Ephesians 6:5-9 – Who’s the boss?


Ephesians 6:5-9.




It is estimated that during the NT times there were about 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. They constituted the labour force of the Empire BUT it is a mistake to think that they were simply unskilled labourers – some were well educated people like doctors, teachers and administrators.


Slaves were tools to be used to fulfil a function – if they failed to be useful they were dispensable. The only difference between a slave and an animal was that a slave could talk. The power to punish including execution, was in the hands of the master. Some would be viciously beaten or killed for the most trivial offences.


However we not think that all slaves were treated this way – many slave-owners treated their slaves well either because of their own sense of responsibility or because of public opinion or because of self-interest [an injured slave could not work as well as a fit one].

A good healthy slave was worth a lot of money and so an owner would look after a slaves as he would a valuable piece of equipment.


It was inevitable that as the Church grew in the 1st Century that both masters and slaves ended up in the same congregation- What was to be the influence of their new-found faith on their master-servant relationship.


By addressing slaves in his letter, Paul is not condoning slavery but is simply addressing a situation that is – it is clear from other things that he says, even in this letter, that Paul see all people as having equal worth.   —- we do not have slave in our society because based on these Biblical principles of equality and human dignity and worth people like William Wilberforce campaigned until the trade in slaves was abolished.


While we may not have slaves in our society – but don’t forget their are slaves still today in many places in the world, if not legal slaves then economic slaves – but the same principles that Paul spells out here in Ephesians still apply today in the realm of industrial relations.


Before we look at the text and deal with the relationship between employees/ employers and workers /management let’s look first at the issue of work and employment.




Work plays a major role in most peoples lives and therefore it is something that Christians must talk about – work occupies 2 of our life and 1 of our waking hours. Now you might wonder what a Pastor has to say about work when the old saying goes “The minister is 6 days invisible and 1 day incomprehensible!”


I want to deal in this section with three basic areas:

Modern attitudes to work

The purposes of work.

The unemployed.


1.1. Modern attitudes to work.


For many people work is something that is to be avoided if at all possible —


ILLUS.: Cartoon -OHP- “Whenever I feel like work, I lie here until the feeling goes away!”


Even employers understand this attitude only too well which is demonstrated by a notice put up in a New York office – “Some time between starting and quitting time, without infringing on lunch periods, coffee breaks, rest periods, story-telling, holiday planning, and the rehashing of yesterday’s television programmes, we ask that each employee try to find some time for a work break. This may seem radical , but it might aid steady employment and assure regular pay cheques!” [ From STOTT “Issues facing Christians Today”]


For many people work is simply something that we have to put up with!


For others work is just a means to an end – it is a way of financing leisure pursuits. Even for some Christians work is seen as a place to fish for “souls” – of course a Christian must be a witness at work as in every other sphere of life BUT it is not true to say that work in itself has no Christians significance. On the contrary, work is not a punishment for sin,– work was instituted by God before sin entered the world.



There are others who never stop to think about work it is just something that they do – as someone has said “I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs!” i.e. people are compulsive workers as hens are compulsive egg-layers.


From a Christian perspective work is part and parcel of the creation order. In Genesis God is presented as a worker – creating the universe and we as people are made in God’s image. God put Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and they were instructed to work it and care for it. [Gen 2:8, 15]. When Jesus came he did not despise work — he was a skilled carpenter demonstrating the dignity of manual labour. Work was not as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve – but sin affect work like it did every other area of creation – and so it is because of sin that work can become a drudgery.


1.2. The purposes of work.


Self-fulfilment is one of the main purposes of work. God has given everyone gifts and skills — we are to be creative because we are made in the image of the Creator. God wants us to be fulfilled, not frustrated.


This is why unemployment is so devastating for many people because it takes away the opportunity to use their God-given abilities. Unfortunately with the coming to the industrial revolution many people were reduced to doing mindless robotic jobs with no self-fulfilment possible. Some modern companies have recognised this and have a system of changing tasks, offering incentive, and physically brighten up the work environment with plants etc…..


For the benefit of the community — it is not only for self. People were not designed to be isolated individuals but part of communities and work should contribute to that end. In the past in the small village type communities it was easier to appreciate this role of the worker than it is now in a world of marco-economics.


All work need to be seen, at least to some degree, as being service to the community. Companies need to strike a balance between making a profit and serving its workers and the public. When profits are more important than people then something is drastically wrong. Sadly this seems to be true more often than it should be.




Service to God – more important than service to the community is service to God. From a Biblical perspective the highest function of Work is the glory of God. God has deliberately arranged his creation in such a way that the co-operation of human beings is needed to fulfil his purposes for creation. It is the function of human beings to subdue and develop this planet. God makes things grow but the gardener or farmer cultivates the soil.


