ephesians 6:5-9: bondservants and masters

Written by Mary DeMuth

Mary is the author of over 20 books and loves to help people live uncaged, freedom-infused lives. She speaks around the world, but she's also a homebody, enjoying her family of five in Texas. Find out more at http://www.marydemuth.com.

February 4, 2013

God Rewards Humble, Unseen Work

I grew up needing to be noticed (and maybe I still feel that way, just not as much.) If I created something, I longed to show someone my masterpiece, practically swarming the person with my project, longing for sweet validation.

In adulthood I took a Strengths Finder test, and my number one strength confirmed this insatiable want: Achiever.

Consider this explanation from Gallup Business Journal:

Achiever describes a constant need for achievement. You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself. And by “every day” you mean every single day — workdays, weekends, vacations. No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied. You have an internal fire burning inside you. It pushes you to do more, to achieve more. After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment. Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you.

Do you relate to this? With my background, you might see that I read through this paragraph and nod. And there was a time when I thought everyone was wired this way.

The problem is, when is it ever enough? With that as a backdrop, let’s look at Ephesians 6:5-9 (NLT)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites.

Although human slavery is in the news (as it should be), we do not live in a place where slavery infuses our everyday lives. In Paul’s time, 30% or more of the Ephesian population were slaves, which is why he added these verses immediately following family relationships. It was part of the patchwork of society.

Still, I think we can relate to these verses in terms of our work, our achievements. Before I draw conclusions, consider how similar this Ephesian passage is with Colossians 3:22-24:

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

Almost identical in wording, but certainly identical in message. So what’s a worker like me (like you) to do with these verses? 6 Things:

  1. How you work shows how deeply you are committed to Jesus. So if you’re slipshod in the way you work, you’re conveying a lack of discipline and honor not just to your employer, but also to Jesus.
  2. All of life is about learning to humble ourselves before others, even those who mistreat us. And the more we’re able to love people who are hard to love and follow, the more we’ll need Jesus to help us. In this way, a difficult work situation might just be a blessing because it forces us to rely on Jesus and not ourselves.
  3. Even when no one is looking, God sees. This is both good and bad. Good in that God does reward humble, unseen work. He sees you when no one else does. Bad in that God sees it when you slack off or disrespect others. He takes note.
  4. We are God’s slaves. All of us. No one is higher. No one is lower. And as slaves, we are to obey our master at all costs. If He asks us to quietly work without recognition, we do it. If He asks us to tell the truth in a situation that might mess with our jobs, we obey Him. He trumps it all.
  5. Our energy toward work must be amazing because it reflects the vigor in which we serve Jesus. We must view our work not as something to have others praise, but as an offering to Jesus.
  6. Ultimately, our worth comes solely from Jesus, not from our achievement. This is the hardest for me to internalize, but when this Achiever does, I’m much more peace-filled and joyful.

Mind if I pray for you?

Jesus, I pray for the person reading this post who may struggle in work. Help him/her to see that You reward humble, unseen work, that You take note of labor in obscurity and faithfulness in small things. I pray for joy joy joy to come to his/her work today, that work would become a holy offering to You to make You smile. Settle our worth with that smile, Jesus. Amen.


  1. Monica Sharman

    Thank you thank you thank you. And you can pray that again for me anytime.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Awesome to hear, Monica. Praying it right now for you.

  2. Carol Hulin

    Eeeks….Numbers 1 and 3 kind of smacked me in the face…sigh…I think two things happened, I got sucked in to the secular “ideals” going on around me and I kind of gave in/up…..This not what I want to hear on a Monday but what I need to hear on a Monday.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Hooray for needing to hear it. May the truth help you find joy in your job.

  3. abbysnews

    Thanks for your encouragement! 🙂

  4. Diane Bailey

    Okay, you have nail me to the wall! I have been praying about this for the past two weeks, and then to see that someone else “gets it” and struggles also,is wonderful. I’n not the only one. I’m going to re-read this. Good Job, Mary!

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m glad it helped you, Diane.

  5. Sandra Heska King

    First off, that photo is stunning.

    When I was newly married (sheepish confession), I used to imagine my husband was watching me go through my day. If only I could remember my Husband was always watching. That He sees everything. That my approval comes from Him. I’m aging into that. 🙂

    • Mary DeMuth

      Hooray! I took the picture. 🙂

      Interesting way to look at your day, Sandra!

