Message: All or Nothing | Scripture: Ephesians 6:5-9 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Slaves obey your masters, even those who are unfavourable towards you, because you have a heart that can bear all things in Christ who bore them for you. Don’t look to your circumstances as an indication of your value to God who keeps watch over you. Rather, consider the things that have been set aside for you in glory–consider your Christ who is glorified, and who is coming again to vindicate those who require justice. Don’t look to free yourself by disobedience, but win the affection and the heart of those whom you serve. Display your Christ in your life, and see the reward that awaits you, as it did Christ. All that he has is yours, and all that you need is him. He has come gentle and lowly so that you too might be gentle and lowly for a time, but the day is coming and is, already, here. You are a son/daughter of the living God. For those in a position of power, your power, too, displays not your own authority, but the authority given to you through and in God himself. Don’t mock him by abusing it because those who do have nothing to do with God and shall one day be treated in similar fashion.
- Why is it so stunning that Paul speaks about slaves like this?
- Is Paul justifying the institution of slavery here? Why/why not? What is the overarching theme of the Bible that vindicates people who are in difficult situations to get out of?
- Paul’s main command to action is for slaves to obey their masters, and he lists four ways (or the manner) in which one ought to obey. What is the manner that Paul tells slaves to obey in, and how does one adopt this manner? Why can we have this disposition/manner even if things aren’t going the way we want them to be?
- Paul clearly tells us that properly mannered obedience leads to eschatological reward. Is it right to want and pursue these rewards? If yes, when does it become wrong to pursue them/ask for them?
- Expanding upon question 1, why does Paul focus on slaves before masters? What is Paul doing with this focus on Children, wives, and slaves, and what is he doing to those who usually have the attention (fathers, husbands, and masters)?
- What kind of imperative does Paul give to masters? How does this help us appreciate the disposition that God has towards us if we believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Why is the picture of the slave in difficult circumstances something that Christ is able to identify with?
- What in your life has been difficult lately to find joy in? Do you find yourself complaining a lot? Do you find yourself thinking that you deserve more? Where does your help come from/to whom do you look for help in moments like these?
- How can we be praying for you this week in either difficulty or joy? How has God been manifesting the depth of the gospel and the love of Christ in your life recently?
- Be sure to make time to pray together.
Almost exactly eight years ago, I approached Candace’s parents to ask them if they would give me their blessing to marry her. Just to provide you with some context, I was in my second year of law school with one more left to complete, I had enough money saved up in my bank account to pay for tuition and maybe some of my textbooks, I had no contingency fund for “just-in-case” situations. I had not yet secured a full-time job, I owned no house, I didn’t know how to cook, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a lawyer for the rest of my life. On top of this, Candace’s brother, who her parents used as their example, had dated his then girlfriend for ten years before they got married, they had purchased a house beforehand, he had finished optometry school, she had a very reputable job at one of the biggest companies in Canada, his parents know her parents very well, they had both saved up a good amount of money, and he even owned his own car. There’s a phrase in Western culture that is quite foreign to Eastern culture, and it’s that if you’re going to do something big in life, then “go for broke,” and that was, literally, what I was doing here. So, the time had come to ask her parents, and, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty confident that they knew what I was going to ask them. I mean I had set up everything formally, Candace and I had been dating for 2 and a half years. I remember sitting down on the couch in front of them and saying, “You probably know why I’ve asked to meet with you tonight,” and both of them answered honestly, “we actually have no idea.” At this point, red flags are going off, and after telling them that I was there to ask for her hand in marriage, their initial response was, “no.” “You have no money, you have no set job, she has no set job, you’ve only been dating for 2.5 years, we don’t know your parents as well as we know Candace’s brother’s in-laws, etc.” However, after they had given me all their reasons, I told them with all the sincerity in my heart that I was either going to marry Candace now or we would have to break up. We had reached a point in our relationship where I would not be without her, and where I would not put her in a position where we’d become even more emotionally attached without the promise of being able to guide, protect, and love her as I believed we were called to do. I also told them that dating is not an institution given to us in Scripture. A need to have money or a house before marriage was not something demanded in Scripture. The requirement for in-laws to be best friends before their children could be married was not something that we see in Scripture. I was going for broke because what I wanted wasn’t all the things that Candace’s parents wanted for us. No, all I wanted was Candace herself.
Our text today is a text that calls us as Christians, as a church to go for broke because what we are pursuing is more lovely and worthwhile than all the other things that the world tells us we need. Today, we’re talking about situations where you might have nothing and yet still possess everything. This is what we see in Ephesians 6:5-9, would you read it with me? TWoL.
