These small group studies of Ephesians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Ephesians 6:1-9 Verse by Verse Bible Study Guide – Relationships
I. Children-Parents’ relationship (1-4)
II. Slave-Master relationship (5-9)
I. Children-Parents’ relationship (1-4)
• How is the first part of chapter 6 related to what we have been learning in chapter five?
• What is the authority structure outlined here?
• What does it mean to obey your parents in the Lord?
• What is the difference between obedience and honor?
• How long is it necessary for kids to obey their parents?
• What does it mean “first command with a promise”?
• What is the promise attached?
• Does this mean every obedient child will live longer than every disobedient child? If not, then what does it mean?
• Why might an obedient child live longer than a disobedient one?
• Is this authority structure normally followed in society?
• Some parents might say, “I want my child to obey me, but they just won’t.” What would you tell them?
• What is a father’s responsibility?
• How might some fathers provoke their children to anger?
• Why do you think the discipline and instruction responsibility is directed towards fathers instead of mothers?
• What does this tell us?
Colossians 3:20 – Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Exodus 20:12 – Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Deuteronomy 5:16 – Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Proverbs 1:8 – Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
Proverbs 22:15 – Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.
Hebrews 12:5-11 – For more on discipline, you can read this passage which discusses it extensively.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Children’s number one responsibility given by God is to obey parents – God is once again showing us that He is orderly by establishing a strict chain of command and authority structure within the family. Children are to be trained up from a young age with the expectation that they need to obey parents. Obedience is both taught and expected. And disobedience is to be disciplined.
Proverbs 22:6 – Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 23:13 – Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.
As a teacher for very small children, I have seen that obedience is greatly lacking in our society. In many families, the children run the home.
For example, one mother told her three year old child, “Time to go home. We need to leave now.” The child ran away and screamed. So the mother said, “OK, ten more minutes.” After the time passed, she told the child again it was time to go. He refused again. Soon the mother was begging and pleading for her child to go. The little boy started kicking his mother and throwing blocks at her. So she tried to console the child since he was so upset.
It was a microcosm of many families. Parents plead, beg, and manipulate, often even turning to trickery (putting vegetables under sugar or the like) to get their kids to do what they want. At the bookstore you can find many books offering advice on parenthood, representing every idea under the sun. Modern day theories often suggest reasoning with children, allowing them freedom to explore, and reject any traditional ideas of discipline. The Bible says you “reap what you sow.” If parents do not expect obedience and require it of their children, they will live with the consequences of having disobedient children who run the house and make life miserable for everyone they come into contact with.
We don’t need to turn to modern psychology or your friendly neighborhood auntie for advice. God’s Word has everything we need for life and godliness. The simple approach of disciplining children for disobedience works.
2. When children honor their parents, they will generally live longer lives – While this is not 100% the case, it is often true. I heard a story about a missionary family who lived near the jungle. On one day they went for a walk through the forest. Suddenly the father shouted out telling his son, “Drop to the ground now!” The son didn’t argue or ask why. He didn’t say, “But it’s dirty!” He simply obeyed. What he didn’t know was that a poisonous snake was descending from the tree above his head ready to strike. If that boy had not been trained in obedience he may have lived a very short life.
I have also heard a tragic story of a young child who ran into the street. Though his mother shouted for him to stop, he didn’t listen. He was hit by a car and died.
Disobedience to parents is dangerous. You are doing no favors for your kids when you allow them to get away with it. A loving parent must discipline his child for his own good.
3. A child is not required to obey his parents after he gets married (Ephesians 5:31) – A new family unit is created with a new head (husband) so the kids no longer need to obey their parents. However, we should honor our parents forever, even after marriage.
4. Parental responsibility – He is to instruct his kids and also discipline them when necessary. In the Old Testament there are many examples of godly men who failed to train up their children well after them (David, Samuel, Eli.) In the book of Judges one generation follows God and the next forsakes him, the same process repeating over and over. One reason this happens is that parents did not take their responsibility to train up the next generation seriously.
