Ephesians 6:5-9

Relationships in the Workplace

                       American Journal of Biblical Theology
Copyright 2011, J.W.  Carter.      Scripture quotes from KJV

The Temple of Artemis, Ephesus. 
(Courtesy focusmm.com)

One of the primary themes of Paul's letter to the Ephesians concerns the lifestyle that is consistent with God's expectations for the Christian.  When someone turns their hearts and lives over to Jesus Christ, a fundamental change takes place, a renewing of the mind that is mentioned in Romans:

Romans 12:2.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

This renewing becomes the theme of the book of Ephesians, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers as they seek to obey Jesus, as Lord.  It is this attribute of Jesus, Lord, that motivates regeneration.  If someone calls themselves a Christian, but has no interest in obeying Jesus Christ, then it is most likely that their confession of faith, their taking of the Name of the Lord, is in vain.  Accepting Jesus Christ includes accepting Him as well as God, the Father, as one's supreme authority.  It is then that one develops an earnest desire to be obedient to Christ and follow His commands.  When one does this, the renewing of the mind results in a change of lifestyle from that of the lost world, and as one grows in their knowledge of their faith, and grow closer to God, they also grow farther from the world.

The problem that Paul addresses in the Ephesian church involves the conflict that arises when Christians maintain inappropriate parts of the worldly lifestyle in their behavior.  They were completely immersed in a Hellenistic culture that was centered around the worship of the fertility goddess, Diana (or Artemis.)  The social perversity of this culture is characterized by the "vile affections" of Romans 1:22-27 when they, "professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."  In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul points out the necessity to leave behind the worldly lifestyle for that which is consistent with God's Word.  He systematically examined each area of social relationships and gives instruction on how such relationships can be maintained in a godly manner.  The most recent section of this letter addresses relationships within the family, between husband and wife and between parent and child.  The short segment of scripture in this study concentrates another relationship in the home, that between master and servant.  Though slavery has been abolished in most of the modern world, the relationship between the ancient slave and master is not unlike that of an employer and employee today.  It might help if we have a better understanding of ancient slavery, an institution that is quite different from the slavery that was part of American culture in the 17th - 19th centuries.

"The institution of slavery was both well established and universally accepted in the first-century Greco-Roman world.  It was considered indispensable to civilized society.  Slaves accounted for approximately one-third of the population of Greece and Italy.  Their Service covered the whole range of business and domestic work, including professional positions.  Many slaves were better educated and more cultured than their masters.  Some enjoyed more favorable living conditions than many free laborers.  Slaves legally had no rights and were sonsidered as mere property, existing only for the confvenience and profit of their owners.

In general, owners treated slaves reasonably well, if only because the masters recognized tht this would make their slaves more productive.  Although many cases of curelty, brutality, and inuustice existe, no general climate of unrest arose among slaves.  No ancient government considered abolishing the institution, and none of th slave rebellions had as their goal the abolition of slavery as such.  The people of the first century did no think of slavery as a problem, expecially since it formed such a large part of the labor structure of their time."1

One characteristic of the slave-master relationship that correlates well with modern employment is the disparity of faith between them.  As Paul writes to the Ephesian church, he is writing to slaves who have pagan masters.  He is also writing to masters who have pagan slaves.  There would not have been many instances where both slave and master were Christians, as was the case with Onesimus (Philemon 10, 16).  Many Christians today may feel like slaves to their employers on occasion, but slavery is not the issue here.  The concern is the way that Christians relate to others, and in this case to those in the workplace.  Many Christians today work for employers who are not Christians.  Many Christians are employers who number the lost among their employees.  How is a Christian to relate to a pagan employer?  How is a Christian employer to relate to employees?  The workplace is an important component of our lives, and shapes as significant portion of our lifestyle.  If a Christian's faith is to be characterized by integrity, Christian attitudes and actions should be evident in all of their lives, not just during a weekend visit with the church, but also in the agora, the marketplace, the workplace.

Ephesians 6:5.

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;.

