Sunday Sermon: ‘Submissive Servants’

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(audio version)

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; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. 9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

Slavery was very common during the days of Paul. Some estimate that 30% of the Roman Empire were slaves. (Encyclopedia Britannica’s Guide to History) Amazingly enough, many of these slaves had become born-again believers and a part of the church.

An example of this is a slave by the name of Onesimus, found in the book of Philemon. We read from the book of Galatians – Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Slaves and their masters worshiped side by side in the first century church; therefore it was necessary that Paul address how Christianity should affect their relationship.

I. The Requirement of a Servant

A. Servants – ‘Be Obedient’

5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh…

Literally, do whatever your masters tell you. In addition, Paul addressed the Christian masters –

9 Masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven…

In other words, take care of your servants, even as you pray your heavenly Father will take care of you.

Though this was a first century issue, this passage still has relevance for us today. Paul could have as easily written this to employees and employers.

B. Servants – ‘Be Submissive’

But the issue here goes beyond the legal relationship between employers and their employees. If we keep these verses in their original context, we see that Paul is speaking more of a spirit of submission than obedience.

1. The Call to Submit

Look back with me at chapter 5 –

Ephesians 5:21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

The husband / wife; parent / child; employer / employee relationship is all about a spirit of submission. The choice to submit to others has as much to do with our relationship with Christ as it does with the other individual. Note what Paul writes –

5:21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church

6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord

6:4 Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord

6:5 Servants, be obedient to your masters as unto Christ

6:9 Ye masters, do the same things unto them … knowing that your Master also is in heaven…

Again I remind you that biblical submission is a “voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”. (Thayers) Lawrence Richards defines submission as “a willingness to be responsive and to yield to one another out of love.” Moule wrote, “The primary point in the Gospel is humiliation; self is dethroned as against God, and consequently as against men.” I like that part – “self is dethroned…”

Even when obedience is required, obedience should be carried out with a spirit of Christ-like submission.

2. Why would someone want to submit to another?

a. To please our Lord

Ephesians 6:6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;

b. To be like our Lord

A moment ago I mentioned ‘Christ-like submission.’ Why did I say that submission is Christ-like?

Philippians 2: 2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant …

One of the most Christ-like things we will ever do is to deny ourselves for the benefit of others.

II. The Resistance to Being a Servant

Yet even though we know that we should do this, we often don’t want to. Voluntarily choosing to serve someone else just doesn’t come natural. The natural reaction is to resist whatever someone else tells us to do. Why?

A. Resistance In Heaven

It might surprise you to learn that resistance to serving began in heaven.

Isaiah 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Lucifer is the name given to an archangel that once lived in heaven. As we can see, though he was created by God and for God, he became covetous of God’s glory and rather than submitting, he wanted to rule. The result was he was cast down from his privileged position. Today we no longer know him as Lucifer. Today we know him as the Devil. Resistance to submitting began in the heart of Satan. Note how Lucifer expressed his resistance – “I will…” Rather than wanting to dethrone self, he want to enthrone self. The reason we are so resistant to submissive service is because we want to assert and exalt self.

B. Resistance On Earth

We know that God created the man and the woman and put them in paradise. At that point there was perfect harmony between themselves and their relationship with God. But then the devil entered the scene and he planted in the heart of man the desire to assert self. Unfortunately the rebellion of Adam and Eve not only corrupted them, it has corrupted each of us as their offspring. We are born with a self-seeking, rebellious nature. Note what Paul writes in the book of Romans –

Romans 8:7 The sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. (NLT)

It is a part of our old sinful nature to want to exalt self and to resist submission to others.

C. Restoration to a Right Spirit

To many, submission a sign of weakness. Yet Christ came to change all of this. He came to not only to pay the penalty for our sins, but to produce in and through us His nature. That’s why Paul could write – Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Php 2:5) By very definition of the word, to be a Christian means to be ‘Christ-like.’ What is Christ like when it comes to the subject of submission? Consider these words from our Lord.

1. The Disciples and Meekness

One of the most famous messages Jesus ever preached to His followers is called the Sermon on the Mount. We call the first part of this message The Beatitudes. The word ‘beatitude’ is a Latin word which means {perfect happiness} or the equivalent to the word Jesus used – ‘Blessed are the…’

Many have taken the word beatitude and transformed it into – ‘Be attitudes’, or attitudes that we should have as one of Christ’s followers. One of the first commentaries that Warren Wiersbe wrote was on the Beatitudes and it was called ‘Live Like a King.’ My pastor gave me a copy of that book in 1980. A few years later I met Warren Wiersbe and had him to sign it. It was from that study that Warren Wiersbe developed his commentary of the whole Bible, known as his ‘BE series.’

Consider what Jesus said as He began to teach His disciples –

Matthew 5:1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: 2  And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 3  Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5  Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

What is meekness? Many believe that meekness is weakness, but it’s not. The Greek word translated as ‘meek’ was often used to describe a wild horse that had been tamed. It did not mean that the spirit and strength of the horse had been destroyed, but rather that it had been brought under control. Meekness refers to power under control.

a. The Meekness of Moses

During the days of the Old Testament, Moses was described as the meekest man on earth. (see Num 12:3) Yet if you know anything about the disposition of Moses, you know that he was anything but cowardly or timid. Moses had a very aggressive nature and prone to take matters into his own hands.

Therefore, before the Lord could use him, He had to transform Moses from a man of temper into a tempered man. God did so by causing him to spend 40 years in the wilderness, tending sheep.

b. The Meekness of the Master

Scripture describes another great man as being meek. Note how our Lord described Himself –

Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden , and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Meekness is a part of the nature of Christ and therefore should be a part of the nature of His disciples.

2. The Development of a Meek Spirit

Three things are necessary in order to develop a meek and submissive spirit:

a. We must be yoked with our Master

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart

b. We must be yearning for His Word

James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Note that we must receive with meekness the Word of God. There are two primary Greek words translated as ‘receive’. One means to take or to grasp. That’s not the word James uses. The other word means to welcome. James is saying that we must welcome the Word of God into our lives. We must receive it with a spirit that is ready to submit.

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way , and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein,  he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

c. We must be yielded to the Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance …

Meekness is not something that we do for God. It is something that God does through us.

III. The Reason for Being a Submissive Servant

The last area I would like to address is why we should desire to be a submissive servant. Though I have touched on this already in message, I would like to give us three important reasons for seeking to have such a spirit.

A. You are serving Christ and not just your earthly master

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; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul added:

Colossians 3:23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.

Your earthly master may not deserve your very best, but your heavenly Master does and therefore we must always strive to give Him that.

B. You will receive a reward from Christ

Ephesians 6:8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

Colossians 3:24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

We might wonder what this reward will be. According to scripture, it will be the kingdom of God. Though much of what we do today may seem like it doesn’t matter, how we do it does. According to scripture, eternity will be influence by how we serve today.

C. You are adorning the doctrine of Christ

Titus 2:9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; 10 Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.

The word ‘adorn’ means to {embellish with honor.} It is the Greek word from which we get the English word cosmetics. It’s same word that Peter used in a similar fashion –

1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2  While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 3  Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4  But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

Warren Wiersbe describes this passage as – “…”beautify the Bible” and make the Christian message attractive to unbelievers.” Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament


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