Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Ephesians (2010)

Children and Slaves

Ephesians 6:1-9

Lesson audio

Then and Now


It is difficult for the modern human being to recognize that Paul's words here might apply to them. Our theory of raising children — let alone the existence of slaves in America — is quite different. So we need to compare the views of the ancient Roman with their modern counterparts:

·         Roman View — in ancient times the power of the father over his children was practically absolute. Nor did it stop when they reached a certain age; the father's power extended until he died. Children were not necessarily highly valued. For example, the equivalent of abortion was practiced just after birth. The midwife would present the baby to the father. If the father reached down and picked up the child, it meant that he accepted this child as his own and would raise it. If he turned his back on the child, the midwife would be expected to take the child into the wilderness and abandoned their to die. Often enough the midwife was sympathetic with the child (usually a girl) and take it down to the marketplace to be abandoned their instead. If female, the child was often picked up by a priestess of one of the local gods (usually fertility) and raise her as a temple prostitute.

·         Modern View — today's view is not necessarily so different. Abortion is practiced all too frequently; the main differences we don't wind up with temple prostitutes. Children are viewed as a nuisance and a hindrance to the mother's career. If you decide to keep the child (now the mother's decision) it is necessary to hire nannies and day care to raise your children. The result of this view is seen on our streets daily. If you'd like a clear view of the difference all you need to do is to watch a TV channel that shows old situation comedies. The family of the 50s is very different than the family of today. It is not surprising with this view that children have little to no respect for their parents.

·         Christian View — in the Christian view children are considered a gift from God, to be cherished and loved. As we shall see, loving the child includes disciplining the child and instructing the child. This is a task which is not left to hired hands, but is placed on the list of things to do for the father. This father-centric approach to child raising is much out of favor in our time, but it is what the Scripture prescribes.


It is important to remember that slavery had a very different basis in ancient Rome than it did in 19th century America. The primary driver of slave status was economic. Slaves were viewed as living tools who could be sold, but also could buy their own freedom. We cannot say that slavery in Roman times was more pleasant than in American times with any great confidence, but please eliminate from your mind any racial overtones.

Perhaps the best way to see this is society's reaction to a runaway slave. The American reaction to a runaway slave is very positive, reflecting the American experience with southern black slavery. In Roman times the view was quite different. A runaway slave would be seen as one who was stealing from his master, and ingrate who did not appreciate the food, clothing and shelter than his master had provided for him. His fellow slaves would see him as a person deserving no respect. Indeed, slaves are often identified by owner through the use of the colored belt. If your slave master was someone prominent, you would take pride in wearing his belt. It's not quite the same as being in his household, but it was a status token among slaves. As you can see, the institution was rather different from what we know.

Pride and Humility

Most people do not connect the concept of pride with sin in our time. We see pride as a virtue and humility as a fault. The ancient Roman would've seen it in exactly the opposite way; pride would be the sin, and virtue would reside in humility. One reason for this is that modern man thinks there is no such thing as life after death. We are designed only for our bodily lives and then we cease to exist. If this is the case there is little chance for humility to be rewarded, and human beings are very fond of being rewarded. Pride indeed is often used to cure lesser sins. We call this appealing to someone's self-respect. It is quite logical; if this life is all there is it pays to stomp on everyone else.

But if we are designed to live forever, then humility takes its proper place as a virtue. And humility is extremely important in personal relationships. In this world we are given a choice between being humble and having good relationships, versus being proud and dictating relationships. We shall see that relationships between parent and child, for example, depend upon the same structure of authority and submission that we discussed in the last lesson with regard to husband and wife. All of those same principles apply; it's just that Paul is giving us some specific advice about these particular relationships.

Fathers and Children

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

(Ephesians 6:1-4 NASB)

Why the Father?

It seems odd to modern Americans that Paul's advice would be given to the father. After all, we know that raising the children is the woman's problem. Most of us are quite content with the idea that many children are raised by a single mother. "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" has been the motto of women's liberation for over 40 years now. Unfortunately, though she may not need the man (and I dispute that) her children do. The reason for this is that God has appointed the man to be the spiritual leader of the household. How often have you seen it: she brings the children to church until they reached the age of about 13. Then from the boys she hears that dad doesn't go to church, therefore they don't have to either.

The opposite experience can be seen in families with a strong father. If the father is truly in charge, and he truly loves his wife, then the children will quickly understand that disrespect for their mother means an immediate (and usually quite thunderous) reaction from the father. In most positive sense, the children learn their place in the family. This has a very positive benefit the children; there is no uncertainty as to who is in charge. It benefits the parents as well; the children quickly learn not to play father against mother. In short, families with a strong father — work.

There is one other reason for the father to be in charge. It accustoms the children to obedience to the male figure. It is easier to obey the father God you cannot see if you are in the habit of obeying the father you can see.

Children: Why Obey?

Of course Paul quotes the Old Testament here in reminding children that obedience to their parents is right. More than that, he notes that it is the first commandment which carries with it a promise of blessing. But we might point out a couple of other reasons as well:

·         The habit of obedience will serve you well into adulthood. If your attitude is, "what can I get away with" or "they can't tell me what to do" you are going to get a great deal of trouble that you don't need. Our generation denigrates this, but that does not detract from the fact it is true.

