Ephesians 6:5
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;
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(4 c.) In Ephesians 6:5-9 the hardest form of subjection, that of slaves to masters, is dealt with, still under the same idea that both are “in Christ.” The slave is the servant of Christ in obeying his master, the master is a fellow-servant with his slave to the same Divine Lord. We notice on this particular subject a remarkable emphasis, and a singular closeness of parallelism between this Epistle and the Epistle to the Colossians; probably to be accounted for by the presence of Onesimus with St. Paul at the time, which would naturally press on him some special consideration of the relation of Christianity to slavery. Accordingly St. Paul’s general attitude towards slavery will be best considered in the Epistle to Philemon (which see). Here it will be sufficient to note that while the institution, unnatural as it is, is left untouched, the declaration of a common fellowship in Christ enunciates a principle absolutely incompatible with slavery, and destined to destroy it.

(5) Your masters according to the flesh.—This phrase (used also in Colossians 3:12) at once implies the necessary limitation of all human slavery. It can subjugate and even kill the body, but it cannot touch the spirit; and it belongs only to the visible life of this world, not to the world to come. The slave is a man in spiritual and immortal being, not a “living tool” or “chattel,” as even philosophy called him.

With fear and trembling.—The phrase is a favourite one with St. Paul. (See 1Corinthians 2:3; 2Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 2:12, in all which cases it is applied to the condition of man as man under the weight of solemn responsibility before God.) It recognises the “spirit of bondage unto fear” (Romans 8:15) necessarily belonging to all who are “under law,” i.e., under obedience to the will of another, as enforced upon them by compulsion; and this fear, moreover, is viewed as showing itself in “trembling” anxiety to obey. So St. Peter commands (1Peter 2:18), “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward;” and it is to be noted that he describes the suffering herein implied as a fellowship with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:21-24).

Singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.—The phrase “singleness of heart,” is here used in its proper sense, from which all others (see Romans 12:8; 2Corinthians 8:2; 2Corinthians 9:11; 2Corinthians 9:13) may be derived. It means having but one aim, and that the one which we profess to have, with no duplicity of reservation or hypocrisy. Such singleness of heart cannot be given perfectly to any merely human service, because no such service has a right to our whole heart; hence St. Paul adds, “as unto Christ,” bidding them look on their service as a part of the service to Him who can claim absolute devotion.

Ephesians 6:5-8. Servants Δουλοι, bond-servants; or he may include also those that were in the station of hired servants; be obedient to your masters — For the gospel does not cancel the civil rights of mankind; according to the flesh — That is, who have the command of your bodies, but not of your souls and consciences. Or, the expression may mean, who are your masters according to the present state of things: hereafter the servant will be free from his master; with fear and trembling — A proverbial expression, implying the utmost care and diligence; in singleness of heart — With a single eye to the providence and will of God; as unto Christ — With that sincerity and uniformity of conduct, which a regard to the honour of Christ, and his all-seeing eye, will require and produce. Not with eye- service — Serving your masters better when under their eye than at other times; as mere men-pleasers — Persons who have no regard to the pleasing of God; but as the servants of Christ — As those that desire to approve themselves his faithful servants; doing the will of God from the heart — Performing that duty to your masters which God requires of you; or doing whatever you do as the will of God, and with your might. With good-will doing service — Not with reluctance, but cheerfully, and from a principle of love to them and their concerns; as to the Lord, and not to men — Regarding him more than men, and making every action of common life a sacrifice to God, by having an eye to him in all things, even as if you had no other master. Knowing that whatsoever good thing — Whether for kind or degree; any man doth — Though never so poor and mean, in one station of life or another; the same shall he receive of the Lord — That is, a full and adequate recompense; whether he be bond or free — A slave or a free-man; whether he be the meanest servant or the greatest prince. For God is the universal guardian and protector of his people, and esteems men, not according to their stations in the world, but according to their behaviour in those stations, whether high or low.

