Living to Please God

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. 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:17-4:1)

This morning we will finish up with chapter 3 of Colossians and in fact go through chapter 4 verse 1. This wraps up an important section of thought dealing primarily with the home, the environment of the home as it would have been commonly lived out in the ancient world. The homes of ancient times, including the first century, Paul’s original recipients of this letter, would have in some ways mirrored our homes today, and in some ways they would have seemed radically different. The similarities would be in the form of dad and mom and children. These are timeless realities of the family that are biblically defined from the beginning of history in Genesis 2. These roles in the home are supported and discussed all throughout the Bible as God-given roles, and we have ample instruction regarding how to live in these roles. These are not cultural roles, but Biblical roles clearly laid out for us. 

But for today we get into what the ESV describes as “bond-servants,” but what is probably better interpreted as “slaves.” Why is this included, why are slaves included in section of the Bible about living in a household? That is a good question for us to consider. 

This section talking about bond-servants or slaves is difficult for us to relate to, so it is often used to talk about employment, like an employee-employer type relationship. Here in the west, in our culture, that is the closest thing we can relate this to. But I want to be clear that that is not the primary meaning of it. In this writing, in this letter to the Colossians, Paul is talking about slaves, not what we experience in employment today. Having said that, I do think we can take principles here and we can apply them to employment in some ways, and I do want to do that some this morning. We will do that, but I want to talk briefly about this issue of slavery first.

Many in the past, and even today, have tried to use the Bible to condone or condemn slavery. Some have pointed to this passage and have said, “See, Paul is okay with slavery.” Some have gone here and to passages like this to say, “Slavery must be okay.” I want to say up front that there is nothing here that says that. Paul never endorsed slavery or the institution of slavery. He does acknowledge that it exists in the first century, and in that context helps by giving instruction to slaves concerning how to conduct themselves. But it would be a bad and wrong misreading of Paul to read into his teaching approval of the institution of slavery itself.

One important thing we see here is that Paul speaks directly to slaves as individuals, loved by a God who gives them specific instruction on how to live as those loved by God. Neither Paul nor God treats them as sub-humans untouched by His love or His grace. In fact, they worshiped side by side with others in the church or they wouldn’t be addressed in this letter.

When we think of slavery we tend to think of it in terms of our ugly past as Americans and the enslavement of a race of people, forcible slavery. When Paul wrote this it was different than that. It is estimated that about a third of the region were slaves, and these slaves were from all ethnic backgrounds, not any one race of people. Many too were voluntary slaves, they voluntarily sold themselves into slavery. And as hard as it is for us to understand from our vantage point, the ultimate goal for most was not freedom, but for many it was stability and security, and so some would willingly give up freedom for the stability and security that a master might provide. It was a different world than what we know. But even then, Paul does not endorse slavery, but is interested in teaching all people to live for God’s glory no matter what their circumstances may be.

So having said all of that, having given some history and context, I do want us to look at these verses in a broader sense, in a way that may help us with practical application where we are today. We are not slaves, thank the Lord for that, but we are to live for God’s glory in all that we do. So Paul’s encouragement here does relate to us as believers even today.

22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:22-4:1)

I want to talk about five aspects of work from this passage today: motivation, diligence, compensation, trusting God, and grace. Again, each of these as they relate to our work. When I say work, I mean the job you go to, the job you do at home, the chores that are assigned to you. I am talking about for all of us, the work that God has given us to do within the framework in which we now live.

First let’s talk about motivation and diligence…

22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:22-23)

The motivation for work and for all of life is found here. In all that we do as Christians we are to do those things as unto the Lord. How do we work? We work in a way that is pleasing to God. What Paul is warning about here is a type of work attitude or even life attitude that is built around pleasing people through deceit, or using deceit to try and look good in front of other people. What I mean by that is simply pretending to do a good job while the boss is watching or someone else important is watching. It is being someone you really aren’t when the right audience is near. It may be like, kids, what you do in front of your parents, or what we may do in front of church friends. It is sort of like showing off in order to get positive attention. We have all probably worked with a person like that or maybe we have been that person. But what Paul is saying is that the one whom we are to really work hard for, He is always present, He is always there. The Lord is our boss, He is our master, right? He is always near, always present, He knows if we are doing our best or if we are just getting by.

You know, as Christians, we ought to be the absolute best workers on the planet! Do you know that how you work impacts people who see you? If we are a fake at work, then what else are we faking? If our actions are deceitful, then might our words be also?

Notice what Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:1. This is important for us to hear – “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” Notice the “so that.” Work hard, show honor, “so that” – and here is a key point – so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled! Our actions in public will further our gospel testimony or it will crush it. 