There is no doubt both parents are obligated in this area, but God places the burden of responsibility on the father. Parents must take responsibility for the raising of their own kids. It is not the school’s job and it is not the grandparents’ job and it is not the government’s job or the babysitter’ job. It is the parents’ job. This requires spending time with the kids, being involved in their lives. It requires the parents being a good testimony to the kids and regularly giving them spiritual input. How?
It can come through devotions together with the kids, teaching them various topics, using daily life situations to teach, having father/son talks, etc. Although the father is the authority, God also warns about using this too excessively or in the wrong way, which might drive the children to anger, bitterness, and resentment. There is a right way and a wrong way to discipline.
Parents need to do it with love and kindness and show that they are interested in their children’s lives. Jesus was the authority to the disciples, but He was also a friend. Parents need to exercise their authority not just for its own sake, but for the good of their child while also being a friend. Don’t outsource your job even to the Sunday School teacher. If you do, don’t be surprised when it is done badly and you have a rebellious worldly child on your hands.
Application: Parents, how can you do a better job of training up your child to be obedient and to know God? Do you have regular family devotions? What can you start doing on a daily basis to feed your children from God’s Word?
II. Slave-Master relationship (5-9)
• Why was it necessary for Paul to cover this issue of slaves and masters?
• What stance does the Bible take on slavery?
• Is there any division in the church between slaves and masters?
• What does this tell you about God’s heart on slavery?
• What command did Paul give to slaves?
• What does it mean masters according to the flesh?
• What does in fear and trembling mean?
• What should their motivations be?
• What command is given to the masters?
• How might this section of Scripture apply to us today in a world where slavery is more and more rare?
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Does the Bible condone slavery? Neither slavery in New Testament times nor slavery under the Mosaic covenant had anything to do with the sort of slavery where “black” people were bought and sold as property by “white” people in the well-known slave trade over the last few centuries. No “white” Christian should think that they can use any slightly positive comment about slavery in these sections to justify the historic slave trade, which is still a major stain on the histories of both the U.S. and the U.K.
The extreme kindness to be shown to slaves/servants commanded in the Bible among the Israelites was often prefaced by a reminder that they too were slaves at the hand of the Egyptians. In other words, they were to treat slaves/servants in a way that they wanted to be treated.
As we already know, slavery was common in the Middle East as far back as ancient Egypt. If God had simply ignored it, then there would have been no rules for their treatment and they could have treated them harshly with no rights. But since they did have rights and rules for their protection, it showed that God cared for them as well. However, this is often misconstrued for an endorsement of slavery, which it is not. God listed slave traders among the worst of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:10.
Also Exodus 21:16 – Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.
According to this verse those people involved in the slave trade in the 16th to 19th centuries should be executed.
In light of such rules, slaves and servants in Israelite culture came about by their own actions, whether from among the Israelites or neighboring cultures. Slaves in the Roman empire may, however, have been forced into it.
Slavery in Israel was is a type of bankruptcy law. With this, a government doesn’t step in, but a person, who has lost themselves to debt, can sell the only thing they have left, their ability to perform labor. This is a loan. In six years the loan was paid off, and they are set free. Bond servants who did this made a wage, had their debt covered, had a home to stay in, on-the-job training, and did it for only six years. This almost sounds better than college, which doesn’t cover debt and you have to pay for it!
A few pointers to remember:
A. Slaves under Mosaic Law were different from the harshly treated slaves of other societies, more like servants or bond servants.
B. The Bible doesn’t give an endorsement of slave traders but the opposite (1 Timothy 1:10). A slave/bond servant was acquired when a person voluntarily entered into it when he needed to pay off his debts.
C. The Bible recognizes that slavery is a reality in this sin-cursed world and doesn’t ignore it, but instead gives regulations for good treatment by both masters and servants and reveals they are equal under Christ.
D. Israelites could sell themselves as a slave/bond servant to have their debts covered, make a wage, have housing and be set free after six years. Foreigners could sell themselves as a slave/bond servant as well. Thus it was voluntary and temporary.
