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Our Master in Heaven

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Date October 29, 2019

‘Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.’
–Ephesians 6:8,9

. . . This is the second grand motive that should govern the whole of our Christian life and living; namely, our accountability to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the realization of the fact that we are his slaves, and that we shall all have to render up an account to him. This is a principle which many dislike at the present time; indeed a dislike of this whole idea of accountability and judgment has been characteristic of much religious thinking during the whole of this present century. It is disliked, and has become most unpopular. People say, ‘Ah, but that is a very unworthy motive for living the Christian life. ‘ You should live the Christian life, they say, because it is a noble and exalted life. You must not live it in terms of the fear of hell or of the hope of being in heaven. You must live the life for its own sake, because it is so good and so wonderful. You find that sentiment in some of the hymns. They condemn what they regard as a mercenary and a selfish motive.

That kind of teaching came in about the middle of the nineteenth century. Men called ‘scholars’ began to say that the Bible was not divinely inspired in a unique sense, and they began to substitute for it their own philosophy. They put up ‘goodness, beauty, and truth’ in the abstract as the great principles for which men were to live, and they said it was not desirable that you should think of yourself at all. But that is by no means the Christian position; it is philosophy, idealism, but not Christianity. I say so because of the teaching of the New Testament, indeed I say so because of the teaching of the whole Bible. The Bible from beginning to end holds before us the idea of heaven and hell. It is God who appointed the two mountains — Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal — in order to teach a vital lesson to the Children of Israel when they entered their Promised Land. According to whether they obeyed him or not they would have blessing or cursing.

Our Lord himself taught this same truth, as seen in Luke chapter 12. The servants in his parable recorded in verses 42-48, are to be examined when the Master comes. Some are going to be beaten with a few stripes, some with many stripes. In other parables also he teaches the same truth, for example, the parable of the Foolish Virgins, the parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, and the parable of the Pounds in Luke 19. All were spoken in order to emphasize this idea of judgment and reward. In 1 Corinthians chapter 3 it is made quite plain and explicit — ‘Every man’s work shall be judged’, says Paul. The Christian teacher as a builder must be careful how he builds on the foundation that has been laid, because ‘every man’s work shall be made manifest’ (verses 11-15). Then, again in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 it is made very clear: ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ’ — we who are Christians — ‘that every one may receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad’ (verses 9-10). That is the New Testament teaching. We must therefore dismiss the false idealistic teaching. It is just here that it shows its cloven hoof. It represents itself as something better than the Scripture — a sheer impossibility!

But the highest, and most irrefutable argument in favour of this teaching is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews chapter 12, verse 3. There we read that even our blessed Lord himself was sustained by the thought of that which awaited him. We are exhorted to ‘lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us’ as we run this race; ‘looking unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame.’ ‘For the joy that was set before him!’ That was what helped him and sustained him.

The Scripture does not mean, of course, that by doing these things you earn your salvation. No! salvation is entirely by grace, it is the free gift of God. The Scripture teaches that ‘we are saved by grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.’ Man is justified by faith only, ‘not by the deeds of the law.’ We are all saved in exactly the same way, that is, by simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It matters not whether we were good or bad before conversion in a moral sense, whether we had sinned much or little — we are all brought to the same level, and saved and justified through faith alone, by grace. But having made that abundantly clear, the Scripture goes on to say that there is to be an assessment of our Christian life and works, and that, though we are all equally saved, there is some kind of difference. The Apostle says very clearly that a man who has been building ‘wood and hay and stubble’ on the foundation, Christ Jesus, will find at the great day that all his work will be burnt up, and that ‘he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire’ (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). In other words, though the man who built wood, hay and stubble remains justified by faith, he is going to suffer loss. How, we do not know. But we do know that there is to be a judgment for rewards, that we shall all appear before ‘the judgment throne of Christ’, and receive rewards according to the ‘deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.’ Such is the apostolic teaching, and it is precisely the teaching the Apostle gives to the slaves and masters in this peculiarly difficult relationship of employer and servant. It is teaching that should always be in our hearts, in all our thinking, and in all our living. It holds great encouragement for us.

