Working for Jesus: We are all Bondservants of Christ

Ephesians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Tim asked me to preach, I did what any good boss would do - I promptly forgot about it until 10 pm last night and then got Vikki, Emma, and Josh out of bed and told them to do it for me.
For some of you, this anecdote may be more real than it is funny. And that could either be because you work for someone like this, or, maybe, if you are honest with yourself, you have taken advantage of your role as a boss to treat the people who work for you like this. Either way, today’s message is for you.
Ephesians 6:5–9 ESV
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
So how does theis passage fit in with what we have been studying in Ephesians? For the last 6 weeks, we have been focusing on how we are to respond as Christians in light of what Christ has done for us. In the last two weeks, we have focused on the Household codes which include the relationships between husbands and wives and in turn parents and children.
Today;’s passage is an extension of the Household codes and helps us to understand the difference between slavery in Jesus’ day and our modern idea of slavery.The relationship between bond servants and masters is an extension of the husband and wife and parent and child relationships of the household
δοῦλος - doulos
A person who is legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master.
κύριος - kyrios
a person who has general authority over others (slaves or subjects); often as an owner as well as authority figure.

Bond servants

In the ancient world, it is estimated that 30% of all people were bond servants and they did all sorts of jobs. They were teachers, stable hands, cooks, maids, servants, overseers of vast empire and holdings as we see from Genesis and the story of Joseph in Egypt.
So there are two main differntiators betwen the bond service of the ancient world and modern day slavery:
1. Not about race - Many ways to become a bond servant - War, debt, sold or abandoned by family
2. It was not primarily about human trafficking and other illegal activities. That’s not to say this type of bond service did not exist, but it was not the norm.
Slaves could in turn also own slaves themselves
Most people were able to work or redeem themselves to freedom by the age of 30
Very similar to the concept for wives and children - bond servants were the possession of the master of the household
Before I go on, I want to make one point, and if you can’t remember anything from this message today, at least keep this in mind. Whatever our title or what we or anyone thinks about our authority on Earth, There is no differentiation in heaven of earthly mastere and bond servants because we are all bond servants of Christ
Galatians 3:28 ESV
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 7:21–23 ESV
Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.
Think about this, no matter how high we climb up the corporate ladder and the number of people who report to us, we will always report to a higher authority. Are you the CEO? You still answer to the Board of Directors. Make it to the BOD? Congraulations, you still answer to your industry’s regulators.
Even if you do make it to the top, you are still a bond servant of Christ!
So in the context of how bond service worked in the ancient world, how is Paul asking bondservants to act?
There are two ways, first, how we interact with our Masters. and second, what we do for them. Let’s look at the how first. He is calling bond servants to be obedient to their masters as a sign of obedience to God, whether their masters are Christians or not.
In this Paul is re-iterating that as Christians we are to love our neighbors and our enemies. And whether bond servants in Paul’s time or we in this current day and age like our Masters or not, we are called to treat them with the same respect as we treat our Father in heaven. This echoes Jesus’ teaching on loving your enemies from the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:43–48 ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
And the standard set is very high because as Christians we are not only called to be obedient, but also to delivery to a heavenly standard. Paul doesn’t want us to use the excuse, “Well, it’s good enough for government work!” We are to work and deliver like the output will be handed over to God for review, and sign-off.
My first paid job was to work in a hotel cleaning rooms, and I can tell you there are all sorts of shortcuts you can use to make a room look clean which only require doing about half the work. Is that the standard that God holds us to even if we can get away with it? No, of course not!
The passages says we are not to be people-pleasers and that can mean two things - pandering to someone for recognition, potentially at someone else’s expense, but it also means something else - the earthly standard is merely a shadow of the heavenly standard. If our vocation is meant to be an act of worship to God, then the bar is set very high.
We are called to serve God obediently in everything we do and we are committed to doing it at a very high standard - not what tricks we can get away with. And we are to work this way whether our earthly Masters are Christians or not. And Because God’s standard is very high the secondary outcome is we will also impress our earthly masters.
So this the standard, but for most if not all of us, this is where the reality of God’s higher standard conflicts with how we actually interact with others and deliver for them in our world.
It’s easy to love our family and our friends and people we like. Hopefully, our spouses and our children fall into this category. And as a result, we probably try to avoid burning their dinner, or doing a shoddy assembly job that could put them at risk. But are we committed to the same standard for strangers, or worse, people we know and have already recognised we don’t like?
Did masters persecute their bond servants in Jesus’ time? Does your boss persecute you today? Yes and yes. But, Jesus and Paul are both calling us to ignore the sleight and instead respond to masters and bosses in the same way as we respond to Jesus.
This is hard! Raise your hands if you struggle with this. Don’t be shy, you’re all at home this morning with family watching this on Facebook and chances are pretty good that the people with you already know how you feel about your boss.
I can’t see any hands, so I can speak about my own situation at my last job in Singapore.
Long story short - I began reporting to someone I would have never taken a job with it were up to me. For the last six months she micromanaged me, publicly humiliated me, actively tried to sow self doubt in me, talked negatively behind my back. In short, she made me hate going to work everyday. I was miserable and from the world’s perspective, I could have justified doing the same to her. And at first I did. But I became more miserable and reliant on God I have shared before that in early 2019, I prayed to God that He would help to trust Him more. As I was slowly becoming more reliant on God, during my prayer tiomes, God made it very clear to me that doing what the world thought was ok was not ok by His standards.
