And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
– Colossians 3:23-24
It’s estimated that we spend over thirty percent of our life working in some way. That is a conservative estimate for many people. Work should be good not bad. Before the Fall of humanity God ordained for our first parents to work the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). It was only after the sinful rebellion of humanity that work became “toil” (Gen. 3:17). For many the workplace whether it is in or outside the home, is a place of toil and drudgery. It doesn’t have to be that way! If we align ourselves with Jesus in the workplace, we gain victory, meaning, purpose, and we become better employees and employers. How do we align ourselves with Jesus in our work? The context of our study verse is Colossians 3:22-4:1. Let’s look at that practical section on how to align with Jesus at work.
First, we align ourselves with Jesus at work by having an obedient attitude (3:22a). The first thing we see is that, “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, . . .” Slavery was outlawed in the United States in 1864 and it is not legal anywhere in the world today. Yet there are claims that there are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in history. Some estimates are that there are 27 million slaves in various parts of the world of today.  There is a dark but prospering human trafficking industry that deals in sexual exploitation (forced prostitution; forced marriage), forced labor, forced begging, and child soldiers to name a few examples. Human beings are sold for prices that range for $80 to $5,000. These human chattel have drastically reduced life expectancy. They are abused and misused. It is a modern day horror story.
Slavery was common in Biblical times but was more of an industrial work-for-hire or work-to-pay-debt arrangement. There are provisions in God’s Law to protect slaves and treat them with kindness. Under the Law a slave was to be set free in the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:39-46). In our day we may not be familiar with or feel able to relate to slavery. There is a similar parallel found in the employer-employee relationship. That is how we will apply the verses of this section. We will interpret bondservants as employees and masters as employers. Some might be chuckling at this point or cynically thinking, Ain’t that the truth?
In the things of the “the flesh” or the physical labor we do in our secular jobs, to align ourselves with Jesus means to have an obedient attitude. This doesn’t mean we can’t voice our concerns over injustices or unfair labor practices or dangerous conditions. But it does mean that we should be looking to obey our employers if at all possible.
The word “obey” here is the same word used by Paul when speaking of the child’s need to obey their parents. The idea is here is that as workers we should always see it as essential to be attentive to our employer and follow their instructions. This should be true in regard to “all things.” Some employees look to take advantage of or control their employers. They think that through employees banding together they can build a force to influence their employers. There is a place for what we would today call unionization. Unions were created to protect and give their members a voice against unjust employers who forced labor to work in unsafe environments for a pittance of pay. But in our day unions seem to be more about getting as much money for their members as they can, even if it means putting the employer out of business. That is counterproductive. That too is unjust. There is an alternative. Jesus said the key and path to greatness is service (Mark 10:42-45). Jesus Himself came to serve not be served, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Obedient service has a number of advantages. When we obediently serve and take the initiative in our work it puts us ahead of those who slack off. It also separates us in our employer’s eyes from those who do just enough to get by or who do only what is required. Industriousness in obedient service will lead to advancement and greatness. That is our Lord’s instruction.
But more importantly, having a servant’s heart brings us closer to Jesus. We learn His heart. And we communicate His heart to others through service. We are His ambassadors and obedient service is the first step in representing Him well at work and wherever we are (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-21). Remember, Jesus calls us to follow His servant’s heart, even if it means washing feet (John 13:15). We are to follow in His steps, even if pain and suffering are required (1 Peter 2:21). We who claim to abide in Jesus are to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). To be conformed to Jesus’ likeness has been God’s plan from the beginning (Rom. 8:29). It is through service that God sculpts us into Christlikeness. Remember that when you feel you’re being unfairly treated or taken advantage of. Service is a tool to crucify the flesh. That is important, essential to experiencing The Perfect Life (cf. Gal. 2:20). Your workplace could very well be God’s workbench to build you into who He wants you to be. Be thankful.
Second, we align ourselves with Jesus at work by sincerely working (3:22b). Paul writes, “not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.” Someone has said the true revelation of who you are is who you are when no one is watching. The same can be said on the job. Paul doesn’t support an employee going through the motions or merely looking like they are working hard when in fact they are hardly working. No, he says our work should not merely be “eyeservice” or sight-labor. We shouldn’t only work hard when the boss is watching and we shouldn’t only work to make ourselves look good. That is to be “men-pleasers” or men-courting. When we work we should work, “in sincerity” generously, not self-seeking, liberally, bountifully. We should actually work so that our company and its owners turn a profit. And we should put our “heart” the depths of our being into our work.
Why serve from the heart? Because our incentive is “fearing God.” God is our Highest Employer. He is always watching us (e.g. Psalm 14:2; 33:13; 2 Chron. 16:9). We should do our sincere honest best in all our work and do this out of reverence for God. It reflects poorly on God when those who claim to represent Him are slothful and poor workers. It does not honor God when a Christian worker is doing more witnessing than working when they are on the clock. Your employer is paying you to do a job. Do it! Your sincere from the heart diligent effort is just as much if not more of a testimony to your employer and those around you as lengthy arguments or discussions that prevent you from turning in an honest day’s labor. Are you sincerely working hard, or sincerely hardly working?
We’ve only just scratched the surface of how work and working environments can be made a blessing rather than a curse, a meaningful and purposeful as well as rewarding effort rather than a futile, frustrating and a place of feeling as a failure. In part two we will look at the nitty-gritty of not only employees but employers and work. Until then, have an obedient attitude and sincerely do your best. I pray people praise God because of how you work!