Will Work for Jesus

Take your Bibles this morning and make your way to Colossians 3. We are going to wrap up Chapter 3 in our time together this morning and dip our toes into Chapter 4. There is a copy of the passage in your worship guide along with an outline to follow along with the sermon.

Today we come to the topic of work and how our relationship with Jesus intersects with our work. Most of us struggle to think rightly about work. By nature, we have earthly views of work, which fall far below God’s perspective on work laid out for us in Scripture.

Work is worship. We want to have a redemptive view of work. Christians are to be deeply theological individuals whose entire lives are influenced by our God—no compartments where we operate on differing principles in one place vs. the other. All of life is worship.

Work is very important to God. Genesis 1:1 the opening verse of the Bible we find God and he is working. Right off the bat time begins with him creating. He works most of the week and then he rests not because he is tired, but for our sake he stops creating. John 5:17 Jesus says: My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working. Before he left the earth, Jesus told the Father that he had accomplished all the work that God had given to do.

We worship a working God.

And we are given that same responsibility. When God created Adam the first thing he does is gives him a j-o-b. Not as a punishment, but as a gift. Perfect creation, no sin, and a job. All work is spiritual work then because all work is given by God and done in subjection to him.

Work then isn’t something that you have to do. It isn’t merely a way to make money to provide for your needs (it is that). But if your view is that work is what you get through so you can get to the weekend or retirement, so you can stop working then you don’t view work rightly.

As you can tell I’m not referring to work merely as what you would do out of the house from 8-5 or whatever shift you might have. Work is the labor that you do in your life and encompasses everything from good works that God created you for (Ephesians 2:11) to your day to day job.

Sadly, many times in immaturity, Christians get a zeal for the Lord and disregard work as a throw away compared to the spiritual stuff. But God designed you to spend more waking hours working than any other activity. 

That’s not my plan or yours, it’s God’s. Just think about it: you work more than you sleep; you work more than you recreate; you work for more hours than you read the Bible or pray; you work more than you spend time with believers or serve the church; you work more than you spend time with family. In short, by God’s design, from a time perspective, work is what dominates how we spend our lives.

Work provides a distinct window into our character. And a distinct opportunity for glorifying Jesus Christ and serving others. Christian’s are to view work completely different than the world views work.

And this translates into a distinct manner in which you work. As we will see today, a sign of mature believer in a thriving walk with Christ is those who watch you work would know without a doubt that you are clearly a Christian, not just by what you preach (although without neglecting that) but by watching how you work. 

Work is worship.

Our passage today is written to slaves and slave owners. That relationship is unique in that none of us in this room that I know of fits into either of those categories. In our society we have employee and employer relationships, which is really a business contract—we come to an agreement on what I as an employee am willing to give you my skills and my efforts for in terms of compensation, and what you as an employer are willing to pay for it. I can quit. You can fire me. 

But the implications of this passage are far-reaching beyond the limited scenario of slaves and slave owners. It informs all of our work—from those providing an income for your family, to homemakers, to children completing the tasks that God has given you. Even the work you do in loving your neighbor, and your view of retirement is impacted by a passage like this. The principles of this text have key truths for each of us.

That’s why we title this series “Christ in the Common” it’s all about everyday life and how belonging to Jesus changes those things. This whole passage today focuses on how work relates to Jesus: fearing the Lord (22); unto the Lord (23); and knowing the judgment of the Lord (24-25) and being under the Lord (4:1).

We need help in learning how God wants us to think about work. We’re going to by God’s grace get some help on this topic today. Christ ruling over our work prevents us from the two great errors that we are prone to. 

  • Making our work our god—Israel was indicted for worshipping the work their hands. It becomes a sense of achievement, identity, power and control or security through money. Seeking security through money is idolatry (1 Timothy 6).
  • Not valuing work properly. We are lazy in our work and view it as something that we must get through in order to move on to the things we really love doing in life. Or we view it as unspiritual and something to get accomplished, so we can move on to the real spiritual concerns.

I don’t have to tell you that sin corrupts work. Our sin destroys what was created by God to be good. But when Jesus saves us, he gives us a new perspective on work and a new incentive and makes work meaningful. 

Work not as our god, and work not as something to be avoided, but rather embraced in our worship of God.

