"Working for the Lord"
Colossians 3:22 - 4:1
(Delivered Sunday, July 22, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
We're living in a day and age in which people are suspicious of claims to absolute truth. Sociologists refer to our day as a 'post-modernist' age - one in which people place more faith in what they "see" and "feel" than in what they are taught to believe. And so; many are concluding that the old-fashioned methods of "preaching" and "teaching" are no longer effective in reaching people with the gospel. Instead, we're told that we must now reach people through "stories", or "videos", or "dramas".
Christian thinker and philosopher, Ravi Zacharias, has an interesting comment on this trend. He agrees that people must now be "shown" the truth of the Christian faith as well as "taught" it. But he maintains that the answer isn't in abandoning "preaching" and "teaching" in favor of visual forms of media. He maintains that what the people of this world need is to "see" authentic Christianity lived out in daily life in front of them. He maintains that what the world needs most of all, today, is to see us - the professed disciples of Jesus Christ - actually live the life of Jesus Christ before their eyes; and to bear both a verbal and visual witness to His lordship in every area of our daily activities.
This morning's passage reminds us that one of the most important areas in which we're to demonstrate the lordship of Jesus Christ is our work life. Jesus Christ must be - and has an absolute right to be - the sovereign Lord over our work life. The lost people around us need to see Him in action in that part of our lives; because, for many of them, that's the only place they have contact with us.
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I recently read a story about the pastor of a large church. He felt frustrated by the fact that there were so many people in his church that he didn't know; but he said that, a he shook hands with folks while they left church one Sunday, he met one lady that he'll never forget. Her name was Hazel; and as he shook her hand, he said, "So tell me, Hazel; what do you do?" He was expecting her to say what her job was. Instead, she grinned and said, "Oh Pastor; I'm a disciple of Jesus Christ, cleverly disguised as a machine operator!" What a great answer! What a great attitude toward the place our work is to have in our Christian life!
Whether or not you realize it, you are to be what that woman said she was: a disciple of Jesus Christ in your work place, cleverly disguised as whatever it is you've been employed to do. Your paying job is only a cover; your real job is to be an ambassador to lost people of the Savior, Jesus Christ. You are, therefore, in full-time Christian work. Your an under-cover missionary to the people you work with.
It doesn't matter that you may work in an office for a unbelieving boss. It doesn't matter that you drive a delivery truck, or work in a warehouse. It doesn't matter that you might be a supervisor with hundreds of people working under you. It doesn't matter that you might be in business for yourself. In fact, it doesn't even matter that you might be retired. Everyday - in countless ways -you are in contact regularly with the work world; and you have relationships with people to whom your main point of contact is either the work you're doing for them, or the work they're doing for you. And no matter what the nature of that relationship is; you are there because God has placed you there as His servant, do to work in His name full-time as a witness for Him.
It's remarkable how much the Bible stresses the proclamational impact for the gospel our work like is to have on the word. God makes it very clear that it's His intention that we advance the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ by the way we flesh out our work life. Paul wrote to young Pastor Timothy, and told him to instruct the people under his care to be faithful in their work as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. He said,
Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things (1 Tim. 6:1-2).
And he wrote to another pastor, Titus, and said;
Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things (Titus 2:9-10).
That's how important your work life is to God. We're to do our work in such a way that neither the name of God nor His doctrine of salvation is spoken of badly. Rather, we're to "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior" in the way we conduct our work life. Of course, all of this means that we've often gone about our work in complete disregard to how God sees it. Frankly, we've wasted many opportunities, haven't we? We've often been grouchy at work, or done our work in a half-hearted or dishonest manner, or have been just plain 'unchristian' in our attitudes and behavior in the work place.
My hope is that, after looking at this passage together, no one here will ever look at their work life the same way again. In fact, my hope is that none of us will ever even experience the 'Monday-Morning Blahs' again; but that we'll greet our work week with the sense of excitement and enthusiasm it truly deserves. My hope is that, from this day forward, we'll enter our work week with the same sort of zeal we'd have if we knew that Jesus Christ was going to work with us; and as if we were doing our work under His direct orders, and through His enabling power, and as unto Him. Because, as this passage teaches us, we in fact are!
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This section of Paul's letter is dealing with how Jesus Christ is to have lordship over all the different relationships in our lives. It begins by teaching us how Jesus wishes to exercise His lordship over the different relations with our own family. Paul writes;
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, let they become discouraged (Col. 3:18-21).
