- Your Earthly Master (Ephesians 6:5)
- Your Heavenly Master (Ephesians 6:6-7)
- Your Pay Package (Ephesians 6:8)
Many people think that work is part of the curse. But it is not. Before Adam and Eve ever sinned, God had given them work to do in the Garden of Eden. They were to tend the garden and its plants (Gen 2:15). Adam was to name and care for the animals (Gen 1:28, 2:19). And together, Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28).
When they sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, they still had to work, but now they would have to deal with aging bodies, weeds, and wearisome toil. Whereas work before would have been enjoyable and exciting, because of sin it became burdensome and exhausting.
And that’s why so many people hate their jobs. That’s why so many people do just enough at their jobs to not get fired. That’s why many people say they can’t wait until Friday.
I’ve heard it said that if hard work is the key to success, most people would rather pick the lock. Others describe work as the annoyance they have to endure between coffee breaks. Of course, some people really do like work. It fascinates them. They can sit and look at it for hours.
Now sometimes, as Christians, one of the reasons we look forward to getting to heaven, is because we think that in heaven, we won’t have to work anymore. But guess what? I don’t know where we got that idea, but it’s not biblical.
In fact, the Bible indicates the exact opposite. In heaven, we will all have responsibilities. We will have positions. We will all have things to do. But it will be like the work which God gave Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned. It will be enjoyable. It will be rewarding and satisfying. It will be exciting.
Work is not a consequence of sin or a punishment for sin. Even God Himself worked. Genesis 2:1 says that on the seventh day God ended his work. Now that doesn’t mean He ended all work, just the work of creation. God is still at work and continues to work up ‘til now. Philippians 2:13 says that God is at work in us. Numerous scriptures tell us what God is doing, what Jesus is doing, and what the Holy Spirit is doing.
Work is a good thing, and work will always be a part of our lives, whether we are here on earth, or up in heaven.
But I know that sometimes, work is not an enjoyable thing. Sometimes, we detest going to work. Sometimes it’s that we’re not getting paid enough. Other times it’s because we have to work too much.
Sometimes it is the job itself we don’t like. Often it is the people we have to work with or the person we are working for which makes our job unpleasant.
So today, from Ephesians 6, I want to share with you a few of God’s ideas on how to be a good worker and how to enjoy your work while on this earth. Ephesians 6:5-8. Before we read the passage, we should all note that the literal, historical and cultural understanding of this passage refers primarily to bondservants and slaves.
In Paul’s day, many people owned slaves and servants. Historians estimate that there were about 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. That would mean that roughly fifty percent of the people were slaves!
Frequently, these slaves would become Christians, but would still be working for non-Christian masters. So their question to Paul was, “What should we do? Should we stay and work for our unsaved masters, or should we run away? If we stay, should we work hard so that they become rich, or should we try to do as little as possible so that they don’t?”
Ultimately, the slaves wanted to know what they should do now that they were Christians. This was a big question back then, and the Bible talks about this issue frequently (Col 3:22-24; 1 Tim 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Pet 2:18-21; Philemon).
But today, in modern 21st Century North America, we do not have masters and slaves anymore. Instead, we have employers and employees. And understandably, there are some major differences. Slaves did not have any legal status. They could not vote; they did not get paid. The master could do with them whatever he wanted.
But nevertheless, the overall idea of one person working for another is the same, and so while Paul is writing to slaves here, I think that we can take the principles and apply them to our situation today. This is what I will try to do for us today as we look at Ephesians 6:5-8.
Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
So you see, Paul doesn’t waste any time in answering the question which the slaves had. He tells them right away in Ephesians 6:5 to be obedient to their masters.
We are to Obey Our Earthly Masters (Ephesians 6:5a)
Ephesians 6:5a. Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart …
Paul begins Ephesians 6:5 by addressing the bondservants directly. A bondservant is the same thing as a servant or a slave. It refers to someone who is owned by somebody else in order to work for them.
In those days, a person could become a slave by a variety of methods. They could be born slavery if their parents were slaves. They could be captured in war and be sold into slavery.