2 Instructions for Sanctifying Work Relationships

  1. An instruction to slaves under authority
  2. An instruction to masters possessing authority

Colossians 3:22–4:1—22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

2 Instructions for Sanctifying Work Relationships

  1. An instruction to slaves under authority

               1. The command to do your work (22a)

(22) Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, 

Slaves here are given the instruction of submitting in obedience to those over them in authority. Same instruction given to children about their relationship to their parents in v. 20. The instruction is very basic.

Slaves are people who are owned by a master. They have no freedom because they aren’t servants who come and go or get hired or fired. Everything in life is oriented around pleasing their master, who bought them.

Paul says be obedient in all things, so this is a very comprehensive instruction. The only exception of course, would be if the owner would require something that is contrary to God’s law, in which the slave would conscientiously and respectfully disobey.

But to get the full flavor of this command we need to make sure that we are thinking accurately about slavery in the first-century in Rome.

Slaves, δοῦλοι, were a common social class in Greco-Roman society. 

Slavery at that time was very different from slavery as we are most familiar in the history of our nation. Most notably this wasn’t ethnic slavery. It didn’t involve whites and blacks; it wasn’t driven by racist attitudes of ethnic superiority. It wasn’t about one defined group suppressing another defined group.

Rather in the Roman empire, slaves and slave owners could be of any ethnicity and there wasn’t a common identity, and certainly not a sense of collective mistreatment or injustice. At times slavery was voluntary, it could be a better alternative that a poor person would choose, and some slaves had a high standing. For these reasons slavery in first century in Rome was different from the American experience.

Nevertheless, slavery was still despised by Greeks because slavery meant a lack of personal freedom, which was highly prized. In fact, in the Greco-Roman world if you were a slave you weren’t a person but property. You were bought and sold for market price like a tool or an animal.

A slave was “equated with his function and was for his master what the ox was for the poor man: the slave is frequently… sold by the same rules that governed a transfer of a parcel of land… [and] unlike a waged worker, no distinction was made between a person and his labor.”

Slavery was very common in the first century. About 20% of the population throughout the Roman empire were slaves.

Historic statistics are challenging to determine precisely, but it is estimated that there were 12 million slaves in the Roman empire at the time this letter was written. That’s hard to fathom. That’s all of New York City + Los Angeles combined, or the entire population of Pennsylvania.

And in some large cities such as Rome the statistics bump up to 1 out of 3 people being slaves, with another 1/3 who aren’t currently slaves, but were at another point in their lives. In some areas then 2/3 of the population had found themselves in the position of being a slave.

So, in the church at Colossae, it was entirely possible the majority of believers in the room had a direct connection to this passage as Paul wrote to slaves.

Slaves were all ages including children and both genders. 

Most Romans slaves came about through two means. First, it was through military conquest. You got captured because their army won and yours lost and you found yourself now belonging to someone else or you were so destitute you had to sell yourself to a master. The second was by birth. Children born to slaves belonged to the masters, which accounted in a large part for the massive population of slaves.

For some slavery was a terrible experience and for others it was relatively speaking, a good life. There were two factors which greatly impacted your experience as a slave, and it related to what type of master you had, and what type of work your master assigned you.

There were two classifications of slaves…

Familia urbana were the household slaves who lived in the city. They were trusted and took care of children, managed business interests and kept the home. Sometimes these slaves would be offered freedom as a future reward for faithfulness. 

And a slave in one of these situations would appear just like a free a person to you. These slaves had good jobs and even received education. 

Familia rustica were slaves who worked outside the city in rural areas in farming. This was a laborer. Less dignity and respect and the labor was more difficult. These slaves had difficult jobs. 

Legally then the classification was the equivalent today of us saying white collar and blue collar jobs, there were urbana and rustica slaves. So your job determined your quality of life as a slave.

And then additionally, and most important, your master impacted your quality of life as a slave.

A benevolent master meant that you were well-provided for and protected. If you were the slave of a prominent community member you would even have a measure of dignity and honor as a slave. Some slave owners would provide their slaves with an opportunity for freedom one day as a reward for their faithfulness. They could even have close personal relationships.