As the Apostle continues his exhortation, he uses the word ‘knowing’, as he has done previously in verse 8. In talking to the servants he says ‘knowing’; in talking to the masters he again says ‘knowing.’ It might very well be translated, ‘knowing as you do know.’ In other words the Apostle takes this for granted. This is not some new and strange and wonderful doctrine which he is suddenly introducing. He says, ‘You know’; that is to say, ‘I take this for granted. This is something that I assume everyone who has any Christian instruction at all knows, and therefore, because he knows it, he should be governed by it.’ He is only reminding them of something that they knew already.

What, then, did they know? Here we reach the climax of all the Apostle has been saying concerning this duty of submitting ourselves one to another. He began that theme in the twenty-first verse of chapter 5. A new statement begins at the tenth verse of chapter 6. But the ninth verse supplies the climax of the doctrine of submitting ourselves one to another because we are filled with the Spirit and not with the ‘wine’. This is what we know — that all that happens to us in this life and in this world is only ‘according to the flesh.’ Paul starts with the statement in verse 5: ‘Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh.’ That really says all. It shows immediately the Christian way of facing the problem of slavery. Here is a poor fellow, a slave perhaps with chains hanging from his wrists, and possibly upon his feet also. His movements are restricted, and cruel task-masters are watching him, giving him too much to do, and ready to punish him. The Apostle says to him, ‘Be obedient to your master according to the flesh.’ That is only one relationship, says Paul; there is another and a superior relationship.

At this point comes in the grand principle. All that happens to us in this world belongs to the temporary order; these things only obtain while we are ‘in the flesh’, while we are ‘in the body.’ This is a passing transient life; this world is not the permanent world. We say we are ‘moving on.’

Here in the body pent,
Absent from him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.

‘According to the flesh.’ So whatever your position is in this life and this world, let me remind you that it is only a temporary arrangement. It is not eternal. ‘The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ Nothing is more important than to realize that distinction, whatever your position may be. This applies not only to servant and master, to husband and wife, to children and parents, but to all other relationships and circumstances. You may be struggling with some terrible problem that is almost crushing you at this moment; you may be in some situation that is almost impossible for anyone to endure; or your difficulty may be concerned with your health; it matters not what it may be, remember that, whatever your position or problem, it belongs to the temporary order only. It is passing, it is ‘according to the flesh.’ It is not eternal. Thank God for that! The realization of this truth has been the secret of the saints in all centuries, the secret of the martyrs and the confessors, the men who would not say ‘Caesar is Lord’, the men who smiled when they were thrown to the lions in the arena, the men who thanked God that they had been ‘accounted worthy to suffer shame for his name.’

Paul’s second phrase emphasizes the first, in a sense; it puts it positively — ‘in heaven.’ He exhorts the masters to ‘do the same things, forbearing threatening’, because they are only masters ‘according to the flesh.’ Then positively, ‘Knowing that your Master also is in heaven.’ Here he introduces the eternal world, the realm of the Spirit. That is the realm of reality; this is the world of shadows and appearances. It is just here that men who do not believe the Gospel are blind. They think and say that they are realists, and talk contemptuously about ‘pie-in-the-sky’ and belief in another world. Here we have reality, they say — money, houses, motor-cars — solid tangible things. The truth is, of course, that it is all dissolving even while they are using it and enjoying it. ‘Change and decay in all around I see.’ This is true even of our physical bodies. We have none of the cells in our bodies which we had seven years ago; everything is changing and moving. No, this realm of the seen is an unreal, artificial realm; it is passing away, and is destined to dissolve and disappear. But then there is this other realm ‘in heaven’ — the unseen, the eternal, the realm of the absolutes, the realm of the endless and the perfect in every respect. ‘In heaven!’