And now, he continues to speak of the lordship of Jesus over our different areas of relationship - this time, specifically addressing our relationships toward those in our work life. He writes;
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (Col. 3:22-4:1).
Now you might be wondering why we're taking about masters and bondservants when the subject was supposed to be our work relationships. Perhaps you're thinking, "Well; I mean my boss can be a bear at times, but come on! It's not THAT bad!!" (Or, perhaps you're thinking, "Slavery; ... how apt a metaphor!") I can't help but think that a little bit of an explanation is in order.
Slavery was a very common practice in the ancient Roman world. In fact, some scholars say that, at one point in its history, one-third of the population of the Roman empire was composed of slaves. Some people were slaves because they had been a part of a conquered people group; and were assimilated into Roman society as something considerably less than a full Roman citizen. Others were slaves because they were forced into slavery through debt or financial hardship; and thus sought to work off the fulfillment of their obligations. And on other occasions, speaking of "bondservants" and "masters" was simply a way of describing what we would today consider the normal employee/employer relationship.
Paul's instruction in this passage would apply to all of the above cases. He taught that, if someone could be free, he or she should certainly pursue freedom. But the pursuit of freedom - in a sociological or civil sense - was not the main point of his teaching. In fact, Paul stressed that every believer, no matter what their station in life, should see himself or herself as a slave. He wrote;
Were you called [that is, saved by Christ] while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men (1 Cor. 7:21-24).
In other words, don't become a slave to men; and if you are one and can become free, by all means do so. But always remember that whatever else you are, you are - first and foremost - the bondservant of Jesus Christ. If you are "free" in this world's eyes; that doesn't mean that you're now free from service to Christ. Rather, your the Lord's slave. Freedom from slavery to men is always to be sought and obtained if it can be; but it's only a means to an end. The end is that we might be the most effective slaves of Jesus Christ that we can possibly be.
This primary principle of being the bondslave of Christ is to apply to our work life. Whatever else we are - an employee, and employer, and independent contractor or small-business owner, or even a retired man or woman - we are Christ's bondslave. All that we do in our work and in our various business relationships is to be done as a slave of Jesus Christ.
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And so, the truly revolutionary thing that God wants us to know about this particular area of relationships is that we're to no longer do our work as if unto men, but unto Jesus. Jesus is to be the ultimate Lord and Master over your job.
Notice, first, that Paul gives this word of instruction to servants: "Obey your masters"; or put another way, "Employees, obey your employers."
Many people think that when they go to church, that's when they're in their "Christian world"; and that when they go to their jobs, that's when they're in their "business world" - as if the two were completely different and distinct from one another. But here, Paul is - if you will - mixing "religion" and "business" into one big area of life. My suspicion is that much would be different about our work life if we let that mixture happen more often!
He teaches employees how they are to work for their employers. They are to be submitted to them. He says, "Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh ..." (v. 22). He calls them as "masters according to the flesh" to distinguish them from our ultimate Master, Jesus Christ. We are to be submitted to our masters in the flesh, and to respect their proper authority over us, out of a greater sense of submission to our ultimate Lord and Master Jesus Christ. We are to obey Him first; and then, out of obedience and reverence to Him, we are to obey our earthly, fleshly employers faithfully. Our work for our employer is to be done as if to the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:5; "Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ ..."
How exactly is a believing employee to be submitted to his or her employer? Paul tells us four things that are to characterize our submission to our earthly employers. First, he says we're to obey them thoroughly. He says to obey them "in all things" (v. 22). In whatever area they hold authority over us, we are to do all that they tell us.
If most of us are honest with ourselves - or better still, if we ask the Lord to reveal the truth to us - we'd have to admit that we fall short of our employer's expectations of us in many ways. We arrive to work late; or we sneak out before our time is over; or stretch the lunch hour a bit. We allow ourselves to be easily distracted from our work through visiting with others. One employer I know of was becoming terribly frustrated with how many of his employees where spending time playing games on company computers, or surfing the internet during company hours. One business owner asked another how many people he had working for him. "Oh, about half of them," was the reply.
