Ephesiansby Robert M. Solomon
Slave owners had an advantageous position guaranteed by Roman law and society. Such authority and power could easily be abused, and often was. The master could beat his slave or sell him. But Christian masters were called to be different. Paul issues three instructions to them, which John Stott observes “were designed to lessen the cultural and social gap between slave and slave-owner”.
Firstly, they are to treat their slaves “in the same way” (Ephesians 6:9). Masters must show the same sincerity and diligence in the way they treat and manage their slaves, just as their slaves seek to do the same in their service to their masters. Masters must provide what is “right and fair” in the eyes of the Lord, and show the respect that they expect from their slaves. Respecting slaves as persons of worth would prevent a master from abusing his slave (Philemon 1:16). If a master expects his slave to be godly, then he too should show that same godliness and fear of God.
Secondly, they should not threaten their slaves, withholding their food or rest, or worse. This instruction is consistent with Paul’s argument that in all relationships where authority resides in one party, the authority must be wielded in fear of the Lord and with love. Thirdly, the earthly master must remember that he has a heavenly Master, the same Master who has responsibility for the slave. If he ill-treats his slave, he has to answer to the slave’s heavenly Master one day. He must also account to that same Master for his own conduct and life. The true Master shows no partiality, and in His presence the slave and his earthly master will stand on equal footing. Hence, knowledge of the future judgement should moderate the master’s attitude and actions.
Paul’s instructions to earthly masters are equally applicable to employers and bosses today—a time when the profit motive drives some employers to abuse their workers or push them beyond humane limits. Bosses must remember that the person with authority in a relationship must exercise it with great responsibility and love, as much as the other person must respect God’s order and submit to authority.
All parties should be motivated by love, respect for God’s order, and fear of God.
How might modern employers abuse their workers or treat them as less than human? How should a Christian employer treat his employees?
How should the truth that God is the supreme Master over all, and before whom we must all stand one day, affect our day-to-day relationships? Is there someone you should be treating more fairly?