Friday evening we had a delivery of doors to receive at the house we are building. The house is out in the country, hard to find, and it was getting late on a Friday night when many people are getting off work, ready for the weekend. The trucker called me, told me his name was Stephen, and that he was about thirty minutes away. I told him the house is hard to find, he listened carefully, and assured me it would be no problem. He called me as he was turning on our road to let me know he was close. He got to the end of our driveway, looked at the long driveway to the house – this is where most truckers balk, like, “Do you expect me to drive this big truck down there?” – he looked and said, “No problem, I’ll take the load right to the house.” I said, “Well okay!” He drove down, got out, and with a big smile on his face introduced himself to everyone there and let us know he was there to help us. In fact, he took real interest in us. One guy with us was Matthew. This trucker, Stephen, said, “Matthew – you know, that is a Bible name. Matthew was a good man, a godly man. Are you going to be like that Matthew?” You see, Stephen was a Christian man. But before he ever spoke words that indicated his faith to us, he with great enthusiasm put his Christianity on display in how he did his work, how he greeted us and offered his hand to help us. So by the time he said something about the Bible I thought, “Yes, that make sense!” That is, that he is a Christian, because he acts like one. His testimony went before Him. He was working heartily unto our Lord, and it showed.

Does your faith go before you in your actions at work so that when you speak words of truth, the gospel to others, it is received with credibility instead with skepticism? Now, we know that just because we act like Christians doesn’t mean people will receive our words. God is sovereign over responses. But we can be sure that our actions are not the stumbling blocks for words that should be received. How are we doing at work with this?

Next is compensation. We can hardly talk about work without talking about compensation. But maybe for us as Christians we can think about it in multiple ways. Obviously it takes money to function in our society. We are warned not to love money. In Luke 16:14 we see that the Pharisees were lovers of money. That is idolatry. In 1 Timothy we see that elders/pastors are not to be lovers of money. But the most prominent passage on the love of money is from 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Having read these admonitions regarding loving money, that does not mean it is bad to work for and earn money. But for us, there is a greater compensation than money.

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Our hard work, working heartily here, guarantees us more compensation than what we receive every two weeks or so – “from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”

Many people think they are not compensated properly for their skills. And you know, some are not. We even saw hundreds of people protesting in late spring because of what they believed to be substandard pay. People demanding more money, making threats even, if they didn’t receive more money. The world is not fair. Sometimes we may not get what we think we deserve. But for us, we can give that to the Lord, we can look beyond our temporal pay and we can look forward to an eternal inheritance. Your boss may not fully appreciate you, your boss may not compensate you how you think he or she should, but your heavenly Father will lavish on you so much more – a reward of incredible grace, incredible generosity.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

And so we can work hard, work hard as unto the Lord, even if we think we are giving our boss more than what they deserve, because we too will receive way more than what we could ever deserve, we will receive what Christ deserves: generous eternal provision from our God.

Next, trusting God…

For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:25)

If we are treated badly as we work, and you know if you have a long and steady work history, you will at some time be treated badly, maybe in a way that didn’t reflect your actions. Maybe you were blamed for something you didn’t do or given a schedule that was impossible to hold to, maybe told to do something that would go against God’s Word, go against your conscience. There are many ways that we might receive bad treatment. But when this happens, we are in a place where we can do something profound, something honoring to our Lord. What can we do? Simply trust Him. Trust Him to take care of us, trust Him to act in His wisdom and according to His Word and His power. 

For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:25)

This verse could refer to bosses who treat workers badly. However, the most likely interpretation is not about bosses or masters but about workers or slaves. This is most likely a warning to slaves. It is a call to obedience. It is a call for us even to live obediently to our Lord. Living in obedience is living a life of trust in God. We are tempted to do wrong as we work. We are tempted to let the other guy work harder so we don’t have to. We are tempted to clock out a little earlier than we should. We are tempted to laziness, to aggressiveness toward others, to people pleasing, even as we read earlier. But there is not partiality with God, we will reap what we sow.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34)

No one, none of us should presume on our Christianity to live in disobedience to God, even if we are God’s loved children. He disciplines those whom He loves! And so for our good and for His glory He will act to move us to a better place, to lead us toward holiness, to lead us closer to Him and the peace and joy that flows from Him. He loves you that much, He loves me that much. 

Lastly, in the workplace, in first century slavery, and for God’s glory even today, those who rule are called to rule with much grace!

Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)

This is a radical statement for masters. The call is to treat slaves justly and fairly; fairly here means as equals. Even in the workplace today there is a strong tendency for managers, owners, bosses to treat employees as inferior to themselves. An attitude of, “I have worked harder, longer, I am smarter to be where I am, I deserve more than the average worker. I will get more than you.” These words of Paul are laid out to counter such an attitude. You know, ultimately we are where we are because God has put us there. If you are a leader, then lead humbly because God gave you that, and He can take it away.

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

God is the giver of all good things. What we have, even the positions that we may hold, have been given to us from our Lord. There is no place then for boasting, there is no place for belittling others. As Christians we may be in leadership in some way, but there is a mighty and glorious leader over each of us, He is the true master, He is our master in Heaven.

Now, there may be some of you here who are really struggling at work. The workplace can be really challenging at times. Maybe it is pay, or benefits, maybe it is a lack of compassion on the part of leadership, maybe it is unrealistic expectations. Maybe it is simply the routine that is getting to you. It could be many things. And you know, for you maybe it is time to move to another job, I don’t know, maybe you should seek counsel on that. But until then, we have instruction on how to think about work, and the place where we work, and those we work for, or those who work for us. Even in our work, we are here to glorify God, to make Him known, to enjoy Him in the presence of others! How are we doing with that? Is our witness honoring to our Lord? He is worthy of our work, and as we work it does not go unnoticed by Him! 

22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:22-4:1)