The Duties of Servants and Masters
Ephesians 6:5-9
Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart…

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."

(1) The master is representative of Christ. Four times are servants reminded of this. The apostolic exhortation is saturated with it. A very unworthy representative the despot of the household or slave-holder (in the very conception of the thing, apart from personal qualities) was. But the apostle does not stigmatize him as a usurper, a pretender, and call upon the slaves to rise and cast off his despotism. Strange to say (having him principally in his mind), he regards him as legitimately filling the place of Christ. That is to say, underneath all that slave-holding (whatever it was) there was still a representation, a true representation, of the authority of Christ, before which the slave was to bow. And that was going to the root of the matter. It was more decisive and penetrative than if he had asked them to be reconciled to the evil of their position on the ground that Christ had suffered greater evil when in the world. He refused to regard the relation as disannulled by the accident of despotism; in the master according to the flesh (whoever he might be) he saw a real representation of the authority of Christ, and he called upon them to render obedience unto him as unto Christ. All cannot be masters. For disciplinary purposes, some are servants and some are masters, and some both servants and masters. In the early and Middle Ages there were men who were carried away with a frenzy of obedience. Those words, "I am among you as one that serveth," seemed to put a bad mark on the master state, and to mark out the servant state as not only the safer, but the grander, more Christlike state of the two. And so they put themselves under superiors, begged in Christ's name to be ruled, and thought they approached Christ when they performed the most menial duties. It must be understood that the state which with Christ carries the blessing is that (whether of master or servant) which is not self-sought, but in which Christ sees fit to place us.

(2) The appropriate disposition toward the master as the representative of Christ. "With fear and trembling." The slave was to fear and tremble before his master, not because that despotic master of his was able to put him in chains or to take away his life, but because he represented an authority above backed by boundless power, which was able to deal with him, and would righteously deal with him, for neglected duty. That being the ground, the duty remains unmodified. The workman is to fear and tremble before his master, the domestic is to fear and tremble before her mistress, not because the master or mistress is better born, or has more wealth, or has a title (for in that there is little to cause fear and trembling), but because he or she represents an authority in heaven that in no case is to be trifled with. "In singleness of your heart." That is to say, the servant must give the reality, and not the semblance of service. And the only ground on which this can be thoroughly secured is by regarding his service as done 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 (whatever it may be in political economy), from a Christian point of view is radically wrong.

3. Positive excellence to be sought.

(1) In relation to work. "But as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." The servants of Christ must apply the principles of Christ to their work. According to the teaching of the apostle, a servant's thought is not to be this - how little work he can get off with; nor this, in the first place (though it is an important consideration) - what is the will of his master; but this - what is the will of God, i.e. what does God expect of him in amount, in excellency, to be rendered to his master. Having found out this, he is to do his work, not in the spirit of drudgery, but with a true, it may be an ardent, love for it, as it is here put - "from the heart." To do the will of God in this way may sometimes require not a little Christian courage. In these days there are trade-unions, combinations among the workmen, with the view of protecting their rights. Though unobjectionable in principle, yet (like other combinations) they may sometimes be dominated by selfishness, and act tyrannically. And a Christian workman may be in the position of choosing between the will of God and incurring the opprobrium of his fellow-workmen. If he is worthy of his master's Master, he will not, to please his fellow-workmen, give stinted, heartless work, but he will brave the consequences of doing his duty, saying, "I must obey God rather than man."

(2) In relation to his master. "With good will doing service, as unto the Lord, and not unto men." A servant may not be able altogether to approve of the treatment he receives. What is exacted of him (and what he cheerfully renders, as being the will of God) may be unjust. Nevertheless, as a Christian, he is to keep up good feeling toward his master. He is always to respect him because of his position. More than that, he is to have "good will" toward him, that good will which (as the angelic doxology shows,) is so much of the essence of the gospel. And he is not merely to have good will toward him as a man, but good will also toward him in the particular relationship in which he is placed to him as his master. And he is to have this good will toward him, not on worldly grounds, nor on purely rational grounds, nor on purely theistic grounds, but specially on Christian grounds. "As unto the Lord," and not unto a master by himself or out of relation to the Lord. That is to say, he is to bear good will toward his master as being (by no figure of speech, but in very fact) the Lord's representative, and thus, it may be said, for the Lord's sake, and further, that the Lord's ends in the relationship (so far as he is concerned) may be served.

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 (for he names him particularly, that there may be no mistake), 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.

(1) In relation to work. As the Christian servant is to be regulated by "the will of God in the work rendered, so the Christian master is to be regulated by the will of God in the work required. There is that which (in the Divine balances) is fair between them. It cannot be got at by selfishness on the one side and selfishness on the other, which is often made a trial of strength. If harmony is to be attained, it can only be by both, with Christian disinterestedness, agreeing to bring themselves (in what is required and what is rendered)to the Divine standard.

(2) In relation to servant. As there is to be good will toward the master, so there is to be good will toward the servant. The master may not find the servant what he would like him to be. He may have to reprove him for eye-service or for careless service under his eye. But he is always to have good will toward him, as placed under him by Christ. He is to show his good will by seeking to make him comfortable in his position. Especially is he to use his influence with him on behalf of his higher well-being. In the name of Christ, then, let good will be met by good will. Education alone is ineffectual. It has sometimes been found that, with the spread of education, there has been an embittering of the relations between masters and servants. It is wrong, however (as not a few do), to blame education for this. It may be said that, if these relations cannot stand educative influences, then they are not what they should be. And the conclusion to be drawn is, not that we are to dispense with education, but that those relations can only be thoroughly maintained by reasonableness and genuine good feeling on both sides. And Christians are not to give up the problem in despair, but ought to be prepared to demonstrate to the world that it is possible, on Christian principles, for masters and servants to work together in harmony.

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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

WEB: Servants, be obedient to those who according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ;

The Duties of Servants
Top of Page
Top of Page