Sometimes, fathers sold their children into slavery for financial reasons. In some cases, a person might sell themselves into slavery to pay for a debt, or to gain protection from enemies, or if they were very poor—to gain meals to eat, clothing to wear and a roof over their head.
All of these kinds of bondservants are what Paul has in mind here.
His instruction to them in Ephesians 6:5 is to be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh. This is a simple and straightforward instruction for slaves to obey their earthly masters. That is what Paul means by the phrase according to the flesh. The master according to the flesh is your earthly master.
Today, we refer to them as a boss, a manager, or an employer. And Paul tells Christians then and now to be obedient to our masters.
Obedience is not so difficult to understand as it is to perform. We all know what it means to obey, but it is much harder to make ourselves obey. The reason is because our sinful nature is crafty and creative at coming up with excuses for why we should not obey, or why we can get away with taking shortcuts, cutting corners and shirking responsibilities.
Here is a list of ten common excuses used by office employees in corporate America. Ask yourself if you have ever used any of these in your work:
- I didn’t realize it was such an important matter.
- It slipped my mind.
- I thought you were going to check back with me.
- The problem didn’t fit in my job description.
- I didn’t know there was a deadline on this matter.
- I thought we should wait to ask the boss about the details in this matter.
- I was afraid I would do things wrong.
- We never did it this way before.
- It seemed like a lot of work to me, I was trying to figure an easier way to do it.
- I couldn’t find the equipment and supplies I needed to get the job done.
Those are common excuses heard in work places today. But Paul calls us to obedience, and true obedience gives no excuses. One who is obedience does the work. They do it quickly and efficiently. They do it right the first time. They can be trusted.
I always think of Joseph as the premier example of a faithful servant. No matter where he was and what he was doing, he worked as hard and as faithfully as he could. When he went to check on his brothers who tended the sheep, he went quickly. When he was a slave Potiphar’s house, he worked as hard as he could, and was faithful and honest with everything—even when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him.
When he was sent to prison, he even worked hard there so that he was eventually promoted to the second in command in all of Egypt.
Joseph is an excellent example of what Paul calls us to do in our jobs. Obey your earthly master to the best of your ability.
Now human nature has not changed much since Paul’s day, and so, like today, we can bet that some of these servants would be thinking, “Well, okay. I’ll obey and do what I’m told, but I don’t have to like it and I don’t have to work hard. I’ll do just what I have to do, and nothing more.”
But Paul knew that this is what some would be thinking, and so he expands on how this obedience should be given with two descriptive phrases.
He says first of all that obedience should be rendered with fear and trembling.
The slaves, of course, would be obedient, because if they weren’t they could get beaten or sold or even killed. So of course, they obeyed with fear and trembling. Today, you can get fired, or demoted, so we too should obey with fear and trembling.
But what does it mean to obey out of fear? Remember from Ephesians 5:33, we saw that in the Greek, Paul called women to fear their husbands? We learned there, as our English translations reveal, that the Greek word phobos, or fear, carries with it an attitude of obedient and loving respect.
That is the same idea here. Slaves are to obey their masters out of respect for them. God has placed them in a position of authority, and we are to respect and honor them for that. Maybe they don’t deserve their position, and maybe they abuse their position, but that is between them and God. You will answer to God for how you obey those in authority over you. Therefore, obey them with fear and trembling.
But then next he says that the slave should obey in sincerity of heart. This is the challenging one. Up ‘til now, Paul hasn’t said anything too confrontational. Yes, okay, we can obey those who are over us. And yes, we can fear them and respect them because if we don’t, it comes down on our heads. We get fired, or we get punished, or we get demoted.
But now Paul says, “Look. It’s not just your outward behavior I am concerned about. I want you to have the right attitude in your heart. The Greek word used here for sincerity can also mean single-hearted devotion. When you work for an employer, you are to work for him and no one else. You are to have all your efforts and all your goals for his success.
This is an attitude of the heart that only you can set. You can do your work grudgingly, doing just enough to get paid, or you can work whole-heartedly, or as Paul says here, in sincerity of heart.
