Working in the Lord - Colossians 3:22-4:1
Much of our lives are given to work. For most of us, most days can be divided into three parts with one third being given to some kind of work. Whether it’s for pay or not, work is a significant part of what we give ourselves to day in and day out, and that’s by God’s design.
It’s not uncommon for us to think of work as a burden or to be frustrated by the stresses of work, but it’s important to remember that work is God’s idea and that it existed before the fall of mankind in to sin. In Genesis 2:15 we see that before the fall and before the curse of sin, God gave man work to do. Work was included as a part of God’s original plan for His people.
In the same way that God designed marriage, but marriage is made more difficult because of sin; and in the same way God created the parent-child relationship and it is made harder because of sin; God gave us work as a good gift, but because of sin our work and the relationships in the workplace are made more difficult by sin.
But as those who are in Christ, through the power of the Gospel we can now live as those who have died to sin and have been given new life. We can now pursue marriages in the Lord, parent-child relationships that are in the Lord and work as it is meant to be, in the Lord.
Context: The Bible and Slavery
While this passage carries a lot of principles that can very easily be applied to employee/employer relationships, it’s important that we acknowledge the original context, the master/slave relationship. This should also force us to ask careful questions about what the Bible says about slavery.
While the Bible is clear that there are forms of slavery that are unequivocally sinful and should not be tolerated (Deuteronomy 24:7; 1 Timothy 1:8-11) the New Testament also seems to present a form of slavery that is not necessarily sinful. The ESV translation uses the word bondservantto describe a relationship that is a form of slavery, but that is not inherently sinful. This type of arrangement is often entered into voluntarily and honors the personhood of the one serving. It should also be noted that Paul goes to great lengths in his letters to reinforce that a distinction in role does not mean a distinction in dignity or worth – we are all One in Christ (Galatians 3:27-29).
It’s these kinds of relationships that Paul is providing instruction for in Colossians 3-4 as well as in other letters. Paul’s aim was that both those who serve and those who rule as masters would live as ‘unto the Lord.’
The Straightforward Command: Servants are to Obey their Masters in Everything – The command for servants to obey their masters is simple and at the same time it’s not uniquely Christian. It is a good and common standard.
The Heart of the Command (The Uniquely Christian Command): Obey Your Masters ‘in the Lord’ – What makes Paul’s command for servants unique is the heart or the motivation of the command – their relationship to the Lord and their allegiance to Him as the ultimate authority.
- When we work ‘in the Lord’ it changes our perspective of authority (vv. 22-23) - God is our ultimate, eternal authority, but in his design there are others who are given partial, temporary authority in our lives. By His design, when we obey our earthly authorities we are also obeying His final authority. We obey Him by obeying those whom He has placed over us (Romans 13:1-2).
- When we work ‘in the Lord’ it changes the tone of our hearts towards our work (vv. 22-23)
- We should work with sincere hearts (vs. 22) - The word sincere could also be translated as single-minded. We are to be focused on doing exactly what we’ve been called to do in our work. We must not work only when we are being watched or for the approval of those who see us working (2 Thessalonians 3:10-13).
- We should work with fully committed hearts (vs. 23) - As those who are in Christ we should be known for being people who work hard and who give all we can to the task we’ve been given (Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 6:5-7).
- When we work ‘in the Lord’ it changes the motivation of our work (vv. 24-25) – As those who are in Christ our primary motivation should be to work for the Lord; we do so knowing that He is the One who rewards those who are His and who punishes the wrongdoer (Galatians 6:7).
The Command for Masters/Employers: You are under authority - lead like Christ (4:1)
- Masters can make the calling of their servants easier or more difficult In the same way that husbands are to lead their wives in love and parents are to raise their kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, masters are to lead in a way that makes their servant’s obedience easier.
- Masters are not ultimate, they are under the authority of the greater Master, the One who will reward and punish - It doesn’t matter how high we get or how much authority we gain, we all bow to a greater Master. We all serve the Lord to whom we will give account.