Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.
On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.
You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below.
Ephesians 5:15–21 and 6:5–9
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 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.
- What is the context of Ephesians 6:5–9? How does that context inform the way we read these verses? (N.B. We can’t demand Paul say everything for all cultures, when addressing slavery)
- What happens when we read one verse out of context? What happens when we read Ephesians 6:5ff. by itself? Or without Ephesians 6:9? Or without 1 Timothy 1:10 and Philemon?
- How do Paul’s instructions relate to the gospel? How does the gospel change the way a Christian approaches work? Can anyone give an example?
- Who has been helpful to model Christian work for you? Or what book, study, Scripture has helped you to think about faith and work?
- Why is this so important for Christian discipleship? (N.B. Consider how many hours our vocations tempt and train us to be like Christ or to not be like Christ).
- What are the greatest challenges in your workplace (or home)? How does Ephesians 6 help give you wisdom, motivation, encouragement? What about Ephesians 2:10 and 4:22–24, 28?
- What is one step of application you can make from this passage? What do you need to think more carefully about after considering Ephesians 5:22–6:9?
- How might these verses relate to what Paul says next regarding spiritual warfare? Should we think of them as two separate issues—household codes and spiritual warfare?
Here are a few resources to help you think about faith and work.
- Work and Our Labor in the Lord by Jim Hamilton — a biblical theology of work
- The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs by Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger — a short introduction to the subject, which helps Christians avoid idleness and idolatry
- God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All Life by Gene Veith — a clear introduction to the doctrine of vocation, with especial attention given to Martin Luther’s contribution to this doctrine
- Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller and Katherine Alsdorf — A wise and practical guide to uniting faith and work
- Theology of Work Commentary — a book-by-book commentary that brings application from Scripture to various aspects of work
On Vocation and a Biblical Theology of Work
- Seven Truths about the Doctrine of Vocation
- God at Work: Learning About the Doctrine of Vocation from Gene Veith (and Martin Luther)
- ‘Do Not Work For That Which Is Not Bread’: A Biblical Theology of Work
On Rightly Understanding Ephesians 6
- Slaves and Slaveholders — Ephesians 6:5–9 by Craig Keener
- Everyone Enslaved by John Starke
- Paul, Slaves, and the Church: How the Gospel Creates a People Passionate for Love and Justice
- Serving Two Masters: Does Ephesians 6:5 Contradict Matthew 6:24?
Soli Deo Gloria, ds