Serving under the authority of others is not always an easy task. Due to human sin, even individuals in the best situations must deal with difficult co-workers and supervisors who fail at times to notice or acknowledge a job well done. Things were actually worse in the ancient world with the master-slave relationship. Demanding slave owners made it hard even for Christian slaves to sustain the will to serve their overseers faithfully, tempting slaves not to work to the best of their ability.
Paul did not respond to this condition by exhorting slaves to demand their rights vociferously, though he was open to slaves changing their situation when possible (1 Cor. 7:21). Instead, he encouraged them to think of their work in ultimate categories. At the end of the day, though men and women are called to serve others, believers are really “servants of Christ” (Eph. 6:6). All work is done finally unto Him, and He sees our faithful service even if others miss it. Those who work hard will receive their reward at the last day, and, logically, lazy individuals will lose some of their rewards (vv. 7–8). Ancient slaves, of course, lacked the freedoms that we enjoy; however, we can easily apply these principles today. We must work to the best of our ability regardless of the circumstances or positions in which we find ourselves.
Alongside slaves, Paul also addresses slave owners. The apostle tells slave masters to “do the same” as their slaves; that is, they must render service to their slaves as unto Christ Himself (v. 9). Ancient slave owners often used threats of physical harm, sexual harassment, and verbal “dressing downs” in front of others to keep their slaves in line. Paul’s instruction forbade such practices for Christian slave masters. Christians who supervise others in the modern West are certainly not slave owners, but they may broadly apply Paul’s teaching by treating those under them well.
Christian leaders may warn those in their charge of the potential consequences of their actions, but leaders should also show grace to those laborers under them, encouraging their volunteers, staff members, and so forth. They have the same Lord as the Christians whom they supervise; consequently, they must lead by example, setting high but not impossible standards, and, insofar as they are able, they must endeavor to make it easy for others to serve them gladly.