Walk Worthy in Work (Ephesians 6:5-9)Series: Ephesians (Your Identity in Christ)
We are in the final paragraph of Paul’s instructions on how to behave in our relationships. God’s instructions for our relationships are so difficult because we have the opportunity to fail and succeed every day. The positive is that we have small opportunities every single day to show our God and Father that we trust him and love his ways. If we take those opportunities, we will be lights. Consider, what is so different about the people who stand out to you as being very different in a good way? Often, it is how they behave in their marriage, their family, and in their work that stands out to us so much. When it comes to being a light to the nations, many of you have your greatest opportunities to be a light by obeying the Lord’s commands in how you work. Every day, we show who our master is by how we work.
Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 6:5-9 are directed to bondservants and masters. Some translations use the term “slaves” and “servants.” This is a difficult subject because of the brutal slavery that existed in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. Let me be clear: kidnapping people from their homes and selling them into slavery is condemned in Scripture. Beating, threatning, raping, and denying justice to a slave is also condemned in a variety of places. The slavery that existed in the United States was wicked and wrong. Slavery seems to have been a mixed bag in the Roman Empire. There were good masters and there were wicked masters. Some entered slavery volunarily to repay a debt and some were enslaved against their will because their nation was conquered. Some were able to gain their freedom, and some had no ability to gain their freedom. It was often a bad situation. Because of this, it is fascinating that this section of Scripture even exists. Paul does not bemoan the terrible slavery and stealing of human rights and liberties that was taking place in the Roman world. Paul did not call for Christian slaves to overthrow the Roman government and take back their rights. Instead, Paul gives instructions for how to glorify God in this less than desirable situation. This reminds us of a principle we also see other places in Scripture: the gospel may not change our earthly circumstances, but it must change how we live in those circumstances.
Since the instructions are given to slaves and masters, we might think this passage does not relate to our work situations. However, if these principles apply to people who are forced to work, how much more should these principles apply to people who choose to work. The principles here apply to both a servant-master relationship and to an employee-employer relationship. Our application today will obviously focus more on the latter. Notice 6:5-8.
Bondservants, Obey Your Earthy Masters (6:5-8)
I see four overall messages here to bondservants which we can apply as employees and those who are under others. First, we are to obey our masters or bosses with fear and trembling. When the boss tells us what to do, we need to do what he or she says and we should not be thinking of a way out of it. Drawing from my experience with work, this fear and trembling was not always very common. The boss was a common enemy for the employees to unite against and make fun of. Instead of having a fearful obedience for the boss, employees typically tried to think of how much they could get away with not doing. You only obey what you want to obey. Test the boss’s limits. It is clear from what Paul says that this behavior is the opposite of what God wants from us. Unless our boss is telling us to do something illegal or something that compromises our devotion to God, the boss’s word needs to be law to us.
Second, we must serve sincerely, not giving eye service or being a people-pleaser. If there was one thing that was consistent about the employees I worked with, it was that everyone was expected to work differently when the boss was around. The higher up the supervisor, the higher the expectations for how you worked at that moment. This especially stood out to me when I worked at Applebee’s. It was amazing how busy everyone appeared to be when the quality control woman was around. The moment she walked out the door, the cellphones came out, the brooms were put away, and people sat down to eat. One day was especially eye-opening when she walked out the door and then returned within a minute or two to find nobody working. Brothers and sisters, when we are on the job, let us not be people-pleasers. Work the same regardless of who is watching. Trust me, I know what that is like. I have nobody looking over my shoulder to see if I am doing my job. The only real way to test a part of what I do during the week is to judge my preaching and teaching to see whether or not I really prepared as I was supposed to. To work the same regardless of who is watching, you have to set personal goals and work because of your personal motivations and what you believe. Determine to not care who is watching and continue to be motivated internally.
Third, work as if you are working for the Lord, and not for man. This is the internal motivation that makes it easier to work no matter who is watching. We will fail to work as the Lord wants us to if we think of ourselves as people who are simply working for other people. When we think we are working for people, we know they do not always see us and we know the cracks they will fail to find in our work. Furthermore, when we work like we are working for people, we will not show those people the respect God wants us to show them. We have all probably had a supervisor who did not know what they were doing. It is easy to start thinking of how we should actually be in their position. It is easy to disrespect them and think it is okay to do a poor job for them since we do not like how they are treating us. Those are tough situations - especially when we are being mistreated. Whether you like who you are working for or not, change your motivation. Do not work like you are working for people. Do not try to please people with your work. Work like you are working for the Lord.