Paul calls us here to this kind of obedience because it is the attitude of the heart that always matters. Jesus makes this very clear in the Sermon on the Mount. It doesn’t matter if you have never murdered anyone. If you harbor hate in your heart, it’s the same as murdering them. It doesn’t matter if you take pride that you’ve never committed adultery, but at the same time you are looking lustfully at women on the television screen or in magazines. It’s the same thing.
Similarly, it doesn’t matter if you always do what your boss asks, but you do it with a grudging heart. You might as well just be disobeying him. For God, the most important thing in any action is the hidden attitude of the heart. No one else sees it but you and God, but that is where things really matter.
So Ephesians 6:5 contains the instructions for workers. It is simple really. Bondservants, or in today’s terminology, employees, obey your earthly masters.
But again, Paul knew that some would drag their feet at such instructions. Some would ask, “Why, Paul, should I work so hard for my pagan master? Why should I work so hard just to make Him rich? Why should I respect and honor him?”
Well, the last phrase in Ephesians 6:5 and on into Ephesians 6:6-7 tell us that when we work, we are not really working for our earthly master, but rather for a Heavenly Master.
We Should Obey Our Heavenly Master (Ephesians 6:5b-7)
Ephesians 6:5b-7. … as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men,
Three times in these verses, Paul tells us who the Christian really works for. We do not work for men, we do not work for earthly masters. Our true master is Christ. He says at the end of Ephesians 6:5, as to Christ, and at the middle of Ephesians 6:6, as bondservants of Christ, and in the middle of Ephesians 6:7, as to the Lord.
The main reason we should work so hard in our jobs is because however it may seem to the rest of the world, the Christians is really being employed by God. In fact, a good mind frame to have when working is that what you are doing, you are doing it for Christ. Colossians 3:23 says that whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.
If your job is cleaning bathrooms, clean them as if Jesus was going to use them that day. If you are involved in food preparation, prepare the meals as if Jesus was going to eat them. If you teach children, imagine that you are teaching Jesus when he was a child. If you are a doctor, imagine yourself operating on Jesus. If you are in some sort of retail or customer service, imagine that every person who walks through your doors or calls you on the phone is Jesus.
When seen in this way, all jobs are important. From this perspective all jobs are a chance to serve Jesus.
Why do you work? Is it just for the paycheck? Is it so that you can enjoy life? Provide for your family? Have food on the table and a car in the garage? Those are all fine pursuits. I will not criticize any of them.
But our number one goal in work should be to become a better and more fruitful minister and servant in Christ’s kingdom. William Carey, the founder of modern missions, was a cobbler. He was once accused of neglecting his business because his missionary efforts took so much time. He responded by saying, “Neglecting my business? My business is to extend the kingdom of God. I only cobble shoes to pay expenses.”
When we understand this, our work takes on a whole new perspective. For example, Paul says there at the beginning of Ephesians 6:6, not with eyeservice, as men pleasers. What does that mean?
We know what lip service is, right? It is telling people what they want to hear. It is insincere affection. Eyeservice is similar. It is showing people what they want to see. It this case, it is insincere obedience.
I like the way the NIV puts this phrase here. It says, “obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you.” That’s a good explanation of eyeservice. And we see it all the time where we work. People goof off and work slowly as long as there is not a manager around. But as soon as one shows up, everybody is a whirlwind of activity.
They want to show their boss how good of a worker they are, in order to win the boss’s favor. But they only want to work when he is watching them. Otherwise, they do hardly any work at all, or they do just enough to get by.
That is eyeservice. That is being men pleasers. But when we realize, as Paul instructs us here, that we are not really working for these earthly masters, but are working for a heavenly Master, whose eyes are always upon us, and who is always watching us, and who is looking not just at what we do, but also how we do it, and the attitude of our hearts when we do it, our work takes a whole new perspective.
All of this is incredibly important in the present time. We are living in a country where, despite how many people claim to be Christians, probably only about 20% actually go to church with any regularity. So, however good the preachers may be, they cannot do much because the people do not go to listen to them.
But the individual Christian is working with such people daily. He is before them as an evangelist. And I don’t mean that you spend half your work days verbally sharing the Gospel with your coworkers. That is not what your employer is paying you for.
