Last week, I introduced the topic of slavery in the New Testament, and the fact that slavery was a major part of the social and cultural and economic structure in the Roman Empire at the time that Paul was writing the book of Ephesians. What I hope you remember is the concept that slavery had its benefits: a way to work off debt, a way to earn room and board and a way to be a part of a household for life, voluntarily.
This Week: Being Faithful
So as we pick up this theme this morning, remember that Paul is talking about a common relationship between people, some who worked for others, for any of a number of reasons, including voluntarily.
The thing that we need to understand is that while Paul is speaking in terms of the economic idiom of his day, don't get confused about what he is saying. He clearly says that slaves should be obedient to their physical masters. I would claim that Paul's expression here applies to the employee-employer relationship that we have in our society today. In our job situation we could apply that to those below us and those above us in a job situation.
What do you think Paul may mean when he says Masters according to the flesh? I think he means your employer, your boss. The implications of what Paul is getting at may surprise you. Obedience that he is talking about here is obedience to those over you physically, here on earth. He is not talking about spiritual masters or your conscience.
He says we are to obey them with sincerity of heart. What do you think that means? We are to obey them in sincerity of your heart. In a very basic way, that means we owe our boss 60 minutes of work for every hour that we are paid. Wholeheartedly.
But there is another dimension to this. I want to talk a little bit about another concept that is an essential understanding for every one of us, especially in our work. Let's talk about the concept of a fiduciary. How many of you are comfortable with the word of fiduciary?
It is not a common word except in certain professions. Let's start with the word faithful. That is one part of a fiduciary relationship. We use that term all the time, are you faithful? First Corinthians 4:2 says:
You may ask, "Why do you go into all of this"? To understand what Paul has to say, we need to truly understand what a fiduciary responsibility or relationship is. The concept of a fiduciary is the highest level of obligation to another person. One of the problems that I want to highlight in our society is the absence of the sanctity of a commitment. One of the strange things of our culture is the evaporation of the importance of a commitment. We talked about that in terms of our marriages. Even as recently as when most of us in here first married, if we did, society and we considered it to be a lifetime commitment, whether it turned out to be or not. It was taken seriously by society in general and by the participants in particular. In those cases where there was a break of some kind, it was considered a failure, a disgrace, a scandal. But of course now those days are long gone.
This lack of the sanctity of a commitment is even evident in business. Up until a few years ago whether it was a small-business transaction or Wall Street, you're word was your bond. What you agreed to you carried out. That was the tradition that supported the capital fabric of this country. It was the concept among businessmen that if they said it, it was as good as done. This had nothing to do with morals. These people could have been cheating in their marriage, but in the culture of business, if you did not keep your commitment, your business was over.
Over the last several years that part of our society has deteriorated like others that we have discussed. Today the sidebar is, "The deal isn't done until the check is in the bank and the decision comes down from the judge." We see this absence of the sanctity of commitment in our government, the kind of guys you see in high positions in government are the kind of people you probably wouldn't want working around your house as handymen, and we also see it in our ministries. One of the lowest tags you can get today would be a TV evangelist. The professional ministries in this country have a terrible reputation.
So whether it's business, government or ministry, we have lost the sanctity of commitment. It is not because the people are just evil or have any ill intent, in general, but it is the result of a number of things. This part of our society has been left out of our education, training and upbringing. The last few generations have not been taught the concept of loyalty.
When you read Ephesians six verse five...
I would propose that God is interested in everything we do as individuals, whether in the spiritual world or in the earthly world. When we appear before God for judging, not salvation, I think both aspects will be judged -- physical and spiritual. If we are Christian, Paul has taught us that we are serving Jesus at work, not our boss. I would make the point that Paul is proposing today that a Christian is expected to execute a fiduciary relationship toward his boss and employer. Now what does that really mean? Let's go to verse seven.
The real emphasis here is that Paul says that we should lead our physical life as witnesses. Witnessing is not as important as being a witness. Words are cheap. What we are, and what we do, tell the world who we are. Remember that Gandhi, when asked what the greatest barrier to Christianity was in India, answered "Christians".
You could raise the question, "What if my boss is overbearing or unreasonable?" The question is, what ever you do, you do it as if you were doing it for the Lord.
There is a well-known story that gets a point across. There was an old missionary and his wife who were returning after many years sacrificial service in Africa. They were on their way to New York on the same ship that happened to be carrying President Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from a big game hunt in Africa. As the ship pulled in and passed the statue of Liberty into the New York docks, there were huge crowds there. The press was there and everyone was welcoming back the President. As the crowd dealt with the protocol of the returning President, the old missionary and his wife walked off the ship unnoticed and made their way to a cheap hotel. The missionary was complaining to his wife that it just doesn't seem a right. "We gave our lives in Africa to win souls for Christ and when we arrived home there was no one here to meet us. The president shoots some animals and he gets a royal welcome", he complained. His wife quietly reminded him, "It's because we're not home yet".
Now Paul shifts to the masters. In today's terms, Paul directs his instruction now to the bosses.
I believe that Paul in writing these verses concerning slaves and masters, and their obligation to each other was not written about slavery. It just happened to be the social and economic model at the time Paul wrote this. I would contend that in today's application he is talking about an employee and an employer. According to Paul each of us has the same obligation to our employer that we do to Jesus. That includes being loyal, diligent, and protecting the interest of your boss and your employer. Even though your boss may drive you up the wall from time to time, that does not lessen your obligation and fiduciary responsibility, according to Paul. If you conclude that you cannot or will not provide that level of loyalty, I think Paul's teachings would say then you'd better change jobs, because not to do so is "unchristian."
Dave will present "America's Godly Heritage", a video documenting the fact that our country was founded on Christian principles -- not religious, but Christian. The video reinforces what we have studied before, that the founding fathers were convinced that our country and this form of government could not succeed and survive without Christian principles and the faith in Jesus to put them into action. I think you will be shocked and positively reinforced in your faith. It is contrary to what you have been taught and have heard for the last fifty years.
I will be back July 13 to continue with the study of Ephesians. We will be jumping into the famous "Armor of God" section of Ephesians 6.