God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LVI) God’s Household Rules: Marriage and Family (11) The Obligations of Householders and Servants

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 1, 2006

Ephesians 6:5-9

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The Lord’s Day

October 1, 2006

“God’s New
Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LVI)”

God’s Household
Rules: Marriage and Family (11)

Ephesians 6:5-9

Obligations of Householders and Servants

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. Please be seated.

You may not appreciate
how relevant that catechism question is to our current situation. Some of you
may know that in both the Navy and in the Air Force directives have come down to
the chaplains just in the last few months indicating to Christian chaplains that
they may not pray in the name of Jesus Christ in their capacity as chaplains. I
had an army chaplain in my office on Friday afternoon talking about that very
issue in connection with her husband’s or an Army officer talking about this in
connection with her husband who is a chaplain in Iraq. Now, that directive has
not come down in the Army yet, but given the Air Force and the Navy’s actions,
it may well becoming soon and so that catechism question is very, very relevant.

One of the things that
we talked about in our conversation is that whether a Christian formally closes
a prayer with the usage of the phrase, “in the name of Christ or in Jesus’ name
or in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit”, no matter how a
Christian formally closes a prayer there is no Christian prayer that is not in
the name of Christ. Whether we use that formula or not, all Christian prayer is
in the name of Christ. And so we said that one of the things that we would need
to talk with public officials about is if you’re going to require that not to be
done, in fact, whether Christians use that inscription or ascription or not, all
Christian prayer is in the name of Christ. So if you don’t want prayer in the
name of Christ, then don’t ask a Christian to pray because whether that
Christian uses that formula or not, that Christian is praying in the name of

The other thing is,
there’s this little matter of the First Amendment and I seem to recall our
founding father’s saying something about not prohibiting the due exercise of
religion, but that’s another story for another day. Just shows us how relevant
the children’s catechism is to our current situation.

Now, let me ask you to
take your bibles in hand and turn with me to Ephesians 6 again. Tonight we’re
going to look at verses 5 to 9. I just want to remind you of where we’ve been.
We’re in the middle of the household codes where the Apostle Paul is talking to
husbands and wives, parents and children about how we relate to one another.

And the
significance of that is the Apostle Paul wants us to live out the gospel and
live out the Lordship of Christ in our relationships at home. That’s why the
hymn, Take My Life and Let It Be is so appropriate for us to sing because
the Apostle Paul is wanting us to give our whole selves to Christ and for us to
live out the gospel and live out the Lordship of Christ in our relationships
with husband and wife, parent and children, and also, in this context,
householders and servants. And that means that a Christian husband can’t
decide that he’s going to be a faithful follower of Christ, but Christ’s
Lordship and the gospel are going to have nothing to say about his relationship
with his wife. And a Christian wife can’t say, “Well, I’m going to follow
Christ. I belong to Christ, but the gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ and His
Word, they’re not going to have their way with the way I relate to my husband in
Christian marriage.” That’s why when someone says, “You know, I’m just unhappy
in marriage.” No grounds for divorce. This person just says I’m just unhappy
in marriage. Well, a Christian can’t do that and say, “Well, I’m just unhappy
in marriage. I’m gone.” A Christian can’t do that because the Lordship of
Christ, the gospel, is of controlling significance in marriage and so we live
out the Lordship of Christ. We live out the gospel in the way we deal with
those particular problems.

The same in terms of
parents and children: a Christian parent can’t just say, “Well, you know,
rearing children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, I really, I’m not
interested in doing that. I’ll just send to school and whatever they learn from
their teacher’s, that’s fine. I’m not interested in rearing them in the nurture
and admonition of the Lord.” No Christian parent can do that and no Christian
child can say, “You know, I’m not in to respecting my parents. It’s not
something I’m in to. I’ll leave that to really, you know, wacko, right-wing
fundamentalist kids. They can be respectful of their parents. I’m not in to
that.” No Christian young person can do that. Respecting our parents is
actually the manifestation of the Lordship of Christ and of the gospel in our
experience alone.