The Christian is a man who lives with his eye on these things. Paul says to the Philippians ‘Our citizenship is in heaven’ (3:20). That is where we who are Christians belong. And in this Ephesian letter he tells these slaves that they belong to heaven. Their masters are but masters ‘according to the flesh’; the present is but a passing phase; the permanent lies ahead. He likewise reminds the masters that that is the ultimate realm. It is on that realm that we are to fix our gaze. As the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, the men of faith were always ‘looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’ There are no solid foundations in this passing world; they all are rocking at this present time, are they not? The atomic and hydrogen bombs are at last beginning to bring people to see that this world is not stable and eternal. This old world is quaking and is to disappear. The only solid and durable foundation is that which is to be found there — ‘in heaven.’

That is what all Christians, and especially masters, are to keep in the forefront of their minds, says the Apostle; for it will lead them to remember that there is Someone there who is over all, and above all, the One who controls everything and ‘changes not.’ He is your Master, says Paul. He is also your Lord: ‘Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.’

The only way to solve the problems of society is found here. At the mention of this blessed Person, Christian servants and masters get down on their knees together and look up into his face and submit themselves to him. They do so because he is ‘the Lord.’ He is the Lord of lords, the King of kings. He is supreme both in this world and in the world to come. ‘All authority has been given unto him in heaven and in earth’, and by him ‘all things consist.’ The moment you look at him, in heaven, then, as the Apostle says, the terms ‘bond’ and ‘free’ become comparatively unimportant and almost irrelevant. He says also, ‘the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.’ When you come into the realm of the absolute all other distinctions vanish, they cease to count; here ‘masters according to the flesh’ become servants and slaves exactly as the others. ‘Bond’ and ‘free’ are negative terms, and are only temporary. . .

Finally, it comes to this. The Christian is one who knows all that, and he knows that we shall all stand before this blessed Lord and Master and ‘receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad.’ The Apostle says that in the eighth verse: ‘Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.’ He shall receive! There is the judgment issuing in rewards. That should be the over-ruling and over-riding consideration in all our thinking and behaviour in every respect. ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad’ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Before we get there we receive a great deal in this life, do we not? We serve a very generous as well as a very just Master. He does reward, he does encourage. Is there anything in life, in the whole world, comparable to his smile upon us, his expression of his satisfaction in us?

I am often amazed at the way in which Christian people dare and venture to do certain things, and also at the way in which they fail to do certain other things. So many seem to imagine that, because they believe and are ‘saved’, that is the end; they entirely forget this matter of rewards. They go on doing the minimum in the Kingdom of God, and in the church of God, and seem to fail to understand their true relationship to him. Never forget that everything you do, and everything you fail to do, is known to him, and that you will have to face your own record again, and ‘give an account of the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.’

The Apostle tells us in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men.’ There were two great motives urging the Apostle, driving him on, in all his travelling and preaching: ‘The love of Christ constraineth me’, and ‘knowing the terror of the Lord.’ Those two motives should always govern us as Christians, be we servants or masters. ‘Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.’ Though your earthly master may not reward you, though he may treat you most unjustly, and though others may laugh at you and deride you, and your fellow-servants may say you are a fool, do not worry; you will get your reward. Your heavenly Master is looking down upon you, and he never forgets. He will reward you richly and abundantly whatever your position. And the same is said to the masters. ‘Masters, remember your Master also is in heaven, and there is no respect of persons with him.’ We Christians belong to eternity; we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, we belong to the realm of the spiritual. God forbid that anyone of us should look at his or her work in terms of this world. This is only ‘according to the flesh.’ We are ‘here today, gone tomorrow.’ What matters is that ‘We shall see him face to face.’ We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad. ‘Therefore’ — let us say it with the great Apostle — ‘Therefore, knowing the terror of the Lord’, we go on to implement the teaching with regard to slaves and masters, children and parents, husbands and wives ­whatever the relationship. ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord,’ let us live to him, and to his glory; let us ever remember that that is the realm which really matters. This world though transient and passing nevertheless has its influence upon that other realm, and determines whether we shall suffer loss, or receive a great and wonderful reward. Let us therefore ever live in the light of eternity; let us live as knowing that we are always under the eye of, and in the presence of, ‘our Master who is in heaven.’


This is an extract from a chapter in Dr Lloyd-Jones’ book published by the Trust, Life in the Spirit: in Marriage, Home and Work.

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