God’s Life: Dealing with Power Relationships

In applying the text treating the relationship between masters to slaves (Eph 6:5-9), most modern sermonizers will connect it with the employer-employee relationship. However, the landscape here is bigger than that and this text might be a word for any of us in relationships where there is a differential in power.

By the way, the previous relationships in the larger context dealt with such power relationships (e.g., husband and wife; parents/fathers and children). As in the previous instructions, Paul here addresses the less powerful member of the dyad first. This move alone recognizes that the weaker member of the couple is not all together powerless. There are some things they can think and do.

Also notice how much time Paul gives to the slaves (vv. 5-8) vs. the masters (just v. 9). Some conjecture that this is because there are more slaves than masters in the Christian movement; however, Paul spends more time talking about the husbands in the earlier text. (By the second century, the pagan Celsus will criticize Christianity for attracting primarily women, children and slave). More likely, Paul has weighed his comments to fit the needs of his readers at that time.

Again, this text can inform us whenever we are dealing with people in power or are ourselves the people in power. Thus, when working for others, whether for pay or as a volunteer, we should work as if we are working for Jesus. This is echoed in all three verses to the slaves: “as to Christ,” “as slaves to Christ,” and “as serving the Lord.” We can do this because the “Lord will reward everyone for what every good s/he does.”

Hidden from the English reader, the word “master” is actually the word “lord,” in the original—the same word used to speak of the Lord Jesus. Thus running through this text is the contrast between “earthly (fleshly) lords” (v. 5) and the Lord (v. 7). Masters, therefore, should treat their slaves well because the Lord is Lord of both.

Still, the most amazing comment is that the masters are to treat their slaves “in the same way” (v. 9) as the slaves treat the masters. How is that even possible?

In the ancient world, a husband could abuse his wife with impunity, fathers could beat their children without reprisals, and masters could treat slaves even worse—legally! In each case, here, Paul offers a surprising word to each.

Husbands are to love their wives even if they means dying for them, fathers are not to provoke their children, and masters are not to threaten their slaves. In each relationship, Paul introduces the radical revolution of submission.

And where did he learn this? Jesus. This is the way of Jesus.

As a husband and wife were to model the relationship between Christ and the church, Paul saw the day when all of our relationships—even the difficult ones—would also reflect the gospel of Christ’s love for the church, so to speak.

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Powerful Prayer

Ever pray just to make it? Sometimes, so it seems, that is the best we can do. We go from one fire to another, praying we will have the resources to put out the next one. It does not take much of this kind of living to bring us to despair.

However, there is another way of living, a more proactive, powerful way. Paul models that for us in his prayer to the Ephesians (1:15-23 which resumes in 3.14-21). Paul prays that God might give his readers a “spirit of wisdom and revelation.” While is not clear here whether Paul is referencing the Holy Spirit or that the Ephesians might gain the quality of wisdom and revelation, it is clear that both wisdom and revelation are gifts from God.

With wisdom, we can see past the next fire; we can see that some of our fires are the results of our loosely lived lives; and we could more readily live in sync with God’s life.

With revelation, we could see what God had in store for us and more readily anticipate the future. Most of us have the ability to predict more of the future than we practice. Certain ways of living produce life; others, death. One does not have to be religious to figure this out. God’s revelation in our life allows us to see this even more clearly.

Both of these gifts, wisdom and revelation, are supernatural—they come only from God.

Yet Paul seeks a particular outcome for God’s gifts of wisdom and revelation—that we might know Jesus! The NIV translation’s addition of the word “better” is probably correct on the sense of the text—after all the original readers were already Christians—yet it softens the sense that outcome here is to know Jesus.

Thus now Paul prays that the “eyes” of our hearts might be enlightened. This is also the work of God. While “eyes of our minds” might be more natural to the way we think today, “eyes of our hearts” captures the sense that Paul hopes we will see God at our deepest levels, in our heart of hearts.

Paul wants us to see three things: 1) the hope we have because God has called us; 2) the glorious rich inheritance we have among God’s people; and 3) the incredible power we can access as believers in Jesus.

Each of these is worth exploring, but Paul really wants us to get the last one. He really lathers up the descriptors: “the overabundant greatness of his power for us who believe based on the energy of the might of his strength” (my literal translation).

This same power, according to Paul,

  • raised Jesus from the dead,
  • seated him at the right hand of God,
  • raised him above every name, even of angelic and demonic forces,
  • made every thing subject to him, and
  • placed him as supreme in the church over everything.

That is a lot of power! And it is available for those who believe. You don’t have to live fire to fire because we have the power to live triumphant lives in Jesus. All you have to do is ask for it and then begin to live as if you have it.