Most of us spend more time and energy at our job than anywhere else. Your job may be in an office or at home raising your kids; you may work the fields, drive a Semi, or sit in front of a computer screen. You might do something very public which has you involved with people all day long or you might spend much of your time in isolation. Whatever you do, it is a huge part of your life and somewhat defines who you are.
As we continue with Peter’s discussion of the topic of submission he now applies the principle to how we do our job, and the attitude with which we do that job. Once again, the point is: our relationship to Jesus Christ will impact the way we live our lives. When we are submissive to those who are over us on the job, we demonstrate our submission to the Lord of life.
Isn’t Peter Talking About Slaves?
Peter addressed these words to slaves. You may ask, “What does this have to do with doing our jobs?” Those of you who have no problem seeing the connection are probably also those who most hate their jobs!
When we read about slaves in the Bible the image that comes to our mind is the slavery that was part of the United States leading up to the Civil War. People were taken from their homeland, jammed onto ships and brought to our country to be sold (if they survived the journey) as property. They were often treated shamefully.
Though there were those kinds of slaves in the time of Jesus, not all slaves were of this kind. The word Peter uses for servants is not douloi, which is the commonest word for slaves, but oiketai, which means household and domestic slaves. These were people who worked for others. Some were in good situations, some bad. Some of these people were well educated and in skilled positions. They may not have had economic freedom but many were working toward that end.
The majority of the people in the early church were probably this kind of servant. The closest parallel today would be the working man. We work for someone else until we perhaps can start our own business. Most of us are in this situation.
The Principle: Be a Good Worker
Peter reiterates his foundational principle in verse 18,
18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
We are to respectfully submit to our employer. In other words, we should be a good employee. We should be people who do our job to the best of our ability. In Colossians 3 Paul added to the principle,
Slaves, 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. (Colossians 3:22)
Paul adds the dimension of consistency. We are to be good workers regardless of whether or not other people were watching.
I worked in a factory for a summer and noticed that when the supervisor or boss was absent, productivity went down. It was similar to what happens in a classroom when a teacher steps out of the room or a substitute teacher is present. People tend to goof off when not being watched.
Peter instructs us to be people who work hard, who work well, who are concerned about quality, and who work this way whether someone is watching us or they are not. This principle applies whether you work in a factory, whether you are self-employed or whether you are in business with a family member or friend.
In Walter Issacson’s biography of Steve Jobs of Apple Computer fame he tells of the values that Steve’s father taught him. Jobs was showing Isaacson a fence that his father had built and said his father told him,
It was important, his father said, to craft the backs of cabinets and fences properly, even though they were hidden. “He loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see.”
Jobs never claimed that he or his family were followers of Christ. However, they did have the kind of work ethic promoted by the Lord.
There are some good reasons for this kind of work ethic,
- Ultimately we are working for the Lord. We should give Him our best effort always.
- What we do when we are in private is the most accurate indicator of our true character.
- We should be people of our word. When you agree to do a job you should do that job to the best of your ability because you are a person of character rather than because your boss is standing over you.
Exceptions Inevitably, someone will say, “But you don’t know my employer!” Peter says, It doesn’t matter who your boss is. Our job is to do a good job no matter who we work for.
However, if you are in a position where a person is physically threatening you, or is sexually aggressive, or verbally berates or threatens you, I believe the Bible would say that though you are not to retaliate, you should find safety and report such actions to the proper authorities. Wrong should be stopped. We should never rationalize or excuse abuse whether it is directed against us or against another.
It is not abuse for an employer to want you to work a full day. It is not abuse for them to prohibit texting or talking on your cell phone while you are working. It is not abuse to correct you for doing something wrong.
Also, if our employer tells us to do something illegal, we must refuse to do so. It is the same principle we saw last week: we must obey God rather than men. Our first priority is ALWAYS to honor the Lord of life. If we must choose between what our employer is telling us to do and what God has told us to do we must obey the Lord and accept whatever consequences may result.
Why Should We Do This?
Peter understood how difficult these words might be to some people. He understood that some people are in bad situations. He explains the reasoning behind the principle.
19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
Peter says first of all that God is honored when we choose to honor Him even in a bad situation. He warns us that simply encountering difficulty is not a sign of blessing. We may be in a difficult situation because we are belligerent, insubordinate, a poor worker, a trouble maker, or someone who has too many unexcused absences. These people must not proclaim, “I’m being persecuted for Jesus’ sake”.
If you are doing a good job but are being hassled because of your faith, or if you are being persecuted by others who resent the good job you are doing (because you are making them look bad), then this is unjust suffering. We are to keep being faithful in these situations as our way of serving the Lord. He will honor such faithfulness.
Paul adds a message to employers.
masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Eph 6:9)
If you are a person who employs others, you honor God by treating those employees in a respectful way. This means
- Paying a fair wage
- Providing a safe work environment
- Being honest in the way you run your business
- Stepping up to your responsibility as an employer.