6:5-9 The duty of servants is summed up in one word, obedience. The servants of old were generally slaves. The apostles were to teach servants and masters their duties, in doing which evils would be lessened, till slavery should be rooted out by the influence of Christianity. Servants are to reverence those over them. They are to be sincere; not pretending obedience when they mean to disobey, but serving faithfully. And they must serve their masters not only when their master's eye is upon them; but must be strict in the discharge of their duty, when he is absent and out of the way. Steady regard to the Lord Jesus Christ will make men faithful and sincere in every station, not grudgingly or by constraint, but from a principle of love to the masters and their concerns. This makes service easy to them, pleasing to their masters, and acceptable to the Lord Christ. God will reward even the meanest drudgery done from a sense of duty, and with a view to glorify him. Here is the duty of masters. Act after the same manner. Be just to servants, as you expect they should be to you; show the like good-will and concern for them, and be careful herein to approve yourselves to God. Be not tyrannical and overbearing. You have a Master to obey, and you and they are but fellow-servants in respect to Christ Jesus. If masters and servants would consider their duties to God, and the account they must shortly give to him, they would be more mindful of their duty to each other, and thus families would be more orderly and happy.Servants - οἵ δοῦλοι hoi douloi. The word used here denotes one who is bound to render service to another, whether that service be free or voluntary, and may denote, therefore, either a slave, or one who binds himself to render service to another. It is often used in these senses in the New Testament, just as it is elsewhere. It cannot be demonstrated that the word here necessarily means "slaves;" though, if slavery existed among those to whom this Epistle was written - as there can be little doubt that it did - it is a word which would apply to those in this condition; compare notes on 1 Corinthians 7:21; Galatians 3:28, note. On the general subject of slavery, and the Scripture doctrine in regard to it; see notes on Isaiah 58:6. Whether the persons here referred to were slaves, or were those who had bound themselves to render a voluntary servitude, the directions here given were equally appropriate. It was not the design of the Christian religion to produce a rude sundering of the ties which bind man to man, but to teach all to perform their duties aright in the relations in which Christianity found them, and gradually to modify the customs of society, and to produce ultimately the universal prevalence of that which is right.

Be obedient to them - This is the uniform direction in the New Testament; see 1 Peter 2:18; 1 Timothy 6:1-3; notes 1 Corinthians 7:21. The idea is that they were to show in that relation the excellence of the religion which they professed. If they could be made free, they were to prefer that condition to a state of bondage 1 Corinthians 7:21, but while the relation remained, they were to be kind, gentle, and obedient, as became Christians. In the parallel place in Colossians Col 3:22, it is said that they were to obey their masters "in all things." But evidently this is to be understood with the limitations implied in the case of wives and children (see the notes on Ephesians 5:24; Ephesians 6:1, note), and a master would have no right to command that which was morally wrong.

According to the flesh - This is designed, evidently, to limit the obligation to obedience. The meaning is, that they had control over "the body, the flesh." They had the power to command the service which the body could render; but they were not lords of the spirit. The soul acknowledged God as its Lord, and to the Lord they were to be subject in a higher sense than to their masters.

With fear and trembling - With reverence and with a dread of offending them. They have authority and power over you, and you should be afraid to incur their displeasure. Whatever might be true about the propriety of slavery, and whatever might be the duty of the master about setting the slave free, it would be more to the honor of religion for the servant to perform his task with a willing mind than to be contumacious and rebellions. He could do more for the honor of religion by patiently submitting to even what he felt to be wrong, than by being punished for what would be regarded as rebellion. It may be added here, that it was presumed that servants then could read. These directions were addressed to them, not to their masters. Of what use would be directions like these addressed to American slaves - scarce any of whom can read?

In singleness of your heart - With a simple, sincere desire to do what ought to be done.

As unto Christ - Feeling that by rendering proper service to your masters, you are in fact serving the Lord, and that you are doing that which will be well-pleasing to him; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 7:22. Fidelity, in whatever situation we may be in life, is acceptable service to the Lord. A Christian may as acceptably serve the Lord Jesus in the condition of a servant, as if he were a minister of the gospel, or a king on a throne. Besides, it will greatly lighten the burdens of such a situation, and make the toils of an humble condition easy, to remember that we are then "serving the Lord."

