On recent Wednesdays, I have been asking what practical steps we can take to influence society positively and create opportunities to talk to others about God’s good news. Benjamin Kwashi, the archbishop of Jos in Northern Nigeria writes in the recent book, Reformation Anglicanism, ‘In much of the world today there are churches seemingly everywhere and very many Christians, yet with little positive impact on society’.
As I have said before, there’s something we can do now: we can play our part in our circles of influence – family, friends, and work. Over the last two Wednesdays, I have touched on Paul the Apostle’s words in Colossians 3 about marriage and family. Today we consider what he says about relations at work.
In Colossians 3:22-4:1 we read: Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
How are we to understand this? The reality is there has been a massive sea-change in the West since the first-century Roman world.
FF Bruce in his commentary on Colossians (Eerdmans: 1984, p.171) is helpful: ‘The household codes (of Colossians and Ephesians) do not give detailed advice for the complexities of modern industrialism… They embody basic and abiding Christian principles, which can be applied in changing social structures from time to time and from place to place’.
Furthermore, he comments: ‘The household codes did not set out to abolish or reshape existing social structures, but to christianize them. As far as slavery was concerned, it took a long time for the essential incompatibility of the institution with the ethic of the gospel, or indeed with the biblical doctrine of creation, to be properly assimilated by the general Christian consciousness’.
What then are the principles we can identify? Wholehearted service. Paul calls for a commitment from the ‘employed’ to do the work they are required to do. Using a word that he may have coined himself (literally, eye-service), he says that God’s people are not just to be people who work when they are observed. Work is to be done whole-heartedly, honestly and with no ulterior motives of self-promotion. God’s people are to work as serving, not so much their human masters, but their Master in heaven, the Lord Christ.
Furthermore, Paul notes (v.24), when we work as serving the Lord we will be rewarded with the inheritance of a good relationship with God. Inheritance here is not about earning salvation, but rather the reward of living as a friend of God and knowing that while we may not be rewarded as we deserve in this world, we will receive our due reward in heaven.
William Hendriksen in his Colossians (Banner of Truth: 1962, p.174), observes: ‘This was, accordingly, the most helpful advice anyone could ever have given a slave. Moreover, by means of his wholehearted cooperation with his master, rendering obedience to him in every way, and doing this while his master was fully aware of the fact that the service was being rendered by a Christian, the slave was promoting the cause and honor of his Lord. The master would begin to think, “If the Christian religion does this for slaves, it must be wonderful”’.
Integrity. We also need to keep in mind Paul’s words in v.25 which form a bridge between his words to ‘slaves’ and to ‘masters’ – thus applying to both: For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. In God’s justice, wrongdoers – be they slaves or masters – will ultimately reap the outcome of any dishonesty. With God, there is no partiality.
We see a second set of principles in 4:1: Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly (literally, that which is just and that which is fair, to the slaves grant), for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
Accountability. God’s people who are masters need to understand that in the same way that those under them are accountable to them, so they too are accountable to the Master in heaven. How true and timeless these words are. Whoever said the Bible is irrelevant?
So, to apply these principles in today’s world, we see that commitment to and responsibility in relationships between employees and employers are an essential part of our Christian living. For God’s people, the balance of selfless and responsible attitudes and actions should be evident in the workplace. Employees are to act responsibly and respectfully toward their employers. Employers are to be totally fair to their employees. When an employer forgets that there is a Lord in heaven, there is the recipe for ill-treated employees.
Wherever we are and whatever we are called to do, we should understand better than anyone else the responsibility, under God, that we have towards others. For we know we have a Lord in heaven.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com