The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 6:5 (Ephesians 6:5)

Bond-servants, obey your masters according to the flesh. There were many slaves in the early Church, but, however unjust their position, the apostle could not but counsel them to obedience, this course being the best for ultimately working out their emancipation. The words of Christ were peculiarly welcome to them "that labor and are heavy laden;" and, as we find from Celsus and others, the early Church was much ridiculed for the large number of uneducated persons in its pale. With fear and trembling. Comp. 1 Corinthians 2:3 ; Philippians 2:12 , from which it will be seen that this expression does not denote slavish dread , but great moral anxiety lest one should fail in duty . It was probably a proverbial expression. In the singleness of your heart, as to Christ. Not with a got-up semblance of obedience, but with inward sincerity, knowing that it is your duty; and even if it be irksome, doing it pleasantly, as though Christ required it, and you were doing it to him.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 6:5-9 (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Duties of servants and masters.

I. DUTY OF SERVANTS . Recognized as constituent members of the Church, and, however little esteemed by man, as greatly regarded by God. In Christ all are brethren, for all are brothers of Christ, therefore of one another.

1. The duty of servants is obedience. Qualities of the obedience.

2. The reward of good service . Whatsoever good you do, you shall receive of the Lord; he will repay you. We are apt to be jealous of this doctrine. It seems to undermine free grace. But no; salvation is wholly of grace; but one feature of grace is that, when you receive it and act on it, it begets, as it were, another gift of grace. If by grace the servant obey in the Lord, a further act of grace will follow; the obedience rendered will be rewarded and blessed. Better this surely than any amount of earthly reward! "God is not unrighteous to forget" the faithful work of those who remember him above all other.


(a) You have a Master also, One in heaven, who oversees all you do;

(b) there is no respect of persons with him. One of the great problems of the day is how to impregnate the relations of master and servant with the Christian spirit, and carry into effect the aim of such passages as this. We do not refer particularly to domestic service, for a servant, by entering a house, becomes in a sense a member of the family, and is thereby bound to fall in with the family order. The difficulty lies mainly with the case of large bodies of men working under a single employer. The problem is too intricate to be discussed here. But both masters and men need to beware of offending Christ by a bitter and unreasonable spirit. Occasions for glorifying God by the manifestation of a noble Christian spirit may become occasions for letting out the selfishness of the carnal heart. Yet, complicated though the question is, it is probable that the true solution would be reached by all Christian men if the spirit of this text were carried out, if both masters and men tried to do all as to the Lord and not to men, and to esteem his approval the very highest reward to which they could look.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 6:5-8 (Ephesians 6:5-8)

Duties of servants.

It is interesting to reflect that the New Testament devotes more space to the instruction of servants than to the instruction of either parents or children, husbands or wives. The servants, or rather slaves, were a large and interesting class in the cities of Asia Minor, often greatly more numerous than freemen, and very many of them had embraced the gospel with great heartiness. There were obvious reasons for a studious minuteness in the counsels given to such a class.

I. THEIR DUTY IS SUMMED UP IN THE SINGLE WORD " OBEDIENCE ." Christianity does not rudely strike at existing relations in life, but seeks to improve and sanctify them. In its appeals to slaves as well as to masters, it sowed the seed-corn, small as a grain of mustard seed, which grew into a harvest of emancipation in the ages which were to see the full power of the gospel. Obedience was therefore the duty of slaves, or servants, "in all things" ( Colossians 3:22 ), that is, in all things included within the sphere of a master's rightful authority, not contrary to the Law of God, or the gospel of Christ, or the dictates of conscience. It is set forth first in a negative, then in a positive form.

1. Negatively. "Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers." This word is coined by the apostle for the occasion. Eye-service is either work done only to please the eye, but which cannot bear to be tested, or it may be good work done only when the master's eye is upon the worker. This was a vice peculiar to slavery. But it enters into all forms of service. Dishonest work is to be avoided quite as much as dishonest words. An acted lie is as dishonorable as a spoken one. There must be no mere perfunctory discharge of human duties.

2. Positively .


1. The command of God here addressed to all servants.

2. The Lord's mastership, for they are "the servants of Christ," and are "doing service as to the Lord, and not to men." Here is the constraining force of the Lord's love. How this motive sweetens, sanctifies, ennobles work! The work is done, not for wages, not by constraint, but "unto the Lord," and therefore becomes part of our worship. It is thus that the Lord has married the work of earth to the worship of heaven.

3. The rewards of this service: "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive,.., whether he be bond or free ." Whatever disappointment may mix itself with the service of men, the Lord will have a rich reward in store for the faithful worker. He is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love, for "of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance" ( Colossians 3:24 ).

