“And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Ephesians 6:9, NASB95)
Whenever there is one person in some form of an authority position over another there is potential for unrest. We saw this in the judgment in the garden where we read that the husband was to rule over his wife, understanding that this may or may not be done properly. We saw this in Scripture when the people of Israel asked Samuel for a king when he had grown old and he appointed his unruly sons as judges. God spoke to Samuel, telling him to instruct the people in the ways of kings. In verses 10 through 17 of 1 Samuel 8 Samuel told them seven times “he [the king] will take” and use for his own benefit. Then in verses 17 and 18 Samuel told them, “…and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:17–18, NASB95) And sure enough, as we read through the history of the kings of Israel that we rare exception this was exactly what they did.
The people wanted a protector and a provider other than God, and what they got instead was a series of authorities who took, enslaved, and gave little in return. The interesting thing is that they got exactly what God said they would when they sought after a ruler other than Him. These struggles are very real, and are everywhere present. But God’s answer is not to fight then, but to submit to those in as those who are serving our Lord. It is in this and the instructions previous that we begin to get a taste of what it might have been like had sin and self not entered the scene.
Today’s passage is not written to the servant looking for help, but to the one being served and how he treats his help. We read that masters, and I might add anyone in any authority, are to treat their servants (slaves or persons under their charge) in the same ways as those under the charge are to respond to those over them—which is as unto the Lord. This “unto the Lord” covers a whole lot of things. It includes humility, sacrifice, giving, looking to the best interests of others, proper attitudes, and so much more that we read in Scripture. Those in authority are to threat those under their authority as joint heirs in Christ with mutual honor and respect.
This means that there is no place for threatening. If it is a current part of the repertoire, then it is to be given up and other means are to be sought. This does not mean that the master (or authority) is forced to allow the servant (or one under authority) to run amuck as he or she chooses without regard to the one in charge or the task at hand, but that in even dealing with discipline the one in charge is not to be abusive, inconsiderate or given to threatening those under his or her charge.
Consider the words and actions of Jehoshaphat, one of the few good kings of Judah. “He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city. He said to the judges, “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.”” (2 Chronicles 19:5–7, NASB95)
He took his rule given to him by God seriously, and he instructed those under him to do likewise. Later in 2 Chronicles 20 we read of him, “Now Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah. He was thirty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-five years. … He walked in the way of his father Asa and did not depart from it, doing right in the sight of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:31–32, NASB95)
Firm doesn’t mean foul. Masters are to take their guidance from our Lord, who we read in Scripture judges fairly. In Colossians 4:1 we read, “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1, NASB95) And, in Romans 2:11 we read, “For there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:11, NASB95)
I think it safe to say that all of us have some area of authority, and in that sense I think it also safe to say that this instruction applies to all of us in some way. Regardless of what position that might be, we are to be constantly mindful of the truth that we serve our living God who has called us to live before others in ways that reflect the light of the life we have in Him, as we deal rightly with others in truth and grace.