“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.”
Spartacus. Some of you know that name from your history books, and some know it from the Hollywood film. Spartacus was a slave in the 70s BC in the Roman Empire who led a slave revolt of 120,000 slaves in attacking soldiers of the empire. Within a few short years the revolt was squashed, and in order to prevent it from happening again, Roman authorities had 6,000 slaves crucified along the Appian Way, a road between Capua and Rome.
Slavery was a common institution in Ephesus (Paul not only addresses it here, but also in his first letter to Timothy, a pastor in Ephesus), and between 100 BC and 100 AD, Ephesus was the slave trade capital of the world. Yet slaves either had harsh treatment or fairly good treatment. Some slaves would work on menial tasks in the house, while some slaves would have professions. Some slaves were treated extremely badly, but others were considered part of the family. Some were able to accumulate money and buy their freedom. Either way, a gulf existed between slave and master.
Some were slaves since birth. Soranus of Ephesus wrote a “practical guide” to gynecology and obstetrics, involving how to tell if a baby was “worth rearing” at birth. Babies not deemed worth rearing were taken to a dump where exposure to the elements would eventually kill them. Deformed, weak, or unwanted children were placed at this dump to die, but at times slave masters or traders would search through these dumps for babies they thought would grow up to make good slaves, raise them and either keep them as their slaves or sell them.
With this in context, what Paul states about the relationship between slaves and masters seems all the more radical. The fact that Paul addresses slaves and masters in both Ephesians and in 1 Timothy shows that the church had both slaves and masters in the same congregation. Think back to the beginning of Ephesians 1. Imagine being a slave, hearing the words of Ephesians 1, and hearing how although you were treated harshly and could potentially have been a slave since birth, that Christ has now adopted you into His family. Imagine the hope of knowing that you are a son or daughter now, and that God has chosen you even in your unfortunate circumstances. Think of how the slaves and masters in the church reacted to being told by Paul in Ephesians 2 they are now one body in Christ, and that Christ died to reconcile them to Himself and each other.
If that wasn’t enough to cause a ruckus, imagine how when the topic of master/slave relationships came up, Paul said to the slaves, “Render service with a good will” and to the masters, “Do the same to them.” What Paul is saying is to look after their best interest. Slaves were to look after the best interest of the master, and masters were to look after the best interest of the slave.
This call was revolutionary. The person that treats me harshly, I am to look out for his best interest. And the person who I view as less than me socially and economically, I am to look out for his best interest. We often will try to give excuses about this idea of looking out for the best interest. “But he’s annoying.” “She has a bad attitude.” “We just don’t get along.” “That one time he said that joke, it offended me.” “She just doesn’t listen.” We come up with any excuses to avoid and not care about the interest of others. Yet these slaves, who potentially hated their masters, and these masters, who were threatening their slaves (Ephesians 6:9), are told to look out for each other’s best interest.
You are called not just to care about yourself and your best interest, but the interest of your brothers and sisters.
Here are some questions to ask yourself based on this Scripture:
Am I concerned with the best interest of my brothers and sisters in the church?
Is there anything I’d refrain from giving up to brothers and sisters in need (time, talent, treasure, etc.)?
Are there any people in authority over me that I struggle to submit to as unto the Lord?
Am I reflecting Christ in my relationship to my boss or teachers?
Do I find excuses to justify my lack of respect, love, submission, or honor to those in authority over me or to fellow church members? Am I looking out for their best interest?