4. The practical application of oneness, 4:1-6:9

viii] Business obligations


Paul continues with his House Rules, of a life guided by an understanding of God's Word, 5:15-18. Having dealt with application of mutual subordination between husbands and wives, children and parents, Paul now examines how the Christian principle of mutual subordination (other person centered love) applies to slaves and masters. He sets out the responsibilities of Christian slaves and masters, reminding his readers that instead of insisting on their our own way, they should consider the interests of others, Christ being the pattern for such self-giving, cf., Phil.2:3-8.


i] Context: See 5:22-33.


ii] Background: See 1:1-2.


iii] Structure: Business obligations:

The responsibilities of servants, v5-8:

Exhortation: obey, v5a;

Description: the shape of obedience, v5b-7;

Reasoning: eternal reward, v8.

The responsibilities of masters, v9:

Exhortation: obey, v9a;

Reasoning: God will judge, v9b


iv] Interpretation:

The passage makes a simple point: Christian employees need to serve their employers with diligence, integrity and goodwill, and Christian employers need to deal with their employees in like manner, rather than using bully-boy tactics.


Slavery: Viewed from our perspective, Paul's instructions to slaves / workers and masters / bosses, fails to address a repugnant social institution. Jesus also has little to say on the morality, or otherwise, of the societal structures of the day (eg. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's", "The poor you will always have with you", ..). The Bible certainly promotes the release of slaves, particularly within the family of God, Jer.34:9, and Paul happily encourages believers not to become slaves, 1Cor.7:23, and to seek their freedom when the opportunity presents itself, 1Cor.7:21. Still, this is not an aggressive attack upon what is a repugnant social evil.

Clearly, the knowledge that Christ's kingdom is not of this world promotes a radical disengagement with the aspirations of the secular world, and this disengagement is evident here. It is also likely that Paul's willingness to go along with societal norms is driven by his desire to promote free access for the gospel (an attack upon an institution sanctioned by law, and integral to Roman society, would not bode well for harmonious relations with the Roman State). Paul's House Rules sit within existing societal norms, so he doesn't address the issue of slavery as such, but rather gives advice on how Christian masters and slaves should function harmoniously within the Ephesian church, given that they have equal standing before Christ, Gal.3:28, 1Tim.6:2.

The eschatological perspective of Jesus and his apostles clearly influences their approach to social issues - as Jesus put it, "my kingdom is not of this world." So, rather than social revolution, Jesus promotes a revolution of the soul, of a new heart within that prepares his followers for a new age to come. Ultimately, the new heart within, well illustrated in Paul's advice on the treatment of slaves, becomes a driving power for social reform, ultimately ending the blight of slavery in our world. So it was that slavery (inc. debt bondage, serfdom), the common form of indentured labor used in the ancient world through to the modern era, is ultimately abolished through the action of committed believers, eg., The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, founded 1787. The first act of abolition came from the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, who abolished serfdom in the Austrian Habsburg dominions, in 1781. Britain passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, 1807, so outlawing the slave trade. Technically, the first country in the history of the world to ban slavery is Denmark, 1792, although the law doesn't take effect until 1807. The constitution of the French Republic, 1793/5 declared all men free, although it wasn't acted upon, and later amended by Napoleon. Probably the honor goes to Haiti which, following its declaration of independence from France, banned slavery in 1804.


Eternal reward for good done on earth, cf., v8: The proposition that good deeds done on earth will be rewarded in heaven, is problematic, to say the least. Barclay's translation of v8 well illustrates the problem: "each man ..... will receive from the Lord the equivalent of anything good that he has done." The idea of reward seems to strike at the heart of the doctrine of justification where salvation is dependent on grace appropriated through faith apart from works of the law. Is there any other eternal reward, apart from judgment for sin and salvation as a gift grace / mercy through faith in the faithfulness of Christ?

The answer to this question is substantially, No, but with a qualification. God says of his creation that "All of it is very good." Although affected by sin, the design parameters remain, such that Wisdom rightly declares that good follows good, and evil follows evil; "Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind" (generally speaking, so says Qohelet). God's sovereign justice, evident in Job, demands that good must inevitably follow good. If the account is not settled in this age, then it must be settled in an age to come - justice demands it.