  6. cfroio

    This is an essay from my NT class. Through research of commentaries of Ephesians 6:5-9 this is what I found.
    Ephesians 6:5-9 addresses the issues of slavery and abolition. In the scripture, Paul explains the importance of being obedient to your masters not only when they are watching, but at all the time. You should also do you work with enthusiasm because the Lord will know what good you have done and you will receive back from the Lord if he is pleased. This goes for the slaves as well as the free. He then finishes the passage by telling masters to follow the same. This means to respect your workers. They should also stop threatening them because they will both have the same master in heaven. They shouldn’t be using fear to get the slaves to do what they want them to.
    I think this passage and most of what Paul says about slaves really doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make sense because we are all considered to be equal under God. Slaves have masters showing that the masters are superior to the slaves. According to the Bible, we are all considered to be equal. In Galatians 3:28 it reads, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This passage shows that we are all equal. Yes, there is still gender, but in Gods eyes genders is non existent. If we are all equal than how can there be slaves? That’s why it makes no sense that Paul as well as others believe that having slaves is not a problem.
    Ehrman’s approaches in the textbook can reveal a lot about scripture. Erhman brings up the point that he doesn’t believe Paul wrote Ephesians. In Ephesians, it basically says that
    slavery is not a problem. In Philemon he gives us a different point of view on the topic of
    slavery. In Philemon 1:15-16, he says to no longer have him as a slave, but as a brother. Cleary, the two passages are conflicting and that is why I believe that two different people wrote the two scriptures. In the Oxford Bible Commentary, it says that he also has no special greeting and he doesn’t talk about any special problems like he does in his other writing like Philemon.
    Cynthia Green gives us an interesting look into the passage. She says that this piece of scripture actually are instructions for the workers right now. We should work for our managers as if they were God. She also mentions that under God we are all the same. He has no favorites at all. Although everyone is equal in Gods eyes that is not the case in the real world .
    The New Interpreters Bible gives us another point of view from this passage. It says that “early Christians only condemned the more unpleasant aspects of the slave/mater relationship.” The word condemned means to express disproval of. But, they aren’t expressing disproval of slavery, but just the relationship between the master and the slaves. It also goes on to say that the Lord is superior to both the Christian slave and masters. He will reward either of these two if they show good service and follow him. This being said I believe that Christians don’t disprove of slavery because right now it doesn’t matter. Eventually God will destroy his enemies and bring believers into the after life like Revelation told us. If he is pleased with you, their will be no suffering or pain in the afterlife.
    The New Oxford Bible Commentary, tells us that slavery really didn’t become an issue until they started being sold. Slaves are essential needed so the economy can run smoothly. In this commentary, want the masters to take more of a role in making their slaves environment better. They shouldn’t be threatening their slaves because this would go against what God would want us to do. This is because they both have the same Lord when they go to heaven.
    The Anchor Bible Dictionary, slaves were used for “an enormous variety of functions in enormously different circumstances.” They weren’t just in the field like we see them as. They could’ve been doctors, teachers, writers, accountants, agents, bailiffs, overseers, secretaries, and sea captains. In American we all know slavery is bad because how harshly we treated our slaves. In the early Christian times slaves were treated much differently. This is why in the Bible they don’t express it that slavery is a terrible thing because it really wasn’t as bad as we know it.
    I thought it would be a good idea to examine slavery during the Civil War and the early Christian times. In the book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, he shows us how harsh the conditions were as a slave. They were given little amounts of food and they were often. The slaves were beaten by their masters and sometimes even murdered. Their families are often separated. It was just an awful part of our history. In early Christian times it wasn’t completely perfect, but much better than in was in America. Douglass writes, “He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment’s warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death.” Slaves were often separated from their family. This quotes just shows how harsh slavery really was during our time. Their social status wasn’t determined by them being slaves like it was here in America. For the most part they were treated as equal to everyone else.
    In Ephesians 6:5-9, Paul addresses the masters and slaves of the time. Where he explains to the slaves the importance of being obedient to your master. He also tells the masters to respect their slaves and not to threaten them. He doesn’t address the fact that slavery is a terrible thing. But, slaves are needed to help the economy. Slavery as we know it is very bad, but in the time of Jesus it wasn’t what we know it as. In the early Christian times, people could be just about anything they wanted to. I believe the scripture was used to correctly defend it position of slavery not being an issue because it was different in the time that the scripture was written. People use this scripture to show that slavery isn’t such a bad thing, but in reality Paul thought it wasn’t an issue because of what slavery was like in his time.


    Barton, John, and John Muddiman. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University
    Press, 2001.

    Douglass, Frederick, and Benjamin Quarles. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:
    An American Slave. Cambridge, MA:Belknap Press, 1960.

    Ehrman, Bart D. A Brief Introduction to the New Testament. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford
    University Press, 2004.

    “Ephesians.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 11. CA: Abingdon Press, 2000.

    Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992.

    Green, Cynthia. “About This Letter.” Ephesians – Free Bible Commentary in Easy English.
    Accessed November 30, 2016.


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ephesians 6:5-9: bondservants and masters

by Mary DeMuth time to read: 4 min