For the child of God, God is our boss. For the employee, our work and every part of it is to be done "as working for the Lord." For the employer, their work, leadership, profits and pay is to be managed with the knowledge that God is their "master"/employer and they are to mirror Christ as "boss" in their business.
When God is Your Boss
January 28, 2018
Get Acquainted: Tell someone about the best boss you’ve ever had. What mad them the best?
- How many of us have worked for a boss at any time in our lives?
- How many of us have been a boss, manager or leader of people under us in the work-world at some time?
- Which was easier?
We’re in an eminently down-to-earth section of God’s wisdom and call to us in Colossians 3-4 today. For the last two weeks, Paul’s instructions have been targeted at the family, specifically husbands, wives and kids and the dynamics that God calls us to in each of those relationships.
So today the text rounds out “family” by actually the largest chunk of instruction to any “family/household member” and role: slaves and masters.
You see, in the Roman world at the time, half of its 120 million residents were slaves. Sixty million slaves lived in the households of probably several million masters and slave owners.
Slavery was THE primary means of survival or “employment” if you will, in the Roman world. Virtually every type of job imaginable was handled by slaves whether educating the children as teachers, healing the sick as doctors or scrubbing the floors as housekeepers.
Status or class was not based upon the job you had as it is in American culture today but on the wealth and power you controlled, the political privilege and rights you were granted and exercised.
Because we have a well-developed idea of slavery in America’s history, let me talk a moment about how slavery under Rome differed and where it was similar with our American experience. Slavery in ancient Rome differed from its modern forms in that it was not based on race. But like modern slavery, it was an abusive and degrading institution. Cruelty was commonplace.
Most slaves during the Roman Empire were foreigners. These might include prisoners of war, sailors captured and sold by pirates, or slaves bought outside Roman territory. In hard times, it was not uncommon for desperate Roman citizens to raise money by selling their children into slavery.
All slaves and their families were the property of their owners, who could sell or rent them out at any time. Their lives were harsh. Slaves were often whipped, branded or cruelly mistreated. Their owners could also kill them for any reason, and would face no punishment.
Slaves merged easily into the population very easily. In fact, slaves looked so similar to Roman citizens that the Senate once considered a plan to make them wear special clothing so that they could be identified at a glance. The idea was rejected because the Senate feared that, if slaves saw how many of them were working in Rome, they might be tempted to join forces and rebel.
Another difference between Roman slavery and its more modern variety was manumission – the ability of slaves to be freed. Roman owners freed their slaves in considerable numbers: some freed them outright, while others allowed them to buy their own freedom. The prospect of possible freedom through manumission encouraged most slaves to be obedient and hard working. [Found at http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/slaves_freemen.html on 1.25.18.]
Imagine an ad reading: “Help Wanted: Menial job; no pay except for board and room; little chance for advancement; no benefits; no days off; no vacation; on call 24 hours a day. Once accepted for employment, the management has the legal right to beat or even kill you as it sees fit.” Any takers? Some of you may be thinking, “Yah, I already work there!” J
It was to this reality and messed-up social structure that Paul wrote this letter. Many, probably most in the church at Colossi were of the slave class just as most of us are employees, not bosses or employers.
The church in Colossi was where the slave owner, Philemon, worshipped. His runaway slave, Onesimus, mentioned in the book of Philemon and probably the one who delivered this book of Colossians to the church, was sent back to his master along with a letter calling on Philemon to treat his runaway slave as a brother. Better than that, he called on Philemon to treat his runaway slave as he would have treated the great Apostle Paul, his own spiritual father.
So before you buy into the tripe about Paul and the Bible not being hard enough on slavery and calling for its overthrow in the 1st century and beyond, consider how absolutely counter-cultural the book of Philemon and this passage were it its day. Had our Founding Fathers been serious about obeying what the Bible demands of masters in these two passages, there never would have been the horrible stain of slavery and centuries of racial bigotry that is on our nation’s history today. And had the entire Roman Empire done what God commanded masters to do in the N.T., it would have revolutionized if not eliminated slavery in the ancient world as well.
But Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, thankfully did not call for the immediate and outright abolition of slavery in the Roman world. Had he done that, at best there would have been slave rebellions and wars that would have cost millions of lives and involved untold brutality, likely on both sides. And when the dust would have cleared, the economy would have been completely destroyed, social chaos would have descended and millions of slaves would have probably died of starvation. Worse yet, had Paul advocated the outright abolition of slavery then, the fledgling Early Church would likely have felt the full weight of Rome seeking to crush it and its radical social reengineering.
But back to this passage. God’s instruction through Paul was and is SO revolutionary regarding slavery that we can take this same instruction and apply it almost straight across to the contemporary context of employers and employees. That itself should be enough proof of how revolutionary this instruction was to a world, half of with were slaves.
Earlier in this chapter, vs. 11, Paul taught the radical principle that in Christ there is “no slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all” (Col. 3:11). This put slaves on exactly the same plain with slave owners in terms of their personhood and equality. The slave in Christ is a brother to his master (Philemon 16).
