The apostle Paul instructed workers to “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free” (Ephesians 6:5–8, ESV).
This passage is part of an extensive teaching in Ephesians 5—6 in which Paul laid out guidelines for maintaining harmony in our close life relationships. He addressed husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22–33), children and parents (Ephesians 6:1–4), and servants and masters (Ephesians 6:5–9). The final section applies not just to the responsibilities between slaves and masters but also between employees and their bosses.
Paul taught an interplay of mutual, reciprocal submission—of obedience and Christlike love and care—between believers in each of these relationships. In every interaction, Christians are to relate to one another as though serving the Lord. Paul used a curious expression when he wrote to workers. He told them not to act “by way of eye-service.” A worker who performs by way of eye-service appears to fulfill his duties actively, but only when the boss is present and watching.
“Eye-service” is operating only to please the eye of a human master. It means doing our work to please people only when their eyes are on us. The Bible teaches us to serve and obey our supervisors in everything we do, and always, not just when they are watching. Our sincere motivation comes from deep respect and reverence for the Lord and a desire to please Him rather than people. The New Living Translation renders Paul’s advice like so: “As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do” (Ephesians 6:6–8, NLT).
In a similar instruction, Paul wrote, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord” (Colossians 3:22, NLT).
An essential aspect of the Christian life is always trying “to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10, ESV). We stop living to please ourselves, and, like Paul, we quit “trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Galatians 1:10, NLT). As a minister of God’s grace, entrusted with the gospel, Paul did not concern himself with human opinions, advice, or approval (Galatians 1:15–16; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). He only sought praise from God.
Whether we serve in ministry, work in a church, or labor for a secular company, we must see our workplace as God’s appointed mission field. Merely performing eye-service to please humans is only doing just enough to pass muster on the job. But if we have genuinely experienced “a change of heart produced by the Spirit,” then, as Paul explained, “a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Romans 2:29, NLT).
Believers are called to go deeper. As followers of Christ, God wants our total heart commitment in which we present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). A Christian with the right attitude and work ethic, who doesn’t just give “eye-service” but seeks to please the Lord at all times, will shine bright as a model employee for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Philippians 1:20).