Dr. Richard L. Strauss
May 10, 1992
Purpose: To encourage us to do our jobs faithfully and diligently for the glory of the Lord.
Maybe you read about a carpenter and his helper who were putting roofing paper on a steep roof when suddenly the helper lost his footing and started sliding slowly toward the edge. He scraped and clawed desperately for a firm hold, but all to no avail. Just before dropping 12 feet to the ground, he was heard to say, "I just hate this part of the job!" (Reader's Digest, 10/86, p 131).
No job is perfect, obviously, but it seems as though Americans are having increased difficulty coping with their work environment. While most people who have a job are glad for a regular paycheck coming in, an overwhelming majority of workers express dissatisfaction with some aspect of their jobs. They are looking for personal fulfillment in their employment and failing to find it. Many are looking for change.
Maybe they do need to make a change in jobs. But maybe they need to make another kind of change. It's possible that what they need is a change of attitude about work in general. Some people seem to be allergic to it. Like the tramp to whom the housewife said, "Yes, I think I might find you a few odd jobs to do. Have you ever been offered work before?" "Only once, ma'am," he responded. "Aside from that, I've met with nothing but kindness" (Quote, 9/1/86).
Some of us, especially our younger children, think that work is a curse. Even some adults who know the Bible, but not enough of the Bible, have the mistaken idea that work is a curse, that it was inflicted on the human race as a result of Adam's sin.
Not so! Long before the Fall, the Bible says, "Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). Adam had work to do long before he rebelled against God. He would have been miserable with nothing meaningful to do and no profitable contribution to make. So God gave him work to do. That was part of being a human being.
While his sin added hardship to his work--no question about that--it was not the reason for his work. As difficult as this may be for some to comprehend, work is a wonderful gift from God. A wonderful gift from God.
In addition to that, it affords a marvelous opportunity to earn eternal rewards. Even the most menial jobs provide that opportunity. I know that, because the subject of rewards for performance on the job is taught in a context directed specifically to slaves in the ancient Roman empire, and slaves were the lowest of the low on the job scale. They had the most menial tasks.
Listen to what Paul said, by inspiration of God's Spirit, to slaves in the church at Colossee.
Read Colossians 3:22-24. "Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ."
The word "servant" means "slave" (as NASB and NIV both indicate). Paul is not condoning slavery, but merely facing facts as they were in the Roman world. Some scholars have estimated that there were as many as six million slaves in the Roman empire. They had no rights, they owned no property, and they were considered nothing but chattel. They could even be killed by their masters without question and without accountability. Slaves were nothing by human standards.
But slaves were people in God's sight, and some of them came to know Christ and were part of the assembly of believers. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. Some had masters who were also brothers and sisters in Christ. So some of these slaves thought they no longer had to work as hard, since they, like their masters, were Christians. They may have thought that becoming Christians excused them from doing the jobs well, but on the contrary, becoming Christians should have made them better workers--the very best slaves to be found anywhere.
And on top of that, doing their jobs well would earn them some kind of special reward in heaven, some kind of special inheritance. I don't know what it is. Paul doesn't spell it out. But something special is earned in heaven--some kind of "inheritance," he calls it--because they did their jobs well right here on earth.
Now we don't practice slavery in our culture--at least not technically. I realize that some of you may feel as though your bosses threat you like slaves. But if you work for someone else, you are an employee, not a slave. And yet, in a very real sense, you do belong to your employer during working hours. He or she has bought your time, your energies, and your abilities for a stated price, and therefore owns you during those hours. They bought and paid for you during those hours and you belong to them.
So what Paul says here to slaves is applicable to all of us who are employees. If you work for somebody, this passage is for you. What it says has direct application to your life. You can earn eternal rewards for the way you do your job.
How then can we do our jobs in such a way as to earn this special reward in heaven? There are five ways.
1. Work with a Submissive Spirit
We need to obey. "Servants, obey in all things for your masters according to the flesh." "Your masters according to the flesh" are simply your bosses in this earthly realm. And how are you supposed to respond to your boss? Do what you're told. It's just that simple.