History has proven Paul’s approach to be wise; these Christian principles have toppled the evil of slavery around the world. Based on his Christian faith, William Wilberforce waged a decades-long battle against slavery in the British Empire until it was officially outlawed in England in the early 19th century (1833). It took our most bloody, costly war—Civil War--to get slavery outlawed in the United States in 1865. Slavery is, to this day, one of godless mankind’s worst and most degrading human inventions. As followers of Jesus, it should trouble us deeply and move us to action, whether we’re talking sex trafficking in downtown Spokane or slaving by Boko Haram in N. Africa.
Paul’s commands are to Christian slaves and masters. But as I’ve said, they also apply directly to Christian employees and employers. Christ’s lordship is to affect every relationship in the workplace for Christ-followers, whether we’re a CEO and Company Presidents or the lowest paid night janitor or laborer.
When God is truly your boss, employees will be the best workers and employers will be the best bosses in the world.
So let’s examine what God says to both and then I’m going to invite one of our businessmen to come up and we’ll fire some questions at him about how we put this into practice every day of the week.
Colossians 3:22-25 is addressed to employees. So I’m going to take the liberty to substitute that term for “slaves” and “boss” for masters so that our brains hear what God wants us to grasp.
22 [Employees], obey your earthly [bosses] in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
This is the same strong word used in vs. 20 calling children to obey their parents. It has the same absolute nature—obedience “in everything.” The same exceptions apply—in everything except when doing so would require you to violate a clear command of God, to disobey God in order to obey your boss. That exception is probably triggered more in the employee-employer relationship than in the parent-child one, but in today’s world, I’m not sure.
Q: What are the most lilely types of situations in which you might have to disobey your boss and risk losing your job? (Lying on paperwork; cheating on taxes; lying to a customer; engaging in unethical practices, promising more than you can deliver, etc.)
This verse is mainly concerned with WHEN and HOW we are to give our best as employees. The WHEN is very easy: ALL THE TIME…not just when the boss is around, not just when the supervisor is there, but ALL THE TIME! That means giving our best at the end of the day as well as the beginning. It means giving our full time and full energy to every task and every time-slot on the job.
The HOW is the harder part. We are not to do it just because we want the promotion or the pay raise. Those are good free-enterprise motivations. But they are woefully insufficient for someone who sees their work as a gift and stewardship from God. They are insufficient if you understand that your work is a gift from God to steward and manage.
We are to work for our bosses “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Some bosses make that rather difficult, don’t they? It’s hard to sincerely respect and love to work for some bosses. Some bosses are abusive. Some are poor managers. Some are manipulative and self-serving. But God knows you can’t control or even pick your boss. And God cares more about OUR hearts toward our bosses than he cares about their hearts towards us.
Sincerity of heart is a heart-work that God can do. And it is what most of us need when our bosses are being jerks or falling down on their job as a leader. Sincerity here has the sense of simplicity and generosity. Don’t get all caught up in the office politics or the warehouse tongue-wagers. Just pray for your boss. Just work as hard as possible to be the boss’s best employee.
And do it with “reverence for the Lord.” Literally it is “fearing the Lord.”
Let’s read the next verse which is almost an echo of vs. 22.
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters….
Work is to be done “with sincerity of heart” and “with all your heart.” That suggests an intensity and sense of real investment in our work. It’s not “half-heartedly.” It’s not giving 80% but 100%. It’s really putting your heart into it, not just your time.
Working “with all your heart” or “with sincerity of heart” will involve quality too. It will be THE BEST quality you are able to produce. That may not be the best in the factory…or the best in the city. But it will be YOUR best. And working as unto Christ will mean that we will continue to work at making our “best” better…and even possibly THE best anyone will encounter in our line of work.
ILL: A cartoon showed a perfectly straight Tower of Pisa. The builder, standing in front of it, remarks to a friend, “I skimped a little on the foundation, but no one will ever really know it.” (Reader’s Digest [4/85])
Then there is the stereo statement, “with reverence for the Lord” and “as working for the Lord, not for human [bosses].” In employment as in parenting, God wants us to see those over us, whether parents or bosses, as if our parent or our boss were actually Jesus Christ. They may be the farthest thing from Christ in terms of character or disposition. But apparently that has nothing to do with how WE can superimpose the presence and person of Jesus over them. Jesus will use imperfect parents and bosses to teach us a whole lot about things He values like obedience and submission.
If those qualities were not things we needed to develop our whole lives, God wouldn’t have engineered life to require them at each and every stage. Even bosses, bigshots and presidents of companies and countries have to practice obedience and submission to laws, courts and company policies if they plan to remain bosses and presidents for very long. To superimpose Christ over the position and person of your boss can change the worst boss into an experience of God himself—an experience of submission and obedience. Hebrews 5:8 says, “Son though he [Jesus] was, he learned obedience from what he suffered….”
