Working 9 til 5
Colossians 3:22–4:1-Working Nine til Five
We come to the second portion of Paul’s explanation of how the doctrine of Christ’s supremacy and sufficiently affects how we relate to one another. Last week we saw how this doctrine affects the home; wives, husbands, children, and fathers. This week we see how this doctrine affects the workplace. Paul addressed bondservants and masters, the modern-day equivalent of employees and employers. Again, the main point Paul continues to reiterate throughout the letter to the Colossians is that Christ is supreme over all things, and Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to save his people. As we looked at last week, we saw this doctrine has application in the home in how we relate to each other in the various roles God has called us to. Christ is Lord over all things, and hierarchy, which is God-ordained, is for the glory of God. We will see this throughout the study today.
The first group which Paul addresses is ‘bondservants’ (ESV), ‘servants’ (KJV/NKJV), or ‘slaves’ (NASB). The word can be used in a variety of ways, e.g., Paul is a servant of Christ (2 Cor 4:5); Christ humbled himself to become a servant (Php 2:7), or an actual slave (Phm 16). We need to be aware of when we think of slavery, we have a very particular form of slavery, which is based upon horrendous views that particular races are not the ‘favored race’ (Cf. Charles Darwin’s view from Origins of Species). We need to understand the difference in our culture from previous cultures. Slavery devalues the life of another human and trades them like cattle, which dishonors God who’s image all man is made in (Gen 1:27, Gen 9:6). Maybe the better term might be an indentured servant, but a more modern title would be translated employees—someone who has a supervisor, manager, or boss.
Paul’s main point is that the employee is to obey their earthly master as they would obey their heavenly master, Christ. He gave a similar command of obedience to children (Col 3:20). We need to note that Paul’s comment in Colossians 3:11, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all and in all.” Paul does not mean that all of these structures or differences are eradicated. For example, there is no such thing as a Greek or Jew anymore. Paul’s point is that Christ is the main thing that sets us apart, e.g., Christian or non-Christian. Paul does not then mean there is no hierarchy in society. We can see this because Paul addresses this hierarchy in this section of Colossians.
a. Work obediently
Employees are not to obey their earthly masters to please them, but for the glory of God. They are not to obey them in the way of eye-service but realizing that the Lord is above all and we serve him. We see the distinction between earth and heaven again. This takes us back to Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” We realize that promotions are beneficial, but if we do so to please men, then we might be seeking to honor man and not God. Obedience does not mean that if your boss commands you to commit fraud, then you do so, but you are obedient to them under the word of God. If your job requires you to commit sin, then you should find new employment.
b. Work heartily
We are not to work externally to please them but with ‘sincerity of heart.’ Paul explains in Eph 6:5-6, “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” The sincerity of heart speaks of the feeling that motivates you to accomplish the work. You see obedience to the employer as obedience to the Lord because Christ is Lord over all. If Christ is Lord over everything, he has placed you to be the employee of your employer, so serve and obey them as you would with Christ. Motivated with your whole being, the Christian should never do a job half heartily.
c. Work soulfully
Paul reiterates the previous point in a new way. He commands them to work heartily. The word for heartily is not the same word, which is given in verse 22, but speaks of the soul. A better translation might be ‘work soulfully.’ Paul shows the connection with the great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). You can see the similarities between loving God with your whole heart and soul. You do not work for the glory of the company or your manager, but for the glory of God. You work for the Lord and not for men. Now Christians should be the best brick masons, bakers, accountants, or trash collectors because they do not do their occupation for man but for the glory of God. Martin Luther explains this in his theology, which is called the “priesthood of all believers.” This means that we have no priest today because Christ is our High Priest who has made the sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God. But it also means there are no sacred (e.g., Priest) or secular (e.g., baker) vocations. The Pastor is not more holy because of his occupation. Everyone serves God in their occupation. A quote which has been attributed to Martin Luther says,
“The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
Maybe a better explanation is not that God loves clean floors or good shoes, but the maid or the shoemaker loves to glorify God in their occupation. They sweep the floor as they would for God, or they make shoes as they would if Christ would wear them. This is where Paul explains that “You are serving Christ.” The teenage child who works at Wendy’s flipping burgers should do so for the glory of God. Each person has been called to a high and holy calling in their occupation, not because of the occupation but because it is to be done for the glory of God.
Paul also makes a brief comment, which should also comfort us when we do not have the greatest boss. “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col 3:25). We are all accountable to God for our own actions in the roles we have been placed. We understand that Christ is Lord overall and will judge everyone according to their deeds (Acts 17:31). The Christian understands that vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom 12:17-19). In the last day, God will not judge people differently because they sat in a corner office of a big company or if they had a job which paid minimum wage. There is no partiality with God (Rom 2:11, Acts 10:34, Jam 2:1, 9). This should bring great comfort to the employee who is taken advantage of because they see their employment as God-glorifying but also should be a warning for those who do things halfhearted or take credit for other’s work. The Lord sees all and will judge accordingly.
The last group that Paul addresses is masters. The Greek word is actually kyrios, which is the same word used which is translated Lord at the end of the verse, ‘master in heaven.’ Masters need to understand they have a master who is in heaven, and they do not get the final say. They need to set their minds on things above, not on earthly things. Paul gives them two commandments. Previously he gave husbands two commandments (Col 3:19). They are simple to say, but in reality, they can be hard to do properly. The two commandments are treating your bondservants 1) justly and 2) fairly.
The same root word is used in the previous verse speaking of the wrongdoer or the doer of injustice. The employer is to treat their employee in a just way, not doing any wrong because the previous verse can be comforting to those who have seen injustice but a great warning to those who do the injustice themselves.
The second command which Paul gives to masters is to treat your bondservants fairly. This word actually means equally or with fairness. Paul uses this word in 2 Corinthians to encourage those who have more to give some to those who have little (2 Cor 8:13-14). This really is the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). Treat employees how you would like to be treated. God will treat everyone justly and equally (Col 3:25). Christian employers should be one of the best people to work for because their theology affects their views, we might not pay the best, but we should never pay the worst; we might not have the most, but we certainly should give generously. The virtues that we are clothed in Colossians 3:12-14 should affect how you manage.
Christ is Lord of all, and we see that every earthly structure is under his Lordship. We should see every aspect of our relationships under his authority. This same principle applies to how the Christian relates to the state (Rom 13:1-7), the church (Heb 13:7), home (Eph 5:22-6:4), and our workplace (Eph 6:5-9). Even in a fallen world with sinful people who might be above us, we submit to them as we do to Christ. We realize that in all of our roles and responsibilities, we will give an account for what we have been called to do as citizens, members, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, employees, and employers. This is why we are commanded in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Every hour of every day, we are serving as ambassadors of Christ. Man’s chief end is to Glorify God and enjoy him forever (WSC 1).
As we consider the incarnation of Christ we think mainly of his humiliation. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that
“Christ’ s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross: in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time” (WSC 27).
Christ took the form of a servant (Phil 2:7). The master, the Lord, became a servant and not merely a servant he humbled himself even to the point of death, and death on a cross. We think about Christs humiliation during this time. Christ who is described in Colossians 1:15-20, is the one who was placed in a manger. We think of Christ’s servant heart as he came as the suffering servant, the one who was oppressed, afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth (Is 53:7). We follow Christ’s example of being humble, counting others more significant than yourselves (Phil 2:3).