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasures, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With goodwill render service, as to the Lord, and not to people, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, he will receive this back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
Our proposition this morning reflects the all or nothing attitude that Paul has in this text for both slaves and masters: Live a Life of Complete Dependence upon God because He Wants All of You, and we’re going to spend some time unpacking this proposition this morning. So, like normal, I have three points to help us understand with it means to Live a Life of Complete Dependence upon God:
- (We’re to have) A Wholehearted Dependence;
- (We’re to impassion) An All-Consuming Hope; and,
- (We’re to revel in) The Significance of Insignificance.
If we possess these three things: a dependent heart, a passionate hope, and the right view to our own insignificance, then living a life that leans entirely upon a perfect and powerful God, no matter what the circumstance, will not be hard. We might set out to go for broke, but we’ll come back richer than we ever imagined. Let’s see what Paul means by this by looking at our first point:
1) A Wholehearted Dependence
Look with me at verses 5-7: “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With goodwill render service, as to the Lord, and not to people.”
We turn now to perhaps one of the most controversial texts in the New Testament in our day, and it’s controversial because people forget that this was a book written roughly 2000 years ago, or they remember that fact and say that, because it’s so old, texts like these, and other texts such as traditional roles of men and women within the church and home, no longer apply. Allow me to comment on these allegations before diving into the text.
There is a big difference here in this text between who Paul’s audience is, and what he advocates. There are a number of texts that speak to the evils of abusive slavery, possession and thievery of life, and other atrocities that have taken place in this nation’s history. One of the things we have to understand is that slavery in the Ancient Near East was not the same then as it is now. You all have heard this before, I hope, so I won’t belabour the point other than to say that the context is different—they had bondservants, indentured slavery, which we have to some degree today, protective custody, mandated guardianship, and other forms of “slavery” that aren’t the abhorrent forms of the practice that once ravaged this nation.
The second thing I want to say about this is that Paul’s ethical command towards this institution, even though it’s not the same as this country’s historical practice, is not his advocation for it. He is not saying that this form of Ancient Near East slavery is right or wrong. He uses other texts to tell us which institutions he values and which institutions he doesn’t. For example, he writes in 1 Cor 7 about the value of singleness compared to married life, or 1 Tim 2 about the requirement for male teaching and authority in the church, and he grounds such things as complementarity in the home and in the church in the character of God, in the purity of his own ministry, and in the fabric of creation before sin. In contrast, here, he says nothing about the morality of slavery. Nowhere does he say slaves, you are slaves because God intended you to be slaves from before the fall of man. Nowhere does he say slaves are slaves because God desires their enslavement. In fact, what we learn from the Fall of man in Gen 3 all the way to the consummation of all things in Rev 21-22 is that God desires to free man from his bondage—bondage from a life with others, to the devil, to the world, and to themselves. The Bible is a manifesto that stands in contrast to slavish practices and ideas.
In fact, we don’t even have to do an evaluation of the whole Bible because right here in Ephesians, we already see this in chapter 2: You once walked following the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience … by nature [you were] children of wrath. But God, being rich in mercy, because of great love saved you by grace and raised you up in Christ Jesus so that, now, you might walk not as those enslaved but as those who have received a Spirit-filled understanding of God’s wisdom. God and Paul are not advocating for slavery. They’re advocating for freedom—freedom from sin, freedom from being bound to men, freedom to be who we were meant to be when God created the world.
But Paul has to be realistic, and he looks at the world not as something that is in its final form, and this ought to tell us something about our eschatology—about how we see what the world is, because it is how Paul saw the world, and what it shall become. We, like the apostle, need to keep our eyes on what was to be. Yes, Christ has come, and he has redeemed us through his shed blood upon the cross. We are saved now if we believe in him as Lord and Saviour. We are, as Paul says in Romans 8 , foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified—PAST TENSE. But, at the same time, we are still waiting to be glorified. There is a kingdom that is coming, a world without sin, sorrow, or death, but it is not here yet.
It is within this perspective of the already-but-not-yet that Paul is evaluating and calling us, as Christians to understand that we live in a sin-stained world, and this is why Christian families and churches are so integral to its perseverance because without the gospel—without the hope of what is to come—evil institutions will only become more evil. So, what is Paul’s solution? It is to recognize that while sin still affects this world, we as Christians can and have already overcome it. Through the gospel, we can be the people who might suffer injustice and fall under the greed and affliction of sinful people, and we can persevere.
It is in light of Paul’s evaluation of sin in this world that Paul says do the thing that the world does not expect—transcend the institution not by demanding or asserting your rights, and not by physical or violent altercation, but by submission.
It’s kind of paradoxical, the way to defeat slavery is to be enslaved, and not only to be enslaved with the body, but to be enslaved within the depths of one’s heart. Notice how from verses 5-7, Paul repeats himself four times. Obey the masters who have been given to you on the earth, how? First, with fear and trembling. In other words, your life is in someone else’s hands—they literally can decide what happens to you, so humble yourself not just on the surface, but in your core. “Fear and trembling” is the posture that the people of God are to take when they are drawn into his presence. The only person to use this phrase outside of the context of God himself is Paul, and the apostle is using it here to draw us into the depth of what slaves are to feel in terms of weightiness when they serve their masters. Masters don’t have some mere power—they have forceful power, power that ought to move you to true heart-changing humility.