4. The honor of the gospel. His Name and his doctrine will be blasphemed by a contrary spirit ( 1 Timothy 6:1 ; Titus 2:10 ).

5. The example of Christ himself. He "took upon him the form of a servant;" for "he came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." He always did the things which pleased God, and has set us an example that we should follow in his steps.—T.C.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 6:5-9 (Ephesians 6:5-9)

The Christian treatment of slavery.

The treatment of slavery by Christianity is one of the most interesting of themes. Because Christianity did not preach a servile war, that is, did not propose emancipation by force, it was imagined that it was a conniver in the selfish plot against the liberties of man. But Christianity confines itself to spiritual means. It is by a spirit that it regenerates mankind. Force and mechanical appliances may subserve its purposes, judgment may have to take place in consequence of men's selfishness and sin, but the instrumentalities of Christianity are not carnal, but spiritual, and so mighty through God to the pulling down of the diabolic strongholds. It can be shown that the Mosaic legislation, as well as the Divine judgments in Old Testament times, were hostile to slavery. £ But we are now concerned with Paul's policy about slaves. Suppose, then, that he had advocated revolt and immediate emancipation. The slaves would have been separated from their masters, and a chasm created between them which would not have been filled for generations. Christianity would have been the disintegrater instead of the unifier of mankind, and the evils of separation would have been excessive. Was it not better to infuse a new spirit into service and masterhood? Was it not better to carry both into a Divine light, and so secure the master and slaves dwelling together in unity? Christianity consequently told master and slave how they were each related to the one Master in heaven, and so made them one. The actual emancipation has been the outcome of the Christian spirit.


( Ephesians 6:7-9 .) The slave was thus asked to look past his earthly master to his heavenly. He might be possessed by a master on earth, but a Master in heaven told him he was not his own, but bought with a price, and so bound to serve him with his body which was God's. This lifted life at once to a new plane and infused into service a religious spirit. The Christian slave became the conscious property of Jesus. But at the same time, he felt that this slavery to God was "perfect freedom," that to be God's "slave" was to be at the same time his "freeman." He was thus spiritually emancipated. Again, the master was given to understand that he had a Master in heaven, and was the slave of God. Hence his spiritual life gave to him the ideal of what authority is when its spirit is love. Lovingly dealt with by God above, he had a model of masterhood evermore set before him, and his own relation to his slaves was of necessity modified thereby.


( Ephesians 6:9 .) Here a blow was struck at the caste prejudices of the time. Here persons were lifted into the light of eternal justice and seen in their native equality. Now, if God took no account of personal distinctions so as to draw any line between bond and free, if the distinctions dwelt on by men were of no account with him, the truth tended to annihilate the distinctions. Here was a great Leveler before whom high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, were absolutely undistinguishable. It is this primary truth of all men having equal rights before the Supreme which has led in time to all men having equal rights before enlightened law, as for example in Britain, and which has secured the emancipation of men from meaning, less distinctions. The method taken by Christianity has thus been to bring unmeant distinctions into the light of God's countenance, and when men realize that he disregards them, they are sure to see eye to eye with him in the end. It is by reason, not by force, that the emancipation is accomplished.

III. THEY WERE ASKED TO SERVE EACH OTHER FOR THE HIGHER MASTER 'S SAKE . Mutual service for God's sake was the ideal set before masters and slaves by the gospel. For God himself became incarnate," not to be ministered unto, but to minister." He came to show that "it is better to give than to receive." He came to consecrate service, to glorify devotion to another's welfare. When masters and slaves learn this, their relations will contract a cordiality, and be mutually helpful in a degree impossible otherwise. The gospel has thus quenched Tyranmes by the dazzling light of Gods unsuspected justice. There was wisdom in the arrangement. Another policy would have disorganized society and brought evils greater than existed. Onesimus goes back to Philemon to be a son in his house rather than a slave, and to help his master in his progress home to the common Master in heaven. Patiently waiting in his spiritual freedom and doing his part, he can assure himself that the political emancipation will be realized in due season.—R.M.E.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 6:5-9 (Ephesians 6:5-9)

The duties of servants and masters.

I. DUTY OF SERVANTS . "Servants, be obedient unto them that according to the flesh are your masters." The Revisers have shown good judgment in retaining "servants" here, and putting "bond-servants" in the margin. For though" bond" (the same word) is in the eighth verse distinguished from "free," yet the thought requires a modification of the meaning. It would be pedantic to translate in the sixth verse "bond-servants of Christ" (or elsewhere, "Paul a slave of Christ"), for slavery is the idea we exclude from the service of Christ. And this wider use of the word is favored by the word not being used for" masters" which conveys the idea of despotic authority . Further, the principles laid down have no exclusive reference to slaves. They are such as would have had force if this perverted form of service had never existed. It is right, then, to use a word which covers all forms of service. It is true that (owing to the carrying out of the apostolic principles, and generally the influence of Christianity) times have very much changed. There is almost nowhere now bondage on the one side and absolutism on the other. The relations between masters and servants are of a freer nature, and depend on reasonableness on both sides. This being the case, it is to be desired, not that self-interest or class-interest should rule these relations, but the principles here laid down by the apostle.