By the way, young
folks, one of the most profound ways that you can bear witness to your
Christianity and to the reality of the gospel in our culture is simply to
respect your parents. Do you realize that merely by showing respect, gospel
respect, to your parents in this culture today, you are sending a message as
loud as if speaking on the megaphone to your peers about your gospel embrace of
Jesus Christ? Because respect for authority is at a premium in our culture,
there’s so little of it left and parental respect from young people who don’t
resent their parents being concerned about where they are and what they do and
how they relate to their friends and what friends they choose and how they
behave when they’re with their friends. Respect for parental authority — what a
tremendous message you send to your peers when you show that you don’t resent
that and that you embrace it and that you even appreciate it and you recognize
it as your responsibility. It’s a living out of the gospel.

Well, the Apostle Paul
is concerned about all those things and now he comes to this passage, which
deals with slaves and masters and very frankly, it’s an uncomfortable passage.
It’s an uncomfortable passage because there’s a lot of history in our city, in
our state, in our region, in our nation pertaining to this very issue, but it’s
a very important passage and I want to do two things tonight. I want to look at
this passage first from the standpoint of what it meant for those who were
masters and slaves in the first century world when the Apostle Paul was first
delivering these words of direction from God.

And then secondly, I
want to look at what significance these words have for us in our various roles
in our vocations today. So let’s look to God’s Word in Ephesians chapter 6
beginning in verse 5 and we’ll pray before we read the Word of God.

Heavenly Father, we
thank You again that on this Lord’s day evening we have the privilege of hearing
the Word of God read aloud. We ask that You would speak to us by this Word,
that we would hear Your message for our hearts, that we would respond in faith
and that we would trust and obey. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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, not by way of eyeservice,
as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that
whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord,
whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up
threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is
no partiality with Him.”

Amen and
thus ends this reading of God’s Holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write
its eternal truth upon our hearts.

Apostle Paul in this passage is once again showing us how wide and how deep is
the reach of the gospel into our lives. And it’s very significant even that he
chooses to address this subject in the context of living out the gospel in our
households. Even in the Mediterranean world in this problematic relationship of
master and slave, he is willing to bring the gospel to bear on it and to talk to
Christians in terms of this as a part of their household duties, of their living
out the gospel in their home and in their vocation. Even as he as concerned for
Christian parents to live out the Lordship of Christ in their treatment of their
children and for Christian children to live out the Lordship of Christ in their
response to their parents. Even as he is concerned for Christian wives to live
out the Lordship of Christ in their relationship with their husbands and for
Christian husbands to live out the Lordship of Christ in their relationship with
their wives. So he is interested in both slaves and masters who are Christians
living out the Lordship of Christ in that relationship.

it’s very important for us to pause for a moment and recognize that there’s
something that quite different what the Apostle says to masters and slaves in
verses 5 to 9 and what he has said to husbands and wives in chapter 5 verse 22
down to the end of the chapter and what he has said to parents and children in
the first verses of chapter 6. And that is in this passage there is no direct
appeal to the creational order and that’s because this relationship did not
exist in the creational order whereas the relationship of husband and wife is
something that goes back to the very beginning of time and to God’s perfect,
original design. There is no such mention of this kind of relationship in the
creational order.

In fact,
in this passage, it’s very interesting that the Apostle Paul doesn’t even go
back and quote the Mosaic Law. He could have done that. There were laws in the
Mosaic code. All you have to do is go to Exodus chapter 20 to 24 and look at
the Mosaic code as the Book of the Covenant is worked out for how Israel is to
relate at a national level to one another and the civil code that is established
for them and you’ll find laws pertaining to masters and slaves. Laws which in
and of themselves are extraordinary and they stand in contrast to the dominant
codes of laws found in the ancient Near East in the second millennium B.C.
Compare those laws to the code, for instance, of Hammurabi, and you’ll find many
significant differences and a very frank superiority of the Mosaic code. But
Paul doesn’t even go back to the Mosaic code. In fact, in this whole passage,
do you notice what he constantly brings both slaves and masters back to?

