Work and family – parents and children, slaves and masters (Ephesians 6)

What is “Spiritual warfare?” For some of us, the phrase will immediately conjure up Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings-esque images with evil spirits flying in and needing to be repelled.

When we looked at Ephesians 5:22-32 and Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives, we saw that this section of his letter is all linked back to the instruction to be “filled with the Spirit.”  In other words, Being filled with the Spirit is all about living out our everyday lives at home, work and in the church in light of the grace we have received in Christ.

Similarly, the whole section points us forward to Ephesians 6:10ff where Paul describes the armour of God we need to fight spiritual war.  Spiritual Warfare is about living in light of God’s grace through Christ in our everyday lives at home, work and church.


  1. Create living homes where God’s Word is obeyed

Children are told to obey their parents.  This is connected to the 5th commandment.  They are promised long life if they do.

First of all, this has a practical/proverbial implication. Starting with your parent’s warnings not to put your hands on hot surfaces or cross busy roads without looking, their advice helps us stay safe through life. From my parents I learnt

–          To live within my means, not spending more than I earned.

–          To work hard and to rest and play too

–          To study and pay attention to the lessons of history

–          To have an interest in the wider world and to love people from every culture.

The promise has eternal implications too. For the Israelites, it wasn’t just that they’d live into their 70s and beyond but as they heeded their parent’s words, they would  enjoy the covenant promises in the land of Israel for generations to come. In Ephesians the command to obey is linked to the parent’s responsibility to teach God’s Word and God’s ways. In other words it is linked to the Gospel. My parents taught me about Jesus. When I put my trust in him I received the promise of eternal life.

Parents are told, “don’t provoke” instead, treat your children well. Love them care for them. Teach them God’s Word and God’s Ways – the Gospel

There are wider implications to this. First of all, there’s the question about how we treat older people generally. Do we honour them in their later years or do we treat them as a burden?

Also, just as we saw in Ephesians 5 that we will all get our wedding day, this passage has something to say to those of us who don’t have children.  Paul, a single man looks to Timothy as his “spiritual son.” Do we all share in the responsibility of caring for those who are young -both physically and spiritually so that they know they are loved and cared for, instructed and encouraged to grow in the Gospel?

Create working environments that reflect God’s Lordship over all of our lives

I’ve written in more detail about slavery elsewhere.[1]   Here it is worth noting two things.

First of all, the race based slavery that saw people kidnapped, betrayed, sold and shipped in appalling conditions from Africa to Britain and the New World was a terrible evil. The Bible challenges this and includes those who steal men -which describes the slave traders well –  among those who cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven unless they repent.

It is incredible and wonderful to know that John Newton, a slave trader could come to Christ, turn from his sin and right the words “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” If Newton could find salvation then our sins are not beyond Christ’s redeeming work either.

Secondly, Evangelical Christians campaigned to abolish the slave trade but we have sadly seen it come back with a vengeance in recent years as women and girls are trafficked, held captive, raped and sold for sex.  This too is a terrible modern day evil.

Now the practice in Bible times was a little different. It included POWs and destitute debtors or bondsmen. It could be temporary in the case of Israel and it was often about being part of a household. Even senior, well educated people in public life could be slaves.

However, this did not change the reality that they were not free.

What if you have no choice as a slave? Well Paul says that slaves are to serve well, seeking to please God. They were to see their work as for Him.

BUT do you notice what masters are to do?  They are told, “treat your slaves the same way.” In other words, this is mutual submission. It means putting their well being first. It means that they are not property, they are not to be abused.  You are to treat them as employees or even as family!

Then check out verse 8. This verse is radical and in effect abolishes slavery. Slaves are to be treated well by their masters and provided for.  But if you If you have a bad boss who doesn’t pay you, don’t fear. God will ensure that you are rewarded. You will get your pay day.

What does this mean for us?

First of all, please note that this does not replace employment law. Elsewhere we are told to submit to earthly rulers. They are put in place for our good. That means we should seek to enjoy the benefits of employment law including the Living Wage, maximum working hours, pension rights, health and safety laws and maternity and paternity leave.

For us as employees it means that we should always do our best. We should see our work as part of our worship. Even if your boss is harsh, only offers the bear minimum, unfair etc then keep serving knowing that you are being a witness to them and that God sees and will reward.

If you employ people, treat them well. Don’t just do the bear minimum for them that the law requires.

If you are unable to get paid work due to economic conditions, health, immigration status or family circumstances, then keep finding and taking opportunities to serve God, loving others, doing good, helping in church life, sharing the Gospel. Know that as you do, you serve the Lord and he is the best master. The reward will be amazing.


The Devil wants to divide families and for us to become disillusioned with life and bitter to others.

The Gospel transforms our relationship with Christ and then with each other

As people can see the change it is a witness.

[1] Check out Wesley on the Slave Trade and Marriage at Work available from our publications page. These can be downloaded for free at