Nobody Wants to Do This
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man . . . Ephesians 6:5-8
I’m working through Ephesians and to be honest, I originally skipped over this passage. I read it. I thought about it. I didn’t like it and so, I just moved on. It’s been bugging me though, and then Sunday’s sermon in church was on the practice of Christian submission which made me realize I needed to revisit the passage.
I initially avoided it because it’s about servants and their masters. It’s impossible to read it without thinking of 19th century slavery in America. American slavery may have little to do with indentured servanthood in the New Testament, but still, this passage has been historically misused to support injustice. There was a time when some who identified themselves as Christians used these verses to justify the practice of slavery. Now, many years later, the passage is occasionally used against Christians to argue that the Bible is racist, unjust, and outdated.
I think it’s relatively easy to explain that Paul’s words don’t condone America’s version of slavery, but even when detached from that particular issue, the passage is still uncomfortable because it’s about submission. In it, Paul said that as followers of Christ, we are to become voluntary servants. As Christians, living right before God is more important than our individual rights. Paul never said we shouldn’t stand up for right and wrong. In fact, Paul was a rebel, frequently disobeying the governments laws when those laws opposed God’s will.
Paul did teach however, that as Christians, we are to choose to be servants of God, our neighbors, our bosses, and our spouses. Frankly, this sounds awful. Nobody wants to do this. When we read about sacrificing ourselves to serve others, we’re simply not interested, which is a problem. The Christian life, according to Jesus, is defined by abandoning our way to live a radically different life (Luke 9:23). Most of us though, would rather just claim we believe in God while pursuing our own desires.
Jesus however, lived not for himself, but in service to others. If we truly follow Christ, then we must emulate him. If we refuse to live in voluntary servanthood, then we refuse to follow Christ and we shouldn’t call ourselves Christians. That’s a terribly uncomfortable thought, but it’s an uncomfortable passage, which is why I wanted to skip it in the first place.