– Pastor Brandon’s article from the September 2016 Newsletter
Every now and then I walk through the door of the office and Agnes calls out, “Hi, boss.” I grin and either take a moment to chat or simply say “hi” and go on with whatever it is I’m doing. I’m often caught off guard by that kind of greeting from her because I don’t usually think of our working relationship in those terms. From my point of view (and I think she would agree), she’s a great friend, and we work well together. She is an incredible help to me in my ministry and an absolute blessing for our church. Like many of you, she works wholeheartedly and gives of herself well beyond our ability to compensate her for what she offers in service. I enjoy tackling hard topics with her because neither of us is afraid to lovingly question, disagree, and work toward the best solutions. I am grateful for her wisdom and steadfastness in the faith. We function well as a team, and in those moments where I get to be “the boss,” I appreciate her willingness and kindness as she graciously runs the reports “my way.”
Well, how are things at your workplace? Maybe things are great and you’ve got healthy relationships with your employers, peers, and those who work under your oversight. Or maybe your workplace more directly reflects the competition, brokenness, and pain of the world around us. Whatever the case, we find ourselves at work within these systems and structures of authority, and we must ask how God wants us to conduct our work in a way that honors him.
I think we find some answers to this question in the letter to the church at Ephesus:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:5-9)
Slavery in New Testament times, slavery in Old Testament times, and slavery in America’s history were all different things, and we won’t have time here to delve into those differences. While we live in a culture that abhors slavery, and rightly so, we need to understand that ancient believers found themselves coming to Christ within broken worldly systems. Thus, in this letter, we see Paul giving guidance on how to honor the Lord in these particular circumstances. Moreover, although slavery is not present in our culture in these ways, we can still learn from the principles taught in this passage and apply them to our current situations.
As I mentioned above, we all find ourselves in relationships where there is some kind of system of authority. So, as we begin to apply this Scripture, let me ask you to read the verses again, but this time, replace the word “slave” with the concept of “those under authority” and the word “master” with the concept of “those in authority.” What might we glean from thinking of the passage in this way?
First, as someone under authority, we see that we are to respect those in authority over us and serve them with sincerity. We are not simply working for our own benefit. Rather, we should truly desire the good of others including those who employ us. We do our jobs well when our supervisors are present and when they are not around. We are called to give ourselves fully to the task at hand and serve as if we were serving Christ himself. Even if we are not treated or compensated in the way that we want, we can find comfort and encouragement in the fact that Christ sees our efforts and will reward us accordingly in the life to come.
Second, for those of us who find ourselves in positions of authority, we learn that we are to treat those under our oversight in the same way. The text literally reads, “do the same things for them.” This means we need to show respect and demonstrate a genuine concern for those under us rather than seeing people as objects to manipulate so that we can get stuff done. We should not threaten others or in any way abuse our authority. Instead, we are reminded that ultimately, we serve the same master, Jesus Christ, and we will all give an account to him for how we treat one another. He will not show us favoritism because of our “high” position. Therefore, we work and call others to work in a way that honors him.
I recognize that these things are much easier said than done. The systems we function in are often very broken, and it is difficult to put these attitudes and behaviors into practice. Yet, God calls us to honor and worship him in every aspect of our lives. By his grace and power we can live out this new, abundant life in Christ. I hope you’ve found this helpful as you consider how to honor the Lord at your own workplace. Join us in September as we begin a new series on our daily work and how it functions as worship to our God.