Over and
over, it is a Christological example that the Apostle brings slaves and masters
back to. That is important because the Apostle Paul shows no interest anywhere
in his writings in establishing the legitimacy or the beneficialness of this
relationship as he does with the relationship of husbands and wives and parents
and children. He will go out of his way to root those relationships in the
created order and in God’s perfect plan. He never does that when he addresses
the issue of slavery. Rather, he draws the attention of both master and slave
in Christ to Christ.

Now with
that having been said by way of introduction, I want you to see two things
tonight. First of all, the significance of these words for Paul’s first century
audience, initially the Ephesians and other Christians who lived in the Roman
Empire in a time in which slavery was a dominant form of economic relationship.

secondly, I want us to think about what these words mean for us today. Very
often, you will hear pastors immediately go to an application of these words to
employers and employees. Now, I don’t think that is an illegitimate application
of these words. In fact, I’m going to talk about that a little bit tonight, but
I think it can be misleading to move too quickly to that application and
recognize that Paul was not initially just talking about employers and
employees, he was literally talking about masters and slaves. And there’s
actually something to be learned from that.

secondly, however, you will hear sometimes people will be very critical of
pastors who apply these words to the employer/employee relationship in the
modern world because that relationship is so fundamentally different than the
relationship of the master and slave. But I’m going to argue tonight that the
principle applications here in the way of how much more do apply to modern-day
Christians. That is, if these particular principles are to be applied in an
imperfect relationship like the relationship of master and slave, how much more
ought they to be applied in the context of our own relationships as employers
and employees.

Now, I
do think that there are principles for us to learn for that relationship here,
but let’s look first at the significance of Paul’s words for Christian masters
and slaves in the first century.

You need
to know that a very high percentage of the population of the Roman world would
have been slaves. It has been estimated, I have no idea how it was estimated,
but it has been estimated that there were as many as 60 million slaves in the
Roman world in the Apostle Paul’s day.

A huge
percentage of the Roman population was in slavery. Now, this entailed not only
domestic servants, that is servants who were working in the homes, but it also
involved manual laborers and, believe it or not, it involved people who were
part of the professional class. There were slave doctors. There were slave
teachers. There were slave administrators. And so there were professional
classes that were involved in slavery.

could be inherited in Roman law. They could be purchased and sold. They could
be taken because of bad debt and, of course, many slaves were slaves because
they were prisoners of war. When a war would be waged in the Roman world and
some none Roman population would be subjugated, many of their number would be
taken into domestic slavery.

No one,
as far as we can tell in the Roman world, seem to question the propriety of this
relationship. Though you will find stoic philosophers like Seneca, a
contemporary of the Apostle Paul, arguing that we ought to ameliorate the bad
conditions of slaves and grant them rights and status which were often denied to
them. Nowhere will you find someone questioning whether this relationship was
right or wrong, morally unprincipled, improper. No one seemed to question the

Furthermore, Roman slaves often like all slaves, faced dehumanizing treatment.
If you look at Roman law you’ll recognize the inhuman way that slaves were often
treated. Under Roman law slaves were chattel. Now by the way, that is a word
that comes from the middle-English word for cattle. Sounds like cattle, doesn’t

In other
words, slaves, lawyers will understand this term because the word chattel is
still used in law today. In law chattel means moveable, personal property.
That is you can buy it, you can sell it — it’s yours to do with as you wish and
under Roman law slaves were moveable, personal property. You can imagine the
effect of that on how someone was treated.

And the
fact that the Apostle Paul is addressing the issue of masters and slaves here is
yet another indication that they were an accepted part of the Christian
community. There many slaves that were part of this congregation in Ephesus and
elsewhere, in Asia Minor and around the Roman world and the Apostle Paul treats
them with dignity by addressing them directly in the context of this gospel

And I
want you to notice the radical, Christ-centeredness of his instruction to both
slaves and masters.

