Teaching series from Colossians

Christians At Work

Colossians 3:22-4:1

Teaching t23042

Introduction

Briefly review the setting (MAP). Much of Colossians is theological, but this is the practical part, in which Paul explains what Christianity should look like at home and at work. He began this section with 3:17 (read). As Mike taught a couple of weeks ago, Jesus doesn’t want His followers to separate their lives into spiritual and secular compartments. Those of us who belong to Jesus need this exhortation because we tend to live one way within the church and another way at home and at work. O. Hallesby makes this observation about Christians in Norway in the 1930’s:

“We find (Christians) in responsible positions (at work) who in their daily lives are peevish and imperious and in whom their subordinates observe very little conscientiousness, not to speak of Christianity. Even less do they see any zeal for the salvation of the immortal souls in their employ. But outside, in Christian organizations of various kinds, these men are zealous for... evangelism, and many such things. We find employees who studiously avoid more work than they are strictly compelled to do. Clock-watchers and time-stealers. Difficult to get along with. They will not stand corrected, and become pouty and peevish upon the least provocation. Their superiors see little conscientiousness on their part, and even less zeal for the immortal souls with whom they are associated from day to day... But they are zealous in such special Christian enterprises as the Sunday school... evangelistic meetings, prayer meetings, etc. They live their lives on two planes, a religious and a secular... Our great temptation – and it is common to us all – is to neglect everyday Christianity.” Do you not identify with this struggle?

This morning we will study what Paul and other New Testament authors say about Christians at work. Read 3:22-4:1. Before looking closely at what this passage does say about work, we should notice what it does not say. Paul views work in a radically different way than we American Christians view it. Consider:

There is nothing here about getting any kind of identity from your job position (I am a...”). That’s because Christians already have a new identity as God’s children that has nothing to do with their job roles (read 3:10-12a – “slave or free”). We don’t work for an identity; we work from our identity in Christ.

There is nothing here about finding the job that suits your talents and interests. This isn’t wrong, but it was simply not an option for many of these Christians because they were slaves with absolutely no job mobility. And many of us have limited job options. But Paul teaches that they (and we) can still live super-significant and rewarding lives, as we’ll see.

Rather, Paul focuses on four key issues: For Whom we work, what should characterize our work, why we should this work way, and how we are empowered to work this way. Let’s see what he says about these issues...

For Whom we work

The first order of business is being clear about for Whom we work. Although Paul acknowledges that these Christians serve “masters according to the flesh” (3:22) or are “masters” (4:1), he emphasizes that they all work for the same unseen (“heavenly”) Master, Jesus. This is not just some fluffy religious slogan. Jesus has been raised from the dead. He is now (through His Spirit) personally present in every one of His followers. He is the Lord over every area of our lives, including our jobs. So if you belong to Jesus, you may have a human supervisor at work, but Jesus is your real Supervisor (phrases in 3:22,23,24). You may supervise others at work, but you are still accountable to Jesus as your Supervisor (phrase in 4:1).

This fact radically changes our jobs in two ways:

Now, whatever job I have, it is an arena in which I worship Jesus. “In the name of” has this connotation, and this is consistent with the New Testament’s teaching (cf. Rom.12:1) that our entire lifestyle is to be an ongoing worship service. My attitude and conduct at work is just as important a part of my worship of Jesus as at any public worship meeting or any private devotions.

Now, whatever my job is, it is an arena in which I represent Jesus to the watching world (1Cor.4:9). This is why the NLT translates 3:17 “Do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus.” My attitude and conduct at work is just as important a part of my witness for Jesus as any short-term missions trip or outreach ministry.

Do you belong to Jesus? If you don’t, you are missing out on a relationship with the only Person who can integrate every aspect of your life. Without Jesus, your life will be fragmented. But if you ask the living Jesus to come into your heart, He will begin to show you how every area of your life (including work) can have meaning through Him. If you do belong to Jesus, ask Him to open your eyes to the fact that you work for Him! Ask Him to burn it into your consciousness and remind you daily that you are worshipping and representing Him at work.

What should characterize our work

Since you work for Jesus, what should characterize your work? Paul gives us three answers to that question here, and I’ll add a couple more answers from other New Testament passages. There will be time for elaboration and qualification during Q & A, but let’s let this sink in!

You should respect and cooperate with your human supervisors (3:22), not only to their faces but also in the break room when they are not around. You should do this even if they are unreasonable (1Pet.2:18 – think about their bosses!). Disrespecting, sabotaging, arguing with, or passively resisting your supervisors is rebelling against Jesus, because He set this example (1Pet.3:21,24) and He asks you to do this for Him.

You should work hard (3:23), whether you are recognized and/or rewarded for your hard work or not. You aren’t doing your work merely for a raise or promotion; you are doing it for the Lord. Showing up late, taking off early, or loafing on the job are insubordination to the One who worked hard for your salvation.

You should treat your employees/subordinates with justice and fairness (4:1). You should not abuse your authority by disrespecting or taking advantage of them, because Jesus is your Master and He used His authority to serve you rather than to exploit you.

You should have a willing, helpful demeanor (read Eph. 6:7), rather than being a grumbler or disputer (read Phil.2:14). You should be a major contributor to good work morale!

