60 million slaves in the Roman world in the Apostle Paul's day.
A huge percentage of the Roman population was in slavery. Now, this entailed not only domestic servants, that is servants who were working in the homes, but it also involved manual laborers and, believe it or not, it involved people who were part of the professional class. There were slave doctors. There were slave teachers. There were slave administrators. And so there were professional classes that were involved in slavery.
Slaves could be inherited in Roman law. They could be purchased and sold. They could be taken because of bad debt and, of course, many slaves were slaves because they were prisoners of war. When a war would be waged in the Roman world and some none Roman population would be subjugated, many of their number would be taken into domestic slavery.
No one, as far as we can tell in the Roman world, seem to question the propriety of this relationship. Though you will find stoic philosophers like Seneca, a contemporary of the Apostle Paul, arguing that we ought to ameliorate the bad conditions of slaves and grant them rights and status which were often denied to them. Nowhere will you find someone questioning whether this relationship was right or wrong, morally unprincipled, improper. No one seemed to question the relationship.
Furthermore, Roman slaves often like all slaves, faced dehumanizing treatment. If you look at Roman law you’ll recognize the inhuman way that slaves were often treated. Under Roman law slaves were chattel. Now by the way, that is a word that comes from the middle-English word for cattle. Sounds like cattle, doesn't it?
In other words, slaves, lawyers will understand this term because the word chattel is still used in law today. In law chattel means moveable, personal property. That is you can buy it, you can sell it — it's yours to do with as you wish and under Roman law slaves were moveable, personal property. You can imagine the effect of that on how someone was treated.
And the fact that the Apostle Paul is addressing the issue of masters and slaves here is yet another indication that they were an accepted part of the Christian community. There many slaves that were part of this congregation in Ephesus and elsewhere, in Asia Minor and around the Roman world and the Apostle Paul treats them with dignity by addressing them directly in the context of this gospel letter.
And I want you to notice the radical, Christ-centeredness of his instruction to both slaves and masters.
I. The significance of Paul's words for Christian masters and slaves in the first century
First, let me ask you to look at verses 5, 6 and 7 and I want you to see 4 things that the Apostle Paul says to these Christian slaves.
First of all, in verse 5 he calls on them to be respectful of their masters. “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling.” But notice in verse 5 how they are to do this. How is it that they are to show respect to their masters in the flesh? “As to Christ.” They’re to have a view to Christ and their relationship to Him, His Lordship, as they show respect to these human masters.
Secondly, he tells that they ought to offer wholehearted work for their masters. He says this in verse 6. Notice again his words: “not by way of eyeservice as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ.” In other words, they are to offer wholehearted service to the Lord. Notice how he puts it at the end of verse 6 — “doing the will of God from the heart.” So again, with a view to Christ they are to wholeheartedly serve their masters.
Then, in verse 7, he makes it clear that they are to conscience in their service – “with good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men”. They’re to remember that God is watching and they are to serve their earthly masters in the sight of God recognizing that they’re under the gaze of their heavenly Father.
Again, they’re to do it “as to the Lord”. And then again, he makes it clear that this is to be willing service — “with good will render service”. It's to be a willing service that's offered as to the Lord.
But in each of those 4 instances notice how the demand is connected to Christ — “Do this as to the Lord. Do this as slaves of Christ. Do this as to the Lord knowing that you’ll receive back from the Lord”. Over and over, their service to their masters is related to the Lordship of Christ so that they recognize that in their respect to earthly authority, they are actually manifesting their respect for the Lord's authority.
Now notice that the same thing is done for masters. Look at verse 9 and you’ll see 4 things that the Apostle says just in that one verse.
First of all, notice the principle of reciprocity in this passage. Look at what he says, “Masters, do the same things to them.” In other words, there was to be a certain reciprocity on the part of Christian masters in relation to their slaves. Even as their slaves did to them, they were to do to them. There was to be a principle of justice in reciprocity in the way that they dealt with them.
Secondly, notice how the Apostle Paul forbids threatening to Christian masters. Give up threatening! We know that in Roman law because slaves were chattel, they were things that were owned as moveable, personal property, that a master had almost complete authority over how he punished a slave, how he dealt with a slave. A master could severely beat a slave. A master could execute a slave. In fact, these things were so egregious that towards the end of the first century even in Roman law we see attempts to ameliorate this kind of radical authority that masters had over slaves because their slaves were entirely in their hands. You can imagine in context how a master would be tempted to threaten a slave. And the Apostle Paul says to Christian masters, “Don't do that.”