The idea of heavenly reward is a common one in later Judaism and is evident in the NT, but how it applies remains somewhat of a mystery, 2Cor.5:10, Col.3:25. Reward, as an eternal "inheritance" for deeds done, Col.3:24, is problematic in that it implies that "the good thing" the slave does has achieved this end, rather than grace through faith. Of course, the reward may be "a spiritual reward for spiritual faithfulness / eschatological recompense", Best, cf., Gal.6:8, since a "spiritual good is rewarded by spiritual gains", Mitton. Yet, in the end, the best that we can say is that "the reward will be appropriate. The slave must not expect that the exact deed will be done to him as he has done to someone else, but he can rely on God to act justly", Morris.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 6:5

The reciprocal duties of slaves and their masters, v5-9. i] Paul encourages servants to obey their masters with "fear and trembling". The phrase is often used in the scriptures of respect toward God. So, Paul is simply saying that Christian servants should respect their masters. This respect is given "as to Christ", that is, it is given to the master as if it were being given to Christ.

oiJ douloi (oV) "slaves" - the slaves. Independent nominative serving as a vocative. The masculine covers male and female slaves.

uJpakouete (uJpakouw) pres. imp. + dat. "obey" - obey, follow, be subject to.

kata + acc. "[your] earthly [masters]" - [the lords, masters] according to [flesh]. Expressing a standard, or better, adverbial, turning the noun "flesh" into a modal adverb expressing manner; "according to flesh" = "fleshly". The phrase may modify "obey", so "obey in a fleshly way", but more likely modifying "lord's, masters", ie., flesh and blood lords = earthly masters. "Be obedient to your earthly masters", Cassirer.

toiV ... kurioiV (oV) dat. "masters" - lords, masters. Dative of direct object of the verb "to obey", dative of the person who is to be obeyed = "give obedience to the lords" (the verb "obey" may also take a genitive).

meta + gen. "with" - Here functioning adverbially, modal, expressing the manner in which the obedience is exercised, namely, with reverence and quivering.

fobou (oV) "respect" - fear, reverence, awe. The word "fear" certainly carries the sense of awe, but also carries a sense of intimidation which is not implied in the original meaning, but is carried in the English word "fear". Paul probably has in mind the Old Testament notion of "the fear of the Lord" which, as an expression of piety, takes the sense of "respect / reverence / awe.

tromou (oV) "trembling" - [and] trembling, anxiety, quivering. The word is used to describe the outward manifestation of fear. "You must obey those who are your masters in this world with such respect that you tremble at the thought of displeasing them", Junkins.

en + dat. "with [sincerity of heart]" - in, on. The preposition here is also functioning adverbially, modal, expressing manner; "with sincerity of heart" = "sincerely".

aplothti (hV htoV) "sincerity" - sincerity, uprightness, singleness. Here the noun may express genuineness, sincerity, "uprightness, integrity", Lincoln, "purity of heart", O'Brien, or it may express singleness, simplicity, completeness, conveying "the idea that a slave should obey wholeheartedly or completely", Hoehner.

thV kardiaV (a) "of heart" - The genitive is probably ablative, expressing source / origin, so Larkin. The center of a person's psyche, "the inner center which determines attitudes and actions", O'Brien.

wJV "just as [you would obey Christ]" - as [to christ]. Comparative. The intended sense of this adverbial phrase is unclear. Possibly final, "in order to honor Christ", or causal, "because this honors Christ", "as required by Christ", but it is usually understood to serve as a comparative, "as you would obey Christ", Barclay, ie., "with the same devotion they serve Christ", Best, or "as if they were doing it for Christ", Lincoln, O'Brien, Hoehner, .. ie. the slaves "single purpose is to please Christ", Mitton. If the final option is what Paul intends, Schnackenburg rightly comments that "the earthly masters do not stand in Christ's place, but to serve them is understood as a service for Christ." Of course, Paul may mean nothing more than "for that is their Christian duty", Barclay, 5:22.


The servant is not to serve their master as a "man-pleaser". A man-pleaser works hard in the master's gaze, but slacks when out of sight. In contrast, the servant should work "heartily" - from the heart.

mh kata + acc. "not only" - obey them not according to. Expressing a standard, "not according to the standard of mere outward performance", Hoehner, or adverbial, manner, "in the manner of ....".

anqrwpareskoi adj. "[not only] to win their favor" - [eye-service as] men / people-pleasers, time server, fawner. "Not with the idea of currying favor with men", Phillips.

ofqalmodoulian (a) "when their eye is on you" - eye-service. Nominative subject of an assumed verb "to obey." "You must not work only when someone is watching you", Barclay.

wJV "like" - as. Comparative, indicating the manner in which a slave should function toward their master.

all "but" - Strong adversative in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but ....."

Cristou (oV) "[slaves] of Christ" - [obey them as slaves, servants] of christ. The genitive is adjectival, possessive or relational. A believer's primary allegiance is to Christ such that their aim must be to please Christ and not men. Included in a believers service to Christ is their dutiful service to those who have a right to receive service, eg. in our case, a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.

poiounteV (poiew) pres. part. "doing" - doing [the will]. The participle is possibly adverbial, manner, with the verb "obey" supplied, but although anarthrous (without an article) probably better treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting by describing the nature of "a servant of Christ"; "as slaves of Christ who do the will of God from the soul". "But as slaves of Christ who wholeheartedly do the will of God", NJB.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - of god. The genitive is best classified as verbal, subjective; God is doing the willing.

ek + gen. "from [your heart]" - out of, from [soul, inner life, being]. Expressing source / origin. Possibly attached to the following verse, "from your soul serve with goodwill ....", but probably best treated as identifying the inward motivating force of "a slave / servant of Christ". "Work heartily", Peterson.


