Teaching series from Ephesians

Grace-Transformed Work

Ephesians 6:5-9

Teaching t20764


Ephesians is about God’s grace—his amazing, unmerited love and mercy that he delighted to pour out on us through his Son Jesus.  Chapters 1-3 unfold this grace, and chapters 4-6 apply it.  They show us how grace transforms every aspect of our lives: Christian community, personal ethics, marriage and parenting—and work.

Working at a job is a major feature of life for most of us for most of our lives.  One-third to one-half of your waking hours are spent at work.  So your answer to the question: “Why do you work?” is very important.

Most of us (like most Americans) answer this question in one of two ways: “I live to work” or “I work to live.”   “I live to work” means that you work for status—the respect, approval, or admiration of other people—your boss, your clients, your parents, your siblings, your peers, your neighbors, etc.  “I work to live” means that you work for money to pursue happiness (by buying things, taking vacations, etc.) or security (by hoarding, investing, etc.).  There are many varieties of these two views (EXAMPLES), and many of us work for both reasons—but these are the only options in a secular society.

The Bible gives us an entirely different answer to the question: “Why do you work?”  It says that both of these views are fundamentally flawed (and will therefore inevitably disappoint you and hurt your loved ones)—you’ll never find true significance, identity, happiness, security, etc. in your work or in the things work can get you.  It says that we find these things only in a love relationship with Jesus, and that this relationship with Jesus profoundly changes our answer to this question: “I live and work for Jesus.”  Let’s see how Eph.6:5-9 answers this question (read).

Jesus requires a higher quality of work

Even though the specific situations (1st century slavery vs. 21st century capitalism) are different1, the same principles apply.  The first thing to notice is that Christians (employees or employers/supervisors) now have a new Boss—Jesus.  Every verse in this passage emphasizes this point (SHOW).  And the new Boss is not like the old boss!  For one thing, Jesus requires much higher quality of work.


Have a respectful and submissive attitude toward your masters regardless of their attitude toward you (6:5; cf. 1Pet.2:18).  If your knee-jerk response is: “You don’t know my boss!” think about their bosses!

Work just as hard when you aren’t in their presence as when you are (6:6). 

Work with good will—do your work as a voluntary act of love (“want to”), not as a grudging obligation (“have to”) (6:7).

EMPLOYERS & SUPERVISORS: “Do the same things to them”

Show respect and consideration to your employees (instead of being snobbish and condescending). 

Model hard work (instead of taking advantage of your position to work less and make them work harder).

Relate to them with sincere love (instead of viewing them as means to your end).

“Give up threatening” is the special application of the above attitudes.  Employers and supervisors have the legitimate authority (and sometimes the responsibility) to discipline their employees/direct reports.  But we never use our authority to mistreat them or delight in making them live in fear of us.

Anyone (including any Christian) who is honest must admit that this is not difficult—it is impossible!  It’s not just that we have trouble keeping these work requirements all of the time—it’s that we have trouble keeping them any of the time.  We agree that if everyone followed these standards, the workplace would be incredibly better.  But we know that everyone is not going to follow them, and we’re not going to be the foolish ones to try to do it unless others also/first commit to do it.  We use this fact to justify our unwillingness to embrace Paul’s instructions.  Yet this is the standard for all followers of Jesus, regardless of how others conduct themselves at work.  The early Christians, who had far worse working conditions, took this seriously—and this was one of the major factors in the explosive growth and impact of the early Christian movement!

Jesus’ love transforms our work

How could they do this?  What did they know about Jesus that we don’t know—or don’t believe?  The answer is that Jesus is far more than our new Boss.  He is also our Savior, and his love has the ability to transform our work lives (as well as every other aspect of our lives).  Here’s how:

First and most importantly, Jesus worked this way—and he worked this way for you, because he loves you.  This passage is just a specific application of 5:1,2 (read).  Jesus wants us to walk in love (live a self-giving way of life, including at work).  Notice that we don’t walk in love in order to get Jesus to love us; we walk in love because Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us.  What does this mean?

As the Lord of the universe, Jesus respectfully submitted himself to unrighteous and unjust authorities (Phil.2:5-8; TRIALS BEFORE HEROD, PILATE & CAIAPHAS).  Why did he do this?  He did it for you (1Pet.2:22,23).