Thirdly, again in verse 9 notice that the Apostle Paul reminds Christian masters that they have a Master in heaven. In fact, that that Master in heaven is the same Master of their slaves; a reminder that they have a Master in heaven.
And then finally, notice that he tells us that that Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, is utterly impartial. Now that's so significant because they lived in a world in which partiality was not only part of the cultural assumption and the way of dealing with people who were either slave or free, but it was written into the law. Partiality was written into the Roman law. Masters were not treated like slaves and slaves were not treated like masters. Masters were owners and slaves were chattel. Impartiality was not a part of the way that master and slave was dealt with in the Roman world, legally or otherwise. And the Apostle Paul says, “Let me just remind you that the Lord Jesus Christ, you Master in heaven, is impartial, that when he renders His judgment on the final day, it won't matter whether you were master or slave. He is going to judge you with impartiality.”
Now, let me say before we move on to our application to ourselves today, what is it in Christianity that undermines slavery? We could spend a lot of time talking about that, but three things in this very passage come to mind.
The first thing that Christianity brought that undermined the very system of slavery is the doctrine of the common Lordship of Christ over Christian master and slave. That is the recognition that both master and slave in Christ have a common Lord and that truth, that reality, that doctrine eventually undermined slavery. As Christianity came to have greater influence in the culture and in the world, slavery was undermined by that particular doctrine.
Secondly, the Apostle Paul's demand of Christian masters to show justice and reciprocity towards slaves undermined slavery. The whole principle of reciprocity was unknown in the legal code of the day, but it was a requirement of Christian masters according to the Apostle Paul. And as Christianity came to have greater influence in the world, that demand for justice and reciprocity undermined the slave/master relationship and thus slavery.
But finally, and so importantly, and you see this here and in Colossians and especially in the book of Philemon, the doctrine of our union with Christ and our consequent adoption and communion with one another in the doctrine of our brotherhood as Christians undermined the practice of slavery.
You remember, the Apostle Paul when he sends Onesimus back to Philemon, he tells Philemon that he must treat him — what? — as a brother. And that demand that even slaves in Christ had to be treated as brothers eventually undermined the whole system of slavery. As Christianity came to have more influence in the culture and in the world slavery was undermined by these various things.
In other words, Christianity undermined slavery from within. Now, they’re actually a world of applications to that, but one thing that immediately comes to mind is that the Apostle Paul fundamentally does not see himself as a social crusader. As horrific as the things that were attendant to slavery were, the Apostle Paul is first and foremost concerned for the spread of the gospel in Christians and churches and in the world and then he recognizes that the rest will follow from that. He doesn't begin by socially crusading against this form of economic injustice, but he begins by spreading the gospel and then he lets the gospel have its way with this particular cultural form of inequity.
There's a tremendous message for that today. We live in a day and age where many young Christians are concerned that traditional Christianity has propped up various forms of social injustice. And so when they go off to college, they believe that they have been part of a system of inequality that needs to be addressed and they very often are tempted to become social crusaders in the name of Christ, but to forget or to marginalize the fundamental message of the church and the message of the gospel in favor of that particular social crusade.
Now the Apostle Paul's very approach to this system of inequity has a tremendous message for us. Well, I can't go on with any more of that if we're going to apply it to ourselves tonight so let's move to the second thing that I want you to see and that is the significance of the Apostle Paul's words for us in our various rolls and vocations today.
II. The significance of Paul's words for us in our various roles in vocations today
Notice first of all here that the Apostle Paul makes it clear that in our work, whether we be master or slave, that we should do everything ‘as unto the Lord’ so that our Christian liberty and union with Christ strengthens our motives for servants. If slaves are to show respect to masters, how much more ought we to show respect to those who are in authority over us in the context of our vocation. Our Christian liberty and our union with Christ strengthens our motives for this respect. It doesn't weaken our motives for this respect. It frees us from man pleasing and eyeservice in order to serve the Lord with all our heart.
Notice the Apostle Paul emphasizes that he doesn't want us to give merely external service, service that's designed simply to please men, but he wants us to serve, he wants us to work as for the Lord rather than for men. And again that has an application to us in our work today. We are to recognize the dignity of labor, the dignity of our work, and whatever iniquity we face today in the context of our own work, we are to recognize that there is an inherent dignity to it as it is done for our master in heaven and that it is a way of our living out the Lordship of Christ, our living out of the gospel, and thus we are to do it heartily.
