Glorifying God in the Workplace
Passage: Ephesians 6:5–6:9
Glorifying God in the Workplace
This morning we’re going to look at the subject of work. The fact is work is an important part of our lives and an important part of who we are. One of the most agonizing questions a young person about to graduate high school or college is the question, “what do I want to do with my life?” At the center of that question is, “what work will I do?”
God built into us a desire to work and be productive. Work isn’t a product of sin – before the Fall God put man in the Garden of Eden to work the ground. Work got harder after the Fall, but we’re created to work. There is no question some people can find way too much identity in their work, but it’s natural that we find a significant amount of our identity in the work we do. And the work we do (whatever that is) and how we do it provides one of the most important and effective contexts for our lives to testify about God.
Title: Glorifying God in the Workplace - pray
I. The issue of slavery in the 1st century
This passage directly addresses the issue of slavery and although slavery isn’t an issue in 21st century America, and there is a valid application of these verses to the contemporary workplace, let’s first consider the issue of slavery in the ancient world and how the New Testament addresses it.
a. Roman slavery
Slavery was an accepted fact of life in the ancient world. It is estimated that there were 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire and they permeated every area of the work force. Slaves were considered inhuman property in those days and could be treated any way the master wanted. Slave-owners were allowed to execute their slaves even for trivial reasons if they so wanted to. Although arguably not as horrific as the later African slave trade (in large part because people became slaves through bad debt or as prisoners of war rather than ethnic kidnapping and enslavement) slavery was and always is, an evil, atrocious, and inhuman thing. So the question might be asked, why doesn’t the New Testament speak more strongly against the institution of slavery?
b. The New Testament treatment: lighting the fuse that would help destroy slavery
Consider the purpose: the purpose of this passage is not to confront or to condone slavery. Paul’s purpose is to address how Christians who are either slaves or slave-owners should treat one another. His statements would have been radical in that day and would light a fuse that would help destroy the institution of slavery as an accepted practice. Three radical concepts are found in this passage:
i. Equality before God
Paul equates the slave and master before God. All will receive from the Lord, whether slave or free (vs. 8) and there is no partiality with the Lord (vs. 9)
He calls the slave-owner to treat the slave as he would expect to be treated. Col. 4:1 says “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” There was to be justice for all human beings Paul declares – they are all to be treated with respect and dignity – an unheard of attitude in a time when slaves were inhuman property, considered on the same plane as cattle. And one day the Judge will dispense justice with no partiality. Masters, remember that!
And he calls them brothers. This is conspicuous in his letter to the slave-owner Philemon where he urges Philemon to receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave…[but] as a beloved brother.” Through Christ the slave-owner and the slave were made brothers – and thus the fuse was lit for the eventual destruction of the horrible practice of slavery.
II. Glorifying God in the workplace: working as unto the Lord
God has given us all work to do – you might be an educator, a manager, a mother, a homemaker, a gas station attendant, a waitress or a student. It really doesn’t matter what you do – if it’s honest, it’s honorable. We work for many reasons: a paycheck, in order to be productive, to accomplish, to do something worthwhile with our lives. A mother works hard to raise her children and keep the home out of love. There are many reasons.
But for the Christian, Paul says, there is a higher reason for working: to glorify God through our labor. Our work provides a very practical context to walk out our Christianity in a very distinctive way. People see the reality of our faith in how we work. Our Christian witness cannot be separated from how we work.
When a person identifies himself or herself as a Christian, there should be an expectation that the work they do will be a cut above, unfortunately over the years, I have heard far too many times just the opposite. When I lived on Long Island there was a listing where you could look up whatever job you needed and find a Christian owned company. How many complaints I heard about really shoddy work done with really shoddy attitudes. Subconsciously I began to think it was better not to hire a person who advertises as a Christian.
