2016-5-01 On Authority Relationships

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 1, 2016

“On Authority Relationships”
Text: Ephesians 6:5-9

We continue our sermon series through Ephesians today.  Once again, we find ourselves in the ethical section of this letter (4:1-6:24)—and in particular, we find ourselves in the letter’s household code (5:21-6:9); in fact, we complete the household code today.  Two weeks ago, we noted the relative duties between husbands and wives (5:21-33), and last week we noted the relative duties between parents and children (6:1-4).  Today, in Paul’s words to slaves and to masters, we look at authority relationships.  Let’s hear what the Spirit says to us today—through His inspired penman, the Apostle Paul.


Before we note Scripture’s application to our lives today, we do well to note how this word may have landed on the first hearers’ ears.  Paul, led by the Spirit, here addresses slaves and masters in the context of the home.  This relationship generally does not exist in our culture now.  Happily, we no longer have chattel slavery in America, where some people were considered the personal property of other people, without inherent rights for themselves under the law.  In fact, such is now illegal in every nation on Earth.[1]  Even such servant and master relationships in which the servant dwells in the master’s home are increasingly rare.  Yet such relationships existed in the New Testament world, and Paul writes God’s Word to the Ephesian Christian households to inform them of God’s will in those relationships.

Now, authority relationships exist largely outside the home, and they exist with those under authority enjoying much freer lines of contact with those in authority.  Some examples of these relationships include the relations between employer and employee, between law enforcement and the citizenry, and between elected officials and the electorate.  While the ancient relationships addressed by today’s text and the modern parallels hardly are identical, yet there remains enough similarity and analogy to apply this text rightly to our modern world.  Let’s see how.

The Matthew Henry Commentary, in its comments on our passage, list well the duties imposed by the text upon those under authority and those in authority.[2]  The text begins with, and gives most of its bulk to, those under authority.  Hence, we shall start there too.  The Commentary lists six duties of those under authority to those in authority.  First, those under authority must obey respectfully the lawful commands of those in authority.  They must respect those in the authority position above them—and they must neither fail to comply with lawful authority nor comply disrespectfully.  Second, they must obey sincerely those in authority—with singleness of heart and without pretense, flattery, and the like.  Third, those under authority must serve those in authority with an eye to Jesus Christ.  That is, in serving those in authority over us, we must cast our gaze above and behind the authority figure to Jesus Himself—Who, with the Father and the Spirit, is ultimate Authority.  Fourth, we serve those in authority over us with no mere eye-service.  We do not serve heartily, sincerely, and so forth only when the eyes of our authorities gaze upon us, but at all times—whether directly supervised or not.  Fifth, obey cheerfully those in authority.  Conforming to the lawful directives of our authorities with good will conforms more nearly to the intent of our text than mere grumbling, grudging compliance.  Sixth, trust God for provision for compliance in this matter.  This applies especially to employees under an employer’s authority.  In most circumstances the employer will compensate promptly and fully for services rendered—but even if that rare case when the employer fails to compensate righteously, the Lord sees and supplies in ways and to degrees far beyond our understanding.

With these duties to those under authority now listed, The Matthew Henry Commentary turns to the duties of those in authority to those under authority.  First, those in authority must discharge all the duties incumbent upon them to those under their authority.  This means that those in authority will provide, where appropriate—and these provisions may include salaries and wages, supplies needful to complete tasks, and the like.  Those in authority are to encourage those under their authority in well-doing—and this encouragement, by the way, often results in better, happier service from those under authority.  Those in authority must treat those under their authority fairly.  There is be no mistreatment, no unjust penalizing one under authority to elevate another similarly situated, and so forth.  Such injustice and mistreatment embitters those under authority, and it grieves the Spirit of God.  Second, those in authority must forbear threatening those under their authority.  After all, those in authority are themselves under authority—and should remember this.  Also, the Master of both those in authority and those under authority is in Heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.  Hence, those under earthly authority and those in earthly authority are each under Christ’s authority—and recall that this helps in the performance of each’s duties relative to the other.

Compliance with God’s Word in this text is not easy, naturally, and well may be impossible naturally.  This is true both for those under authority and for those in authority.  However, such is supernaturally possible—and rendered actual—by God, the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we can appeal to God, Who sits upon the throne of grace, for help in conforming to His will as expressed in these verses.

We saw from God’s Word that, in marriage, that the preponderance of the burden—the onus, if you will—for compliance to God’s Word lies on the husband.  In parenting, it lies on the parents.  In authority relationships the onus lies preponderantly upon the one in authority.  True, those under authority have much to do for their authorities in order to please God in this matter, but those in authority have much to do with the conditions under which compliance or failure to comply occur.  I have been under authority, and I have been in authority (and, at many times in various ways, I have been both simultaneously)—and I vouch that, in most cases, it is much harder to be in authority than under it.

In seeking to comply with God’s will on this matter, keep Ephesians 5:21 ever in view, “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This will help, and this will help greatly.   May the Lord gain glory for Himself as He empowers our grace-driven compliance with His Word.


[1] The last nation to abolish such was Mauritania (in northwest Africa) in 2007.  See the entry for chattel slavery at en.wikipedia.org (accessed April 29, 2016).


[2] Rev. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), an English Presbyterian pastor and Bible commentator, wrote all of the commentary that bears his name except for Romans-Revelation.  Thirteen nonconformist divines (i.e., non-Anglican pastors) completed the massive work that Henry began.  See Leslie F. Church’s foreword to the one-volume Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961).