By spending time evangelizing when you should be working is a form of stealing. Besides that, it annoys your coworkers and your boss.
So how should you evangelize at your workplace? By being the most efficient, reliable, trustworthy and joyful worker that your workplace has ever seen. Bad work is the worst possible recommendation for Christianity. Negligent work, hurried work, half-hearted work is the worst testimony you can give.
That is how the man of the world works! He does the minimum for the maximum reward. If he can get out of doing work and still get paid, he will. If the master is not there to check up on his progress, he sits around and does nothing, or just maintains the appearance of working. If you want a perfect example of this, just watch George Costanza on Seinfeld. He is the master of getting out of work.
But this is not the way the Christian should behave or perform at work. Rather, the Christian should be the best employee that the company has ever seen. The Christian should be working “all out, full steam ahead.” The Christian should always be industrious, honest, truthful, reliable, helpful, trustworthy, hard working.
Why? Because the Christian knows they are actually working for Jesus Christ.
As I said, this is one of the best ways to evangelize. And it largely explains how Christianity spread in the first centuries. They did not hold huge tent meetings, and have large productions and concerts and spend huge amounts of money of buildings and advertising campaigns. There is nothing really wrong with those things, but one of the best methods for evangelizing is to be a good employee at work.
We are not just working to please our superiors but are working to please the One who is Superior over all. This should be the attitude of our heart, as we again see in Ephesians 6:6-7.
So we’ve seen that an understanding of who we are really working for will help us be more disciplined in how we work. But now, in verse 8, Paul wants to show us what we are working for. In Ephesians 6:8, we get to the details that we all want to know about any job. What is the pay package?
Your Pay Package (Ephesians 6:8)
Ephesians 6:8. … knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
Ephesians 6:8 gives us the motivation for working hard in our places of employment. This verse tell us that whatever good you do in your job, whether it is for your earthly or heavenly employer, you will receive the same good back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free, or in other words, no matter what your position is here on earth.
I have here termed such compensation as your pay package, but Scripture refers to it as reward. While justification—deliverance from the penalty of sin—is a free gift of God to all who believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, there are rewards to be earned by those
Christians who are willing to work for them.
In Scripture, there are two basic kinds of rewards: earthly rewards and heavenly rewards. Sometimes, in return for faithful service, God may give you only one or the other. Sometimes, He may give you both.
Earthly reward is the blessings and honors we can receive right now while on this earth as a result for faithful living and obedience to God. I am not teaching a health and wealth gospel, because I do not believe that God always wants us to be rich and free from sickness.
But God does sometimes give Christians greater blessings while on this earth. Nice houses. Nice cars. Job promotions. Fame. Glory. Honor. Power. Positions of authority.
Of course, as I have said before, such blessings carry with them greater responsibility and accountability to God for how we will use these blessings.
Generally, earthly rewards which come from God only come as a result of faithfulness in the small things. The Bible says that if we are faithful in the small things, we will be rewarded with greater things. And this is true of all the great men of the Bible.
Saul was seeking his father’s donkeys and David was tending his father’s sheep when they were called to be King. The shepherds were feeding their flocks when the angels appeared and gave them the wonderful revelation of a babe born in Bethlehem. God called four apostles from their fishing and Matthew from collecting taxes, Amos from tending horses in Tecoah, Moses from keeping Jethro’s sheep, Gideon from threshing wheat, Elisha from plowing the fields. God never calls a lazy man. God never encourages idleness. God further blesses those who have proved themselves faithful in the small and menial tasks of life. He gives them greater reward and responsibilities here on earth.
But sometimes, God decides to wait and pour out reward upon people when they get to heaven. We call this eternal reward. Some men and women faithfully work and painfully toil for 60, 70, 80 years, and never see a bit of blessing, a bit of recognition.
I would say that in general, this is where the majority of faithful Christians are. Very few life-long servants of God receive glory and honor while on this earth. They work behind the scenes, never complaining, never seeking the spot-light, never running after the praise of men.
They never get to do what most of the Christian world would consider “great things for God.” They don’t get interviewed on the radio. They don’t get honored at the annual church meeting. They don’t get asked to presidential luncheons. They don’t have books written about them.
