“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 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. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism.
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”
We have been thinking about the challenges and qualities needed for living our New Life in Christ…..the sin that we need to put off and the graces to put on. Nowhere is this more evident than in our relationships with those in our immediate everyday orbit. If our Christianity is to mean anything it has to show in the way we live. Not that we are saved through our works, but that the way we live expresses our salvation. Lives that have been changed by Christ ought to shine through in everyday relationships. The biggest test of what we believe is the way we behave with those we are closest to.
On Monday Martin spoke about the way Christian husbands and wives should treat one another. In a similar vein, yesterday Mike addressed the issue of parents and children. At the time when Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, slaves were regular members of some of the wealthier households. In the context of a passage about Christian behaviour in the household it was natural to include them in what he said. Paul may also have been thinking of the runaway slave, Onesimus, referred to in his letter to Philemon, as he wrote this.
I don’t intend to talk about modern-day slavery! While the N.I.V. and some other Bible versions use the word “slave”, several others refer to “servants”. In the context of today’s study we may want to use the word “employees”.
Many volumes have been written about how Christians should behave in the work situation. Is the God being worshipped on Sunday the same as the One revealed by people’s lives on Monday?
Immediate questions arise about the use of one’s employer’s time – persistent lateness, over-extended coffee breaks, time spent talking on a mobile phone to friends, the use and abuse of the firm’s resources, the quality of work delivered etc. etc. Christians need to work with integrity whether someone is watching or not.
On the other hand, difficult questions arise for employees who are required by their boss to do things which are immoral, illegal or just plain unfair, even amounting on occasions to bullying. Work situations can be quite challenging and sometimes much heart-searching is required when Christians find themselves in tough situations to which there aren’t easy answers.
Equally, Christian employers need to consider their responsibilities carefully and treat staff fairly. Not only do they have greater authority and usually more power, they also need to remember that they are accountable to a higher authority. Christians are reminded that their real Master is God Himself and He sees all. This applies whatever one’s position in the work-force. Before Him everyone stands equal and needs to retain integrity by giving of their best.
There are many challenges for Christians in 21st Century employment situations. Keeping one’s eyes fixed on the Lord as ultimate Master gives an anchor and a reference point. If hearts have been truly changed by Him Christians are likely to be more sensitive to issues that arise. It is important to remember that His grace, strength and wisdom are available to help deal with situations. God rewards those who are diligent even if employers don’t, but He also expects high standards from employees!
As well as keeping one’s eyes on Jesus, it also highlights the need for us to stand together as Christians, ready to support each other when the going is tough.
“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. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (verses 23 and 24)
“Forth in Thy name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labour to pursue,
Thee, only Thee, resolved to know
In all I think, or speak, or do.
The task thy wisdom has assigned
O let me cheerfully fulfil;
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.
Thee may I set at my right hand,
Whose eyes my inmost secrets see;
And labour on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee.”
(Charles Wesley, 1707-88)