"But you don't know my boss," people will say. "He's unreasonable. He's inconsiderate and unappreciative and he insists that I do things that are not in my area."
"Obey her? She doesn't know what she is doing. She's unfair, she has her favorites. Surely I don't have to do everything she tells me to do, do I?"
The Apostle Peter had something to say about that. Hold your place in Colossians 3 and turn over to 1 Peter 2.
Read 1 Peter 2:18. "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh."
Did you see that? "Harsh!" That word (skolios) can mean unjust, unreasonable, tyrannical, unscrupulous, and even dishonest. That doesn't mean we must lie or cheat for our bosses. That's where we draw the line. We cannot do anything that contradicts God's Word. But the point of what Peter was saying is that our boss' character alone does not give us an excess to disregard his or her instructions. We need to do what we're told.
We have a problem with the whole area of submissions in our culture. We don't like it. And we have every excuse under the sun to avoid it. "But that's not my area. That's not what I was hired to do. That's demeaning. Why don't you get after her instead of me? Besides, if everybody just did what they were told we would still have sweat shops, child labor, and oppression of every description on the job. Christians would never have been able to strike for fair wages or better working conditions."
That's not necessarily so. Submission doesn't mean silence. We have both the right and the responsibility to confront injustices and so work to change them. But we do it graciously and kindly. We do it without bitterness, resentment or rancor. And we certainly don't try to avoid unpleasant tasks. If we want to earn a reward by our performance on the job, then we need to work with a submissive spirit. We need to do what we're told.
2. Work When Nobody is Watching
"Not with eye-service," is what Paul says. We don't use that term "eye-service" anymore, but it really is quite descriptive, and we can't miss the meaning. There are lots of employees who work with one eye on the clock and the other on the boss. When the boss is looking, they produce. When the boss is nowhere to be found, they're goofing off. They stretch their coffee breaks. They stand around the water cooler and gab. They come in later or leave early. They're not so much interested in doing a good job as they are in merely looking good. EYE-SERVICE! They work only when someone is looking.
Ray Stedman is one of my favorite preachers. He tells the ultimate story about eye-service. Some years ago a missionary to Africa was responsible for getting the nationals in his area to do certain jobs. He discovered that they were all rather lazy and would only perform while he was actually watching them. When he left they would all stop work and do nothing until he returned. This missionary happened to have a glass eye, and one day when it was irritating him, he took it out and laid it on a stump. He had to leave for a short time, when he returned he found that everybody was still working because the "eye," as they thought, was watching them while he was away. He thought he had discovered the perfect way to keep them working when he had other things to do, until one day he returned to find that one of the workers had sneaked around from behind and put a hat over the eye, and they were...lounging around enjoying themselves. That's eye-service. (Stedman, Sermon, Living Christianly, Colossians 3:18--4:6, February 15, 1987).
None of us would be that naive. But we might be foolish enough to goof off when the boss is not around, and put out our best work only when he is looking. Same thing. No different. Eye-service.
If we are that foolish, we can't expect any special reward in heaven for our performance on the job. The rewards will go to those who worked faithfully and diligently even when nobody was watching.
So we've got two good principles: with a submissive spirit, and when nobody is watching. Let's look at a third principle for earning a special reward in heaven based on how we work here on earth.
3. Work when Nobody Praises You
Paul put it this way: "Not as men-pleasers." Now it is obviously not wrong to want to please other people. In Romans 15:3, Paul writes, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good." And in Titus 2:9 he specifically encourages slaves to please their masters. The issue here is not whether we want to please our bosses, but whether our efforts to please them are actually designed to benefit ourselves--to get their praise, or to win some advantage for us.
If we're only doing a good job to get something for ourselves, we probably won't keep it up very long, because we don't always get what we want. So we'll get discouraged and start slacking off.