What we are pursuing is what has been called the Puritan or Protestant work ethic. This means we affirm that our job is our calling from God, our mission field, where God has placed us to bring honor to Him. Our job is where we make a positive contribution to society. This has nothing to do with what you are paid, or what your job responsibilities are. We serve the Lord by how we do our job. We should work to honor the Lord whether it is by washing dishes, emptying bedpans, running errands, or serving as CEO of a large company. We serve the Lord.
It takes faith to serve God in a difficult situation or a trying job. When we serve faithfully and joyfully in that situation, we show that we truly do trust the Lord with our life.
Second, A Submissive Attitude is a Powerful Witness. Paul, speaking to his protégé Titus said,
9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 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. (Titus 2:9-10)
Simply put: a poor worker is a bad testimony. When we don’t do our job it negatively impacts other people. Other people have to pick up the slack for our laziness. The business suffers. When we are poor workers other employees and our employers who know that we profess faith in Christ, will think less of Jesus because of us. The flip side is that a person who is a faithful and good worker (especially in a tough situation) is like a magnet for the gospel. People notice, appreciate, and admire someone who works hard and does their job well. They want to know the reason for the way you work. It opens the door to share the message of the transforming power of Christ.
Those who live in the La Harpe community may know a man who works for the city with a spirit that radiates Christ. He has a smile on his face whether he is in a ditch of water in the depth of winter or working in the hot sun in the summer. He works hard, he is personable, and he does every task joyfully. Those of us who know him all say the same thing, “I wish I had the attitude that Wayne has.” Wayne testifies to his faith by the way he works. We all do. The question is: are we giving a positive testimony or a negative one?
What Submission Looks Like Practically
Perhaps you want to work this way but don’t know what you should do. Peter says if you want to know what it means to be submissive in the way he is advocating, look at Jesus! Peter had firsthand knowledge of the suffering of Jesus. He saw His suffering. Peter was deeply impacted by the way he saw Jesus handle injustice, cruelty and execution.
The New Living Translation of verses 22-23 gives us a very clear picture of Jesus
22 He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. 23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.
To put it in practical and positive terms, if you want to work in the spirit of Jesus,
Do what is right. Do your job in the right way, for the right reasons,
Be honest. Be honest when asked a question, when there is a problem, when you have made a mistake, and when asked if a certain job can be done.
Keep your cool. Angry people are poor employees, they drive away customers, and they hinder rather than advance the Kingdom of God.
Trust God rather than your own solutions to problems. Keep your focus not on the employer who pays us but on the God who has redeemed us.
Focus on doing your job well rather than focusing on how someone else should be doing their job.
Peter points to Jesus as an example of the right way to serve,
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (24-25)
Our Lord doesn’t ask us to do anything that He hasn’t already done for us. He reached out to us when we were unresponsive to us. He gave His life so we could be forgiven even when we were the ones putting Him to death. He has remained consistent even though we are wildly inconsistent. He trusted God even when it may have felt like God had abandoned Him.
Peter calls us to live our lives and do our jobs the way Jesus did. He wants us to work with the same kind of compassion, focus, and love that Jesus showed.
There are some practical benefits that may result from a submissive attitude in the workplace.
1. You may discover that your boss actually knows more than you thought. When you stop being resistant, and actually start listening, you often will grow and develop in your job.
2. You may become more productive. Angry and resistant people are distracted and make mistakes. They lose their focus. When we adopt the submissive attitude advanced by Peter, we will let go of the anger and may begin to enjoy what we are doing. When we enjoy our work (no matter how menial) we will be more productive.
3. You are more likely to effect change. If you are a good worker and come into an office and make a suggestion with a submissive and respectful attitude; your suggestions are much more likely to be heard and have a great probability of being implemented because you will be seen as part of the team rather than someone opposing the team.
4. Christ will be glorified. This is our supreme goal. When we work well, we honor Him. When we are a good worker we may have greater opportunities to tell others about the One who has given His life to save them. We can do a better job for the work of the gospel when we do a better job in the way we work in the world.
So here’s the question: Are you the kind of employee that every employer loves? Do you work hard without complaining or always asking, “Why?” Do you do your job whether or not anyone is watching? Are you consistent even when others around you are wildly inconsistent? Are you serving the Lord in your job or only working for a paycheck? Does your work ethic and your behavior on the job draw people to Jesus or push them away?
Our society is in trouble. The selfish spirit, the poor work ethic, the shoddy workmanship that we see around us is a sign of a decaying society. One of the ways we can help change the direction of our country is by working hard, working well, and once again taking pride in a job well done.
If we will live this way, we will stand out in the world. People WILL notice. In some cases this will result in increased responsibility and promotions. In other cases it may make us a target of those who feel we are making them look bad. It may cost us to be faithful. However, either way, people will notice that we have a different attitude toward our job and toward life. Perhaps they will see Christ in us. If they do, all Heaven will rejoice.