Basic Facts from Ephesians (Part 5)

Basic Facts from Ephesians (Part 5)

Many twenty-first century Christians are astonished to realize that the bible mentions slavery without explicitly condemning it. In Ephesians 6:5-9 Paul encourages “servants” to obey their earthly “masters!” (The Greek word doulos commonly refers slaves, although it can also apply to bondservants.) Some readers seem unable (or perhaps, unwilling) to read the bible except through the “lens” of twenty-first century values, which leads them to miss the actual point of the Holy Spirit’s words. The fact that the scriptures mention slavery – without explicitly condemning it every time it is mentioned – does NOT constitute approval of its practice.

Many early Christians were slaves, and the gospel offered them a level of hope that nothing else in their existence could! Paul’s instructions to them may offend modern sensibilities, but they focused those enslaved saints’ attention on their eternal goal, encouraging them to “look beyond” their present circumstances. The first instruction (vs. 5) was for slaves to serve their masters with “singleness” (i.e., sincerity) of heart – Paul told them to be “good” slaves! But notice that he also went on to say that the service they gave an earthly master should mirror what they would give to the Lord Himself (vs. 6)! The contrast here is between “eyeservice” (working only when the “boss” is watching) and serving “from the heart” (being fully and willingly dedicated). A Christian slave/servant needed to understand that by giving good and honest service to his earthly master he was also honoring God (and that the Lord will reward him for doing so, vs. 8)!

Paul next addresses masters (“lords,” vs. 9 – almost certainly a reference to slave owners, though it could also refer to “overseers”), and commands them to treat their slaves in the same way he had just instructed the slaves to behave (i.e., remembering that they ultimately serve the Lord). The idea that some of the Christians could have been slave owners may trouble modern readers, but notice the instructions Paul gives them: They are to refrain from “threatening” (intimidating, bullying), and to remember that because they are Christians, they too are servants (“slaves”) – of the Lord. (This would also mean they were brethren to any enslaved Christians.) The key thought in this context comes at the end of verse 9 – God is impartial, not a “respecter of persons.” In practical terms, He doesn’t care whether one is a slave or a slave-holder; both belong to Him!

Ephesians 6:10-19 may be the best-known passage in the whole book, as Paul here gives a vivid description of the “Christian soldier.” The admonition to all Christians, to be strong “in the Lord” is echoed by Peter’s instruction for us to “grow in…grace and knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18). This emphasizes the idea that our experience of the Christian life should be one of continual improvement. In detailing the “armor” God provides, it is often noted that it is mainly defensive in character (vv. 13 & 16b); the only “weapon” He provides is His own word, verse 17! The instruction to take up the whole armor of God indicates that each piece only functions properly in combination with the others, to create a whole. Note also that this armor is meant to protect us from the devil – not against fleshly enemies. Thoughout this passage, Paul is keeping our minds focused on the great spiritual conflict in which we are engaged (vs. 12), rather than allowing us to be distracted by the challenges and vicissitudes of earthly life. The point is to remind us that we are part of a “greater” conflict than the events of the world indicate. The reason to put on this “armor” is so that we can “withstand” (i.e., stand fast, resist opposition) when opposition to the gospel of Christ is at its highest level.

In both of these contexts, Paul’s main focus is on helping the Ephesian saints to look beyond themselves and their lives in this world, to see themselves as parts of a much greater existence because they are Christians!

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