Then, Paul says that you’re to obey your masters with a singleness, sincerity, purity of heart. Where, again, do we see this kind of language? Create within me a clean, pure heart—a contrite/cleansed heart you will not despise. What is it that pleases God? It’s not our external sacrifices—it’s a heart that desires righteousness and obedience before him. So too, Paul says, obey your masters in this heart-first way. Don’t just do the things with your hands, work first with your heart. Truly desire to do these things from your inner most being.
Then, in verse 6, Paul says don’t obey for the sake of eye-service or as people-pleasers. Literally, Paul is saying stop calling attention to yourself. Stop seeking the vainglory of man because it is all vanity, says the poet. Instead, obey according to the right character of your transformed heart. Obey because it is the righteous thing to do, and because that is what you want. You want to be truly righteous, not sanctimonious—not self-righteous. The self-righteous man is the man who finds out on the last day that his thoughts about himself will do nothing for him, but the righteous man is one who obeys, submits, and serves because he knows in his heart that it is good to do these things.
Lastly, in verse 7, Paul tells his readers to obey with a goodwill. The word εὔνοια (goodwill) is a compound word used only here in the New Testament. The prefix “ευ” comes from the word eudaimonia, and, in philosophy, this is a very important word, because it points to the purpose of man. What our purpose? It is that which brings about eudaimonia, namely, that which brings about true happiness, blessedness, or flourishing. The base comes from the verb νοεω – it’s where we get our word “know.” But it’s talking about more than just our brain in that it refers to what we perceive internally. The mind, the heart, the will, the soul—these are synonyms for the internal person. Thus, εὔνοια, put together means the flourishing, the happiness of the inner man. So, then, how is it that Paul calls us to serve? He calls us to serve as those who possess εὔνοια—as those who are already satisfied from within.
And what is it that we’re satisfied with? You may notice I’ve skipped certain parts of the verses, and that’s because those parts tell us about the source from which we’re to draw our inspiration. We’re to obey, verse 5, as one obeys the Lord. We’re to obey not for vainglory, but, verse 6, as slaves of Christ who do the will of God. Our service flows from our inner satisfaction, verse 7, as those who serve the Lord. We defeat our slavery to the world and its sinfulness by being enslaved to Christ.
There might be sin in the world that stains our institutions and the way people interact with one another, but what flips the world on its head isn’t asserting our rights and wills, or by crying injustice whenever we suffer, but in our submission and dependence upon God’s deliverance us because he has delivered, and he shall deliver us again. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection serves not only as our example, but through it, he becomes our prize. Thus, when we serve masters, when we serve institutions that are limited by sinfulness, when we do things in a world that is passing away, we don’t serve them because of anything worthwhile in them but because we have a Master who has served and given himself up for us. We depend upon him to be our motivation, our example, and our guide. In this way we can persevere, and more than persevere, we can flourish, even in the most difficult things.
2) An All-Consuming Hope
What new thing does verse 8 tell us then? It tells us the ground for a slave’s obedience to worldly, fallible masters. Not only are we motivated by the fact that in our service to earthly masters, we actually serve our heavenly Master, but we also know that no matter what these masters do to us, justice shall be served, and we shall receive our reward. He shall glorify us. But this glory isn’t only in the reception of new bodies, rather, and as the Bible indicates, you will actually be rewarded for your deeds.
Right here, what is it that we find? We find proof that there is more to strive for than basic salvation. Salvation is the greatest gift because it brings us to our God and it restores us into his fellowship, but it is not the only gift that God desires to give us. Salvation is tasting the sweet nectar that leads us to wanting to consume the whole honey pot.
It reminds me of the other day when I had bought a cup of ice cream, and I was eating it in front of Micah, and I’ve never watched someone watch me eat ice cream so intently. It just so happened that in that moment, Candace had gone to the restroom, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that my son really wanted to try some of my dessert. So, I made an executive decision. While my dad was holding him, I took a thimble amount on the end of my spoon of my strawberry ice cream, and I let Micah eat it. As soon as he did, and as soon as I took the spoon away from him, he lunged at me as if I had taken life itself away from him.
Christians, when we taste salvation and the fellowship of God, what ought to be our inclination? Do we stop wanting that fellowship? Are we satisfied with a shallow relationship that only heeds Christ as our Saviour and not as our friend? Or is there desire for more—that a little bit of God, while sufficient, is not enough because nothing and no one is quite like him? Do we drink from the top of the well on a hot day only to realize that as we scoop up the water that is farther down, it becomes more satisfying and more refreshing?