Of course, the opposite was also true. Since a slave was property, a severe and wicked master would mean you were subjected to a life of misery and maltreatment. You didn’t have protection under the law because you were property not a person. Many slaves had terrible experiences of injustice and suffered greatly due to a lack of protection.

This is the societal structure that these believers in Colossae find themselves in. With nearly 12 million slaves in Rome it was a given part of society. And Paul doesn’t write about abolishing slavery per se, but rather how to function within the given societal framework. 

The only place Paul begins to touch on the establishment of slavery is in 1 Corinthians 7:

1 Corinthians 7:21–24—21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

If you were a slave when you got saved, don’t worry about it. You actually belong to Christ, and you are free in him. If you can become free, go for it. If you are free, then don’t become a slave.

At the same time, Paul’s priority is not to change social structures, but rather how believers are to live for Christ within them. He wants to redeem the current relationships within the existing societal structure. 

It starts with Gospel. Society changes then as a consequence. Today very often the church gets confused that our mission is societal change. Paul doesn’t deal with the issue because as one commentator puts it:

… the first priority is not to change the structures but to achieve a life which is conformable to that of Jesus.

In other words, how do you be a Christian given the current circumstances in which you find yourself?

It’s worth mentioning that for Paul to instruct slaves directly here is, in and of itself, a big deal because slaves weren’t typically addressed directly by others in this manner. But God views those even in a low social class with honor and dignity and respect. 

He speaks to these precious saints because they have a crucial role in God’s program. And he says:

in all things obey those who are your masters on earth,

in all things meant that you aren’t to make your own personal assessments on whether what you are being asked to do fits in with what you think is the best use of your time or skills or what you would like to do. 

Paul highlights that these are earthly masters. Literally, masters according to the flesh. Paul isn’t being derogatory, but he is setting up a point for later. These are masters in the realm of this earth.

Notice what is left out. Distinctions about whether you have a benevolent and good master or a harsh and unfair master. Distinctions about whether you have an honorable or a dishonorable role. 

Give them complete obedience.

I’m sure that was a hard message for many of those slaves to hear. In particular when you are in an unjust circumstance, the flesh loves to get a little shred of independence. Hang on to a secret rebellion. Push a little self-assertion.

You had no FMLA, no 30-minute lunch breaks after 5 hours of work, no required health insurance. Paul says Christian slaves obey their earthly masters.

Of course, their example and ours is the Lord Jesus himself. Thinking about slavery brings a fresh appreciation when Paul says in Philippians 2 that Jesus took the form of a dulos, a slave. And when he donned the towel to wash his disciples’ feet he was assuming the role of a slave. 

Jesus put himself in subjection the Father’s will and the service of others as a slave. And so, he calls his people now to do likewise. Obey your earthly masters in whatever they ask you to do.

I’m sure as this letter was read there were those who had to go home and seek forgiveness that day from their masters. Perhaps those with believing masters right there in church had to seek forgiveness. 

Let me be honest, you have given me some instructions and I haven’t been carrying them out and I haven’t been honest with you.

I decided my way was better and so I have not been following through with some of the things you have required of me.

I’ve found pleasure in doing things my way rather than the way you’ve asked me to do them.

And so, for those slaves, and for those of us currently under authority, how do find the wherewithal to submit to the will of another? Well it isn’t merely will power, there is something else operating that drives you. But it certainly requires the death of self.

  1. The command to do your work (22a)
  2. The conviction behind your work (22b)

As a Christian, you have been bought by Jesus Christ who now own you, and it totally shapes the manner in which you work. In fact, it is in direct contrast to any other approach to work.

Jesus offers forgiveness to any who repent and believe on his name for salvation. When you believe you are born again. You are made new. And in that moment your stop being a slave of sin, you stop being stuck under Satan’s dominion and you are transferred into the kingdom of Son, and you become a slave of Christ.

And that is all by God’s doing. It is by his grace alone. And that grace saves you, and that same grace enables you to live for him in this new reality. And here we see it will impact your work. 

Paul says obey…

not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 

It isn’t enough to merely get the job done. You turned your assignment, you punched your time card, you submitted your report, you conducted the meeting as requested. But Paul says, I want you to examine the mindset behind your work.

Before we explain this verse let’s admit up front that we default to a self-centered view of work. Most of the time work is about how it makes us feel—how fulfilling it is, how rewarding it is, how lucrative it is, how advantageous it is. 

