A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 4

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. (Ephesians 6:5-8)

Here is a fascinating application of God’s perspective on work.  Fascinating because it is addressed to someone who has no choice in the work he or she does because he or she is owned by another human being.  Nevertheless, there is an understanding that the slave can do legitimate work for this master and so fulfill the Cultural Mandate.  We may suppose that if the master were asking the slave to do something contrary to the will of God that this would not be fulfilling the Cultural Mandate, which requires that we work under God’s authority to better the world.

But assuming that the master has the slave doing legitimate work, the slave is to do so with sincerity of heart, being motivated out of love for God and for one’s fellow man in accord with the Great Commandments.  He or she is not to do it begrudgingly, simply to avert the master’s anger, but is to do it as serving the Master, the Lord God, who is the ultimate rewarder of good work.

Though it is not clearly stated in this passage, we may assume from what Paul says elsewhere (Titus 2:9,10) that he is also concerned that the way a slave works in subjection to his or her master is a reflection of the gospel and its transformative power.  The Great Commission is always a factor in how and why we work.

Ephesians 6:21-24 — Conversations with God

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.  I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.  Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

Could Paul have sent me, Lord?  Am I a dear brother to other believers and a faithful servant to You?  Do I bring encouragement when I arrive?

I am thankful for the many brothers and sisters You have sent me in my life who have offered encouragement to me.  It is as if You were speaking through them to my heart.  Of course, it doesn’t mean I don’t need to hear it again, Lord.  I continue to need encouragement and You continue to offer it.  It’s not a one time deal from You.

So help me to emulate You, Lord.  Help me to offer peace to my brothers and sisters, and love with faith from You and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  Help me to stand in Your place with my family in Christ and mediate Your love.  May all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love find grace to meet our every need and may we be very free with the grace we have received from You.

Ephesians 6:10-20 –Conversations with God

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Father, we are in a war!  I don’t know how more plainly Paul could make that point.  The enemy is scheming against us.  Evil is afoot.  Flaming arrows are being shot at us.  We are in danger of losing ground if we don’t stand firm.  Being alert is paramount.

But you don’t want us to fight human beings.  In fact, we might actually be in chains as we do our fighting.  We might be in the weakest of situations personally or politically.  Nevertheless, there is an armor to don and a battle to fight and it is all on the spiritual level.

And so our armor is spiritual.  Truth, to keep us from succumbing to the lies of the Devil and his demons.  Righteousness, positionally and personally, to keep us from despairing.  The gospel message that brings peace to those who embrace it.  Faith, to ward off the evil one’s attacks.  Salvation, to keep us secure in the midst of battle.  The Word of God, to slice through the deceptions of our foe.  And prayer, to give us a lifeline to God who gives us boldness for the preaching of the gospel.

Keep me alert, Lord!

Ephesians 6:5-9 — Conversations with God

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.  Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

If I were a slave, Lord Jesus, owned by another person, owned by a Christian person, and your apostle told me to obey my earthly master as I would obey You, I could be very tempted to doubts and to giving up Christianity. I could argue that being a Christian has certainly not changed my situation as I hoped it would.  Why wouldn’t Your apostle command my Christian master to give me my freedom?  Where is the justice?  Where is the compassion?

But when Paul reminds me that I am a bondservant to You, Lord, I have no qualms about it.  I willingly serve You as your slave.  I owe everything to you.  You own my life and I willingly embrace that and want to serve you from a sincere heart.  And the fact that You will reward me for such service blows my mind.  I don’t deserve that!

And commanding masters to “do the same thing,” to live as Your bondservants and do Your will from the heart, this could certainly lead to real changes in the way I am treated and reminds me that the Christian life is not about righting all the wrongs that are here in this world before the kingdom comes.  It is about demonstrating the righteousness of the kingdom despite all that is wrong continuing to make it countercultural to live as Your followers.  How else will people see that You really do transform our lives?  You don’t just change our conditions, You change our hearts.

Ephesians 6:1-4 — Conversations with God

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

I can see, Lord, that You view children as having both a place of submission to their parents that leads to obedience and safety and a place of respect as those made in Your image.

They are, in Your view, unable to make sound decisions that will lead to healthy living so that it goes well with them and they live long in the land.  I suppose that it is possible that a parent or parents might give their children bad direction, causing them to make poor decisions that both result in unhealthy living and bring them into conflict with You.  I don’t suspect You would want children to obey such parents.  But normally, parents are concerned to help their children to live good lives, morally and spiritually correct lives.  And I thank You, Lord, for giving me parents who had that concern for me and my siblings.

But children are also, in Your view, worthy of respectful treatment.  Parents can’t treat their children as conveniences to push around at their will and still suppose themselves to be pleasing to You.  Parents can’t impose their authority on their children in such a way that they stir up anger instead of godly living.

It seems the way You are showing us to avoid such poor parenting is to make our goal bringing them up in Your discipline and instruction.  When my goal with my children is to show them Your ways that helps me exclude other goals I might have (like wanting them to fulfill my dreams, or making them my convenient slaves, or blaming them for my own failures, or demanding they be fully developed adults).

I know, Lord, that when I was a young parent I got off track at times in this area.  I would be angry at my kids for upsetting my peace, or not treating me with respect.  I would ask of them things they were not capable of doing.  I would not give them the time they needed to fill their hearts with security and love.  I provoked them to anger.  So thank You that You forgave me and protected them.

It speaks volumes to me, God, that You care this way for children and for parents, and so give us this instruction that we need.  You are an awesome Parent!

Ephesians 5:31-33 — Conversations with God

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Lord Jesus, everything You have created seems to have a paradigm in heaven.  And here You are saying through the apostle Paul that our marriages are analogous to Your marriage to the church.  Our marriages are meant to picture Your relationship to us.  Just as we have become one flesh through marriage, you have become one with Your church.  There is this unbreakable bond you have with us that You will never abandon.

We are to submit to You as our “husband” and follow Your direction.  And You love us enough to die for us and have actually done that.  So we should mimic You in our marriages and demonstrate to the world what it means to be in relationship with You.  Why would You tie Your image to our weak attempts at modeling our relationships after You?  You know how much we have failed and are going to fail.  Does this not frustrate You endlessly?

Somehow You value this connection and are unwilling to back off from calling us to imitate You.  You are always modeling what it means for us to love one another and be committed to each other and how order should be kept in a chaotic world.  You’re our marriage manual, our marriage Counselor and Mentor by example.  Your interaction with Your church is our couple therapy.

Make my marriage a credit to Your character.

Ephesians 5:25-30 — Conversations with God

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.

Lord Jesus, it doesn’t get much clearer than this!  You love Your church, Your bride, and You want us to love our brides with you as a model and pattern.  I know there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence.  I can’t make my wife holy.  My life in sacrifice for hers can only be effective on the physical and emotional level.  It won’t save her soul eternally.

But I can be concerned about her spiritual growth as she can mine.  I can be of help to her in that area as much as I am spiritually mature.  I can seek to help her develop to the maximum of her potential as You have gifted her and developed in her unique talents.  I can sacrifice myself for this cause because I love her with Your love.

I can treat her as if she is me and I am great at giving myself credit for the slightest of good motives, rationale for the most egregious of sins, and pampering when I am the least bit uncomfortable.  If I give myself the benefit of the doubt, I must do so for her as well.

Pretty simple…pretty hard!  Help me, Lord Jesus.  You’re my only hope.