I. The
significance of Paul’s words for Christian masters and slaves in the first

First, let me ask you to look at verses 5, 6 and 7 and I want
you to see 4 things that the Apostle Paul says to these Christian slaves.

First of
all, in verse 5 he calls on them to be respectful of their masters. “Slaves, be
obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and
trembling.” But notice in verse 5 how they are to do this. How is it that they
are to show respect to their masters in the flesh? “As to Christ.” They’re to
have a view to Christ and their relationship to Him, His Lordship, as they show
respect to these human masters.

Secondly, he tells that they ought to offer wholehearted work for their
masters. He says this in verse 6. Notice again his words: “not by way of
eyeservice as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ.” In other words, they
are to offer wholehearted service to the Lord. Notice how he puts it at the end
of verse 6 — “doing the will of God from the heart.” So again, with a view
to Christ they are to wholeheartedly serve their masters.

Then, in
verse 7, he makes it clear that they are to conscience in their service – “with
good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men”. They’re to remember
that God is watching and they are to serve their earthly masters in the sight of
God recognizing that they’re under the gaze of their heavenly Father.

they’re to do it “as to the Lord”. And then again, he makes it clear that this
is to be willing service — “with good will render service”. It’s to be a
willing service that’s offered as to the Lord.

But in
each of those 4 instances notice how the demand is connected to Christ — “Do
this as to the Lord. Do this as slaves of Christ. Do this as to the Lord
knowing that you’ll receive back from the Lord”. Over and over, their service
to their masters is related to the Lordship of Christ so that they recognize
that in their respect to earthly authority, they are actually manifesting their
respect for the Lord’s authority.

notice that the same thing is done for masters. Look at verse 9 and you’ll see
4 things that the Apostle says just in that one verse.

First of
all, notice the principle of reciprocity in this passage. Look at what he says,
“Masters, do the same things to them.” In other words, there was to be a
certain reciprocity on the part of Christian masters in relation to their
slaves. Even as their slaves did to them, they were to do to them. There was
to be a principle of justice in reciprocity in the way that they dealt with

Secondly, notice how the Apostle Paul forbids threatening to Christian masters.
Give up threatening! We know that in Roman law because slaves were chattel,
they were things that were owned as moveable, personal property, that a master
had almost complete authority over how he punished a slave, how he dealt with a
slave. A master could severely beat a slave. A master could execute a slave. In
fact, these things were so egregious that towards the end of the first century
even in Roman law we see attempts to ameliorate this kind of radical authority
that masters had over slaves because their slaves were entirely in their hands.
You can imagine in context how a master would be tempted to threaten a slave.
And the Apostle Paul says to Christian masters, “Don’t do that.”

again in verse 9 notice that the Apostle Paul reminds Christian masters that
they have a Master in heaven. In fact, that that Master in heaven is the same
Master of their slaves; a reminder that they have a Master in heaven.

And then finally, notice that
he tells us that that Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, is utterly impartial. Now
that’s so significant because they lived in a world in which partiality was not
only part of the cultural assumption and the way of dealing with people who were
either slave or free, but it was written into the law. Partiality was written
into the Roman law. Masters were not treated like slaves and slaves were not
treated like masters. Masters were owners and slaves were chattel.
Impartiality was not a part of the way that master and slave was dealt with in
the Roman world, legally or otherwise. And the Apostle Paul says, “Let me just
remind you that the Lord Jesus Christ, you Master in heaven, is impartial, that
when he renders His judgment on the final day, it won’t matter whether you were
master or slave. He is going to judge you with impartiality.”

Now, let
me say before we move on to our application to ourselves today, what is it in
Christianity that undermines slavery? We could spend a lot of time talking
about that, but three things in this very passage come to mind.

first thing that Christianity brought that undermined the very system of slavery
is the doctrine of the common Lordship of Christ over Christian master and
slave. That is the recognition that both master and slave in Christ have a
common Lord and that truth, that reality, that doctrine eventually undermined
slavery. As Christianity came to have greater influence in the culture and in
the world, slavery was undermined by that particular doctrine.