When my father died, my dad was a small printer, and small printers in the last 20 years have really fallen on hard times. It's an area where the technology has been advancing so rapidly that it's hard to be a small printer. And my day died in 1992. One thing that small printers often do is they will when they’re overloaded with work, they will sub out jobs to other printers and one of the things that often happens when you sub out jobs is that other printer will contact the person for whom you are doing that job and say, “Hey, so and so subbed this job out to me. I want you to know that I can do it cheaper than him if you’ll come over and give your business to me.”
When my dad died, we had a slew of small printers in the Greenville County, South Carolina area that came to his funeral visitation, people that we had never met before, and they said to us over and over, “You know what, your dad was the one printer that we could work with in this area and we could sub out jobs to him and he wouldn't steal our customers from us.” So that in the very way that he had dealt in the context of work with integrity had glorified God and borne a Christian witness without ever sharing a gospel tract or even sharing the outline of the gospel with these individuals. He had borne witness to Jesus Christ.
And the Apostle Paul is reminding us of that in our own vocation. If slaves and masters in this system that was filled with problems and inequities can learn something from these eternal principles, so also we can learn something of these things in our own work today.
The second thing I want to draw to your attention is this: the Apostle Paul makes it clear that God is going to reward our work. Notice what he says in this passage: “knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord whether slave or free”. That is as you labor for the Lord, as you live out the gospel in your vocation, God is going to reward that.
You know, one of the things we often say today is that no good deed goes unpunished. It's one of the things we say to one another from time to time. What we mean by that is very often when you are trying to something which is right, you take it on the chin for it. And why does that happen? — because it's a fallen world, because it's a world full of sinners. This world is full of sin. It's full of injustice and inequity and the Apostle Paul, [imagine him speaking to slaves] they knew a good bit about the principle of no good deed going unpunished and yet he says this to them, “Let me promise you something, friend in Christ, friend in slavery, nothing that you do will go unrewarded from God.” In this world you may say indeed no good deed goes unpunished, but that is not how it is with God. Not one cup of water, Jesus would say elsewhere, given in my name will go without reward from the heavenly Father.
That is a principle that we need to remember. When we are in a situation in our vocation where we have not been rewarded for our faithfulness and integrity, we will be rewarded by our heavenly Father.
Third and finally, this passage reminds us that our work, our vocation is a spiritual issue because our living out the principles that are set forth in this passage is a function of and a measure of Lordship. In everything we do, Christ is our master, He is our employer, He is the one for whom we are working, He is the one to whom we give an account and that means that everything we do, every service that we render that we render is ultimately for and precious to the Redeemer.
My mom hated to cook and she wasn't very good at it. You know, a lot of people say to their wives, “Boy, I wish you could cook like my momma.” I've never said that that to Anne [laughter]. I thought that vegetables came from cans. I didn't know until I got married how good cooking could be. But you see, mom was a talented musician and she was a university professor and when she grew up, when it came time to help for cooking or help for cleaning up in the kitchen, her mom would let her get out of it if she would go practice her piano. And Carla, her younger sister, would do all the cooking and all the cleaning up and mom would practice her piano. Now, mom was a great pianist, but she was a lousy cook and so her upbringing really showed, but I came to know the older that I got that when she cooked for us, she was not cooking because she loved to cook, but because she loved us. And so those bad meals meant a lot more to me when I realized that they were an expression from her to us of a labor of love. She would have rather have been playing the piano or working as a volunteer or teaching a university class in music, but she was doing it because she loved us.
I have a dear friend in Yazoo City who is actually a very, very good cook, but she hates to clean up the kitchen. And above her sink is a little wooden plaque that says, “Divine worship held here three times daily.” In other words, she has determined to look at the issue of cleaning pots and pans as an opportunity to worship God. It's a spiritual issue. Her vocation is a spiritual issue. God says for every little thing like that in our vocations, He will not forget it and He will reward it.
Our Heavenly Father, thank You for this Your Word. Thank You for how You teach us even from things originally spoken to slaves and masters as to how we are to live and serve in this world. Help us to hear it and live it. In Jesus name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing.
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord until the day break and shadows flee away. Amen.