5. Servants—literally, "slaves."

masters according to the flesh—in contrast to your true and heavenly Master (Eph 6:4). A consolatory him that the mastership to which they were subject, was but for a time [Chrysostom]; and that their real liberty was still their own (1Co 7:22).

fear and trembling—not slavish terror, but (See on [2374]1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15) an anxious eagerness to do your duty, and a fear of displeasing, as great as is produced in the ordinary slave by "threatenings" (Eph 6:9).

singleness—without double-mindedness, or "eye service" (Eph 6:6), which seeks to please outwardly, without the sincere desire to make the master's interest at all times the first consideration (1Ch 29:17; Mt 6:22, 23; Lu 11:34). "Simplicity."

Servants; these servants were generally slaves: Christian liberty doth not take away civil servitude.

Be obedient to them that are your masters; whether good or bad, as 1 Peter 2:18, is expressly said.

According to the flesh; as to your outward state, not as to your souls and consciences.

With fear and trembling; either with reverence and fear of offending them, and being punished by them, see Romans 13:4; or rather, with humility, as appears by Psalm 2:11 1 Corinthians 2:3 2 Corinthians 7:15 Philippians 2:12: compare Romans 11:20.

In singleness of your heart; sincerity, and without guile.

As unto Christ, who hath commanded this obedience, and whom ye obey in yielding it to your masters.

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters,.... The apostle enlarges on the duty of servants, as well as frequently inculcates it in his epistles; because, generally speaking, they were more rude and ignorant, and less pains were taken with them to instruct them; they were apt to be impatient and weary of the yoke; and scandal was like to arise from servants in the first ages of Christianity through some libertines, and the licentiousness of the false teachers, who insinuated, that servitude was inconsistent with Christian freedom: the persons exhorted are "servants", bond servants, and hired servants; who are to be subject to, and obey their "masters", of each sex, whether male or female, of every condition, whether poor or rich, believers or unbelievers, good or bad humoured, gentle or froward: such as are their masters

according to the flesh; or "carnal masters", as the Vulgate Latin version renders it; even though they are unregenerate men, and are in a state of nature, and only mind the things of the flesh, yet they are to be obeyed in their lawful commands; or "in things pertaining to the flesh", as the Arabic version renders it; in things temporal, which concern the body, and this temporal life; not in things spiritual and religious, or that belong to conscience, and which are contrary to them: or "according to your flesh", as the Ethiopic version renders it; signifying that they are only masters over their bodies, not their consciences; and that their power only extends to corporeal things, and can last no longer than while they are in the flesh; see Job 3:19; and obedience is to be yielded to them

with fear and trembling; with great humility and respect, with reverence of them, and giving honour to them, with carefulness not to offend them, with submission to their reproofs and corrections, and with fear of punishment; but more especially with the fear of God, being by that influenced and constrained to obedience;

in singleness of heart; with readiness and cheerfulness, without hypocrisy and dissimulation, and with all integrity and faithfulness:

as unto Christ; it being agreeable to his will, and what makes for his glory, and serves to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.

{7} Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters {8} according to the flesh, with {d} fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

(7) Now he descends to the third part of a family, that is, to the duty both of the masters and of the servants. And he shows that the duty of servants consists in a hearty love and reverence for their masters.

(8) He moderates the sharpness of service, in that they are spiritually free even though they are servants, and yet that spiritual freedom does not take away physical service: insomuch that they cannot be Christ's, unless they serve their masters willingly and faithfully, as much as they may with clear conscience.

(d) With careful reverence: for slavish fear is not allowable, much less in Christian servants.

Ephesians 6:5. On Ephesians 6:5-9, comp. Colossians 3:22 to Colossians 4:1.