E. In God’s family every person is equal and valued (Galatians 3:28). For example in 1 Timothy 3 qualifications for elders and deacons were listed out. If slaves met the qualifications through their own character they could also be leaders of the church.
F. Biblical Christians led the fight to abolish slavery.
So inside the church, slaves were not to be treated any differently than anyone else and had the same rights. Outside the church the rules of the government meant that slavery was a reality which Paul taught about so that believing slaves would know how to act.
G. Slaves in Bible times should try to gain their freedom if they could.
Paul recognized that freedom was desirable if it was possible to achieve. Slavery is an institution that only came about as a result of the fall.
1 Corinthians 7:21 – Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)
2. Regard their own masters as worthy of all honor – Paul prescribes the attitude which slaves are to have toward their masters. Slaves are to treat their masters with honor. Honoring a master means being respectful, polite, and obedient. A slave who honors his master would be loyal and a hard worker. On the other hand, grumbling, complaining, bitterness, or gossiping about a master are all the opposite of honoring.
3. So that God and doctrine will not be spoken against – Paul understood the consequences for Christianity if slaves began to revolt against their owners in the name of Christ. “The Way” of Jesus was new to people in the Roman Empire. They already had many false impressions and confusions about this faith. People in the Roman Empire actually at times believed that Christians practiced cannibalism (partaking of the Lord’s body for communion) and orgies (love feasts, which were in reality just fellowship meals.) Some also thought that Christians were incestuous because they called each other “brother and sister.”
If slaves revolted then the government would turn against this new faith. Christianity would be viewed as anti-social and trying to topple the current society. Persecution would ramp up. Masters and their families who could be won over through the gracious attitudes of their servants would likely instead turn against this faith which cost them their prosperity. In the end, the cause of the gospel would suffer.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19 Paul said that he became “all things to all people so that I might by all means save some.”
For slaves to continue in obedience to their masters was an extension of this principle. Winning people to Christ and helping them win eternal freedom from sin was more important than the temporary freedom from slavery.
Generally the Bible seeks to change society from the inside out one person at a time, rather than working through revolution. Paul, for example, advised Philemon to set his slave, Onesimus, free. This was the Christian thing to do.
Application: Employees should be respectful to their bosses and seek to win them to Christ through their actions. Your attitudes and behavior at work should be a testimony for Christ and bring people to Him, not repulse them.
4. Christian slaves should be faithful to Christian masters – Some Christian slaves had Christian masters. They may have thought that since they were brothers in Christ they were not obligated to fulfill their responsibilities. Being tempted to take advantage of the good graces and forgiveness of their bosses, they might become lazy and disrespectful. Paul warns them that this is the wrong track. Instead they should work even harder to bring blessing to their believing bosses.
Note that Paul was talking to the slaves, not the masters here. It is an important distinction. If he were talking to the masters, he would have said something different as in Colossians 4:1 and to Philemon. To slaves, he would emphasize obedience. And to masters, he would emphasize justice and mercy.
If you are a parent with multiple children you know how the idea of highlighting a different principle to different children works. For example, if you leave the house in charge of your teen you may tell him, “Don’t be bossy. Serve your younger sibling.” But to the younger sibling you say, “Obey what your older sibling tells you to do. Be helpful and have a good attitude.” Telling the younger sibling to obey in no way means that the older should take advantage by issuing many commands.
Application: You may have a Christian boss. If so, do not take advantage of the mercy he shows. Do not think, “I can show up late because he will forgive me.” His goodness is not something to be exploited. Instead be an even better and more diligent employee, knowing that it is a member of God’s own family who is benefiting from your hard work.
5. Masters have a higher Master in heaven – They weren’t supposed to threaten their slaves, which to me also implies the action that followed the threat, abuse, would also be prohibited. They were to treat their slaves well, with honor and respect. They should recognize that the Master in heaven was watching them. He was not partial and would not be impressed with their wealth or position. He would judge them for their treatment of their slaves.
Application: Each of us, no matter what position of authority we have, should remember that we have a higher authority in heaven. God will hold you accountable for how you treat the people under your care, whether they are students, children, or employees. What is one way you can improve as an authority to those under you?