Listen to this as you read Ephesians 6 again. Yes, again. God’s Word is useful and reiterating it daily helps to plant it deep in our being!
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
It’s difficult for us, in this society, to grasp the reality of the slave/master relationship. However, the dynamic was often similar to that of our work life. Slavery in this era was not the same as how we handled slavery in America. Yes, slaves WERE less respected and not viewed as equals but often it was setup in a “bondservant” sort of way. That meaning they would choose to work for someone for a set amount of time in order to pay off significant debt they could not address otherwise. Regardless, we can agree that if it were a harsher setup than our work then it should be logical to apply these principles to our employer/employee relationship.
So what does it say, “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear.” We are told to be respectful to those in authority, not just obedient. Often we function in the workplace as an ‘obedient but obstinate’ employee. We act as someone who listens to the rules but openly disrespects those above us behind their backs. Yet we are told to treat them with respect and even fear! This likely harkens back to our ambassadorship Christ has called us to. We are saved so that we can be Christ’s representative to those who are still lost. In no way did Christ disrespect human authority. YES He spoke out about those who were working within HIS organization (namely the temple etc.). However, even in that He did so with respect and love.
The realization we must be aware of is that we CANNOT share the love of Christ and spark revival within the workplace unless we are focused, allowing His character to permeate our lives. We cannot compartmentalize His truth, applying it only to our Sunday time or “religious” moments. Christ’s love is supposed to expand and take over everything! To teach His love we must reach a place to do so in the lives of other’s and this is the process in which to do so.
“Sincerity of heart” it says immediately afterward. Paul isn’t challenging the Ephesians to simply perform lip service. He wants them to not only act with respect and honor but to be asking God to conform their hearts and minds to be the initiator of these attitudes. Tim Sanford (teacher at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute) often says Thoughts turns to Attitude which turns to Actions. Thoughts->Attitude->Action. This is exactly the point here. If your heart is tuned against your leaders you may be TRYING to act in a way that is respectful but it will ultimately be revealed what you really feel if your heart is not sincere. You will lose your opportunity to share Christ if you are not sincerely acting in parallel with a heart that is the same.
Then we get to the additional layer: “just as you would obey Christ.” I tell my kids constantly “you’re learning to obey me now so that you will obey God later.” I say this not to say they are not to obey God NOW but that their actions are formative (serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development). Their actions now are shaping their natural reactions in the future. For us too this is true. We are given so many things to be practicing which help us build obedience to Christ. 1 John 4:20 says “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” This is why it is so important to seek God in the daily “commonplace.” It is in those moments in which we are training and teaching our heart and mind how we are going to react when God, who we do not see, asks us to obey. If we openly disobey those who have direct authority or effect on us then we are sure to struggle with obedience to a God who is gracious and often withholds immediate punishment from us.
Parents: Teach your kids these truths now. Raise them in the Word, using it as a formative tool to shift their inward thoughts so that their hearts are transformed not just their outward, filtered actions. Use the Word to show you the MANY things that have been given to help conform us to Christ’s image and likeness.