Over the past several week we have been looking at Paul’s words about Christian relationships in Colossians 3. For some of you, the discussion about husbands and wives, parents and children had been a very timely and fruitful discussion. But for others, you have been somewhat left out in the cold.
Some of you have been married so long that you figure any tinkering with your relationship now is only going to “mess it up”. For others, your children are already grown and raising children of their own. For some, you are left alone because a spouse is gone. A group of you aren’t even thinking about marriage at this stage of your life. . . and you don’t even want to entertain the thought of children.
Well I have good news for you! The subject Paul addresses today, is one all of you can relate to. I know, some of you are retired, some are mothers who work at home, some are self-employed . . . but these verses in Colossians 3 speak to us about far more than just working a “9 to 5” job. These words instruct us about the very attitude with which we live and how we approach any task in life. Let’s dig in!
Instruction to the Workers
Obviously Paul lived in a day somewhat different from our own. In Paul’s day one could be a slave for many reasons,
- You were born to parents who were slaves
- You were an unwanted child and taken in as a slave
- You were sold by your parents so they could raise needed funds
- You were a slave to pay off a debt
- You were a slave because you had committed a crime
- You may have been made a slave due to violence or piracy
In the midst of these dire circumstances Paul is not condoning slavery. Paul takes the fact of slavery and seeks to develop a new relationship between a slave and the master.
The slave was an object in the eyes of the law. There was no such thing as a code of working conditions. When the slave was past his work, he could be thrown out to die. He had not even the right to marry, and if he cohabited and there was a child, the child belonged to the master, just as the lambs of the flock belonged to the shepherd. Once again all rights belonged to the master and all the duties to the slaves. (Barclay, COLOSSIANS)
Though our situation is certainly, and thankfully different. Paul gives principles to slaves and their owners which certainly and easily translate into the relationship between employers and employees. Paul speaks first to the slaves, or in our case, those who are in the employment of another.
The first principle that Paul gives to the Christian worker is a simple one: Do Your Work. Paul says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything.”
Now many of the slaves would not have been happy to hear this . . . just like many disgruntled employees would not be happy to hear those words today. The Christian slave may have been looking for permission to flee their master. They may have wanted Paul to tell the masters to free their slaves . . . but that is not what he says. Instead Paul tells them to serve and obey. He advises that instead of resenting and resisting we should faithfully dispense our duties.
There is a good reason for this counsel. Our work ethic speaks volumes about the nature of our commitment to God. Paul says that we should do what is right and be faithful in WHATEVER circumstance we find ourselves in. An employee should serve faithfully. Paul tells us that we should fulfill our responsibility. There’s an old saying, not in the Bible, but it could be: “An honest days work for an honest days wage.” Christians do their job.
Even though our situation may not be ideal, we have a responsibility before God to do what we have been called (or what we have agreed) to do. Most people, when they are hired, are told what their job is. If you agree to do that job . . . . Do that job!
! Timothy 6:1,2 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.
Titus 2:9,10 9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
A conversation was overheard by a church worker in a café in Russia. Two communist workers were talking and the one was trying to convince the other to fire two workers who were Christians. The other man said, “I can’t fire them, because they are my best workers.” This is the kind of reputation Christians should have. When they are given a job . . . they do it. Christian workers are to be dependable, faithful and above reproach.
I must say that I have known Christians who I think have ignored their work so that they might “witness” to their co-workers. They justify their dereliction of duty by saying, “I’m doing what is more needful.” Friend, understand that you witness best when you do the job. While you may be seeking to reach out to people with the gospel you may be pushing others away. You may be pushing away your boss who is not getting what he paid for. You may be alienating your fellow employees who must pick up the part of the job you neglect. You come across as lazy . . . not faithful. The person who works well is a much more credible witness than he who does not.
The second thing Paul says is also quite simple: Do your work wholeheartedly. “obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”
In one factory a suggestion box was installed for people to contribute ideas designed to improve working conditions. The first suggestion requested that the foreman no longer wear rubber heels on his shoes. They wanted to hear him coming.
As that great theologian Groucho Marx once said, “No man leaves before his time-unless, of course, the boss has gone home early.” Or as someone else has said, “the number of unemployed people is considerably less than the number of those not working.”
Do you see how much different Paul’s words are from the mentality of the world in which we live? Chuck Colson relates the following account,
James Sheehy, an executive with a computer firm, saw firsthand how this was affecting the workplace. He wanted a better understanding of the expectations and psyche of younger employees, so he spent his two-week vacation working in a fast-food restaurant. Most of his coworkers were from upper-income families; they did not need to work, but wanted extra spending money.
Sheehy watched and listened as his coworkers displayed poor work habits and contempt for customers. His conclusion? We have a new generation of workers whose “habits and experiences will plague future employers for years.”
Along with their get-away-with-what-you-can attitude and indifference to the quality of performance, their basic work ethic “was dominated by a type of gamesmanship that revolved around taking out of the system or milking the place dry. “Theft, skimming, and baiting management were rampant, and skill levels “surprisingly low.” The workers saw long hours and hard work as counterproductive. “You only put in time for the big score,” one said. [Colson, Eckerd WHY AMERICA DOESN’T WORK p. 60]
Now, lest you think this is an exaggeration, I have heard some of our own congregation talk about the difficulties of getting good, responsible help. There is a sense today in which people get a job feeling that they are doing the employers a favor by working there. This is not the Christian attitude. Christians do the job not because we HAVE to but because we see this job as an opportunity to demonstrate our love and faithfulness before the Lord.