How is the employer to relate to the employee?  It is now evident that Paul is speaking to Christian servants who work for pagan masters, masters according to the flesh.  Paul instructs servants to obey their pagan masters.  Also, the manner of that obedience is indicated.  Translated here as "fear and trembling," the Greek words do not instruct the slaves to be afraid of their masters.  Rather, they are to have a grave respect for their masters, one that is borne out of the institution of the authority that is placed over them, an authority that is an archetype of that God has over man.  In this regard, "fear and trembling" is an idiom that we also see used in 2 Corinthians 7:15 and in Philippians 2:12.  In all occasions this idiom refers to a profound respect, and in the latter two instances, it is that respect that Christians are to have towards God.  

Christians are to have a great respect for God, because He is God.  Likewise, Christians are to have a great respect for their employers because they are employers, a position of authority that God has ordained in the social order.  The desire of a Christian to be obedient to an employer is not unlike that of the desire to obey God.  When a Christian approaches the workplace with this attitude, some very significant results are obtained.   "Singleness of heart" refers to focus.  Paul refers to pressing toward the prize of the mark of the high calling of Christ (Phil, 3:14), as a race towards a goal.  This "high calling" is a part of all of our relationships, employment not withstanding.  Let's look at the results obtained with our focus toward God is maintained in the workplace.

First, for the Christian, the workplace is no longer an onerous place.  It is a place where one can contribute their very best as they do so not just for the employer, but for God who has commanded it.  Ultimately, all that a Christian does is done for God, and working for an employer is simply another expression of that effort.  The quality of the work done by the employee improves, resulting in enhanced personal pride in that work as well as enhanced opportunities within the workplace for promotion, better pay, etc.

A second result of such an attitude is the witness to the employer that results from such an employee.  As Christians who express their faith in their lifestyle, and employer sees an employee who is "different."  Instead of witnessing cursing and complaining, the employer sees an individual who is pleasant, respectful, and hard-working.  In this setting, the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to point out that behavior to the employer and inspire questions like, "how do you maintain such a positive attitude in such a lousy place?"  The door is then opened for the Christian to give an account of their faith, possibly pointing the employer towards a life in Christ.  This would be impossible if the Christian succomb to the workplace environment and appear no different than the other pagan employees.  

When the Christian maintains honor and respect for their employer, they are expressing honor and respect for God.  This may sound like a tall order, but it is one that God both commands and can reward (vs. 8).

Ephesians 6:6 

Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;

The Christian life should be characterized by integrity.  We might refer to the opposite of integrity as hypocrisy.  In order to please one's boss, one might appear diligent when being observed, but work less diligently when unobserved.  If this is the motivation for work, only to please the boss, there is a problem.  The Christian is not called by God into the workplace to please the boss when observed by him (or her, or them), but as salt and light into a dark world (Matt. 5:13, et. al.).  The Christian is not serving the employer, but rather serving God as His missionary who is immersed in a wicked and perverse world.

So, if we understand that working for the employer is done as unto God, how is a Christian to be motivated to such behavior?  Does such inspiration come from a desire for obedience?  Though that is part of it, the true motivation is described here is coming "from the heart."  A Christian should mature to a point where a true love for God comes from the heart and inspires obedient behavior.  Many Christians are frustrated when they get the sequence backwards, seeking to obey without the true desire to do so.  Until obedience comes from the heart, little joy will be realized from that obedience, and when called upon to maintain a Christian paradigm in difficult circumstances (like the workplace), conflict arises.

