The Gospel and the Workplace

Paul addresses himself to slaves and masters but if what he says is true for slaves and masters how much more so for us who are freely contracted to work.

Sermon Notes:

1.We see throughout Ephesians that it's a very high calling to be a Christian. It's not easy. Paul exhorts us to respond to our varied circumstances in a Christ-centred way.

  1. Paul uses metaphors for the Christian life in his letter. One is that it is a spiritual struggle or war against the pattern of the world, our desires and the powers of the devil. He also likens it to a race, and we are called to run in such a way that we will win.

3.Paul here addresses himself to slaves and master. This was relevant to the ancient world, and perhaps more so today for us, who are freely contracted to work.

4.There is a continuity with our previous study of the family. Most slaves were employed in the home. So Paul is still dealing with the Christian household which is why he positions it here in the text.  

5.One third of the population of the Roman world would have been slaves, about 60 million people. That ratio was similar in the church congregation. It's why Paul says something about this.

6.The gospel of Jesus declares jubilee - deliverance from bondage to sin and every kind of oppression. At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he said that jubilee had come when he read from Isaiah (cf. Luke 4:17-21). Imagine hearing this message preached in a culture where 1 in 3 are slaves.

7.The grand historical metaphor of the Bible always refers back to the emancipation of the Hebrews. The whole direction of the gospel is progressive deliverance from every kind of bondage and slavery.

8.Scripture teaches that creation itself is to be freed from bondage to corruption and decay by the Son (cf. Rom. 8:20-25).

9.The gospel re-establishes us into proper relationship with God and man. 

  1. Paul’s dis not preach immediate social revolt or violent uprising against slavery, however his teaching is in fact overturning social conventions, addressing slaves and masters as equals in Christ.

11.The form of slavery among ancient Israelites pointed to the freedom coming in the jubilee, as opposed to the pagan worldview, which saw slaves as little more than human tools (cf. Lev. 25:10).

  1. Nevertheless, Paul is not endorsing slavery here and nowhere does he claim the institution of slavery as a divine ordinance. 

13.In Mosaic law, man-theft and enslavement were capital crimes (cf. Exod. 21:16). Usually someone ended up in bond service as a result of debt or falling on hard times, or to make restitution for criminal activities.

  1. The type of slavery, or bond service, amongst Israelites functioned as social welfare and provision that enabled people to work themselves back to freedom and independence.

15.This is all radically different than slavery in the Ephesian context. There a slave could be disposed of for blood sport in the arena. Into this context the gospel is preached.

16.Paul knows the gospel is going to lead to the end of slavery. He reminds the church that we are all freed men in Jesus Christ, whatever our outward condition.

17.If this Christ-centred attitude applies to such extreme situations as slaves and masters, how much more to us in employer/ employee relationships?

18.Employees must obey our earthly masters with a sincere heart, irrespective of who they are as people. This attitude is only possible if we know we are the Lord's free people.

  1. Paul is always clear that our first and ultimate allegiance is to Christ. Because of this we can work sincerely, doing our best.
  2. Our respect and sincerity is not servile but it is for the honour of Christ.
  3. Some of these instructions are hard for those working for someone overbearing and harsh. But just as a Christian wife can stay with and win over her husband in a less than ideal marriage so we can also honour Christ and impact those we work with by our Christ-like attitude (cf. 1 Cor. 7:14).
  4. Jesus himself took the form of a servant. He performed the menial task of washing feet and set the example of diligent work in his life and ministry.
  5. If we work diligently and faithfully with good will even when people are undeserving of it, God will be glorified in what we do.
  6. The gospel also extends to those of high social rank, and Paul does not spare the slave owners the admonition to treat those under you as you would expect to be treated yourself.
  7. This was countercultural. Cruelty was common among pagan slave owners. And these people are being converted and they need to know how to treat their slaves.
  8. Due to the teaching of the gospel, by the Middle Ages slavery had disappeared among Christians. It was revived during the Renaissance and God's law had to be abandoned to reinstitute slavery. 
  9. As we gather around this table we benefit from the work of Christ. Whether employees or employers, here our social status is irrelevant. Together we are Christ's bond servants and we are co-heirs with him of a glorious inheritance. 

Application Questions:

  1. Employees: Are we grudgingly working for a pay check without care for the success of our employers, doing the minimum we can get away with? Do we rob our employers by idleness or take items from the workplace? Do we carry out what we are asked to do or do we try to find short cuts?
  2. Employers: Do we lead in a manner that is fair and sincere and just? Are we genuinely striving for the good of those who work for us?