Friends, this is earthy way of thinking that we have to replace with God’s view. Paul says your obedience is to be done…

not with external service

A compound word (eye + slave) a free translation: don’t obey because your boss is watching you. 

This crushes any self-serving motive that wants the credit and benefits of being recognized for your work, without putting forth the sacrificial effort. Dishonesty in work that labors for what credit it earns them before watching eyes.

My first real job was in the produce department at a grocery store and we had two types of visits from management. We had planned visits where we had a heads up that an executive would be coming by at a scheduled time. We would do vigorous preparation, sometimes even bring in additional staff to prepare for the planned visits.

But then we also had unexpected drop-ins from executives, and secret shoppers.

Why the surprises and the secrecy? 

To test how were doing in this principle. Because even unbelievers understand this principle. When the cat is away the mice will play. They knew that the real test of the quality of workmanship was not how things looked when there was a scheduled visit, but how things looked when supposedly no one was keeping tabs.

That was the indicator of the quality of our workmanship.

If you are a Christian, then your conduct should be unchanged whether there are cameras or GPS tracking devices or monitoring of your electronic devices or planned inspections. That type of work has no place among the people of God.

That type of mindset is indicative of a particular individual, who is characterized by an over-concern with another’s view of them.

as those who merely please men, 

as a comparison (unlike the people you are so familiar with whom you often encounter). They do it on the outside, but they couldn’t care less on the inside. 

It isn’t always a bad thing to attempt to please others. That’s why the translators add in merely. If it motivated out of love and sacrifice where you are giving consideration to someone else and in that way pleasing them it is commendable (cf. 2 Timothy 2:10, 1 Corinthians 9:22-23) the issue here is that pleasing others has become the primary motivation. 

Gaining the approval of others is not to determine how you work. It will cripple your faithfulness to Christ if you are given to living for the approval of man.

What are the false motives that I have in working that are either blatantly idolatrous or else at best secondary motivations that are not transcendent.

  • Compare well to others.
  • Look good and well-prepared before men.
  • Get more influence or more money in the organization.
  • Avoid being embarrassed or getting in trouble.
  • Keep my job and not lose it.

Man-pleasers work one way when there is human accountability and another way when there isn’t.

but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

Instead, believing slaves are to demonstrate a sincerity of heart… this means, what you see is what you get. It is serving without strings attached. It is not putting on an outward show that appears well, but masks what’s really going on in the inside. It speaks of a heart that genuinely wants to serve.

It gets rid of any wiggle room on doing the right thing, but begrudgingly. This is all about the heart motivation. If you can’t work with sincerity of heart, then you need to repent by beginning to renew your mind with this truth, and beginning to fear the Lord.

This is about not just your effort, but your attitude.

There’s a wordplay here that we miss in English. It is the same word for master in the beginning of v. 22. So… obey your masters according to the flesh… fearing the (Lord) Master.

If you belong to Jesus, then you are working for Jesus. You have a higher principle that governs your conduct. You work hard because you believe God has made you to work hard and that in so doing you bring him glory. 

Furthermore, what shines through is the heart of a servant who genuinely wants to see God bless his or her master according to the flesh.

Think of all the wrong attitudes this confronts (this is helpful for those in the workforce, homemakers and children doing chores):

  • This is a waste of my time
  • This is below me
  • This is not what I would choose to do
  • This is not fun
  • This isn’t the best way for me to shine
  • This is boring
  • This is not fair
  • This is futile

Sincerity of heart demonstrates the value of God and it wins his favor as well as the favor of man. Your work will stand out significantly if you work in this way.

Fearing Christ of course also means operating from a higher principle than the world—an integrity that can get very costly. Refusing to sin against employees or lie to customers. Tremendous pressure at times. God’s slave fears him and works with sincerity of heart that magnifies his master.

Friends, you must have this conviction if your work is to be distinctly Christian. 

Paul’s after your manner of work here. He wants to see that you are faithful to do your work, and you working with the mindset that you have a higher obligation than whether or not you have an inspection or an earthly boss watching.

You work for Jesus who is ever-present. Do you see how profoundly this conviction changes our approach to work?