I believe that it is these sorts of individuals who will receive some of the greatest reward in heaven. Some missionaries labor for centuries in a foreign country with very few, if any, converts. Some Christians serve God in their homes and jobs but never get the fancy home, or the big promotion.
In these situations, we must remember that even though nobody else sees, and though at times, it seems nobody else cares, God sees, and God cares, and He is keeping track of everything. And the faithful Christian will receive their reward in due time. The parallel passage over in Colossians 3:23-25 makes it even more obvious that this reward in view here is primarily an eternal reward in heaven given to those who work hard and work faithfully during their earthly life.
On the other hand, nobody who refuses to work receives reward. Just as those who do not work should not eat, so those who do not work, will not receive reward. And those who work with selfish motives and who only work if they can get recognized and get praised will not receive eternal reward either.
Numerous passages in Scripture make it very clear that it is possible to enter heaven by the skin of your teeth. 1 Corinthians 3 says that such Christians will be saved, but only as through flames. Everything they have done in life will be burnt up as worthless wood, hay and stubble.
Matthew 16:27 shows that when Jesus returns in glory, He will give to each person according to what they have done.
This is the same point of the passage before us today. Work faithfully in whatever situation God has placed you. Obey your boss, because although you are employed by him, you are really working for Jesus Christ. It is Him you are trying to please, and He is pleased when you are a faithful employee.
And no matter what you are doing, if you work to please God rather than men, you know that what you are doing is of eternal significance. What you do matters, both now, and for eternity. That perspective alone will help you endure and enjoy almost any job.
Let me close by giving just one clarification. In Paul’s day, the slaves didn’t have much choice in who they worked for. They were slaves and couldn’t just quit working for their present master and go to a different master if they wanted.
But today we can. While it is important to be a faithful and hard worker for our employer, there is nothing wrong or unscriptural about trying to find a better place of employment. It is important that you fulfill any contracts or obligations you have made with your present employer so that you are a man or woman of your word, but if no such obligations exist, it is okay to find a better place to work.
But wherever you are, make sure you work with all your heart, because whether your employer is a Christian or not, you are really working for the Lord, and not for men.
And despite how it may seem at times, you are not really working for a paycheck which the government takes half of anyway. You are working for a reward which moth and rust does not destroy, which thieves cannot steal (Matt 6:20).
When we stand before Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ, Scripture tells us that we will receive a performance review from our heavenly employer, Jesus Christ, who will look at the good and the bad we have done while working here on earth, and will reward us for what we have done in this body (1 Cor 3:13-15; 2 Cor 5:10).
Among these rewards will be a responsibility—a job, if you want to call it that—which we will carry out for eternity. And all of us will enjoy our jobs, but Scripture is very clear that some jobs will be better than others, and the best jobs are reserved for those who were faithful and hard working in their responsibilities while on this earth (Luke 19:17).
So what is your ideal job? If you could do anything at all in the world, what would it be?
I’ve already shared what mine is—and whether they have such a job in heaven is yet to be seen, but I view my present job as a pastor as an opportunity to teach in Christ’s Bible School—which we call the church. So whether or not there will be teachers in heaven, I get to do it now—for which I am thankful.
And I understand that maybe right now, you are not in your ideal job. But God’s Word wants to encourage you today by telling you that whatever your current job situation is, you are not working for men there, but you are working for God. And your pay package is not some measly little check you get once every two weeks, but enjoying God and glorifying Christ forever in a position or responsibility which you will love to fill.
And although you will enjoy whatever responsibility you are given in heaven, the level of enjoyment and responsibility you will receive is partly determined by how you serve Christ in your job right now.
Do you want to enjoy your job? Realize that you are working in Christ’s factory, and that He sees all of your hard labor on his behalf, and that in due time, you will receive your big promotion when you get to heaven.
Notes on Ephesians 6:5-8
 Barclay, 212.
 “Top Ten Excuses” BIWIN.
 Nelson’s Book of Illustrations, p. 794.
 Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit; 354.
 D.L. Moody, Nelson’s Book of Illustrations, 800.