It is when we drink not only from the surface of the well, but when we reach into those deep, cool, refreshing waters that we become more and more satisfied. And when we do this, the more we take our God through Christ. The more we can endure. We can submit not to the evil of man but to the example set for us in Jesus, even when our circumstances are challenging. Peter actually says this to us in 1 Peter 2:18-20: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. Why? BECAUSE this kind of unjust suffering finds favour with God. Why? Because his own Son suffered unjustly, and he has received God’s favour.”
God desires to be your God thoroughly. He wants you in your contentment and in your suffering. He wants all of us because he sent his Son to save every part of us, to bring lasting satisfaction to us, and to give all things that belong to Christ to us. But we have to persevere, as Christ persevered and set his sights on the things above and not below.
It’s okay to pursue the reward. In fact, this is what Christianity is—it’s pursuing the reward that is set before us. It’s wanting all that God has to offer us in the gospel, and when we possess that gospel, we continue to search its depths, and we find pearls, and diamonds, and riches—things that we are mining out of the deepest trenches of darkness in this life. But believe you me, those riches shall shine with their incomparable brilliance when we are brought face-to-face with the Light of God’s radiance. For Christ is the radiance of the glory of God, and he promises to give us not only himself, which would be enough, but he will give us far more than we can think or imagine, if we simply persist in our service to him. Christ will not neglect you. He has not forsaken. While earthly masters, parents, husbands, pastors may miss the good that you do, our Lord in heaven does not, and it doesn’t matter what your status is because, in him, you are sons and daughters of the living God.
We can depend on him because. in our gospel-believing hearts, we know he is faithful to his promises, even past this life. So, don’t neglect him when things are going well, and don’t neglect him when things are at its bleakest for God has said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and he “has shone it into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Let the light of Christ shine in every part of your life so that he might also reward you according to your every good deed.
3) The Significance of Insignificance
What is truly staggering about this passage here in verses 5-9 is that Paul spends most of the conversation directed to slaves. In his day, if you were to walk into any house, you would see household codes up on the walls. You would see codes for Fathers, husbands, and masters—all the things they were allowed to do. What you wouldn’t see were codes for children, wives, and slaves, and yet Paul has spilled more ink talking about these three latter groups than the one who is supposed to be in charge. And why is that? It’s because Christ came for the outcast. He came for the sick and the needy. He came for the Jew who could not fulfill all the requirements of the Jews. He came for the Gentile who had no hope within God’s covenant community. He came for sinners, like you and like me. He came insignificantly for the insignificant, and in his lowliness, he has raised us up with him.
This is why Paul ends this section with a brief aside to masters. It’s not even a full-blown code—in fact, it’s a threat. What he’s saying in verse 9 is, “masters, you better realize that the way you treat slaves is indicative of the way I shall treat you because in my house it doesn’t matter who or what you are—it matters whose you are, and I protect my own.” And this doesn’t only apply to masters. Fathers, if you treat your home poorly, this is indicative of how I will treat you. Pastors, if you treat your congregants poorly, this is indicative of how I will treat you. Brothers and sisters, if you treat one another poorly, this is indicative of how I will treat you, says Christ.
When I was in the third grade, I was a shrimp—barely tall enough to see over the window ledge, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. I remember that all I wanted with a certain person in my class was to be his friend because he was the cool kid. So, I remember trying to talk to him and being kind to him, and when he realized that I was someone who he could take advantage of, he started to bully me, and I didn’t know what to do. This continued for a couple of weeks, and then one day, when he had found the opportunity to corner me in an alcove while I was going to our classroom. I thought I was going to get very hurt. But then, out of the blue, I heard a familiar voice say, “get away from my brother!” And the next thing I saw, since I was cuddled up in the corner with my eyes closed, was my sister standing over this bully of mine, and she had literally shoved him completely to the ground, standing over him, glaring at him, daring him to do something he’d regret. I don’t know how she knew I was being bullied, but somehow, she knew, and somehow, she came to my rescue. In all that we are, all that we do, all that we think and say, all of our relationships whether in a position of leadership or in a position of submission and subordination, we can depend upon our Christ because he’s shed his own blood to be that person for us. Christ has made the insignificant significant. And in response, all that we are is meant to reflect a life wholly changed by this saving grace. We are to care for the lowly and the sinner among us, as masters are to care for their slaves, as Christ cared for you. We’re to die to self, and yet find ourselves enriched in the coming age. We’re to wash one another in love, and yet allow the world to revile us, if need be, because we look to the cross, even when despair surrounds us. The world cannot do to us what it has not already done to our heavenly Master. The world cannot give us both what our heavenly Master has already given us and what he shall give us. It is to him that we look. The world might be stripped from us, but in Christ, we flourish, we are happy, and we shall be eternally satisfied.