  1. The command to do your work (22a)
  2. The conviction behind your work (22b)
  3. The character of your work (23)

(23) Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 

One of the great errors that damages the conscience is a false distinction between secular and sacred. That means that we are holding our noses to get through the work day because the only things that matter are evangelism, serving in the church, and spiritual disciples.

Friends we must redeem work as part of the sphere of worship. All work is spiritual work if it is done unto the Lord. And so, Paul says…

Whatever you do

Instantly every believing slave in Colossae found meaningful work as they encountered these words. It didn’t matter whether they served in the city to a prominent statesman with honor or in the outskirts shoveling animal dung day after day.

God is much more concerned with how you work than what you do for work.

God says do your work heartily. In the original is says from the soul. Wow that’s convicting. That means that any task that God has given you, you are to do in such a way that you employ your gifts and resources and creativity in service to God.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say do your work energetically, but this isn’t primarily about energy or output as if you must be productive. But rather in terms of your attitude you are putting your effort into what you are doing.

What was the danger for a slave? It’s pretty easy to see the challenge.

Over time a job becomes monotonous. Sometimes work is drudgery. You have done the same thing over and over. Moreover, as a slave whether you work hard or cut corners little will change with your status. You get three square meals a day. 

There’s no profit sharing plan. There’s no bonus potential. There’s no Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) for disciplinary action if you are slipping. There’s no promotion available. 

What transpires? You figure out what it takes to get by and then that’s what you do. You fall into a pattern of mediocrity rather than pushing yourself to do better. Paul says you need to stay engaged in your work.

God is the one who endowed you with gifts and abilities. They don’t belong to you, they belong to him, and you bring him glory when you put them to use.

To illustrate the contrast, I was talking to someone the other day who did a new employee orientation and said it was obvious who wanted to work. Six employees and three were sitting forward, asking questions, making eye contact, completely engaged. Three were slouched back, silent and looking sleepy. 

We talk about this in our home often. How would we work right now if Jesus were sitting in the living room and he asked us to work on something? What manner of work would we conduct ourselves?

This is the leapfrog that we have seen already so many times before. You are to operate fearing the Lord.

Working heartily removes all opportunity for grumbling and complaining. Which incidentally is linked in Philippians 2 with your Christian testimony and evangelism. 

Did you know that complaining is a threat to your evangelism? Not grumbling and complaining is to stand out in stark contrast to those around us and give testimony to the faithfulness of our God.

You will shine as a bright light when you don’t join in with complaining.

You know a great way to make work an opportunity for evangelism? You tell people this very thing. “Oh man, you are so joyful at work… well let me tell you, Jesus bought me by dying for me. He paid for my sins with his precious blood and now he owns me. So, when I work, I strive to do my work for him, and because I love him it gives me great joy to work.” 

And when you blow it… look, you need to own it. A bad performance review, negligence or attitude or laziness issues on your part. Tell your boss, “my conduct was inconsistent with my beliefs. I belong to Jesus and he has called me to do my work with excellence and I am striving for that, but I failed. In fact, the reason I need Jesus is because I am a sinner and he is my only hope.”

rather than for men

It grieves me to think about how much of my work is flesh-dependent. Do you see what a pipe dream, it is to work for man?

Isaiah 40:6–8—6 A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.

You and your boss and all of your co-workers are little clumps or blades of plant material. All flesh is grass and all beauty is like a wildflower. And what is the problem with grass and flowers?

(7) The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

The word of God stands forever because our God stands forever. You know what is characteristic of this kind of work is you put your soul into it. So, whether you are wrapping burritos or pouring lattes, or washing buckets or building spreadsheets, whether you are meeting or managing, or whether you are cleaning the bathroom for the hundredth time.

You say, this sounds like I have to work perfectly. What if I can’t get all my work done perfectly? That’s not it at all. You may get more behind every day in responsibilities in some seasons.

You should be able to look at the time sheet or the ding report or whatever metric of quality your company uses and see that the Christians are soulful workers. You do it to the best of your ability as unto the Lord.

Imagine where the slaves in the congregation were at hearing this instruction so far. Some of them may have been sitting there with their very-own masters. 

I imagine those slaves went home after church that day and there were some conversations. Some with other slaves, some with masters. “Hey guys, I can’t join in with you anymore in the complaining about our master. I have been sinning against my heavenly master. I’m resoling to leave that behind by God’s grace.”