Secondly, the Apostle Paul’s demand of Christian masters to show justice and
reciprocity towards slaves undermined slavery. The whole principle of
reciprocity was unknown in the legal code of the day, but it was a requirement
of Christian masters according to the Apostle Paul. And as Christianity came to
have greater influence in the world, that demand for justice and reciprocity
undermined the slave/master relationship and thus slavery.

finally, and so importantly, and you see this here and in Colossians and
especially in the book of Philemon, the doctrine of our union with Christ and
our consequent adoption and communion with one another in the doctrine of our
brotherhood as Christians undermined the practice of slavery.

remember, the Apostle Paul when he sends Onesimus back to Philemon, he tells
Philemon that he must treat him — what? — as a brother. And that demand that
even slaves in Christ had to be treated as brothers eventually undermined the
whole system of slavery. As Christianity came to have more influence in the
culture and in the world slavery was undermined by these various things.

In other
words, Christianity undermined slavery from within. Now, they’re actually a
world of applications to that, but one thing that immediately comes to mind is
that the Apostle Paul fundamentally does not see himself as a social crusader.
As horrific as the things that were attendant to slavery were, the Apostle Paul
is first and foremost concerned for the spread of the gospel in Christians and
churches and in the world and then he recognizes that the rest will follow from
that. He doesn’t begin by socially crusading against this form of economic
injustice, but he begins by spreading the gospel and then he lets the gospel
have its way with this particular cultural form of inequity.

a tremendous message for that today. We live in a day and age where many young
Christians are concerned that traditional Christianity has propped up various
forms of social injustice. And so when they go off to college, they believe
that they have been part of a system of inequality that needs to be addressed
and they very often are tempted to become social crusaders in the name of
Christ, but to forget or to marginalize the fundamental message of the church
and the message of the gospel in favor of that particular social crusade.

Now the
Apostle Paul’s very approach to this system of inequity has a tremendous message
for us. Well, I can’t go on with any more of that if we’re going to apply it to
ourselves tonight so let’s move to the second thing that I want you to see and
that is the significance of the Apostle Paul’s words for us in our various rolls
and vocations today.

II. The
significance of Paul’s words for us in our various roles in vocations today

Notice first of all here that the Apostle Paul makes it clear
that in our work, whether we be master or slave, that we should do everything
‘as unto the Lord’ so that our Christian liberty and union with Christ
strengthens our motives for servants. If slaves are to show respect to masters,
how much more ought we to show respect to those who are in authority over us in
the context of our vocation. Our Christian liberty and our union with Christ
strengthens our motives for this respect. It doesn’t weaken our motives for
this respect. It frees us from man pleasing and eyeservice in order to serve
the Lord with all our heart.

the Apostle Paul emphasizes that he doesn’t want us to give merely external
service, service that’s designed simply to please men, but he wants us to serve,
he wants us to work as for the Lord rather than for men. And again that has an
application to us in our work today. We are to recognize the dignity of labor,
the dignity of our work, and whatever iniquity we face today in the context of
our own work, we are to recognize that there is an inherent dignity to it as it
is done for our master in heaven and that it is a way of our living out the
Lordship of Christ, our living out of the gospel, and thus we are to do it

When my
father died, my dad was a small printer, and small printers in the last 20 years
have really fallen on hard times. It’s an area where the technology has been
advancing so rapidly that it’s hard to be a small printer. And my day died in
1992. One thing that small printers often do is they will when they’re
overloaded with work, they will sub out jobs to other printers and one of the
things that often happens when you sub out jobs is that other printer will
contact the person for whom you are doing that job and say, “Hey, so and so
subbed this job out to me. I want you to know that I can do it cheaper than him
if you’ll come over and give your business to me.”