Jesus never “slacked”—he worked 24-7 with his Father to redeem people (Jn.5:17), and he did his most agonizing work not only when his Father wasn’t watching, but when he forsook him (EXPLAIN)!  Why did he do this?  He did it for you, so that God’s judgment for your sin would fall on him rather than on you.

Jesus never worked with a “martyr” attitude.  He worked voluntarily and from the heart.  And the most amazing thing is that he worked this way not just because he loved his Father, but because he loved you and me even though we wanted nothing to with him (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 5:6,7).

And because Jesus worked for you (all the way to the Cross), you can become God’s beloved child if you simply entrust yourself to him.  And when you are God’s beloved child, you are no longer defined by your job, or by your salary, or by the way your boss views you—or by any other worldly standard.  You no longer need to seek happiness and security in things and bank accounts.  (This is what makes work so difficult—what one author calls “the work beneath the work.”)  You are now defined and secured by your relationship with Jesus, who loves you and gave himself up for you.

No matter how “undignified” your job is, you have real dignity as his child. 
No matter how insecure your job is, you have true security in his care. 
No matter how little your boss thinks of you, you are approved of and delighted in by him. 
No matter how “insignificant” society says your job is, he says your job is significant because it helps people and because you can be his light there. 
No matter how boring or tedious your job is, you have a super-interesting Boss that you can relate to at any time.
No matter how unappreciative your boss is, you have an appreciative Boss who will reward you for every single way that you serve him (6:8).

Therefore, you don’t have to “live to work” in order to be someone, because you are already someone in Christ.  And you don’t have to “work to live” in order to find identity or fulfillment in recreation, etc. because you have identity and fulfillment in your relationship with Christ. 

The more you truly believe this and live in light of it, the more Jesus transforms the way you view and do your job!  You begin to view your job as an opportunity to serve him by giving his love to others, and to represent him well so that others will be attracted to him.  You may remember that this is the whole point of this section of Ephesians—that we respond to God’s love by commending him to others (4:1; Col. 3:17).  And he is the kind of Boss who helps you do this!  In fact, he will work through you as you trust him.  Remember that Eph. 5:18-21 urges us to be constantly filled with his Spirit—constantly depend on him and allow him to manifest himself through your words and actions.  Drink of God’s Spirit (Jn.7:37-19), and you will be supernaturally empowered to represent Jesus!

Ask him for this filling every day—before you go to work and while you are at work.  Ask him for his love, his wisdom, his stamina, etc. to represent him well.  This is the kind of “drinking on the job” that will make us better representatives of Jesus at work!

Remind one another that his Spirit is ready and willing to work through us, and encourage one another to depend upon him so we can be lights for him.

Appeal: pray like this

“Instead of focusing on how unpleasant my job conditions are, help me focus on how amazing your love is.”  Marvel that he would endure much more unpleasant job conditions for us.

“Instead of focusing on how I can get as much as possible through as little work as necessary, help me focus on how you gave me everything for no work on my part.”  And then let’s focus on how we can represent Jesus well at work.  Let’s embrace this as one of our main ministries!

“Instead of focusing on how others disrespect or annoy me, help me focus on how you love me (even though I disrespect and annoy you)—and how I can show your love to the difficult people at work.”

“Instead of focusing on how little respect or admiration or appreciation I get, help me focus on your love (how much you delight in me despite my sins)—and how I can give respect and appreciation to others for your glory.”

1 The vast majority of people were slaves.  There may have been as many as 60 million slaves at this time.  In the average city, there were many times as many slaves as free people.  The economic and social fabric of the Roman Empire depended on slavery far more even than pre-Civil War southern America.  Although the situation of slaves was improving and better than African-American slaves in pre-Civil War America (manumission was becoming more common; legal rights were being granted), slaves were still regarded as the property of their masters.  Aristotle said, “A slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.”  In this light, Paul’s (and the other New Testament writers’) instructions concerning slavery are remarkable and unique in the 1st century.  Though they held back from demanding the emancipation of all slaves (though Paul asks Philemon to emancipate Onesimus), they insisted on an outlook that ultimately undermined slavery from within as Christianity grew.  This outlook consisted of three elements, all of which are taught clearly in this passage—equality before God, social justice between masters and slaves, and brotherhood between Christian masters and slaves.  This is why it is historically accurate to credit Christianity as the major force that abolished slavery in Great Britain and America—even though Christians were late in making it happen.  See Stott, John R. W., The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1979), pp.250-259.