This is a tall order even in that situation. But some of them are thinking about what a horrible master they had. They experienced mistreatment, they experienced incompetence, they experienced the difficulty of laboring to bless someone who wasn’t actually worthy of that type of blessing.

Soulful work for God and not men. It makes all work spiritual. You are to be known as a Christian based upon the character of your work (being soulful).

  1. The command to do your work (22a)
  2. The conviction behind your work (22b)
  3. The character of your work (23)
  4. The compensation for your work (24-25)

(24) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. 

In our democratic republic and largely, free market economy, we get compensated for our labor. I’ve spent many hours working on compensation packages. Because if you want to attract and retain good employees you have to pay them what they are worth.

It is biblical to pay employees properly. Paul spoke of the principle that a worker is worth their wages. Even that a pastor who works hard and preaching and teaching is worthy of a double portion. So fair compensation for the value provided is a biblical principle.

And not only that, but a properly designed compensation package incentivizes desired outcomes. You dangle the right carrot and you will get focused attention in the area you desire. You give the opportunity for a bonus and most people will apply diligence to achieve that benefit.

Imagine being a slave.

No compensation package. No long-term benefits or retirement. No inheritance. The only inheritance you would have to pass on to your children is bringing them into the lowest rung on the social ladder where they would serve as slaves too.

Paul understands the difficulty to stay motivated day after day in monotony and without financial or long-term incentive.

And so, he encourages them to think about what they have in Jesus and what they have been promised. These slaves are to work knowing. That’s the manner of their work.

Work knowledgeably. Working believing that you are going to get something from God. 

God loves to give to us. He is so generous. God gave Jesus as a sacrifice for sinners. God gives us all things freely in Him. Then God gives us spiritual gifts. God gives us his Spirit. He gives us adoption. He gives us the church and church leaders and the sanctifying grace of body-life within the church. He gives us his Word. He gives us life and breath and food and shelter. 

Isn’t our God amazingly generous in what he gives to us?

Paul says, expect to receive even more.

This word for reward is specifically a recompense. A payment for your contribution. There is certainty here.

Paradoxical. You have a decent percentage of congregations who are believers who are owned by earthly masters and have no shot at an inheritance that they can pass to their future generations. It was legally impossible as a slave to have an inheritance.

And Paul reminds them specifically here that the inheritance he has been speaking of in… 1:12… is theirs to possess. They are to look to a greater prize.

Let’s say you were a slave of the familia rustica—a rural slave. You worked out on the farmland and your master lived in the city. And so, day by day you labored to be diligent to provide a return to your owner and day by day your labor went unnoticed. You watched others around you play politics and gain an advantage. Meanwhile, in your faithfulness you were languishing without recognition or reward.

You have an inheritance.

I’ve gotten the opportunity to help put together executive compensation packages and the one thing that all of them want in addition to short-term payoff is a long-term incentive package. Stock privileges, a piece of the company, a stake in the profits… compensation for the future results of their hard work. It is a market-value. I give you my skills and efforts in exchange for a piece of the value I create for you.

Slaves had none of that. No inheritance.

It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 

I have heard stories of many bad bosses. You are going to have bad bosses. So, submit to your boss, but view your work, not about the horizontal, but about the vertical. 

A reminder again—your unworthy master is put over you by your worthy Master. “Will work for Jesus” Or serve the Lord Christ… another command.

Jesus did his work on earth for the Father (John 17—I’ve done all that you have given me to accomplish).

Under new ownership. Jesus has shared with you every spiritual blessing. And now in allegiance to him, you work for him.

It isn’t just future rewards, but also loss as well:

(25) For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.

Grammatically this is given to slaves (it would still apply to masters of course in the next verse) but Paul’s directing this to slaves.

How will believers receive consequences? These are Christian slaves.

Christians will be judged as those forgiven by God who will not be punished for sins. Nevertheless, will give an account for our life on this earth and we will be rewarded accordingly. 

Repeated testimony is that we will give an account. The consequence is not punishment as in the wrath of God poured out, but the consequence is that a possible reward was forfeited as the work is burned up and nothing remains afterward (wood, hay, stubble).