And He was PERFECT!
ILL: Dr. Howard Hendricks, a well-known speaker and former seminary prof from Dallas Theological Seminary, tells of being on a flight where an obnoxious man was raising a stink about every minor grievance he could think of. Even though most people would have told the guy where the exit door was, each time the stewardess responded with kindness and grace.
After watching this for some time, Hendricks called her over and complimented her on her good attitude with this difficult man. He asked for her name so that he could commend her to the president of the airline.
He was taken aback when the stewardess responded, “Thank you, sir, but I don’t work for American Airlines.” She looked like she worked for American Airlines. She had on their uniform and nametag.
“You don’t?” Hendricks sputtered.
“No,” she explained, “I work for Jesus Christ. American Airlines just pays the freight.”
Wherever you work, if you see that you work primarily for Jesus Christ, the job takes on new dignity and meaning as you see yourself serving Him…not the cranky customer or bumbling boss in front of you.
Think of yourself as an “ordained flight attendant,” or an “ordained plumber…doctor…teacher…maintenance person.”
Last two verses of this paragraph. Colossians 3:24, 25.
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.
“Scholars debate about the application of verse 25. Is he warning the slaves, the masters, or both?
There may be a warning for both sides here. But in the context, Paul is encouraging slaves who were mistreated to do what was right in spite of it. It seems more natural to take this verse in the sense of, “Don’t worry about those who mistreat you and seem to escape any consequences. The Lord will repay them someday, and He won’t be partial just because they’re important in the eyes of men.”
He’s saying that we need to focus primarily on the eternal perspective, not on this world. Some critics would dismiss this as “pie in the sky when you die.” They would say, “How cruel! Tell slaves, ‘Endure harsh, unfair treatment now, and someday you’ll be rewarded!’” . [Pastor Steven Cole at https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-27-christ-lord-workplace-colossians-322-41]
But the Bible clearly teaches that we will probably suffer for the sake of righteousness in this world IF we are living righteously and publically in Christ. But God will right all wrongs in heaven. We’ve got to “put all our eggs in the heaven basket”! Otherwise the suffering of the martyrs and their families makes no sense at all. And suffering under a tough boss will just frustrate you rather than grow trust in God and vision for eternity. Our perfect Lord Jesus submitted and suffered terribly under the authority of those the Father had put over Him while on earth. I’m pretty sure He must have learned to see the Father’s face behind Pilate and Herod and even the Chief Priests who were out to destroy Him.
Similarly, we are called to trust God to settle accounts, if not in this life, then in eternity. That submission to God and trust in His score-keeping is one of the things God wants all of us to grow in. And that should be enough for every one of us to give our employers, our bosses, our company, our government or our church the very best we have…because we are working for the Lord Jesus, God…our boss!
So let’s switch gears. I’ve asked Carl Thompkins, a businessman for 40+ years, to help us make this even more practical. Carl is President of The Way of Business, a local non-profit designed to help business owners and employees succeed at glorifying God through their work and businesses.
- How long you been in business?
- In what capacities as a.) employee and b.) boss?
1.) What are some of the differences people should be able to see between the way Christ-following employees work and Christ-following employers manage and secular employees and managers today?
2.) Besides what we’ve talked about already this morning, what are some of the most important guiding biblical principles that should direct both Christian employees and employers?
3.) What advice do you have for unemployed Christians when it comes to this topic of work?
--What about people who are drawing retirement or disability or SSI? Are they responsible to anyone in the use of their SSI, Disability Payments, EBT Card, and time.?
4.) How should we be using our employment or our businesses to build the Kingdom of God in our day.
- You’re about to retire this year, no? How does a passage like this speak to the issue of work? Of rest?
- What would you say to the Christian who loses their job because of the faith (solid Chr. ethics, better attitude or performance that is hated/maligned by inferior/lazy/etc. fellow workers)?
- What about sharing your faith at work? Guidelines?
- What about being in a union that strikes? Uses union funds for immoral causes?
[Interview with Carl Tompkins, President, The Way of Business]
1. What are some of the differences that people should be able to see between Christian and secular employees and bosses?
2. What are some of the most important biblical principles that should impact Christian employees and employers?
Colossians 3:22-4:1- Your verses as quoted.
1 Chronicles 29:11-13- God owns it all and controls it all - you work for God.
2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 - To eat we must work; trouble follows those who don't.
Hosea 12:6 - Maintain a balance in love and justice. Provide justice to move people away from their sin and love them along the way to show Jesus.
A. To be unemployed is unacceptable. Everyone has the responsibility and capability of working at something meaningful.
C. You cannot honor the Lord's plan for you life by being unemployed.
4. How should we be using our businesses to build the kingdom of God in our day?
A. Economic capital: Tithe a minimum of 10% of net earnings.
B. Social capital: Giving regularly scheduled time and talent to the community to heal brokenness.
C. Spiritual capital: Creating an environment that promotes Christian growth; let you light shine among men!