Today is Mother's Day, so I want to talk to you moms for a minute. Some of you work at home. Your primary vocation is keeping house and raising children. And that, by the way , is high calling, contrary to what some in our day might try to tell you. God bless you if you've made that choice.
But it's nice to get a little appreciation for what you do, isn't it? "Good meal, Mom!" "Thanks for always having clean clothes in my drawer." "You do such a nice job with the house, dear, I'm always proud to have our friends over." But if you're only working to get those words of praise, and you don't get them, what will happen? In all probability you'll feel like quitting.
For instance, if you go to great pains day after day to prepare attractive and tasty meals for your family in order to get their approval, and they woof down one after another without a word of thanks, you're going to feel like throwing a can and a can-opener at them and letting them go at it themselves. Go ahead and throw it if you want. But don't expect any reward in glory.
We all need to show more appreciation--husbands, wives, and children. But if we want that special reward for eternity, then we will need to work faithfully and diligently even when nobody praises us.
4. Work with Undivided Purpose
This idea is found twice in the passage. First, "in sincerity of heart" (verse 22). The idea is singleness of heart, undivided mind. I wonder how many employees fail to give their employers their full attention. They put in their hours at work, but they spend a good deal of their time talking to family and friends on the telephone, or to their stock brokers, or to their partners in some little part-time business they run on the side. Their hearts really aren't in the job they're getting paid to perform. There won't be any reward in heaven for that, you may be assured. Rewards are for those who work with singleness of mind.
Incidentally, those words "sincerity of heart," according to some Bible commentators, also indicate integrity. That is, without duplicity or dishonesty (A.T. Robertson, Paul and the Intellectuals, p.122). There will be no eternal reward for padding your expense account, claiming trips you never took or meals you never ate, then doctoring the books to make it all look right. There will be no eternal reward for having somebody else punch the time clock for you, or taking items home from the office or shop for your personal use. Stealing from employers is a major scandal in our nation and cost the economy billions of dollars...and it grieves the heart of God.
Sincerity of heart. Undivided mind, honesty, and integrity. The idea of undivided purpose is found again in verse 23, in the term "heartily" (ek psuche). It means literally "from the soul." In other words, don't do your job haphazardly or half-heartedly, but with all your might.
Don't be the fellow overheard at the water cooler: "The boss said that I would get a raise when I earned it. He's crazy if he thinks I'm gonna wait that long" (Reader's Digest, 2/92, p59). Put your whole being into it. As wise old Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."
Give it everything you've got. Do not tolerate carelessness or indifference in yourself. Accept every task as a solemn responsibility and do it right. Keep your eye on the goal, and put aside everything that might distract you from accomplishing the goal. Don't be lazy or wasteful. Give it everything you've got.
Work with a submissive spirit, when nobody is watching, when nobody praises you, and with undivided purpose. Lastly, there is a fifth principle.
5. Work for the Lord as Your Boss
This idea is also found several times in the passage--three, to be exact. "Fearing God" in verse 22 is the first. We need to do our jobs with an awareness that the Lord is right there watching us and evaluating us, because He is.
One executive secretary put it like this: "When I began to envision Jesus standing behind my boss, my work changed. I had to do my very best. Even the menial task of serving coffee became a joy, and my attitude changed from arrogance to respect" (Worldwide Challenge Magazine, 0/78 [sic], 9.24, Ephesians 6:7).
Again in verse 23, "Do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men." Would you do your job any differently if you thought you were working for the Lord rather than the company? If you would, then you aren't yet earning any eternal reward for it. The reward will come when you recognize that you are really working for the Lord, and then do your job in that light.
That same idea is repeated again at the end of verse 24, "For you serve the Lord Christ." That's a very illuminating statement. All work that is consistent with the principles of God's word is really work for the Lord. It is part of God's plan for our lives,"...so that God's world can go on, and so that men and women may have the things they need for life and living" (Barclay, Colossians, p.197).