When my
dad died, we had a slew of small printers in the Greenville County, South
Carolina area that came to his funeral visitation, people that we had never met
before, and they said to us over and over, “You know what, your dad was the one
printer that we could work with in this area and we could sub out jobs to him
and he wouldn’t steal our customers from us.” So that in the very way that he
had dealt in the context of work with integrity had glorified God and borne a
Christian witness without ever sharing a gospel tract or even sharing the
outline of the gospel with these individuals. He had borne witness to Jesus

And the
Apostle Paul is reminding us of that in our own vocation. If slaves and masters
in this system that was filled with problems and inequities can learn something
from these eternal principles, so also we can learn something of these things in
our own work today.

second thing I want to draw to your attention is this: the Apostle Paul makes
it clear that God is going to reward our work. Notice what he says in this
passage: “knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive
back from the Lord whether slave or free”. That is as you labor for the Lord,
as you live out the gospel in your vocation, God is going to reward that.

know, one of the things we often say today is that no good deed goes
unpunished. It’s one of the things we say to one another from time to time.
What we mean by that is very often when you are trying to something which is
right, you take it on the chin for it. And why does that happen? — because it’s
a fallen world, because it’s a world full of sinners. This world is full of
sin. It’s full of injustice and inequity and the Apostle Paul, [imagine him
speaking to slaves] they knew a good bit about the principle of no good deed
going unpunished and yet he says this to them, “Let me promise you something,
friend in Christ, friend in slavery, nothing that you do will go unrewarded from
God.” In this world you may say indeed no good deed goes unpunished, but that
is not how it is with God. Not one cup of water, Jesus would say elsewhere,
given in my name will go without reward from the heavenly Father.

That is
a principle that we need to remember. When we are in a situation in our
vocation where we have not been rewarded for our faithfulness and integrity, we
will be rewarded by our heavenly Father.

and finally, this passage reminds us that our work, our vocation is a spiritual
issue because our living out the principles that are set forth in this passage
is a function of and a measure of Lordship. In everything we do, Christ is our
master, He is our employer, He is the one for whom we are working, He is the one
to whom we give an account and that means that everything we do, every service
that we render that we render is ultimately for and precious to the Redeemer.

My mom
hated to cook and she wasn’t very good at it. You know, a lot of people say to
their wives, “Boy, I wish you could cook like my momma.” I’ve never said that
that to Anne [laughter]. I thought that vegetables came from cans. I didn’t
know until I got married how good cooking could be. But you see, mom was a
talented musician and she was a university professor and when she grew up, when
it came time to help for cooking or help for cleaning up in the kitchen, her mom
would let her get out of it if she would go practice her piano. And Carla, her
younger sister, would do all the cooking and all the cleaning up and mom would
practice her piano. Now, mom was a great pianist, but she was a lousy cook and
so her upbringing really showed, but I came to know the older that I got
that when she cooked for us, she was not cooking because she loved to cook, but
because she loved us. And so those bad meals meant a lot more to me when I
realized that they were an expression from her to us of a labor of love. She
would have rather have been playing the piano or working as a volunteer or
teaching a university class in music, but she was doing it because she loved us.

I have a
dear friend in Yazoo City who is actually a very, very good cook, but she hates
to clean up the kitchen. And above her sink is a little wooden plaque that
says, “Divine worship held here three times daily.” In other words, she has
determined to look at the issue of cleaning pots and pans as an opportunity to
worship God. It’s a spiritual issue. Her vocation is a spiritual issue. God
says for every little thing like that in our vocations, He will not forget it
and He will reward it.


Our Heavenly Father, thank You for this Your
Word. Thank You for how You teach us even from things originally spoken to
slaves and masters as to how we are to live and serve in this world. Help us to
hear it and live it. In Jesus name. Amen.

Would you stand for God’s blessing.

Peace be to the brethren and love with faith
through Jesus Christ our Lord until the day break and shadows flee away. Amen.

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