Here, too, there is doubtless no approval, but at the same time no disapproval of the existing slavery in itself, which—in accordance with the apostolic view of a Christian’s position (Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 7:22; comp. Titus 2:9 f.; 1 Peter 2:18)—like every other outward relation of life, ought not to affect spiritual freedom and Christian unity; hence at 1 Corinthians 7:21 it is expressly prescribed that the slave is to remain in his position (comp. Ignat. ad Polyc. 4; Constitt. Apost. iv. 12, vii. 13; viii. 32, 2 f.), as, indeed. Paul even sent back Onesimus after his conversion to his master, without requiring of the latter his manumission.[295]

τοῖς κυρίοις κατὰ σάρκα] to those, who in a merely human relation are your rulers, i.e. your human masters, whose slaves you are as regards outward temporal position in life, by way of distinction from the higher divine master, Christ; hence also τοῖς κυρ. κ. σ. stands without repetition of the article, combined into one idea; comp. on Ephesians 2:11. As Paul immediately after makes mention of the higher master Christ (ὡς τῷ Χριστῷ), it was very natural for him, in view of the twofold and very diverse relation of masters which was now present to his mind, to add κατὰ σάρκα, in the use of which any special set purpose cannot be made good. This in opposition to Chrysostom, Oecumenius, and Theophylact, who find in it a consolatory allusion to the δεσποτεία πρόσκαιρος; in opposition to Calvin, who supposes a softening of the relation to be conveyed in this expression, as being one that leaves the spiritual freedom untouched (comp. Beza, Zanchius, Grotius, Flatt, and others); and in opposition to Harless, who finds in the predicate the thought that, although in another domain they are free, yet in earthly relations they had masters.

μετὰ φόβου κ. τρόμ.] i.e. with that zeal, which is ever keenly apprehensive of not doing enough. Comp. on 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Php 2:12.

ἐν ἁπλότητι τῆς καρδ. ὑμ.] State of heart, in which the obedience with fear and trembling is to take place; it is to be no hypocritical one, in which we are otherwise minded than we outwardly seem, but an upright, inwardly true one, without duplicity of disposition and act. Comp. Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; Jam 1:5. In Philo joined with ἀκακία. See Loesner, Obss. p. 262. Oecumenius well observes: ἔνι γὰρ καὶ μετὰ φόβου κ. τρόμου δουλεύειν, ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἐξ εὐνοίας ἀλλὰ κακούργως.

ὡς τῷ Χριστῷ] as to Christ, so that you regard your obedience to your masters as rendered to Christ (comp. Ephesians 5:22). See Ephesians 6:6. An allusion to reward (Theodoret) is imported.

[295] The reforming efficacy of the gospel addresses itself to knowledge and feeling, out of which, and so out of the inner life of faith, the alterations of the outward forms and relations of life gradually take shape with moral necessity by way of consequence; as history, too, has shown, which, when it has developed itself in a revolutionary manner, has either violently precipitated, or forsaken, or inverted that course, or else in its necessary development has encountered such hindrances as disowned the influence of this necessary development, and yet could not arrest it. “Civitates malis studiis malis que doctrinis repente evertuntur,” Cic. Leg. ii. 15. 39. It is not, however, to be overlooked that by the apostle’s mode of regarding the relation of freedom and slavery which he found existing, the slavery introduced by Christians, the enslaving of free men, the slave trade, etc., are by no means justified—rather are these things impossible, where the knowledge and feeling, that spring from evangelical faith, are the principles which shape the life and the forms assumed by it.

Ephesians 6:5-9. Other relative duties—those of masters and servants. With this compare the paragraph in the sister Epistle, Colossians 3:22 to Colossians 4:1, and the statement in 1 Peter 2:18-25.

5–9. The Christian Home: Servants and Masters

5. Servants] Bondservants, slaves. Cp. Colossians 3:22-25; and see 1 Corinthians 7:21-22; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; Philemon; 1 Peter 2:18-25. The Gospel nowhere explicitly condemns slavery. But both O.T. and N.T. state principles which are fatal to the extreme forms of slavery familiar in the Roman world, forms which allowed no rights whatever, in theory, to the slave. And the Gospel, in the act of proclaiming the complete spiritual equality of slave and freeman, revealed a principle which was sure ultimately to discredit slave-holding even in its mitigated forms. See Bp Lightfoot’s Introduction to the Ep. to Philemon, and the pamphlet (by Prof. Goldwin Smith) quoted there, Does the Bible sanction American Slavery?