1. The grounding of the duty . "With fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ."

2. Fault to be avoided . "Not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers." The word translated "eye-service" seems to have been of the apostle's own coining, and is strikingly descriptive. The eye-servant is one who takes the rule of his action from the eye of his master. His object or motive (as expressed in the word "men-pleasers") is to get credit for whatever he does. Such a person may work with a will when he thinks of the master's eye being upon him, and expects that it will be put to his credit. Even in such a case the principle is wrong. It would lead him to "scamp" his work when he thought that his master's eye was not on him, and that he would not be made to suffer for it. Could it be secured (which it cannot be) that the master's eye was always on the servant, and that the servant always got credit for what he did, yet work done on such a principle, from a Christian point of view is radically wrong.

3. Positive excellence to be sought .

4. Encouragement to duty . "Knowing that whatsoever good thing each one doeth, the same shall he receive again from the Lord, whether he be bond or free." The slave , or bondman, here referred to (and very common then) was considered to be entitled to nothing. His earthly receivings were very meager, unless in lashes when he came under the displeasure of his master. The apostle, then, is to be understood as holding out to him this encouragement, that, if he did his work in a Christian manner, then he would be a receiver, equally with the free man—he would be a receiver, if not on earth, yet in heaven; he would receive from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He who saved his soul as well as that of the free man, and put both on the same platform of privilege, would see to it that no smallest piece of work done to an earthly master for his sake (overlooked here) would go unrewarded in heaven. And the same thing is to be said of the free servant; for he also is particularized. It is true that if he is guilty of eye-service, if he "scamps" his work, that will be put against him in heaven, and there will be a day of reckoning for his evil thing, for his bad work; his life-work has lost in quality, in measure by it, and his reward will most unmistakably be curtailed—it will be so much the less for that idling of his master's time, that soulless work, that grudge in his heart to his master (for upon such things as these shall judgment be passed, by such things shall destiny be affected). But if, on the other hand, a servant, even in the humblest position, grasps his opportunity, and seeks to be regulated in his work by the will of God, and cherishes good will to his master, then, in encouragement (as before in principle), he is made independent of such a variable element as a good or a bad master, his getting his rights or his not getting his rights; he can feel that he has to do with a Master with whom there is no inequality, and who will see to it that whatsoever good thing he doeth, what he does unobserved or what he does under the menaces of his fellow-workmen, shall be rewarded.


1. Positive statement of duty . "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them." Though they stand differently in the relationship (servant to master and master to servant), they are to do the same things, the regulative principles being the same.

2. Fault to be avoided . "And forbear threatening." "The too familiar threatening" is the idea conveyed in the Greek. It was the ready resource of persons possessed of irresponsible power. Slaves were made to work under fear of the lash. And, though masters have not so much in their power now, yet the power that they have (there is generally an advantage in their circumstances compared with their servants) they are not to abuse. It is those who are deficient in the right management of their servants, in reasonable dealing, especially in that good will which is so necessary to management, that take to the clumsy, coarse method of threatening. Power must sometimes be put into execution against servants'; but to hold threats over their heads, to treat them with clamor, with insult, or with something worse, is not worthy of the Christian master.

3. Word of warning . "Knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven." Christ is represented as the Master of the slave . There was a wrong involved (apart from any harsh treatment he might receive) in the very fact of his being a slave. He is represented as the Master of the slave-holder, too, i.e. of the man who was so unenlightened as to hold slaves. As the Master of them both, he would see to things in the end being righted between them. The Christian master still is to be influenced to do what is just and proper by his servants by the consideration that Christ is the Master of his servants as well as his Master. And in the righting that, is to take place, for every advantage that the master has taken of his servant, for every harsh speech and threatening word he has used toward him, he will suffer everlasting loss. "And there is no respect of persons with him" ( i . e . with Christ). There is a real distinction between master and servant, proprietor and tenant. What is adventitious may gather round it, but the essential thing is that Christ has not ordained equality here, but has placed his authority in some, and has subjected others, and has thus given rise to mutual obligations and trial and the formation of character in connection with these obligations. But though a real distinction, it is not to be carried beyond what there is really in it. After all, it is only to last through the present earthly economy. It is destined to be obliterated with other time-distinctions. And meantime Christ does not respect a person less because he is a servant, or more because he is a master. He has an equal interest in them as both included within the sweep of his work, as having taken him as their Savior and Master. He has an equal interest in them in the relationship in which they stand to each other. And if they do their part equally well, one in the position of servant and the other in the position of master, then he will see to it that they will be equally rewarded.—R.F.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 6:5-9 (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Servants and their masters.