I suggest to you that a very effective gage of how thoroughly you're doing your work for the Lord would be to ask whether or not you're fulfilling your employer's specific expectations. As a believer, are you a source of encouragement and satisfaction to your employer, or are you a source of frustration? How differently would you seek to fulfill the expectations of your job if those expectations came from the Lord Jesus? We are to be submitted to our employer, and seek to fulfill his or her expectations, as thoroughly as if we were serving the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Second, we see that, we're to be submitted to our earthly employer sincerely. Paul says, "... not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God" (v. 22).
Many years ago, I was working for a moving and storage company. I was in the dispatcher's office one day; and as I looked out the dispatcher's window, I could see a couple of the guys in the warehouse walking along with clip-boards in their hands. They were busy pointing up at the storage racks and taking inventory of the goods that were in the warehouse ... or, at least, that's how it looked from the dispatcher's window. I went out in the warehouse and walked passed them, and could hear them walking along with their clip-boards, pointing up to the storage racks with serious looks on their faces; and the whole while, talking away about the football game they watched that weekend. They were doing a lousy job as warehousemen; but a terrific job as pantomime artists.
That's a pretty blatant example of what Paul means when he speaks of "eyeservice" (or as I used to like to call it - borrowing from the world of obstetrics - "false-labor"). It's the mentality that sweeps the dirt under the rug where it can't be seen until someone looks closer. It's a matter of only rendering work or service that only satisfactory on a surface level - only either doing work that can be seen, or only doing work while being observed. And Paul expresses the motivation behind this when he warns us against being mere "men-pleasers" - only doing the kind of work that would be sufficiently pleasing to men; while ignoring the fact that our performance was displeasing in the sight of the Lord.
How well do you do your work, and how seriously do you take your work responsibilities, when you know that no one is watching but the Lord? Do you do the same quality of work when alone as you do when being watched? That's the measure of your "sincerity". Paul commands that we do our work "in sincerity of heart, fearing God". The word he uses means to do our work with a sense of "singleness"; that is, in an undivided way. We work the same way whether we're unsupervised, or closely scrutinized. And the reason is because we're doing it out of reverence or 'fear' of the Lord. We know that He is watching; and we want to be pleasing to Him.
By the way; the Lord isn't only concerned with our outward performance in this matter. He is also concerned about how we do our work in an area that no human eyes can ever see; and that's in our attitude of heart. We certainly want the Lord - first of all - to be pleased in our work; but we also want Him to be pleased with the frame of mind with which we do it. Paul says, "Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the world of life ..." (Phil. 2:14-16). He urges us, "Let your gentleness [or forbearing spirit] be known to all men. The Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:5). We're to be doing our work with an outward manner of excellence, and without inward attitude of bitterness and grouchiness.
If we truly do our work as to the Lord first of all, and not as if only unto men, then we'll consistently be the real thing in the way we do it - both inside and outside.
Third, we see that we're to be submitted to our employer heartily. Paul says, "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men ..." (v. 23). In the original language of this letter, Paul actually says to do your work from "out of your soul" - meaning from genuine inward motivations, and not merely from external pressures or for outward rewards.
I believe that this is the thing that makes the difference between merely showing up for work and doing your job like a miserable robot; and enjoying your work and doing with glad-heartedness and eagerness. The secret is wrapped up in these words: "as to the Lord and not to men". The work we do is to be done in complete submission and surrender to the Lord Jesus; recognizing that you do your work for Him and out of love to Him.
Just ask yourself how much more enthusiastically you'd do your work if you knew that Jesus was there with you the whole day long. How much happier would you be at work if you felt the presence of Jesus with you as you did it? How differently would you feel about your work associates and your supervisors if you were continually turning to the Lord all day long and praying for them? How much more delighted would you be in your work if you received each assignment directly from the beloved Lord Jesus? That's exactly what Paul is talking about when he encourages us to do our work "as to the Lord and not to men".
We get bitter and resentful toward our jobs when we're doing them for the wrong "lord" - when we're doing it for mere human beings (who never appreciate us enough anyway), or for mere money (which we never get paid enough of anyhow). But when we do it for the Lord Jesus, even the most menial and humble task becomes a sacred work of service.
I suggest that you can do this by saturating your work day with prayer. Arrive to work a few minutes early and dedicate your day to the Lord. Ask Him to make it a good and productive day; and one in which He lives His life through you. "Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass" (Psalm 37:5). And then, develop the habit of praying before each task, and dedicating it to the Lord. Pause before each phone call and ask for God's blessing on it. Put up a little reminder near your work station - a piece of paper that says "P.F." It'll remind you to "Pray First". And then, at the end of the day, thank God for His help; and ask for His future blessings on the day to come. Get into the habit of making your work a sacred place of prayer; and you'll be doing your work "heartily, as unto the Lord and not to men".