Whether you collect garbage, perform surgery, sell real estate, bake bread, keep house, preach sermons, cut grass, teach children, or whatever you do for a living, it is work for the Lord. Your employer may pay your salary, but you are actually working for the Lord.
We have the idea that so-called "full-time Christian service" is really the important sacred work, while other vocations are secular and less important. Do you see what Paul is saying here? All work is sacred. All work is for the Lord. Not just full-time Christian work. All work. Even the most menial tasks of a Roman slave were to be performed as a service to the Lord.
Paul taught much the same thing to the Ephesians. Hold on to Colossians, and turn over to Ephesians just for the sake of completeness, will you, please? There are many passages in Colossians and Ephesians that are very similar, and this is one of them.
Read Ephesians 6:5-7. "Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men."
And here is the same promise of eternal reward in verse 8: "...knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free" (Ephesians 6:8). God's going to honor you for doing your job well.
Some years ago a Boston Newspaper carried an interview with a cleaning lady, who for 40 years did the same humdrum tasks in the same office building. The reporter asked her how she could stand the monotony and boredom of doing the thing day in and day out. The woman gave this reply: "Oh, I don't get bored. I use cleaning materials that God made; I clean objects that belong to people God made, and I make life more comfortable for them. My mop is the hand of God!" (Our Daily Bread, 10/3/83). Wow! You see, that lady had the right idea. She understood Colossians 3:22-24.
Can you imagine what a difference that kind of attitude would make in the way you do your job, and in the fulfillment you find in your employment? In the final analysis, our fulfillment is not found in the job at all, but in the Lord. He is the one who brings meaning to life, and to work--any kind of work that is consistent with the principles of His Word. It might pay us to put this thought on a piece of paper and place it somewhere we can see it during our working hours: "for you serve the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:24).
Now this certainly doesn't mean that we need to run out and become workaholics. People who neglect their families and their health in order to succeed in the business world usually do it to prove their own self worth, not to glorify the Lord. The Spirit-filled life is always balanced, and God's truth is always balanced.
But the balanced truth is that you can earn eternal rewards by your performance on the job. That will come if you will work with a submissive spirit, work even when nobody is watching you and nobody is praising you, work with undivided purpose, and work for the Lord as your boss. Are you willing to take God at His Word and do it?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now remember again--please, please remember. No matter how hard you work--on the job or off the job--you can never work your way into heaven. You cannot do enough good deeds to earn heaven's glory. "It is not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy that He saved us" (Titus 3:5).
The only way to get into heaven is to realize that God loves you. He saw you in your sinful condition and sent His Son to Calvary's cross to pay for your sin, personally and individually. Then He raised Him from the grave, so that the living Lord Jesus Christ could impart to you His eternal life. All you can do is acknowledge your need and open your heart to Him by faith.
If you've never done that, we invite you to do it right now. From that point on, the way you do your job may mean something in heaven. Until that point, you can be assured--according to God's Word--you won't even be in heaven.
Will you admit your sin and confess your need for Jesus Christ today? Let's bow before Him, prayerfully.
With our heads bowed reverently in God's presence, may I ask you if you know Christ as your personal Savior from sin? Have you made this decision I've been talking about for the last few minutes? Have you opened your heart to Him? If there is some question in your mind about whether you've ever done that, why not settle it right here and now?
In the quiet of your own soul, right where you sit, talk to God:
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus paid the penalty for my sin on Calvary's cross. I'm putting my trust in You, Lord Jesus. Come into my heart and save me from sin."
Will you do that right now?
If you are a Christian, maybe God has spoken to you this morning through His Word. Maybe you haven't been doing your job the way God wants you to do it. Maybe you've been complaining and criticizing. But now you're ready to do what God wants you to do. Would you tell Him so? Would you make that commitment right now?
Father, we are making an offering of ourselves to You right now. Receive it, we pray. We offer ourselves joyfully and gratefully to You, to do Your will. Please fill us with Your Spirit and then use us to bring glory to Your name and to attract the lost around us to Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.