We may observe further that the great Gospel doctrine of the believer’s “slavery” to his Master, Christ (cp. e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:22), when once made familiar to the conscience and will, would inevitably tend to a peculiar mutual rapprochement between Christian masters and slaves while the institution still legally survived, and would do infinitely more for the abolition of slavery than any “servile war.” Prof. G. Smith well observes, “Nothing marks the Divine character of the Gospel more than its perfect freedom from any appeal to the spirit of political revolution” (Does the Bible, &c., p. 96). With impartial hands it not only sanctions, but sanctifies, subordination to constituted authority (Romans 13), and meanwhile ennobles the individual, in respect of all that is highest in the word liberty, by putting him into direct and conscious relations with God.

The Gospel won many of its earliest converts from the slave-class. This is less wonderful, when the vast number of slaves is remembered. The little territory of Corinth alone contained nearly half a million slaves.

In the present and similar passages the primary reference to slavery will, of course, be remembered. But there is a secondary and permanent reference to ordinary service, of all varieties.

according to the flesh] With the implied thought that they were not the masters of their bondmen’s spirits, and that the bondmen were themselves, spiritually, the slaves of Christ. So Colossians 3:22.

with fear and trembling] With earnest, conscientious care and reverence. For the phrase, and this as its meaning, cp. 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Php 2:12.

singleness of your heart] The honest desire to do right for its own sake, or rather for the Lord’s sake; as against the self-interested seeking for praise or promotion. Cp. for the word rendered “singleness,” Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12 (perhaps), 2 Corinthians 8:2, 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13, 2 Corinthians 11:3; Colossians 3:22.

unto Christ] Cp. Romans 14:7-9; a suggestive parallel.

Ephesians 6:5. Οἱ δοῦλοι, servants) He here speaks broadly, namely, of slaves, and of freedmen as a species next to slaves, Ephesians 6:8, at the end.—τοῖς κυρίοις κατὰ σάρκα, to your masters according to the flesh) It was not proper, after making mention of the true Master [the Lord], Ephesians 6:4, that such persons should also immediately be absolutely called masters; on that account the rather, he adds, according to the flesh.—μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου, with fear and trembling) precisely as if threatenings, so far as believing masters are concerned, were not taken away, Ephesians 6:9. He has regard to the condition of slaves in ancient times.—ἁπλότητι τῆς καρδίας, in singleness (simplicity) of heart) So the LXX. for the Heb. לֵבָב ישֶׁר, 1 Chronicles 29:17. This is explained in the following verses, who eye-service is chiefly opposed to singleness; comp. Colossians 3:22. Slavery is subjected [made subordinate] to Christianity, and not to be considered as joined with it [non committenda cum illo].

Verse 5. - Bond-servants, obey your masters according to the flesh. There were many slaves in the early Church, but, however unjust their position, the apostle could not but counsel them to obedience, this course being the best for ultimately working out their emancipation. The words of Christ were peculiarly welcome to them "that labor and are heavy laden;" and, as we find from Celsus and others, the early Church was much ridiculed for the large number of uneducated persons in its pale. With fear and trembling. Comp. 1 Corinthians 2:3; Philippians 2:12, from which it will be seen that this expression does not denote slavish dread, but great moral anxiety lest one should fail in duty. It was probably a proverbial expression. In the singleness of your heart, as to Christ. Not with a got-up semblance of obedience, but with inward sincerity, knowing that it is your duty; and even if it be irksome, doing it pleasantly, as though Christ required it, and you were doing it to him. Ephesians 6:5Servants (δοῦλοι)

Bond-servants or slaves. In this appeal Paul was addressing a numerous class. In many of the cities of Asia Minor slaves outnumbered freemen.

Masters (κυρίοις)

See on Colossians 3:22.

According to the flesh

Regarded in their merely human relation.

With fear

See on Philippians 2:12.


See on simplicity, Romans 12:8.

Unto Christ

"Common and secular inducements can have but small influence on the mind of a slave."

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