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There is one general rule that applies to every relationship we have with people on this earth. Love your neighbor as yourself. But we might ask, what does that look like when we are at work? How do we apply it to our employees if we are an employer, or to our employer if we are an employee? Paul addresses this question in his letters to both the Ephesians and the Colossians.
Paul uses terms that were most common in his day, slaves/servants and masters. Those terms make us think immediately of the kind of slavery that existed in our country. But not all slavery was based on kidnapping and selling people, which is always a sin. Many in Paul’s day were servants because they had been captured in war. Instead of being executed or imprisoned, they became servants or slaves with varying amounts of freedom. Others were what we might call indentured servants. They had to work off a debt they owed to someone. After the debt was paid, they were free. Paul is not saying that being a slave for any reason is a good thing. He is simply instructing those who are in such a situation when they become Christians how God wants them to live in that situation. Although none of us are slaves or masters, the instruction Paul gives applies to what is most common in our world today, employers and employees.
What are some of the main temptations that you face if you are an employee?
Not giving your employer proper reverence and respect has to be a temptation many face. How many people meet around the watercooler or at the bar after work and complain to others about their boss, or their foreman, or the owners of the company? No boss, no company owner is perfect. If you are looking for things to complain about you will always be able to find something. But the 8th commandment tells us to take everyone’s words and actions in the kindest possible way. It warns us against participating in gossip, either by word or by ear. If we have a complaint, we are to speak with the person directly, or keep it to ourselves. Some complaints employees have come from not understanding the whole picture and how what they do affects many other parts of the business. By speaking to their employer about their complaint they could gain a better understanding of how the whole company works and how their job fits in.
Even if your employer is just mean and ornery, God calls on us to show respect for them and to do doing what they ask, as long as it’s not a sin. If you have a complaint, speak to them about it with them personally. Their position has been given to them by God so, as the 4th commandments points out, when you obey and respect them you are obeying and respecting the Lord.
Another temptation that employees face is laziness, doing as little as possible at work. Paul says, give your boss respect and obedience not just when they are watching. Don’t be like kids in a grade school classroom who quietly do their work as long as the teacher is present, but as soon as the teacher leaves the room they stop working and start talking and goofing off. Don’t be like the people I worked with at the canning factory in college who would purposely overload the husking machine when they wanted a cigarette break. Don’t just do the least you can get away with. Always do your job to the best of your ability. Remember, you are actually working for the Lord and not for people. Don’t let the motivation for work be to please the boss, to get a raise. Let your motivation for work be doing everything you do in a way that brings glory to God. Imagine how God can use your example to work in the heart of an unbelieving boss, or even one who mistreats you.
When God’s people were taken by force from their homeland to Babylon, God told them build houses and settle down, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Work hard at your job, pray for your boss, for your company. If it prospers, you too will prosper.
Those of us who have been employees have often failed to show proper respect for our employers. We have often failed to do our jobs to the best of our ability. We have been guilty of gossip and laziness. As we recognize and confess our sins, we take them to Jesus. We look to the one who always did everything to the best of his ability, who always did the will of God perfectly, from the heart. We look to him as our substitute, as the one who was perfect in our place, and who took the punishment we deserve for these and all our sins on himself. We look to the only one who can and does grant us forgiveness.
What temptations does an employer face? Paul warns employers not to threaten those under them. The temptation for those who have power over others is always to abuse their power. Threats may provide immediate results, but later, they only stir up dissension and anger. They don’t provide an environment where people are happy to come to work.
In the Old Testament God warned people against withholding wages, not paying their workers in a timely fashion. You may not be living paycheck to paycheck, but many of your employees probably are. If they don’t receive their pay when promised they may not be able to purchase food for their families, and their accounts could become over-drawn. I remember one time when I was not paid on the date promised. I was leaving on vacation so I mailed off my quarterly tax payment to the IRS trusting that my paycheck would be deposited the next day when it was supposed to be. Well, it wasn’t and that was the only time in my life I had a check bounce – a check to the IRS no less. Jesus says that the worker deserves his wages.
Our readings from Deuteronomy and Colossians encourage employers to treat their employees with empathy- put yourself in their shoes; with compassion- view them as fellow humans, not just “machines”; and with fairness- pay them promptly and fairly for the work they do.
In both Colossians and Ephesians Paul reminds employers, employees, and self-employed, that this arrangement is earthly, only temporary. Sooner or later, all will have to stand before God in the judgment. God shows no favoritism. He doesn’t care what position you had on earth. In God’s eyes there is neither male or female, Jew or Gentile, employer or employee. He doesn’t care about the color of your skin, where you were born, or how much power or money you had while you lived on earth. Whether you are an employer, employee, or self-employed, when you stand before God, the most important thing will be, did you trust that Jesus is your savior, your only reason for salvation?
Then, as Jesus demonstrated in his parables, he will determine whether you managed what he gave you to the best of your ability and to his glory. He will not measure you against anyone else. He will measure you against the abilities and opportunities he gave you. He commends the one who had five talents for gaining five more, as well as the one who had ten for gaining ten more. Each used what they were given faithfully. The only one who was condemned is the one who did nothing but bury his talent.
God does not show favoritism. He expects the same thing from everyone. Trust in Jesus alone for salvation, and, motivated by all he has done for you, do everything you do to the best of your ability, as serving the Lord, not people. Do everything you do in a way that brings him glory.
We are talking about the Table of Duties. Duties are rules, expectations, commandments. Every time we humans talk about God’s commandments, what he expects of us, we realize, if we are honest, that we have not lived up to God’s expectations, not perfectly. So, we always need the reminder that we don’t do the things Paul talks about here in order to earn our salvation. In order to earn salvation, or anything from God, we would have to be 100% perfect. We would always have to do our jobs with reverence and respect, and to the best of our ability. We would always have to treat those under us with empathy, compassion and complete fairness. It is only because Jesus always did his job with reverence and respect and to the best of his ability; It is only because Jesus always treated everyone with empathy, compassion and fairness; It is only because Jesus willingly went to the cross as the perfect lamb of God and asked the father to punish him for our imperfection; It is only because of what Jesus has already done for us, that we have salvation. Don’t let your forgiveness be an excuse for laziness, or for mistreating others. Let your forgiveness in Jesus be the reason you do all you do to the best of the abilities God has given you, all to the praise of his glory. Remember, you are serving the Lord who saved you, not people.