The servant should develop a "ready good will, which does not wait to be compelled", Robinson." Work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you're really serving God", Peterson.

douleuonteV (douleuw) pres. part. "serve" - doing service. The participle is adverbial, probably modal, expressing the manner of a servants obedience to their master, v5, ie. it is wholehearted service; "obey your earthly masters ...... rendering service with a good will", ESV. The present tense expresses durative (ongoing) action.

met (meta) + acc. "wholeheartedly" - with [goodwill, loyalty, good intentions]. Here being used adverbially, turning the noun into a modal adverb. The noun is a hapax legomenon, once only use in NT. Possibly expressing zeal / wholeheartedness, enthusiasm, so O'Brien, Lincoln, or cheerfully / willingly / sincerely, so Best, but goodwill / loyalty / affection is more likely, so Hoehner.

wV "as if" - Comparative, expressing the manner of the service, "as if you were serving the Lord."

tw/ kuriw/ (oV) dat. " the Lord" - to the lord. "You were serving" is assumed and prompts a dative of direct object. See v5.


Paul goes on to remind his readers, whether "slave or free", of something they know well. Good deeds done are rewarded, just as unfaithfulness is punished. Even Jesus makes this point when referring to the coming Son of Man: "he will render to everyone according to what he has done", Matt.16:27. This principle applies even to our work-ethic. The concept of heavenly reward for good or evil is somewhat problematic; See above.

eidonteV (eidon) perf. part. "because you know" - having known. The participle is adverbial, causal, as NIV. Providing the motivation / reason why a slave / servant should approach their service with a good attitude. The servant is motivated to obey because they know ....

oJti "that" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what the servant knows.

ean ti + subj. "-" - [each person (distributive)] if a certain thing = whatever, as the case may be, [good he does] then. Introducing a conditional clause third class, where the proposed condition has the possibility of becoming true; "Whatever good a man does (protasis) ...... he will have his recompense from the Lord (apodosis)", Cassirer. "The good" = "the good thing", is defined by its context, here a "willing and faithful service at set tasks", Best.

para + gen. "[the Lord]" - [this he will receive] from beside [the lord]. Expressing source. Probably not the earthly master, although a case can be made to support this interpretation, possibly "the Lord God", but most likely "the Lord Jesus Christ." The future tense "he will receive" indicates future recompense.

eite .... eite "whether [he is slave] or [free]" - either [a slave / servant / bondman] or [a freeman]. A disjunctive correlative construction.


ii] Paul now balances his instruction to slaves / servants with instruction for masters, v9. As for masters, they are to respond toward their servants "in the same way", ie., they are to apply the same principles of Christian concern toward their servants, a "spirit of integrity, dedication and goodwill", Hoehner. This will involve not "threatening" them, not bullying them. It will also involve not showing "favoritism". Masters are reminded that they have a Master in heaven and He doesn't show favoritism between "slave or free."

kai "and" - Connective; servants and masters.

oiJ kurioi "masters" - the masters, lords. Independent nominative used for a vocative, indicating a new target group in mind.

ta auta "[treat your slaves] in the same way" - [do toward them] the same things. Accusative direct object of the verb "to do"; emphatic by position. What are the "same things"? Probably best understood in general terms, "what was recommended for the slaves also holds true for the masters", Schnackenburg, ie., "the spirit of integrity, dedication and goodwill", Hoehner.

anienteV (anihmi) pres. part. "do not" - loosen, relax, let up on = forbearing. The participle is probably adverbial, modal, expressing the manner in which the master does the same as the slave, namely, in "forbearing threatening" = "without bullying", but possibly instrumental, expressing means, or even consecutive, expressing result. Certainly the point is made with the use of an imperative, as NIV; "stop threatening them", Moffatt.

thn apeilhn (h) "threaten" - boasting / threatening. Here obviously "threatening", being a tyrant, abusive, "bullying", NAB.

eidoteV (eidon) perf. part. "since you know" - knowing. The participle is adverbial, probably causal; "because you know ..", as NIV.

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they know.

autwn gen. pro. "their [Master] and yours" - [and = both the lord] of them [and of you]. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / subordination; "Lord over them and you." Given the context, "Lord" refers to Jesus.

en + dat. "in [heaven]" - [is] in [the heavens]. Local, expressing space / sphere. The plural "heavens" is commonly used for the dwelling place of God.

proswpolhmyia (a) "favoritism" - [and there is not] respect of persons, favoritism, partiality. With God there is no partiality as he judges, not on face value, externals.

para + dat. "with [him]" - beside [him]. Expressing association, "with", as NIV.


Ephesians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]