2 Corinthians 5:10—For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

That is the bulk of Paul’s instructions to slaves. What a far-reaching message. There is so much to consider and ponder. These slaves wanted to honor Jesus and their work was an opportunity for them to express their devotion to their Savior.

  • Am I obeying?
  • Am I working with integrity and conviction?
  • Am I working differently whether or not I’m being watched?
  • Am I working soulfully?
  • Am I working for eternal rewards?
  • Am I fearing the Lord?

2 Instructions for Sanctifying Work Relationships

  1. An instruction to slaves under authority
  2. An instruction to masters possessing authority

Paul now shifts to the other contingency in the congregation. These ones were no doubt in the minority. Masters—the lords, the owners.     

  1. The proper use of your authority (4:1a)
  2. The accountability for your authority (4:1b)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   (1)Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. 

Grant—make it happen, cause it to be, bring it about. What’s the implication? You can do it. You possess the power to do this thing and to make it happen.

That which is just (right and proper) and fair (equal). Not withholding that which was earned. What would the temptation have been? To over-profit by withholding what was due. By getting by with giving the least out of greed.

See the reason slavery is so problematic is because of the sinfulness of the human heart. In order to maintain control, wicked masters resorted to mistreatment to get what they wanted from their slaves. Mistreatment would include everything from violence to sexual harassment to separating families.

Paul instructs Christian slave-owners here, in keeping with instructions regarding slavery in the Old Testament.

Leviticus 25:43—You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God.

Leviticus 25:53—Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

He doesn’t say give your slaves freedom. But that would be just to give them a reward for faithfulness including freedom if desired. In the OT slaves could agree to remain with their masters. Why? Because a generous master could be a better option than being out on your own.

Godly masters are just and fair. They treat people with dignity and respect and give them what they are due. And you know why they do that? It’s the same reason that the slave submits to their earthly master.

  1. The proper use of your authority (4:1a)
  2. The accountability for your authority (4:1b)

knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

Remember Mr. Master that you were bought, and you are owned as well? This is an immediate limiter on earthly authority.

Those in positions of earthly prominence and power tend to pride—high view of self, and an elevation of their own value and contribution and importance. A reminder that the most powerful monarch is still subject to the monarchy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It has a little different feel hearing it as a master though than as a slave. James Dunn writes:

The sanction of ultimate judgment at the hands of God in and through Christ is the same as in 3:24–25. Whereas for slaves it was a comforting thought, for masters it was more of a threat; having the greater power in relation to their slaves, the possibility that they would abuse that power and therefore have greater liability in the final judgment was the greater.

A comfort for slaves and constraint for masters. Each are slaves of Christ, and that relationship is to be ultimate in defining and altering their earthly relationships.

Do you see how these themes are tying together? Your temporary life here on earth is to be informed by and focused upon the coming unseen realities of Christ. Whatever station you are called to by our Lord and whatever work he has given you is to be done under his watchful eye, expecting to see him at any time.

2 Instructions for Sanctifying Work Relationships

  1. An instruction to slaves under authority

               1. The command to do your work (22a)

               2. The conviction behind your work (22b)

               3. The character of your work (23)

               4. The compensation for your work (24-25)


  1. An instruction to masters possessing authority

               1. The proper use of your authority (4:1a)

               2. The accountability for your authority (4:1b)


What does this mean?

We are all slaves of Christ…

  • He is the master
  • He is the Lord
  • His bidding
  • His wishes
  • His authority
  • His ownership
  • His care and provision
  • His protection
  • His property

The early saints delighted to count themselves Christ’s absolute property, bought by him, owned by him, and wholly at his disposal.

Luke 17:10—nothing more than what was required

[On that day,] the Lord will grant unto his people an abundant reward for all that they have done. Not that they deserve any reward, but that God first gave them grace to do good works, then took their good works as evidence of a renewed heart, and then gave them a reward for what they had done. Oh, what a bliss it will be to hear it said, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”—and to find that you have worked for Christ when nobody knew it, to find that Christ took stock of it all,—to you that served the Lord under misrepresentation, to find that the Lord Jesus cleared the chaff away from the wheat, and knew that you were one of his precious ones. For him, then, to say, “Enter into the joy of thy Lord,” oh, what a bliss will it be to you.



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