Fourth, work for a reward from the Lord. This is why we should work as if we are working for the Lord, because whatever good we do we will receive it back from the Lord. This helps a lot, because when we work this hard - as if we are working for the Lord, no matter who is watching - it can feel pointless if we don’t have the right motivation. If we do not work like people-pleasers, then we will do a lot of things that the boss will never notice or praise us for. We will do a lot of things our boss will not reward us for in this life and that is okay because - remember - it is not our boss that we are working for. If the Lord is the one who will really be rewarding the good we do on the job, we truly are working for the Lord, not just acting like it.
If we will work in these ways - obeying with fear and trembling, not just working when the boss is watching, working as for the Lord and for his reward, we will eventually stand out. Not only that, we will glorify God. One thing I learned from my 6 years in the restaurant business and my two years doing office work is that it is rare to find a worker who is fully trustworthy. Let us work like Daniel - people who the boss wants to hand everything over to and people who the boss wishes could be multiplied.
Masters, Stop Your Threatening (6:9)
Even if we are under other people, there are often times when we will be over others. Sometimes we will be in charge of a project or sometimes we will have authority over a whole division. Wherever our authority is, we are instructed to behave in the same way as employees. Even if we have authority or are in charge, how we work still matters to the Lord. Whether we are working for a boss or we are the boss directly answering to the clients, we must work with integrity and realize that our work is still for the Lord.
Being in charge does not mean we have the license to mistreat those underneath us. We do not have the license to threaten them or to speak angrily or rudely to them. This threatening was so common in the Roman Empire with slaves and masters. Masters would threaten their slaves in order to get them to do whatever they wanted. Unfortunately, bosses still resort to this type of behavior today. This is what is so great about Boaz’s example in the book of Ruth. When he greeted his workers, he said, “May the Lord be with you!” In a wicked world when nobody would have faulted Boaz for mistreating his workers, Boaz recognized that they all had a higher master. When you have authority, it can be easy to forget that. Some people just love having power over other people. The love of power is a dangerous desire. When God gives us that power, let us recognize that he is our master and he will repay us for the good we do as those with authority.
1. Don’t make working for bread your goal in life. John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” We must work. Work is important. God wants us to work. But if we make the sole aim of our life the success in our job, the most we will have at the end of our lives are cushy retirements and the admiration of fellow workers. Good work is not our only responsibility. We have family we need to spend time with. Even more, we must work for the food that endures to eternal life. Make God’s word your greatest passion, not the thing that supplies physical bread.
2. Work and school are not a waste of your time. Colossians 3:23–24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” I used to think that work had no greater purpose than to simply supply food, clothes, and shelter. This is one of the reasons why I chose to preach. I always worked very hard in my secular jobs, but I did not feel like there was any reason to do well in that job or to even try to do well in school. I had a Christian friend at school, Lyndsey, who I would discuss this with. We always talked about how we were wasting our time in school. It is true that there are more important things in life than school and work; however, when you do your work, you are doing it for the Lord and the Lord says you will receive a reward for the good you do - whether you are in forced labor (school) or paid labor (work). Furthermore, you glorify God by doing a great job at your work.
3. You must work if you want to eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Don’t be lazy and take from others.
4. Kids, choose a path that will lead to a real job. Proverbs 12:11, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” The HCSB says, “But whoever chases fantasies lacks sense.” I appreciated the good wisdom my parents gave me growing up. They always encouraged me to try to find work that I would enjoy. However, they also encouraged me to find a job that would actually support a family. Many millenials have always been told to follow their dreams when they choose a job. Ecclesiastes certainly does tell us that it is good to do work that we enjoy. However, Proverbs also tells us to not chase dreams and fantasies and worthless pursuits. I am not an advocate of the “college is the only path” theory, so I’m not here to tell you to go to college. Boys, you don’t have to have much, but plan to be able to support your family. How we work matters. Let’s glorify God by how we work.