Redeeming Work: Most of us spend most of our waking hours doing work. Work can be done in or outside the home. Work can be paid or unpaid. So how does the way of Jesus impact and transform our work? And what would a uniquely Christian perspective be on the relationships we have in our workplace? Recorded on Nov 27, 2022, on Colossians 3:22-4:1, by Pastor David Parks.
“Redeeming Regular Life” is a sermon series from the Epistles of the New Testament in the Bible. The Epistles are letters from the Apostles to the early Christian churches helping them understand and apply the gospel to life. “To what part of life?” you might wonder. The answer is: to every part! The way of Jesus changes everything, including marriage, sexuality, singleness, parenting, work, politics, friendship, and more. In Christ, regular life is a gift.
This year, the annual theme of our preaching ministry is Learning the way of Jesus. And right now, we’re in the middle of a series called Redeeming Regular Life. This series is from the household codes found in the epistles/letters in the New Testament in the Bible, from the Apostles of Jesus to various churches around the Roman Empire. Now, in their day, household codes were common and addressed the way our basic relationships (regular life) ought to work. But the apostles wrote on these things from a uniquely Christian perspective, showing how the gospel and the way of Jesus changes everything. So far, we’ve covered redeeming marriage, sexuality, singleness, and parenting. If you missed any of those messages, you can always go back and watch or listen online. But today, we’ll move on to a topic that most of us spend most of our waking hours doing for much of our lives: our work. Work can be done in or outside the home. Work can be paid or unpaid. So how does the way of Jesus impact and transform our work? And what would a uniquely Christian perspective be on the relationships we have in our workplace? If you have a Bible/app, please open to Colossians 3:22.
Colossians 3:22 – 4:1 (NIV), “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. 1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”
Now, before we go any further, we must remember that slavery in the 1st century AD was very different from what many of us think of slavery from our nation’s history. First, slavery was widespread, not a majority of people oppressing a minority. During this time, up to 50% of the Roman Empire would have been considered a slave, with nearly every other civilization in history practicing slavery. Second, slavery wasn’t exclusively based on race. War captives and debt were the two main sources of slaves. Third, slavery wasn’t usually life-long. Voluntary slavery was a normal means of escaping poverty, and household slaves could rise to become confidants with great responsibility (think of Joseph in Potiphar’s house in Genesis). For all these reasons, the ancient view of the master/slave relationship is closer to the employer/employee work relationship of today. To be clear, the Bible doesn’t approve of slavery as an institution. The Apostle Paul explicitly says that if slaves can gain their freedom, they should do so (1Co 7:21), and one of the great implications of the gospel is freedom from enslavement to sin. Even here, we find a teaching that undermines the idea that a slave was somehow different in value than their master. In fact, it’s hard to see how slavery would ever have been abolished had it not been for the orthodox Christian teaching on the value of human beings as image-bearers of God regardless of race or class or anything else and the idea that our common faith makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. These are truly revolutionary ideas. Ok! With that said, let’s work through this text to see what it says. Look back at v. 22.
Colossians 3:22 (NIV), “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” So the first thing we see here is that the way of Jesus changes how we work. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul applies the principle we’ve looked at several times that is found in Eph 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul applies this principle of mutual submission first to marriage and then to parenting before moving on to the relationship between slaves and masters. For Christians, the same principle for our other household relationships ought to apply to our work relationships as well. And what does it look like to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ? It means that we should do our job, not only when other people are watching — when their eye is on you — and not only to advance ourselves or personally benefit — to curry their favor — but Paul says with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. What does that mean? Well, sincerity of heart means that we put our whole heart into our work. The heart in the bible represents the whole inner person, including your mind, will, and emotions. So having sincerity of heart means both that we are fully engaged at work and not constantly distracted, but also that we continue to learn and grow in whatever field we are in. Christians believe that God is working to transform us into the likeness of Christ. So not one of us is stuck in who we are; we are all dynamic and being transformed by the truth of God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit. As we learn and grow and mature, we ought to apply this to our workplace and our work relationships as well. But having sincerity of heart also means we ought to be known as people of integrity in our workplace. That we will be sincere and honest and will follow through on our commitments. In other words, people should know that our yes will be yes and our no will be no; that we will say what we’ll do and do what we say. Again, this isn’t just to get ahead of our coworkers or to climb the ladder of our careers. Paul gives a uniquely Christian reason in saying that slaves should work like this out of “reverence for the Lord.” He continues with this point in v. 23. Let’s look at that again.
Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV), “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” The way of Jesus changes how we work, but it also changes who we work for. Paul says it is the Lord Christ you are serving. It doesn’t matter what you do for work and whether other people look up to you and what you do for work, or whether people tend to look down on you and your work. It doesn’t matter if your boss or your coworkers notice you or show proper appreciation for your work. It doesn’t matter how much you get paid or whether you get paid at all. We have a higher authority. And no matter what we do for work or how others respond or value our work, we actually work for him. When we serve others, we are actually serving him. No wonder we’re called to work at it with all our hearts! Why? Because we have the privilege of working for the King of heaven. And we believe that one day, Jesus will return, and the dead will rise, and all will stand before him to give an account of our lives. This includes what we did for work and how we did our work. And it is in this future day when we will receive an inheritance from him as a reward. This is the only form of compensation that matters, this is the only benefit that will last forever. Money comes and goes. Recognition and honor comes and goes. But the inheritance that Jesus gives includes not only the riches of the whole kingdom of heaven but Jesus himself. He is our reward. And by faith in Jesus, we can be assured of this outcome. We don’t have to wonder if it will turn out in our favor in the end or simply hope for the best. We can rest assured because God has promised this for our future in Christ. And this future hope changes how we think about and act in our present. But this is a broken world, and things don’t always work how they’re supposed to work. And sometimes, people or systems are inefficient or downright corrupt. How does this future hope apply in those situations? v. 25.
Colossians 3:25 (NIV), “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.” Again, this future hope that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead and make all things new provides an answer to the brokenness of our work here and now. In that future day, Jesus will set every wrong to right for those who have faith in him. Every sin, every evil, even every snub or moment of disrespect or dishonor will be made right. He is the perfect judge. The Lord knows the thoughts and motives of the human heart, and he will not show favoritism. God is not impressed or influenced by wealth or power. He values all people and judges all people equally. It may seem like some people, especially powerful people, get to do whatever they want, and they seem to get away with it. Often, in the business world, so long as you keep making money, most people are willing to overlook moral issues or problems with someone’s character. The end justifies the means. But my friends, people will not get away with evil and injustice forever. Even godly ends do not justify ungodly means. In the Lord’s timing, “anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs.” This future perspective doesn’t make evil and injustice easy to experience, but it does help us endure it when we have to know it’s only temporary and that one day, justice will be done. So the way of Jesus changes how we work, who we work for, and how we endure sin/suffering in our work. Paul finishes this section moving from the slave to the master, or for our context, from the employee to the employer. Is there a way to be a godly boss? Look again at chapter 4, verse 1.
Colossians 4:1 (NIV), “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” For the Christian, again, it doesn’t matter how high on the ladder you climb; it doesn’t matter if you’re president or the CEO or the principal or the boss of everyone; there is one who is higher. There is one who has more authority. And we all are under his reign and rule. How we treat other people, including the people who report to us, whether it be an employee, or servant, or even our children; how we treat these people matters to God. The command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength means to love your neighbor who was created in the image and likeness of God as well. Paul says that masters are to provide their slaves with what is right or just. If you are responsible for others in the workplace, one of the things you owe them is what is right and just. And what is right and just? The people you supervise need the proper tools to do their job. They need feedback and correction if they are not doing something well. They need opportunities to learn and grow and improve at their jobs. And they need encouragement along the way because we all need encouragement in life. Work can be hard and discouraging, but our leadership and influence over others doesn’t have to be. But people also need us to be fair. They need fair compensation. They need fair treatment from one employee to the next or one year to the next. Even if you are over someone in your role at work, they shouldn’t feel as though you are looking down on them. Why? Because, Paul reminds us, “you also have a Master in heaven.” Jesus is our Lord, not just of our salvation, but of the whole of our lives! Just as we should work as if it is the Lord Christ we are serving, so we should lead as if it is the Lord Christ who leads us. And this is revolutionary. Why? Because of the person of Jesus, because of who Jesus is. And who is Jesus? He is the one who left the comfort and riches of heaven in order to seek and save the lost. He came in humility to live the perfect life, die the death that we deserve on the cross for our sins, and then rise again from the dead. Through his humility, he was exalted to the highest place. He gave up everything so that we might gain everything: eternal life, a new relationship with God, forgiveness, power over sin and death, and on and on. If this is how our Master in heaven was willing to treat us, then that radically changes how we think about those who are entrusted to our care in the workplace. These people are not objects to be used, but people to be loved and lead well. And we are not there only to gain either financially or by our status or influence. Like Jesus, we must use our position to influence others for their good. So how do we apply this teaching today? How might we follow Jesus better in our work? There are many ways to apply this teaching, but I’ll leave you today with three.