At harvest we usually emphasis God’s part:

We plough the fields and scatter

the good seed on the ground

But it is fed and watered

by God almighty hand.


It is equally true to sing:

God plants the lovely garden

and gives the fertile soil

But it is kept and nurtured

By our resourceful toil.


John Stott defines work as follows: “Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfilment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God.”


1.3. What about the unemployed?


When we understand the importance work plays in God’s scheme of things, we begin to see how serious an attack it is on our humanness to be unemployed. It is not just facing financial difficulty but also lack of fulfilment and not only being made redundant but a feeling of being redundant.


There was a time [10-20 years ago] when you could have a job secure for life – that is now a thing of the past — few, if any, people have that kind of job security.


Those who are made redundant go through – shock – disbelief – humiliation – depression – pessimism – and fatalism – and then if they can’t find another job eventually become demoralised and some feel dehumanised [of no worth].


What is the answer?? – I don’t have them all!!   We must not take the attitude that some do – “The unemployed are losers in the struggle to survive!”


  • There are a few people who are spongers and don’t want to work BUT the vast majority of unemployed do want to work but can’t find any. AT LEAST within the Christian community there should be no stigma attached to unemployment!
  • The church has a responsibility to do all it can to support those who are unemployed – financially, if possible, although usually people can get sate help – but not always enough – we must be aware. — BUT also emotionally and spiritually. { no time now to deal with in depth – suggestions welcomed!}
  • distinction between employment and work —-employment is work [we are not paid to do nothing] — not all work is employment [we can work without being paid for it – e.g. housewives] There are many things that volunteers can do in and for the community.


As Christians we have a responsibility to be workers all our lives – when you retired you do not cease to be a workers – you cease to be employed. We don’t always have control over our employment but we do have control over whether or not we work — UNLESS we are ill or unable to work for some reason!


NOW to the relationship between workers and bosses!!




In addressing the servants, or in our context the workers, Paul is dealing primarily with the attitude of the worker to his/her boss.


Paul has six things to say to servants/ workers:


2.1. Right conduct –   obey your earthly masters   being a Christian should make a person a better, more productive, more agreeable person. If you want to be a witness for Christ in the work place, you will never achieve that if your work is shoddy and careless and you are always whinging!! It is an indictment against the Christian and the Lord to be slack at work.   —-This must be the Christian attitude irrespective of whether or not their boss is nice or fair or mean.


1 Peter 2:18-20    18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (NIV)


Even if your boss is a fellow believer that does not mean that you should have special privileges –


2.2. Right outlook – your earthly masters the right perspective is they are only your earthly bosses – they authority is only temporal and not eternal, and it is limited not absolute. No boss has moral or spiritual responsibility or authority over you.


2.3. Right attitude – with respect and fear, when Paul says here respect and fear he does not mean a kind of cowering terror but due honour and respect – an attitude of wanting to please your boss. Maybe you work for a boss you can’t honour and respect – maybe s/he is lazy, incompetent or simply unpleasant – then you should submit for the Lord’s sake. God is the one who has instituted human authority structures – yes, people abuse their positions and treat their subordinates badly but if you are in such a situation God knows – he knows your boss and he knows you. Sometimes he will remove you or your boss BUT if he doesn’t you are still to treat your boss with honour and respect for the Lord’s sake.

When a Christian works carefully and respectfully even in difficult circumstances it is a witness to unbelievers and an encouragement to believers.


ILLUS.: Len Wigston [60]- ran a clothing factory – take over – young “yuppie” executive was appointed over him – key were taken away and most responsibility – for 3 years he smarted under this youngster but he did not allow the situation to make him work badly nor did he undermine his boss – eventually he was vindicated by his big bosses at head office!


2.4. Right commitment – with sincerity of heart, – be conscienctious. This submission to your boss says Paul is not to be a pretence but must be sincere – not a hypocritical superficiality but a genuine desire to do your best – the idea is to get on with your work without complaining, bragging, being disruptive or criticising the work of others.


What about industrial action? – what about speaking out against injustice in the work place? I am not saying that Christians should be doormats – if their is wrong and unfairness and exploitation then we have a responsibility to our fellow-workers and to God to do all we can to rectify the situation BUT it must be done with the right motives and attitude.



2.5. Right Motive – just as you would obey Christ. – remember that Paul is still speaking under the banner of “being filled with the Spirit” [5v21] – and reliable and productive work is one of the practical outworkings of that. It is not in God’s plan to call every Christian to be in ‘full-time’ church work [I don’t like the term ‘Full-time’ – maybe pay Christian work is better] Every Christian is full-time irrespective of your employment. We are all called to serve Christ whatever our work may be –

Whether you are a secretary, carpenter, salesperson, nurse, teacher, volunteer worker etc … you have the responsibility to be the best you can be in the job. That is your Christian duty and out of that comes your witness.