You should be trustworthy; you should not steal (Titus 2:10a) or lie.

Because you work for Jesus, you should be an exemplary worker in the above ways. Your supervisors and associates should be glad that you work for/with them. If you work this way, you will likely be prized and promoted (because such employees are very difficult to find today!). And yet (also because you work for Jesus) you should be known as one who does not live for your job, who can and does set work boundaries, who will not allow your job to undermine your other responsibilities (e.g., family; fellowship), and who is willing to leave your job if Jesus calls you into other service for Him (EXAMPLE).

Why we should work this way

Working this way day in and day out is not easy; it requires adequate motivation! In addition to the primary motivation that we work for Jesus, the New Testament gives us three other motivations for doing our work this way:

Because at work you can attract people to Jesus or repel them from Jesus. Read Titus2:10. By being good employees we can “adorn” (kosmeo – “make attractive”) the gospel. Read Phil.2:14-16. By being good employees, we can expose by positive contrast the darkness and emptiness of life without Jesus, and we can “hold forth” (epecho – drinks offered at a feast) the refreshing news about Jesus. On the other hand, by being poor workers, we can cause Christianity to be blasphemed (read 1Tim.6:1). I wonder how many people in this city are turned off to Christianity because of Christians at work who lie, gossip, loaf, bully, etc. (EXAMPLE)!

The great majority of Americans are now unchurched. They have never attended Christian churches or Bible studies. They do not have Christian friends or family members. They will not respond to billboards or websites that invite them to Christian churches. The media creatively misrepresents Christianity, and Christian hypocrites confirm their suspicions. All of this means that one of the few ways they will ever come into contact with the living Jesus is through Christians at work. We will study in two weeks how to share Jesus, but they must see this way of life before they can be expected to take the message about Jesus seriously!

Because God wants to shape your character through your work-place. Read and explain Rom.8:28,29. One of the “all things” God works through to conform us to Christ’s image is the work-place! And it is especially the difficult people and distasteful circumstances at work that God wants to use toward this end!

Being challenged by this truth as a young Christian totally changed the way I viewed my job. (At the time, I worked as a busboy and dishwasher and cook.) I began to ask the Lord: “What character lessons are You trying to teach me here?” As I began to focus on this question and respond to His answers, He helped me to quit focusing on the people with whom I worked and the many other distasteful aspects of my job. I also began to see how what I was learning at work was helping me to become a better Christian worker, son to my parents, housemate, etc. The ten years I worked at jobs like this were crucial preparation for marriage, parenting, and vocational Christian ministry.

If you understand these two motivations, you can understand the motivation Paul gives in this passage (read 3:24,25; Eph.6:7,8). Jesus will reward you for serving Him well at work. This refers to Jesus’ evaluation of our service for Him when He returns. This is your ultimate performance evaluation. Every way you let Him transform you through work, everything you did to represent Him well to others at work will be recalled and honored and rewarded in ways that will ripple through all eternity. This is your ultimate compensation package – and it will be based on your faithfulness, not your job status (“whether slave or free”). There will be Christian dishwashers who are richly rewarded, and Christian executives who are not rewarded at all! How often do you think about your job as an opportunity for eternal reward?

How we are empowered to work this way

We not only need motivation to do our work this way. We also need supernatural empowerment. Paul doesn’t address this issue in our passage, but the immediate context informs us of the two main ways we can appropriate Jesus’ power to serve Him at work.

By being vitally involved in Christian community (3:12-16). In the New Testament letters, exhortation to Body-life almost always comes before exhortation about our social roles (Rom.12,13; Col.3,4; Eph.5,6; 1Pet.1-3). Why? Because we must be deeply involved in Body-life in order to play these roles effectively. You cannot be a good employee, manager, owner, etc. unless you are a truly engaged Christian brother/sister!

This is where you get spiritually built up to go into the (often) spiritually-draining work-place. This is where you get prayer to be a witness at work. This is where you get advice about how to handle work challenges in a godly way. This is where you get insight on how God is trying to transform your character at work.

This is why you should do your best to work your job around your involvement in fellowship, not vice-versa. If you are an excellent worker, you can usually get flexibility to do this. If you pray for this, God will provide ways to do it.

By talking to Jesus about work (4:2). You work for Jesus – and Jesus is always present at work, not only to inspect your work, but also to empower you to work this way. As you go to work daily, present yourself to Him as His servant and ask Him for the energy and love and respect and good will that you need. A challenges and opportunities arise at work, turn to Him in prayer for what you need to learn from Him and represent Him well. And remember to thank Him that He is with at work with you every step of the way. It is amazing what happens when you start to pray regularly along these lines!

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE. What kind of impact might Jesus have in central Ohio if those of us in this room served and represented Him at work in this way! How much better reputation might Jesus have? How many more might meet Jesus? How many of them might come here and begin to grow in Christian fellowship? How much more Christ-like might we become? Do you see why the New Testament makes such a big deal about this?

NEXT WEEK: Col. 3:20,21 – How Christians Do Family-life

DISCUSS: What questions, clarification, qualification, examples, etc.?

O. Hallesby, Under His Wings (The Saint Andrew Press, 1978), p.84,86.