And fourthly, we're to be submitted to our earthly employers reverently. Paul goes on to say to do all this, "knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ" (v. 24). We're to do our work with an eye, not merely on the mere monetary paycheck we'll receive for our work, but for the eternal rewards that come from faithfully serving Christ.
The Bible tells us, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:17). Our ultimate reward for our work comes from God, not men. It's an "inheritance" from the Lord; and the Bible describes that "reward" in pretty remarkable terms - "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you ..." (1 Peter 1:4).
We're destined to receive a return for our work that far exceeds anything human employers could ever give is. We have every reason in the world to do our work with a great sense of joy and reverence toward Christ - knowing that He is there with us, and that we do our work as an act of service to Him. And so, as Paul says, "... Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:9-10).
This is even true when we work for someone who is unfair and unreasonable. I remember one occasion many years ago in which I felt as if I had been treated particularly badly by the man I had been working for. I felt as if he had dumped a particular project on me at the last minute one afternoon; and as a result I was left all alone working far into the night. I was so angry that I took a midnight dinner break, went to a Denny's, and began writing a red-hot scorcher of a resignation letter. But before I did, I searched the Scriptures for what to do and I found this passage in one of Peter's letters:
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear [or reverence], not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps: "Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth" [see Isa. 53:9]; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously ... (1 Pet. 2:18-23).
Instead of resigning, I gave the matter to the Lord, and sought to follow His example when He was treated badly. In retrospect, I'm very, very glad I did. To do our work "reverently" means to try to imitate the Lord Jesus in the way you work; knowing that He will reward our faithfulness.
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The positive prospect of reward in our work isn't the only way that our reverence toward Christ should motivate us. Paul goes on to speak a word that applies to both employees and employers. "But he who does wrong will be repaid for what He has done, and there is no partiality" (v. 25). I say that this is a word to both employers and employees because of a similar statement in Ephesians; "... knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free" (Eph. 6:8). It's a word that applies to both servants and masters with equal force. "There is no partiality" is a phrase that literally means that God doesn't "regard the face" of anyone. He isn't a respecter of someone's rank or position. All who do good will be rewarded for the good they do; and all who do evil will be rewarded for the evil they do - without partiality.
Because God regards our work relationships as so important, and because we bear witness to our Lord in the way we do it, and - most of all - because we are to do it as unto Him, then we should give great care to how we conduct ourselves on the job. "Do not be deceived," Paul says elsewhere, "God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Gal. 6:6-7).
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And this leads us, naturally, to Paul's words to "masters". "Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven" (Col. 4:1). The same attitude of submission to Christ that should characterize a Christian employee should also characterize a Christian employer. And this should manifest itself in two ways.
First, it should manifest itself in the way a believing employer treats his employees; or the way a believing supervisor treats those who are in his or her care. In the original language of his letter, the word Paul uses means "to give" or "to grant" what is just and fair; and the idea behind that word involves showing or exhibiting one's self to be a just and fair person. It's not enough for an employer to merely say that they are just and fair in their dealings with those under them; but he or she must "show" themselves to be just and fair. They should be reasonable and respectful in the way they treat their employees. They should pay them a just and fair wage - not trying to get the most out of them for the least amount of pay possible. They should pay their employees on time; and be respectful of their needs to balance family and leisure time with their work schedule. They should treat their employees the way Jesus treats His.
And second, submission to Christ should be manifest in the employer's own sense of reverence toward the Lord. They're to do their work "knowing that you also have a Master in heaven." And employer should recognize that he or she doesn't work for themselves, but for the Lord Jesus Christ. All their dealings with their employees should be conducted in the way that Jesus would have them be conducted - with a sense of primary submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, and with a desire to fulfill their responsibilities in a way that's pleasing to Him.
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The way we perform on the job is a living "gospel tract"; being read by people all around us. May we never look at our jobs in the same way again. Jesus Himself goes on the job with us; and we work for Him. Whether we are in the "bondservant" role, or the "master" role, or even a combination of the two; may we always do our work faithfully, "as to the Lord and not to men".
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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