Its Off To Work I Go
What do you do when a significant part of your population is held in bondage? In first century Rome it is estimated that 30-40% of The Italian population were slaves, and 10-15% for the entire Empire. They were owned by the wealthy, the rewards of war, they had little if any rights, and lived and died at the whim of their masters.
Some have said that Christians in the first century should have lashed out against such a barbaric practice, but they didn't. It was so entrenched in the cultural psyche that it was commonly accepted. However, Christians were appalled at the mistreatment of slaves and called on masters to be more humane. As Christianity spread the church had to deal with how they would react to fellowships that were made up of both slave and masters. The Apostle Paul addressed that issue in Ephesians 6.
We are not slaves, but we do have responsibilities to the people we work for, and I believe this passage has something to say to both employee and employer.
Today lets look at the employee side of things. The issues of our day are many, but in the news we hear a lot about minimum wage. One of the privileges of living in a free society is the ability to peacefully negotiate or protest for higher wages. But once negotiated we need to be faithful to the agreement we have made. But there are principles that undergird the relationship with our employers.
1. Obey. Paul says our obedience in the work place is marked by two characteristics, fear and trembling, and sincerity. Unlike the first century master who could kill his slave, employees don't have to fear for their lives. They do however, have to fear unemployment because we aren't guaranteed jobs. Cheating, lying, stealing, and inappropriate behavior at work can be punishable by reprimand, termination, or even prosecution. But the real issue isn't fear, but respect. We are to treat our bosses with respect. We live in a culture where individual rights trump civil behavior. It has cultivated an entitlement mentality and in the work place finds expression in stealing from the employer, from poor use of time to actual theft. As Christians our attitude and behavior should be exemplary and give no legitimate reason for an employer to find fault.
The second characteristic is sincerity. Honestly doing our work for the benefit of the company instead of looking at ourselves as the chief end. We work for the paycheck but if that is all that motivates us then the well could dry up. We need to see our place in the whole as something of value. Sincerity means being obedient in front and behind the boss. It refuses to engage in water cooler gossip and complaining. It looks for ways to encourage others to rise above bad attitudes.
2. Goodwill. We are to render our service with goodwill. Some employers are tyrants and cheats, but Christians should never stoop to their level. We don't return evil for evil, but rather with good. We work hard even when we feel disenfranchised. We want to be known as a brownnose, not in a creepy way, but because we are willing to go the extra mile.
3. In Christ. Our motivation is our relationship with Christ. Our testimony to others is laid out for all to see, and Jesus and the faith community will be judged by how we behave at work. But it goes deeper then that. When I obey authorities over me, I am obeying Christ.
The reward is the promise in the passage. We might not receive financial recompense but we will receive from Jesus the full measure of our obedience. Of course we are not slaves. We can chose to work or go to another job. But while we chose to stay in a businesses employ let us do so with integrity in and for Christ. I'm just saying...
Ephesians 6:5-8 "Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free."