I would like to tell you that after I resigned that the situation with my boss got better - it didn’t, in many ways it got worse. And I still had to go to work everyday for 3 more months. But a funny thing happened during that time. My colleagues of all beliefs began telling me how obvious it was to them that I wasn’t taking the bait and they wanted to know why that was happening. Because of my earthly boss’ treatment of me, I was provided the opportunity to share with my non-Christian coleagues about my heavenly Father.
God honours obedience and uses it to provide us opportunities to witness about Him and the gospel. This was the opportunity God provided for me and it is the same opportunity he provide bond servants of the ancient world and all of us today. Our witness of faithful hard work in service of our Master in heaven impacts the world around us.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything He wouldn’t do Himself, so if we are every struggling with submitting to the will of our masters, we can always look to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsamene.
Mark 14:35–36 ESV
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus too struggled with His Master’s will. We can take comfort in the fact that just because our superior asks us to do something, it isn’t always easy. And we can also find hope that because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, the work we are required to do in daily jobs is far easier than what Jesus did for us.
Philippians 2:5–8 ESV
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
So what about Masters?
The company I work for describes leadership as both a privilege and a responsibilty. This is important because getting to be THE BOSS isn’t a right or just something that should eventually happens if you stick around long enough. Leading people is again an act of worship and as believers our example for how to do this is again Jesus.
Before we go into this, let’s focus on the different commonly used descriptions of masters - bosses and leaders. I point this out because as Christians, our mindset needs to be right if we are going to humbly lead people as the passage calls us to.
So what is the difference between a boss and a leader?
Boss - measures success by a title or rank in the hierarchy
Leaders - measures success by passion and impact of the people they influence
No matter how well you lead, your staff will probably refer to you as “my boss” or “my manager”, I caught myself doing this as well because it seems strange to say “my leader” it sounds like you are escorting leaders to meet the president or you are part of a cult. But based on the definiton, if we have the privilege and responsibilty of leading a team the focus should be on people, not titles or tasks.
What about managers? Managers are necessary to get things done. Manager employ a number of techniques to get things done, do things right, plan, organise, coordinate, direct, control, and follows rules
The question is whether in doing these things their focus is on themselves or the people they are responsible for leading
In all of these things though, there needs to be a focus on the people doing the work.
Let’s retun to the passage and see what the call to action for leaders is:
Ephesians 6:5–9 ESV
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Boss - stop your threatening because the ultimate Master in Heaven for both of you doesn’t value the earthly boss more than the servant.
So who was Jesus? A servant leader - we see this in the paage from John 13:2-8
John 13:2–8 ESV
During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
Here we see Jesus was willing to lower himself to wash the filth of the feet of the disciples. In other stories we see he wakes up to calm the raging storm which is causing the disciples to fear for their lives.
On the night he is betrayed, Jesus cleans up the mess created by one of the disciples cutting the ear off of a soldier. Jesus reattaches the ear.
So what does this teach us about how we are to lead? Instead of just telling the disciples what to do, Jesus takes the mess they have created and helps them out of it. For better or for worse, He allows the disciples to learn by doing and often failing. And he picks them up, and he has compassion on them and he trusts them to try again, and he give them the chance to demonstrate they can do better. Does that sound like someone we would want to work for?
Dresdner example - Money, power, getting even with our colleagues, faster promotion
But I wasn’t ready to lead. My motivation to be the boss was because I had been unfaithful with money and thought getting promoted was the way out. I didn’t care about the well-being of the team or how I would need to support them in improving. Thankfully, and probably most out of compassion for those I would have been the boss of, someone else was chosen to lead
If you think you are ready to be that type of leader, ask yourself this question, first coined by the rap group Naughty by Nature in the early 1990s: You down with O.P.P? loosely translated into a full English sentence, this means are you ready for the responsibilty of addressing other people’s problems?
If any of you are early 90’s rap fans, you will know the correct response is, “Yeah you know me”, or again translated “yes, I am willing to take on the responsibilty of leadership” And this sums up what our response should be if we are in a postion of leadership.
Leadership is rarely about accolades and praise, on a day to day basis, it’s usually about trusting your team to take on tasks they may not have already demonstrated an aptitude for, addressing the mistakes they inevitably make because they are humans and that what we do, and taking responsibilty for those mistakes when senior management questions you why the work isn’t done yet.
You’re probably thinking, That doesn’t sound very much fun. Why is that considered a privilege? Well, you do tend to get paid more and often do get promoted faster.
But honestly, those things pale in comparison to what the real privilege is - mentoring people, seeing them grow and take on new responsibilities, witnessing them become leaders themselves, and seeing them share these things with their teams.
Isn’t this what Christ and the Holy Spirit do in us? Aren’t these the things we get excited about as we watch our children develop and grow?
As Christians we have th opportunity to impart what God teaches us into all of the activities associated with mentoring people and therefore, our jobs become acts of worship to God while we lead.
When the focus of our jobs becomes the growth and care for other people as an act of worship to God, we avoid becoming the Masters the passage is admonishing against.
To summarize, we are all bond servants of Christ and called to respond to our Masters as if we are working for Christ Himself
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