Herein lies a fundamental need for the Christian:  loving God from the heart.  One might argue that God has your "mind" since you have made the decision to follow Him, yet He does not yet have your "heart," so your Christian walk is frustrated.  How can a Christian's "mind knowledge" become "heart knowledge?"  Many Christians express their faith by a fellowship that is on the periphery of the faith.  Attendance at church functions is sporadic, and Bible study and prayer are minimalized.  For Christians who attend churches that have formal Bible study (or Sunday School) classes, this may be the only Bible study that they participate in during the week.  For those who have no formal Bible study classes, the Bible is an even smaller part of their lives.  Is there any wonder that Christians have so much difficulty living out their faith from the heart when they are not spending time with God's Word?  Every Christian should be involved in a regular Bible study where the focus of that study is applying God's Word to their lives.  Through such an endeavor, it is much easier for the Christian to realize Christian growth, and enhanced heart-knowledge of God so that the choices we make grow in the wisdom of God.  Then we can know the will of God, and express that as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the Heart..  

Ephesians 6:7-8 

With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

The NIV translates the passage, "Serve wholeheartedly.."  In verse 5, Paul describes the manner of work for the employer, "As unto Christ.".  In this verse, Paul makes the statement plain:  When a Christian is working for an employer, that work of service is to be unto God, not unto man.  The employer is simply a part of God's overall plan.  The loyalty of the Christian to God is to be reflected in their loyalty to their employer.  An employee typically expects some form of compensation for their faithful employment, typically a pay check, and for some who work for particularly wicked bosses, that may be the only reward that they can observe.  However, God has made a particular promise here to the Christian who maintain their faithfulness to their employers:  God will provide a reward.  We have previously noted two rewards that come from faithful employment:  a more peaceful workplace and an opportunity for sharing one's faith.  However, this verse goes much further.  What are the limits on God as He rewards faithful service?   Christians can approach an ungodly and difficult workplace with the full knowledge that they are called by God to that place to serve as the salt and light of God's love, to serve the employer faithfully as an act that honors God, and that God will provide a reward for that faithful service.  

Ephesians 6:9 

And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

As Paul has now laid the foundation for relationships in the workplace, note that he does not need to spend a lot of time giving instructions to the employer.  Even the employer is an employee of his business, and most employers themselves have bosses.  Furthermore, an employer who honors God in the workplace in the manner that has been described in the previous verses has been instructed herein of his/her calling as a Christian to that place.  Still, Paul adds one imperative statement relating to the position of a supervisor:  "forbearing threatening."  That word, "threatening" in this context refers to taking advantage of the subordinate solely due to the hierarchy established in the workplace, using that position to "lord it over" the employee.  When left to the culture of this world, the person in authority can easily believe that they have more value as a person than their subordinate.  In this context, to express such a viewpoint, devaluing the subordinate, is to threaten that subordinate.

The employer should be well-aware of the parameters of the employer-employee relationship and recognize that he is not the true Master, only God is, and God does not differentiate the value of the individual in the workplace based upon their employment position.  To God, the C.E.O. is no more important than the janitor.  If God relates to us this way, why should we fundamentally relate to each other any other way?  The janitor, as a person, has just as much value as the C.E.O.; their job responsibilities (and commensurate compensation) are different.  However, both can honor God by the faithful completion of their duties and honor one another in the process.  Their relationship in the workplace can be appropriate to the level of professional respect that is due, yet the personal respect they have for one another can be unimpeded by their positions.  We tend to value people in the workplace in a manner proportional to what we can get from them.  God teaches us to value one another simply because He does, and God considers every person, without regard to their worldly social status, as of great and immeasurable value.

God has a plan for the relationships that Christians experience. First, Christians are to love God, and by doing so can grow in the maturity of their faith so that their relationship with God is reflected in their relationships with others.   Without exception, Christians are to love all people, respecting them as God does.  When faith is expressed in this manner, people do not lord over one another any longer.  Husbands and wives can learn and express mutual submission, parents can relate to their children without oppression, and Christians can be successful in their calling to the workforce.  Relationships within the fellowship, within the family, and even those with this pagan world can be brought under the authority, grace, and reward of God's purpose.  When Christians realize this and act upon this truth, they can begin to "get off the fence" that separates this pagan world from God's plan for the Christian life.  Christians do not have to be Mugwumps any longer.

1 Gritz, Sharon H. (2002) Ephesians.  Nashville, TN:  Lifeway Christian Resources.  p. 121.