"Servants," etc. There are two thoughts underlying these verses.

1. The existence of social distinction , s amongst men . There are masters and servants, rulers and subjects. These distinctions are no accidental phases of society, they grow out of the constitution of things. Diversity in the temperaments, tastes, capacities, and circumstances of men give rise to masters and servants.

2. The one spirit which is to govern men of all distinctions . The rich and the poor, the sovereign and his subject, the master and the servant, are under an obligation to be animated by the same moral spirit, and controlled by the same moral consideration. "All in all things should do the will of God from the heart."

I. THE DUTY OF SERVANTS . The duty of servants, of course, is obedience. "Be obedient to them that are your masters." But the obedience is here characterized.

1. It is obedience in bodily matters . "According to the flesh." Their service is limited to secular concerns, things that have reference to the material and temporal interests of their masters. They were to give their muscles, and their limbs, and their contriving faculties, but not their souls. "Consciences and souls were made to be the Lord's alone."

2. It is obedience honestly rendered . "With fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart"—"not with eye-service." These expressions mean that there should be no duplicity, no double-dealing, but downright honesty in everything. A servant is bound to be honest towards his employer. He has no right to be lazy or wasteful. He has contracted to give, on certain stipulated conditions, his energies and time to promote the secular interests of his master.

3. It is obedience inspired with the religious spirit . They are to regard themselves in everything as the servants of Christ, and are bound to do the "will of God from the heart." In everything the authority of Christ must be held as supreme. Whatsoever is done in word or deed should be done all to the glory of God.

4. It is obedience which, if truly rendered, will be rewarded of God . "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord. whether he be bond or free." The faithful servant may feel that the wages he receives from his earthly master are unjustly inadequate. Yet the great Master will award to him at last an ample compensation. Whatsoever good thing he has done, however trivial, shall meet its reward at last. The good thing must be rewarded. Goodness carries evermore its own reward.

II. THE DUTY OF MASTERS . The way in which masters should exercise their authority is here indicated.

1. They are to exercise it religiously . "Ye masters, do the same things unto them." "The same things," as we have said, do not mean the same work, but the same spiritual attributes. Servants are to be honest and respect the will of God in all; the masters are here bound to do "the same things." Both are to be under the domination of the same moral spirit.

2. They are to exercise it magnanimously . "Forbearing threatening." Though the servant may by accident, or, what is worse, by intent, by omission, or by commission, try severely the temper of his master, his master should forbear threatening. He should show his right to be a master by governing his own soul. The man who takes fire at every offence, whose eyes flash with rage, and lips mutter threats, is too little a creature to be a master. He has no license from Heaven to rule either children, servants, or citizens, who is not magnanimous in soul.

3. They are to exercise it responsibly . "Knowing that your Master also is in heaven." They are amenable to God for the way in which they use their authority. The master has the same Lord as the servant, and they must stand at last together at the great tribunal. To that Master all social distinctions vanish in the presence of moral character. "Neither is there respect of persons with him."—D.T.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 6:5-9 (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Servants and masters.

The early preachers of the gospel were wise in not provoking futile and fatal attempts at a social revolution by denouncing slavery. Nevertheless, they laid the foundation of that revolution and secured its peaceable and bloodless accomplishment. Slavery could not permanently survive the establishment of the principle of Christian brotherhood. Meanwhile under the then existing circumstances Christianity taught certain necessary duties of slaves and masters, the essential ideas of which apply to so much of the present state of society as is at all analogous to that of the first century.


1. The duties .

2. The reward . Gross injustice characterized the old-world treatment of slaves, and tempted to disloyal service. This injustice will not be seen at the great reckoning. The slave will be as fairly judged as his master. The lowliest work will win as high a reward as the most pretentious if the motive is equally good. Here is an inducement to faithfulness in little things.

II. THE DUTIES OF MASTERS . It was hard to teach a slave-holder his duty. Yet it is fair to observe that in many households the rigor of servitude was much softened, and kinder and more humane relations maintained than those that sometimes characterize our modern commercial connection of workman and employer, relations out of which all humanity seems to have vanished. It is interesting to see that in the New Testament a hired servant is considered to be worse off than a household slave ( e . g . Luke 15:17 ).

1. The duties .

2. The motives .

- The Pulpit Commentary