Paul tells us that we should give our jobs our full attention and our best effort. Rather than looking for the shortest way, we should be looking for the best way. Rather than looking for what is easiest we should look for what is right.
But notice that this attitude does not only apply to our employment . . .Paul says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”
You see, this is not just about our jobs, it is about our attitude toward all of life. Everything we do is a statement and a reflection on our relationship with the Lord. We must constantly battle that tendency to cut corners and to work hard only when the boss is looking or when we are up for a raise. How do we begin? I think we must start in the everyday tasks of our lives. In the wonderful book “Practicing the Presence of God” Brother Lawrence talked about how he sought to honor God while he was washing dishes. Brother Lawrence understood that we will not serve well in the big areas of life if we do not serve well in the everyday areas of life.
Let me show you what I mean from my own life. These are the kinds of situations where I find the battle for excellence to be most profound:
- Should I rewrite the message one more time or is this “good enough”?
- Should I fold the clean clothes or just throw them in a basket for later?
- Should I empty the dishwasher or just put the dirty dishes on the counter and wait for someone else to do it?
- Should I sweep the sidewalk after I cut the grass?
- Should I empty the garbage or just balance something else on the top of the pile?
What would you add:
- Should I arrive late because no one will say anything?
- Should I study for an “A” or settle with passing?
- Should I accept responsibility for my mistakes or should I seek to divert the blame to someone else?
- Should I spend the fifteen minutes reading my Bible or should I hit the snooze button?
- Should I use the best materials or use the lesser quality materials and make a little more profit?
Do you see what I’m driving at? We honor the Lord when we do a job well. If we are in the habit of being lazy in the everyday areas of our lives . . . it will carry over into the bigger areas of life.
There is one more principle Paul gives to the worker. He says we should Do our Work as if we were serving the Lord Himself. Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” [italics mine]
Now understand why Paul says this. He says we should work as if we were serving the Lord . . . . because we ARE serving the Lord! We are not working for an earthly paycheck . . . we are working for a heavenly paycheck. Our eyes should be on something further away than pay day. We need to have the ‘Big Picture.”
Our faithfulness may not be noticed by others . . . .but it is noticed by God. There may seem to be no one who appreciates the little things we do. But God appreciates our faithfulness. We may get no earthly benefit for our extra effort. But God will reward the faithful with an inheritance that is beyond our imagination.
We need to regain the understanding that Christians used to have. In years past people didn’t talk so much about their “job” but they talked about their “vocation”. What’s the difference. A vocation is your calling. In years past people understood that their job was what God called them to do. It was the way God wanted us to serve Him. This is the basis of what has become known as the Protestant work ethic . . . the belief that God cares about the way we work.
The idea is anchored in solid theology.
- God is Sovereign so He is in charge in whatever circumstance I am in.
- God governs Providentially which assures me that I am where I am not by accident but by divine design.
- God is Holy . . . He deserves the best I have to give.
Colson once again says it well,
Contrary to what is often supposed, the much-maligned Puritans did not seek wealth as the ultimate reward, neither did they make the mistake of some moderns and worship work itself. They worshiped God-what cultural critic Os Guinness calls the “audience of one” – through their work, which enables them to treat success with equanimity and failure without regret.
Nor did the Puritans regard wealth as a badge of piety. They understood that wealth and possessions could be a blessing, a testing, or even an abandonment to one’s own covetousness. Prosperity could also be evidence of Satanic attack. The Puritans viewed work as stewardship to God, which made their primary rewards spiritual and moral. [Why America Doesn’t Work p. 38]
In our work, we serve our Lord.
Like every other relationship that Paul discusses, there is another side to the instruction.
Instruction to the Employers
Paul has two things to say to Employers. First, He says Be Just and Fair. The reason behind this is simple: as an employer you represent Christ as well. What kind of impact does an employer make who is
- trying to get by with giving as little as possible
- pushing employees to unreasonable levels
- denying employees essential benefits
- being abusive to those who work for you
Now I realize that we can only do what we are able to do. But what we are able to do, we SHOULD do. Your employees should not have to unionize in order to get a decent wage or needed benefits. You see, for the Christian the bottom line is NOT our profit margin . . . it is whether or not we are good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. If you are an employer, God has entrusted your employees to you. He wants you to be faithful. You have the opportunity to show your Christian character by the way you treat those who work for you.
But there is a second thing he says to employers: “you know you also have a Master in Heaven.” Now, what does this mean? I suggest two things:
- It means you are working for the Lord and not for yourself. He calls the shots . . . not you. Your business is HIS business. You are charged to manage His interests appropriately.
- It means you will be held accountable for how you manage your business. God is watching. You are not free to do whatever you want. God is your “auditor”.
In every one of the situations we have discussed these past five weeks (husbands & wives, parents and children, workers and Employers) there has been a common principle. The principle is as simple as it is profound: The greatest blessing is in giving, not taking.
This mentality sounds foolish to the world in which we live. They tell us that it is absurd to live like this. They tell us that we will be taken advantage of by others. And we probably will be. But what they don’t see is that it is only is giving that we discover true love. It is only in giving where we find true, deep, and eternal satisfaction.
You know what I mean. There is a satisfaction that comes from a job well done that goes way beyond a paycheck. There is a joy that comes from having given to another, from doing what is right, that goes beyond immediate rewards. And there is a sense of well-being and blessing that cannot come from the world at all. It is a well-being that comes from feeling the smile of the Father.
God’s ways are not the ways of men. God’s ways are not easy or natural. But then again, God’s blessings are not superficial or temporary either. May God build in you a hunger for that which is eternal . . . that which alone can satisfy the deepest desires of our heart. May He grant that we be unwilling to settle for anything less.