Ephesians 6:1–3

Last week Paul took us through a discussion of the right relationship between the husband and wife. This relationship was related to the relationship between the church and Christ. In order to be unified the family must be unified and the church must be unified. But this unification can only be under the one true Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

Today we’re going to continue to look at Pauls commands to both children and parents as well as slaves and masters.

Ephesians 6:1–3:

1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Paul begins with a command for the children. Obey your parents. This command follows Ephesians 5:21:

21and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

Just as we all are to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ so children are to obey their parents “in the Lord”. But notice the change here. We are to all be subject to one another, but children are to also obey their parents. This is slightly different from being subject to another. Obey conveys a sense of placing oneself under the authority of another.

Paul adds that “this is right.” God has ordained that the family would function at its best when children obey their parents. Consider today as the culture tells parents that children should be free to make up their own minds and do their own thing unencumbered by a parent’s discipline or instruction. This will only lead to undisciplined children who refuse to obey authority.

To back up his command for children to obey and to show that it is God’s good desire for this, Paul quotes from Exodus 20:12:

12“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Yes, for children to obey parents is one of the 10 commandments of God. This is so important that God specified it in His 10 commandments. But notice the promise that God gives specifically to children who obey. They are promised that they will be well off and that they may live a long life.

Ephesians 6:4:

4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Here Paul again calls out fathers specifically in this matter. A father is the head of the household and, as we learned last week, must sacrificially provide for his wife. Paul is now adding to this command by also saying that the father must not make his children angry; rather, he must teach and rear them to understand and fear the Lord.

Looking back at our study of 1 Samuel, we can see what happens when the parents and especially the father does not bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord in 1 Samuel 2:12–17 (remember Eli and his sons):

12Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. 13The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. 15Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” 16And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” 17Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.

Eli did not raise his sons properly as to the Lord and paid the price. The price was especially high due to their position in the temple. In fact, Eli decided to confront and chastise his sons, but it was too little, too late as we see in 1 Samuel 2:22–25:

22Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.

At some point the Lord’s patience will end and His righteousness and justice will prevail. Knowing this we, as parents, must always be aware of how we rear our children.

Ephesians 6:5–8:

5Slaves, 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; 6not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

After completing the discussion of how God ordains the family to function in His holiness, Paul moves on to slaves and masters. Now some versions of the Bible will use bondservant or just servant in place of slave. But interestingly, all the Bible versions I looked at use “master” in verse 6:9. A master is defined as one to whom someone or something belongs and who has authority over that person or thing. So, yes, slave is an apt translation for this passage.

Now we all know that slavery is an evil thing. But it is also something that Paul used to describe believers and unbelievers in relation to Christ, Romans 6:16–23:

16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Slavery in the Bible is a deep subject to which I could write many many pages. But, as God would have it, I ran into a really good article this week that sums up many points about slavery in the Bible. It’s a good read and I recommend that you would read it: https://gentlereformation.com/2023/07/03/a-short-treatise-on-slavery/

Note that the slave’s relationship to the master as an application for us today can be applied to the employee/employer relationship. If you think this is a stretch, just read the contract you signed with your employer. I remember one employer of mine (a non-government three-letter acronym) had the wording in my contract that even the thoughts I had 24/7/365 during my employment term were the property of my employer. Crazy, right? Even my thoughts were not my own property. Truly, this company was my master in regards to the flesh.

So how does Paul command us to act towards our earthly masters? Masters that may be good or that may be evil towards us. Well, he commands us to act obediently out of respect to them. This obedience is clarified by Paul in several ways:

With fear (respect) and trembling

With a sincerity, and not just any sincerity but one that is as if we were being sincere to Christ Himself

Not with eyeservice (looking as though we are being obedient when we are really not, in other words being deceptive)

Not with the sole desire to please people, but with a desire to please God. Note that this is helpful when an employer requires us employees to do something contrary to our conscience as it relates to God’s will. In these cases God’s will must come first. Just remember Paul’s command, “Be angry yet do not sin!” We must not let our own anger come before God’s will.

In verse 6b there is a “but”, which relates all of the bullet points above to how God wants us to act under our masters, be they good or bad. Paul says “…but as slaves of Christ”. That is we are to act towards our employer as we would act towards Christ, our one true and good master.

We are to work for our employer as if we were working for Christ. We must serve our employer out of the goodness of our heart. And remember that God has given us the only goodness in our hearts and we are to share that freely not only in our employ but everywhere.

In verse 8 Paul tells us of our reward if we follow God’s commands here. We will receive good for our good. This good we receive will be from the Lord. Paul doesn’t explain exactly what type of “good” we will receive from the Lord, but we know that any good from the Lord is much greater than we can imagine, for in Matthew 7:9–11:

9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

and furthermore in Matthew 7:12:

12“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

We are to treat our earthly masters as we would want them to treat us. This goes hand-in-hand with what Paul is commanding here to act out of the goodness of our hearts to our earthly masters.

With all the employee strikes that are happening and the trends of quiet quitting and rage quitting, we should truly contemplate God’s words to us through Paul seriously.

Ephesians 6:9:

9And 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.

Finally, Paul turns his attention towards the earthly masters. He says to do the same things that he just covered in verses 5-8. One of the most important things is for earthly masters to be obedient to their master. This master is not an earthly master, but a heavenly one. That is, our earthly masters must act in obedience to their heavenly Master.

Paul adds that the Master of all, Jesus, is over both the earthly master and the slave. And to drive this point home Paul states that there is no partiality with Jesus. That is, we are not graded on a curve nor are we judged according to our station in life. We are all equals in Christ and we are seen by Christ as equals and judged without any favoritism towards master or slave. For this would be an injustice to one or the other and we know that our Lord is perfect in judgement.