Thursday, March 18, 2021

Mutual Responsibilities

"And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him." (Ephesians 6:9)

In Ephesians 6:1–9, Paul continues his discourse on Christian order, the hierarchy within the community of the new creation. He addresses children, telling them to obey their parents, “for this is right.” Children are interested in right and wrong, and we must be interested in teaching them the difference. What is right, says Paul, is obedience to parents.

Paul points out that the fifth commandment is the first one that has a promise attached: Those who obey their parents will live long on the earth. In Deuteronomy 5:16 the LORD told the Israelite children that they would live long in the promised land. In the new covenant, however, this promise is extended to the whole earth. This aphorism is not a contractual promise but a true principle.

Turning to parents, Paul tells them not to exasperate their children. Children are frustrated by bad discipline. Capricious and harsh discipline provokes children, but lax discipline also provokes them. Children want to know where the boundaries are, and they constantly test the boundaries their parents set up. If parents refuse to maintain boundaries, children will grow up to be frustrated, rebellious, and undisciplined. It is particularly fathers who are addressed here. Fathers must be active in disciplining children. The sons of Eli and the sons of David turned out bad, and both for the same reason: Their fathers did not correct them (1 Samuel 3:13; 1 Kings 1:6).

Next Paul writes to slaves. He tells them to obey their earthly masters, counting it as service for Christ. We can apply this to employees and other kinds of servants today. They are to serve with respect, fear, and sincerity of heart, doing their will from the heart, and wholeheartedly (vv. 5–7). Servants can be sure that God will reward them, as He rewarded Joseph’s service.

Finally Paul directs his attention to masters. God rewards the good and punishes the wicked. Masters are to act in the same way. They are not to threaten their slaves, but deal justly with them. The same is true of employers today. They should avoid favoritism and imitate their Master who is in heaven.

Paul’s examples cover everyone in one situation or another. He clearly teaches hierarchy while our culture emphasizes egalitarianism. Do you bristle under authority? Do you fail to exercise the authority given you? Commit to leading fairly and strongly and following humbly in the appropriate circumstances.