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, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)
There is, perhaps, one additional reason Paul did not condemn Roman slavery outright in this passage, and it is an ecclesiastical one. The church, for every generation, consists of all types of people. Some have been enslaved, others have been upper class. Some have been laborers, others have been thought workers. Some are from the working class, others from the "ruling" class. But for every level of humanity Christians have found themselves, none is as disadvantaged as the owned slave. So when Paul tells the Roman slave to work in the way he does, every believer for all time finds instruction, for if that generation of slaves could submit to Scripture’s teaching, so ought every other believer.
So Paul tells those who labor to do so with obedience to their earthly masters. The commission he gave the children — to obey — is the commission he gives to the worker. In the modern workplace, obedience might be expected, but Paul wanted more than obedience. He had a specific attitude he wanted the Roman (and Christian) slaves to carry. If believers could adopt this attitude, our communities might witness one of the greatest evangelistic campaigns in history, for these attitudes are so winsome and beautiful that many would be drawn to Christ by them. It is an unfortunate thing to find a dissatisfied, grumpy, offputting Christian worker, for the saltiness they display is not what Christ had in mind when he called us the salt of the earth.
The first attitude of the Christian worker is that of respect. Paul referred to it as “fear and trembling…as you would Christ.” This isn’t cowering fear, for that is not how the believer fears Jesus, but reverence and respect for the employer or manager. The believer ought not to work with a disrespectful attitude towards those above them, for that attitude poisons the waters of the workplace.
The second attitude of the Christian worker is that of wholeheartedness. Paul referred to “eye-service, as people-pleasers,” a sin he tells us we ought to flee. Our obedience goes past the visible realm and into the unseen one, “doing the will of God from the heart.” The believer ought not to work only when the eye of their employer is on them, but at all times, wholehearted in their every endeavor. Too many believers have emulated the customs of their workplace, allowing themselves liberties management would certainly never approve.
The third attitude of the Christian worker is that of worship. Paul referred to our work as “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.” Believers are to consider their work as being done for Jesus, not for their manager or employer or customer. Our work -- the quality and goodness of it -- is a form of worship. To see the boss as a symbolic stand-in for Christ should fill the Christian with deep inspiration for the work at hand.
The fourth attitude of the Christian worker is to believe they are sowing (and will reap). Paul referred to a concept all believers should know, “that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord," which harkens to the sowing and reaping principle, that “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:6). The believer who understands this knows God will see their faithfulness, even if their boss does not, and will reward them for it.
It is good for modern believers to have a strong work ethic, and Paul reinforced this in his instruction to the Roman slaves in the church at that time. He envisioned workplaces filled with the grace and love of Christ, with the joy of the gospel. He believed Christ's revolution was on, and that these enslaved Christians could live out the resurrected life of Christ as a display of grace for their masters, and others, to see. Let us catch a similar vision for our modern work.