·         The habit of obedience is best developed way observation: the observation of your parents. My own children saw my respectful attitude towards my father, and concluded that this is the way an adult child treats his adult parent. This was a most fortunate example for us.

Father's Duty

You can now see why humility is the basis of good relationships. If the father thinks it's his task to "Lord it over" his children, he will soon provoke them to anger. Similarly, if the fathers discipline is always delivered in a fit of rage, the children see rage as an appropriate form of behavior. But consider: when the policeman stops you and gives you a ticket, does he lorded over you or act in a fit of rage? No, he delivers his message in a cool, calm and collected manner. The humble father does not focus on avenging himself for his children's wrongs, but disciplining his children so that they will not repeat them.

That word discipline bothers a lot of people. It conjures up images of a father with a huge paddle smashing it into the rear end of a small and defenseless child. That's not what the word means in the original. If you look at it in the original Greek, you will see that it is more akin to the word "training". It's the word that would be used to train an athlete. If you think about this in the spiritual sense, what the father is trying to do is train a spiritual athlete. That obviously involves a lot more than spanking the kid. (My observation is that spanking the kid is something which should be used only in the rarest of circumstances; it just didn't seem to work with my kids.)

Included in that is the concept of instruction, or as some translations have it, admonition. The idea here is that you are not going to let the child grow to the age of 21 and then decide whether or not he wants to be a Christian. You're going to train the child in the way in which he should go. You're going to teach them what is right. Given the modern trends in education, you cannot count on the public school systems to do this in your place. Indeed, they will be teaching them something that most Christians find reprehensible. But the father is ultimately responsible for the instruction and admonition of his children; I am just suggesting that you take it seriously.

Principles of Work

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

(Ephesians 6:5-9 NASB)

The Value of Work

Of course, we have to make a little translation in this section. We need to proceed by drawing the parallel between what a slave would've done in those days and what an employee would do in these. Similarly, the slave master now becomes the manager or the employer. To understand why Paul gives this advice we must first consider the concept of "vocation". This concept holds that you work for more than money. If you have a job which you keep only because it pays the money, then you obviously have a poor situation. I've been there. I once had a job consisting entirely of taking computer printouts, finding duplicate lines, and scratching them out. That was it. It paid pretty well for the time, too. But it was certainly something I had no intention of making a career of.

Work, if you will recall, is honored by God. The earliest version of this is the creation of the Sabbath, in which God recognizes that we must have rest from labor. Work is therefore not ordinary. Indeed, man was designed to work. If you will recall, the first man, Adam, was a gardener in the garden of Eden. God did not let him sit around all day drinking beer and eating potato chips. It is something which is intrinsically part of the human experience, and honored by God.

Commands to "Slaves"

Once again, we come upon the principle of submission. If you are an employee, you are in submission to the man who writes your paycheck. He may designate a manager for these commands, but you are in submission. You therefore are to be obedient, give forth a sincere effort and do so without duplicity. If this doesn't sound like you at work, perhaps you need to examine your Christian life. We have said that work is blessed by God – that's because ultimately your work is to be rewarded by God. You are to be his example in the workplace.

It makes a real difference when you're working for the Lord. Most of us think of that as being something that only professional ministers could do, but Paul is quite clear about this. Everything you do should be done as if it were being done for the Lord. Which should eliminate slop work.

Commands to "Masters"

Let's start with the obvious: the manager in the department has the same Master, therefore he should have the same attitude towards his own work that his employees have. In short, as a manager, you should not deliver slop work. Now you see where humility comes into the relationship. If you've ever had a boss who is best described by the words, "arrogant jerk," then you know why humility is a necessity. Unfortunately it is all too common that the manager considers himself well above his employees, a much better human being. That's pride, and pride is the sin of Satan himself.

Specifically, Paul gives the manager two commands. The first is not to threaten his employees. Most of us understand that very well. It's one thing to lay out consequences for poor behavior; it's entirely another to bluster and threaten. The manager who does this, it appears to me, is the man who has no confidence in his own leadership. It is counterproductive, because for most of those threats you can't deliver. Your employees soon become accustomed to the bluster — and ignore it.

The second is justice. One of the reasons most companies do not post the salaries of their employees is that they fear that most employees will think they are not fairly paid. A major bank once did post all the salaries; the reaction was very interesting. The company in question was in fact paying its employees fairly, and the most common reaction was astonishment at how little difference there was between person A and person B. People resent it if they feel that they are not being treated fairly. The reality and appearance of justice are essentials of good management. It is important that employees know that you do not show partiality – either in salary, performance or even simple approval.


Once again, we see the concept of authority and submission being displayed in human relationships. The one thing that makes this work for the Christian is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If I claim authority over my wife, it is by the authority of Christ — and therefore I must submit to the rule of Christ. If you are a Christian manager, the same applies. If you are a Christian father, the same applies. See to your duties as Christ would have you do them, and look to him for your reward.

Previous     Home     Next