December 18, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 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 favoritism with him.
As we have seen in the Life for Leaders devotionals this week, the instructions for slaves in Ephesians 6:5-9 significantly reframe the identity of slaves and the meaning of their work. Verse 8 showed that both slaves and masters are accountable to the Lord in that both will receive rewards for their good work. This verse also makes a transition from addressing slaves as moral agents to addressing masters in a similar way.
Ephesians 6: 9 opens with an unexpected injunction to masters: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way.” More literally, the Greek reads, “the same things do to them.” What are these “same things”? How can masters treat their slaves “in the same way” as slaves have been told to treat their masters?
Though masters are expected to exercise authority over their slaves, they should do so in a manner analogous to the way slaves serve them. Masters can give directions “with respect and fear,” knowing that their slaves are really slaves of Christ who is Master of both slave and free (Ephesians 6:5, 8). Masters can exercise their authority “as slaves of Christ” who seek to do “the will of God” both in the content of their directives and in the way these are delivered (Ephesians 6:6). Masters can “serve wholeheartedly” in their oversight of slaves because they know that they will be rewarded by their heavenly Master if they exercise justice and mercy (Ephesians 6:7-8).
Verse 9 completely recasts the role and identity of masters. Most striking of all is that fact that human masters are themselves slaves to the Master who is in heaven, just like their human slaves. And, with this Master, “there is no favoritism.” In other words, Christ the Lord is Master of all equally, no matter one’s human station or role. In relationship to him, we’re all on the same level.
This perspective does more than radically altering the relationship between slaves and masters in the first-century Roman world. It also challenges us to rethink and restructure workplace relationships in our own day. Those of us who are bosses should wisely exercise the authority entrusted to us. But we do so aware of the fact that we have a heavenly Boss, that we are accountable to him just as our reports are accountable to him. We are to treat those who work for us with the utmost respect and honor, not lording our authority over them, but rather, serving them in the way Christ has served us (Mark 10:42-45). As a boss, I’m not suggesting this is always easy. But I am saying that we need to see our earthly roles in light of a greater, heavenly reality. When this happens, how we think about our work and how we work will change dramatically.
Something to Think About:
If you’re a boss, in what ways does this passage encourage you? In what ways does it challenge you?
If you’re not a boss, how does this passage speak to the way you relate to your boss (if you have one)? How does it speak to your relationships with your colleagues?
Something to Do:
If in your work you exercise authority over other people, consider how you might honor and encourage them this week.
Gracious God, thank you for the fact that you are Master over all—over all workers, all companies, all churches, all families, all communities, all nations. Today I acknowledge that you are my Master. You are the ultimate authority over me, my work, my relationships, my finances, my dreams. I submit to you all that I am for your purposes and glory.
[The next paragraph is for those who are bosses.]
Master, I ask that you help me to be a good boss. May I treat those who report to me with justice, love, and grace. May I help them to excel in their work. May I offer correction with kindness. May I live and work in a way that earns their respect. And may I remember that those who report to me and I are all, equally, called to serve you, our heavenly Master.
No matter our role at work, may we recognize your sovereign authority over all we do. May we serve you in every action, every conversation, every plan, every program. To you be all the glory! Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.