There is a clear and definite application here for the employment that most of us are in. Slavery in New Testament times was often very different from the human trafficking and slavery with which we are familiar from the 18th and 19th centuries in America. Historians estimate that ½ the population of Rome consisted of what they called slaves. This included the doctors, educators, and craftsmen. There were brutal masters who treated their slaves like animals. There were many good masters, who allowed slaves to accumulate wealth, buy their freedom, etc. So this “slavery” was considerably different from the slavery at other time periods in history, and has similarities to our employment situations today. As Paul addresses the responsibility of slaves to their masters, we are not stretching this to say that he is addressing the responsibility of employees to their employers. He doesn’t call them to a new kind of mentality that will help them through. He doesn’t call for “the power of positive thinking.” He doesn’t seek to empower them through mind games. He tells them that there are matters of eternal significance going on in the most mundane everyday employment. He tells them that Christ-centered, eternally-significant employment – even slavery – can be a moment by moment reality.
“in all things obey your masters” Why? 1:16-17 all “thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities” are through Christ and for Christ. Romans 13 says that there is no authority except it is from God. Why obey your earthly authorities? Because they are only in that place of authority through Christ and for Christ, and though they may be absolutely ungodly, God is so great that he uses imperfect human authority to accomplish His purposes. Every human authority has delegated authority from God. Unless they clearly contradict God’s will in what they tell us to do, we obey. This applies to the IRS, the State of California, your employer, the judicial system, etc. Here is a command to do what your boss says.
“on earth” = lit. according to the flesh. Paul subtly reminds them that they have a more significant master, one who is not just “according to the flesh.” One who is not just “on earth.” He’ll state that more clearly in verse 24.
“not with external service” = lit. “service for the eyes,” work designed just to look good outwardly in the eyes of men. Or, probably work that is only done when the boss is looking. We all understand that concept (here comes the boss, look like you’re working!), but we don’t have one word for it. In Greek they did. “Eyework.” Don’t do “eyework!”
With “sincerity of heart.” You can work with genuine motivation, genuine energy and excitement. Because, as we’ll see in a minute, you have a real motivation to work. You are looking past the human authority to the God who is using that human authority.
“do your work heartily” = lit. “work from the soul.” Have soul motivation. Have spiritual motivation. (we said earlier: you ought to be able to give a Christ-centered reason for everything you do). Beware of any area of life that seems disconnected from your love for God. That seems disconnected from your pursuit of exalting Christ. You should be able to work from your soul, work secular employment with spiritual motivation. You should be able to have spiritual motivation for everything you do.
He says “and not for men.” Beware of anything in life that is done solely “for men” – that doesn’t have any “soul motivation” to it.
VERSE 24 is really the clincher:
“reward of the inheritance” – Here’s where this gets really amazing. This could just as easily be translated “compensation,” like pay. To the slave he says: you are going to receive pay – an inheritance - from the Lord for your work as a slave. The paycheck from your boss is just a bonus. This is just astounding. You have another paycheck coming! God is going to repay you for your work. And he is not talking to full time missionaries, pastors, Christian school teachers. He is talking to slaves, who are doing mundane tasks to make money for their master. But God will repay them for their secular labor at a difficult and mundane job! Here is why you can work from the soul! Here is why you can stop doing “eyework.” Because God is paying you! There is a reward, a compensation, coming from God for your labor at your normal job! If your job is raising children, doing the laundry, making supper – this applies to you too. God will reward that labor. This is amazing.
Then he adds this: “it is the Lord Christ whom you serve” !! Whether you are making phone calls, or crunching numbers, or putting in nails, you are really working for Him. This is incredible. God is so good! He could have said, “You have to provide for your family, so tough it out and go do it.” Instead he says, “I’m going to reward you for it. I’m going to give you extra reward, on top of what your boss pays.” So go work hard, go from the soul. You will be richly rewarded by our great Christ.
BECAUSE: Christ is my real boss; He is going to repay me for my work
THEREFORE: I will obey my earthly authority; I will work with all my heart and not just when others are watching; I will work with spiritual motivation.
v.25 refers to both slave and master. Eph. 6:8 “knowing that whatever good each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” This goes both ways. Masters, understand that when God gives out judgement it doesn’t matter how important you are. God judges with impartiality. Slaves, realize that when God gives out judgement you don’t get breaks because you were a slave. That isn’t an excuse for disobeying God.
4:1 Masters, stay in your place. Remember that you are under an important authority yourself. Stay in line.
This was all very revolutionary. The suggestion that men had responsibilities to their wives; that bosses had responsibilities to their employers; that servants has a reason to work, a motivation that went beyond the fear of their master. That slaves and women and children were on equal standing before God, and could all have the spiritual blessings in Christ. This was radically revolutionary.
And this is still revolutionary today, for the laborer who goes to work each day, trudges through work, checks the clock every few minutes, resents his boss, and does as little work as possible. For the laborer who wishes he could be out serving the Lord instead of making sales calls or pounding nails. Here’s revolutionary news: you are actually working for Christ, and he is going to pay you for your labor. So get to work!
· One of the reasons you can be joyfully diligent in secular labor is because God is using it. He is using it in your life, in others lives, and in ways you can’t even imagine. You don’t have to understand why your work matters. You don’t have to be able to explain how it fits into the kingdom of God. You can just rest that if God has placed you there in His providence it does matter. God is using it.
· This doesn’t mean that you may not need to seek, before the Lord, if this is the best place for you. In terms of your love for God, your role in your family, etc. is this the best place. I think there are some Christian men who need to step out in faith and leave jobs which are damaging to their own walk with God and to the health of their families. They are using “gotta provide for the family” as an excuse to stay in a work situation which is destroying them or their family. But with that understood, you can rest that God wants you there, you are serving Him, you can please Him, and you will be rewarded for your labor.
· Again, this is not all some sort of mental game. How to trick yourself into enjoying work. The power of positive thinking. God really is doing great things; God really is in control; God really will bless and use your whole-hearted work. God is bigger than your boss and your company. He is advancing His kingdom, and you are a part of it!
We have moved from the majestic truths about Christ and salvation in chapter 1 to our Monday morning jobs. And we are seeing more clearly than ever that we can have a completely Christ-centered life. We should have a Christ-centered church, with Christ-centered music, and Christ-centered preaching, and Christ-centered relationships. You can have a Christ-centered marriage and be a Christ-centered parent. You can be a Christ-centered employee. Sunday, Tuesday, Saturday, whatever! It doesn’t matter! It is all through Christ and for Christ, and Colossians shows us how. This text is kind of the clincher. You would think that working 8 hours a day to put a roof over your head and food on the table has to be mundane, ordinary, not Christ-centered. That might be true if God weren’t such a great and gracious God, who rewards you abundantly for your work, who is great enough that He can use the most mundane labor for His kingdom. So it is all about Christ. Every part of life.
Some of you may need to change jobs for the spiritual health of yourself and your family. You need to stop making excuses, repent of your unwillingness to trust God, and start seeking His face about a change.
Some of you may need to repent before the Lord of being a slacker at work. Of doing “eyework.” Of being a grouch about your job.
Some of you work hard, but it is all about money or the next promotion or whatever. You need to turn to Christ, and start working for Him. You need to get Christ-centered.
I hope that by the Spirit we are coming to see how all of life revolves around Christ. I hope that some of you, maybe for the first time, are beginning to live truly Christ-centered lives.