William Barclay wrote this “ The conviction of the Christian worker is that every single piece of work produced must be good enough to show God!”


2.6. Right devotion – 6 Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. –


In these verses Paul is expanding what he has said in v.5. He is emphasising that our ultimate service is to the Lord and our aim is to please him and not people.

God knows our situation and he sees our heart – and he knows whether or not we are doing our best –


You may be unjustly treated – not rewarded by your boss for good work – you may be passed over for promotion – BUT ultimately you are servicing God and he will reward you in good time. I am not saying it is easy, it is not!

BUT the Christian slaves of Paul’s day did not have Industrial Tribunals and Trade Unions to protect them and these were the instruction that they were given.


ILLUS.: Missionary Couple on Ship back to New York after many years in Africa – on same ship a celebrity – crowds to meet the star and no one to meet the missionaries! Husband – ”It is not Fair! We come home and their is no-one to meet us” – Wife “We are not home yet!”


Colossians 3:23 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, (NIV)






*        … your boss wants you to do shady deals? — your bass’s authority is limited – you and your boss are ultimately under God and like Peter and John before the Jewish council you would have to say Acts 5:29

…..”We must obey God rather than men! (NIV)


*        … your work is destroying your family life. If you have a job that is so demanding that your family is suffering because of it you may need to consider changing. I know that will not always be possible – esp. in today’s climate where jobs are so difficult to come by. If you have no time for your family or your Christian fellowship then something is not right – it should be a matter of urgent prayer that God will help you sort it out.


ILLUS. Bill and Ann Seiberhagen – OM – was Bank Manager headed for the top – bailed out and moved to a small town so he could be with his boys – came down in lifestyle. BUT today all their sons [4] are committed Christians.


What model are you setting for your children??!


*        … you are treated unfairly??

ILLUS.: Daniel – see ohp – Daniel appealed to God!




Ephesians 6:9

9 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 favouritism with him. (NIV)


The responsibilities of slaves are spelled out in detail but Christian slave-owner were given only three principles.


3.1. The same attitude and conduct as subordinates.


All the principles that Paul has spelled out to the workers apply equally to the bosses. If a boss expects respect, conscientious work, honesty etc… them s/he must give it. It is an application of the golden rule “ Do to others as you would have them do to you!”


If you are a boss – anyone who is in a supervisory capacity, not just the owner of the business – if you want respect, give it! ..want good work, give it! .. want a happy working environment, don’t walk around grouching! etc…


Don’t abuse or take advantage of those under you – remember they are people – encourage when it is due. A “well done!” can do wonders for morale.


3.2. No threatening.


Power is easily abuse – we have seen how the masters of Paul’s day abused it – I suggest that the modern equivalent of punishment threats is “If you don’t — work longer hours — work on Sunday — do this work at home — become more productive — then your job is on the line!”


Christianity has place for punishment in certain circumstances BUT threaten is a weapon used by the powerful over the powerless!


The biggest threat today is the threat of unemployment and we see examples of this often! Companies abusing their employees by expecting more work for no extra pay – restructuring and down-grading salaries because they know that there are no jobs out there. All in the name of profit and economic progress BUT while employees get small increases the fat cats line their pockets!


It is not all bad of course – there are companies who do look after there employees – and I would guess they are happier places to work in and that their workers are more faithful and productive! Besides it being right, it makes good economic sense to care for the work force!


What if those under you are difficult, lazy, incompetent etc — well you can get rid of them – and sometimes that is necessary – do the Daniel principle applies here too in a slightly different way.

ILLUS.: OHP – speak to God about the matter first – he can change them!


3.3. No favouritism with God.


A Christian boss should realise that his/her authority is strictly functional and only temporary. Ultimately both worker and boss are under God’s authority and God is not impressed by social position. He will judge all people equally and fairly – and bosses will be judged on how they treated those under their authority and care.


Jesus was the supreme Master and yet the example he set was washing the smelly dusty feet of his followers. [John 13:13]






The over-riding principle that comes out of this passage – whether you are a boss or a paid-worker or a voluntary worker or unemployed – in the final analysis we are all under God and we are all accountable to him.


As a Christian therefore I have to live by the principle of Ecclesiastes 9:10 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, …(NIV)


1 Corinthians 10:31

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (NIV)








“Whenever I feel like work,

I lie here until the feeling goes away!”




Ephesians 6:5 – 9.





       Attitudes to Work

       Purposes of Work

       What about the unemployed?





       Right Conduct

       Right Outlook

        Right Attitude

       Right Commitment

       Right Motive

       Right Devotion





       Same attitude & conduct as Workers

       No Threatening

       No Favouritism with God














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