“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;” (Eph. 6:5)
In modern day America, this is a verse we could do without. A few hundred years ago we would have used it to condone a practice that was widespread in our country and the world. It is still practiced in some countries today but it is frowned upon by the “free world.”
Paul is not condoning or condemning the practice of the world in his time. Slavery was as common as any other labor practice and seen as an economic necessity. Parents might sell a child into slavery in order to provide for the rest of the family. A person might sell themselves into slavery to pay off a debt. Slaves could be captured in war or created as a result of criminal activity. Even slaves owned slaves.
Many Christians were slaves and of course, some were slave owners. That was their situation when they became Christians and there was no teaching that required a change in that relationship. In this passage, however, there is a teaching about how that relationship is to be conducted when Christians are involved. This is universal as it speaks to how employees and employers are to act within their respective roles.
Obedience was discussed with children and the same word is used here. Children were to obey their parents because of the authority of the parents. Slaves were to obey their masters because of the authority of the masters or owners. For Christians, any obedience is characterized by respect and awe given in sincerity.
Christian slaves and as we will see later Christian masters, are to behave with the attitude of doing the right thing. Christians, whatever their station or situation must always be found doing the right thing. It starts with their relationship with God and naturally moves down to family, neighbors, and society.
Christian slaves had a new freedom. This freedom was in Christ where man is not categorized by sex, race, color, or status. All are one in Christ and as such must deal with each other in truth and sincerity. The church does not function on authority other than the authority of Christ. Paul told the Corinthian church that if they were called to Christ as slaves not to worry about it, but if they could become free to do so. The key to Paul’s thinking is in his last statement about the situation of slavery in 1 Cor. 7:24 “Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.”
Seems a hard saying to us. Remain with God in whatever circumstances you were in unless God changed them. Do the right thing whether slave or free.
Task for Today: Four words to insert into our thinking about our life situation. Obedience, fear, trembling, sincerity. Is that what we are bringing to the table? Is that how workers, friends, and family see us? Have we managed to be content about anything in our life? Hopefully, today we can look at ourselves and be content in God’s grace.