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Mastering Obedience

Key References: Ephesians 6:5-9; Messages to Young People, chap. 70, 228-230; The Bible Story (1994), vol. 10, pp. 135-138; Our Beliefs nos. 11, 22, 17

Power Text

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Ephesians 6:7).

Power Point

We serve God when we serve others with our whole heart.

Imagine what it would be like if you had no choice about when you got up in the morning, no choice about what you ate, where you went, or what you did? How do you think you would feel? That was just what it was like to be a slave in Bible times.

In the early years after Jesus’ death, many Christians were slaves. The good news of salvation has always struck a note with those who are the most hopeless, and who is more hopeless than a slave? Slavery was common in most of the world, and in some places, such as the cities Paul visited, slaves far outnumbered masters. Most of the churches Paul started had both masters and slaves as members.

A Roman citizen might own hundreds of slaves, and he was free to do with them as he chose. A master could beat his slaves, torture them, or even murder them. If a slave tried to defend himself, the master might wipe out his entire family. It was a tough life, but not an uncommon one, so it’s not surprising that Paul talked directly to slaves in several places in his letters, and even wrote the entire letter of Philemon to a slave owner about his slave.

Since slavery is no longer legal anywhere in the world, you might be tempted to just skip over what Paul had to say on the subject. But even though we are in little danger of being bought, sold, or owned by someone else, there will always be other people to whom we must answer. Now it’s parents, teachers, coaches. Later it will be a boss or a spouse, and believe it or not, your own kids. Life is filled with responsibility to and for other people, so Paul’s words to slaves are still filled with wisdom for us today.

“Obey your earthly masters with . . . sincerity of heart,” wrote Paul (Ephesians 6:5). Sincerity of heart. That means honestly. Genuinely. Because you mean it, not just because you have to do it.

“Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart” (verse 6). H’mmm. Don’t just do what you’re asked to do when someone is watching. Do it all the time, from your heart.

“Obey . . . just as you would obey Christ. . . . Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord” (verses 5-7). Wow! Treat your slave master—that lousy, no-good, mean tyrant—as if he were Jesus. In modern terms, that means do the work you do for your parents, your teachers, your boss—whoever it is—as if you were doing it for Christ. Kind of puts a new slant on whatever it is you hate doing most, doesn’t it?

Imagine what that kind of enthusiastic obedience could do. Imagine the witness. Out of 100 angry, sullen, do-enough-to-get-by slaves, one is willing, even cheerful. One is pleasant and upbeat. One is faithful and trustworthy and dedicated and a motivated self-starter. Do you think the master will notice? I’d say so. It’s happened before. Think of Joseph and of Naaman’s slave girl. Their lives of responsibility and obedience were powerful influences.

Ask anyone who owns or manages a business, and they’ll tell you cheerful dedication and responsibility are in short supply. That kind of enthusiastic, wholehearted service to parents, bosses, teachers, or whoever it may be, is as popular today as it was with slave masters 200 or 2,000 years ago. And that kind of witness is a powerful argument in favor of the gospel—the kind that can still help win the master to the Master.