By, Isam Itson III
Ephesians 6:5-9 – Slaves, 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 slaves 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 slave 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.
James 5:9-11 – Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
As we have discussed in various ways throughout all of the series on practicallyholy.com, competing rivals for control are at the hear of the conflicts within every human society. One side is in charge and believes they should be in charge. The society is not perfect, but it works best in their hands. They don’t want to shake things up too much because things are working pretty well for them. The other side is not in charge and believes they should be in charge. Because society would be better if their needs and values were honored. Or at the very least, they believe they should be free to be in charge of their own lives while enjoying a good quality of life. These two sides are represented by the masters and slaves in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and by the rich and the lowly in James’ letter.
The Apostles Paul and James are both saying that neither side is right. The truth is, God is in charge and everybody in the church needs to honor God in the most public and most private moments of their everyday lives. Jesus Christ has freed us from the power of sin and the fear of death so we can honor God’s love all day, everyday, everywhere, and with everyone. We live honoring the fact that God is our faithful , loving father. He is the source, strength, and lord of our lives. We exist for his glory. We do not exist for our own power and prestige, the reputation of our family, the pride of our ethnic or religious group, or the glory of our nation. Rich or poor, we live to serve God’s interest, not our own. Like Jesus Christ himself, humans are created to do the business of their Father in Heaven (Luke 2:41-52).
Our call and devotion to honoring God’s loving relationship to everyone as their Father and their redemption by God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, overrides all human claims on our personal identity, family honor, social status, and political allegiance. “Masters and slaves, live to honor God and place God’s interests before your own in submission to serving one another, no matter what it costs you personally or socially.” That is what Paul is saying to the members of the Church in Ephesus.
According to Paul, masters and slaves are both called to serve the best interests of each other out of reverent submission to Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul is directing the slaveholding men within the church to spend their time and energy honoring the values that reflect respect for Jesus Christ. He is calling them to live without regard for their own reputation. He is calling them to honor Christ and Christ’s love for others, above their concern for their personal prestige, family honor, and public career.
The master who follows Christ is called to help their Christ following slave grow and mature in service to God and others as a fellow member of the body of Christ. The Christ following slave is called to serve their Christ following master as an expression of their devotion to God and their faith in Jesus Christ. The master who follows Christ and the slave who follows Christ are both called to focus on the lordship and reputation of Jesus Christ rather than their social status or public reputation.
The Spirit of Rome promoted pride, strength, and honor as the public virtues for male Roman citizens. The husband, father, and master of the household nurtured their public reputation as a strong master of their domain. Every move in public and private was calculated to enhance their reputation as the Roman ideal of a strong, uncompromising, and dominant leader. Everyone in the household honored the position of the head of the family. Paul is promoting the humble and considerate service of others at home and in public, in deference to the supreme sovereignty of Jesus Christ, even if you are the head of the family.
For the slave, devotion to Jesus Christ places God first in their hearts and frees them from the judgment of their master. For the master, devotion to Jesus Christ places God first in their hearts and diminishes their devotion to Roman superiority and their personal reputation. That’s what the Apostle James is writing about in his letter to the church. Devotion to Christ simultaneously ennobles the slave and humbles the master.
In relationship to Jesus Christ the lowest person in Roman society, the slave, is blessed with being exalted to their proper place as a representative of God because of their redemption to God through faith in Jesus Christ. The highest member of Roman society, the wealthy, married, slaveholding, male citizen, is humbled through their relationship with God in Jesus Christ, because God calls them to spend their God given lives serving the best interests of others rather than expecting everyone in their household to serve their personal interests and public reputation.
The master places their slave before themselves out of reverence for Christ. The slave serves their master with excellence out of reverence for Christ. The Christ following master treats their slave with dignity and respect as an object of God’s love and grace and their coworker. The Christ following slave serves their master with excellence out of reverence for Christ and as their brother in Christ. In Christ they are brothers, building each other up in love and service to God and their neighbors.
The implications are pretty clear that like Jesus Christ himself, his followers are called to serve, not to be served.The social and financial consequences would have been devastating to a wealthy Roman citizen of the time. His peers would have pressured him to man up and get his house in order. They would have shamed him for dining with his slaves during worship services and treating his slaves with respect in public.
For us today, within the body of Christ, a person’s high social status does not excuse them from devoted personal service to their brothers and sisters in Christ. And, a person’s lower social status does not absolve them of the privilege and responsibility to serve others out of devotion to Jesus Christ. Rich and poor, in close, personal relationship to one another in Jesus Christ, are privileged and obligated to honor the love of God for each other revealed in God’s sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for all of us.
Followers of Jesus Christ are called to live knowing that God is in charge. Our lives are in his hands. He has faithfully provided all that we need to begin honoring his love for the people around us. And he will faithfully continue to provide all that we need to fulfill his purpose for our lives. We are all free from the tyranny of public opinion to serve one another faithfully, sincerely, and sacrificially in obedient imitation God’s love, revealed in Jesus Christ.
Do you order your life to maximize the indulgence of your personal desires, or to maximize your opportunities to bless and work with others for their good and God’s glory? On what concrete information do you base your answer?