My opinion (and that’s all this is – no bible verse on this) is that it might be better not to call yourself a Christian worker or company (unless its ministry related). In other words, rather than say, “I’m a Christian electrician” I think it’s better to say, “I’m an electrician who is a Christian.” It might be semantics, but the point is, our Christianity isn’t an advertisement for our work, our work is an advertisement for our faith. We cannot separate our workmanship from our Christian witness. If you are a lousy employee or employer it’s pretty sure you have a lousy Christian testimony at work.
1. We are to work as if the Lord was watching – cause He is!
The primary truth that Paul lays out here is that our work is to be done, not for the approval of men, but for the approval of God. God is watching and one day we will answer to God for the way we worked:
“…as you would Christ…” (vs. 5)
“…not by the way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but as servants of Christ…” (vs. 6)
“…doing the will of God from the heart…”(vs. 6)
“…rendering service …as to the Lord and not to man…” (vs. 7)
We work unto the Lord and as if the Lord was supervising the job – because He is. And it’s no different for the master: they need to remember they also have a Master in heaven and on Judgment Day there will be no partiality.
a. We should do our best work even when no one is watching.
A retired gentleman was interested in the construction of a nearby local mall and would often take time just to watch the building go up. He was especially impressed with one particularly diligent operator of a large piece of equipment and finally after watching for weeks had the chance to tell him how much he appreciated how hard he worked. The man looked surprised: “You mean you’re not the supervisor?”
Many of us have a desire to put our best work forward when someone is watching, but do we work just as hard, do we seek to work with excellence when no one is watching? Actually, there is no time when “no one” is watching, cause God is always watching.
The temptation when we think no one is watching is to slack off in our work. We don’t work as hard. Maybe we don’t do as good or as thorough a job. We might think, “what’s the difference. Who’ll know?”
That thought should tip us off that we’re not looking at our work the way God wants us to. We aren’t supposed to work as people pleasers but as servants of Christ. Our sincerity and wholeheartedness of our work should be motivated by a desire to glorify Jesus Christ in our work, not a desire to get a back slap or commendation from people. Not wrong to get that – just saying we should be working for a bigger reason.
b. We should prioritize our work (and lives) in a God-honoring way
Desiring to glorify God in our work can also have a balancing effect on how we work and how much we work. Work can have a way of snowballing into more work, and we need to realize that it doesn’t glorify God if our work encroaches on the rest of our lives to the point it throws out of whack other priorities that God has called us to.
One blog I enjoy reading is written by Matt Perman, who works for Desiring God Ministries. His blog is called What’s Best Next and he was writing on this very subject that sometimes work doesn’t lead to our getting ahead. Sometimes it just leads to more work! Here’s some of what he wrote:
It is an interesting phenomenon: Doing work doesn’t always result in less work to be done. Sometimes it results in more work.
For when you complete task A, at least two things might happen. First, you might be freed up to then do the next step on something — which might even be bigger. Second, you might notice that there is something else that needs to be done that you couldn’t see before.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that we shouldn’t necessarily think that the way to “get on top of things” is to do more work, in the elusive quest to get ahead of the game on all fronts…I think Stephen Covey starts to get at the heart of this when he says …that the key is “to not prioritize what’s on your schedule [or action lists], but to schedule your priorities.”
In other words, we should not simply be “doing” our work. We should also be asking if this is the work we should really be doing.
By orienting our work towards glorifying God, it becomes simply another part of a life lived for the glory of God. Work – which can for some people drain as much as we’ll give (and some people are tempted to give more than they should!) – is only a part of our lives. Elusive goal of getting on top of things can have us always trying to get through our check-list, empty our inbox, get that last load of laundry done, that last dish washed – only to find more things on our check list, in our inbox, more laundry, more dishes. Might need to slow down and examine: what’s important but not on my check list.
I like to begin my week by printing out an action list – it may not include everything but the most important things I want to accomplish for the week. I rarely get through the whole list.
But as I thought about this I was convicted. I have been wanting for quite a while to start taking each of my kids out separately for time alone with them. It even made my list. But it hasn’t been checked off. I often feel (and maybe you do too) that there’s a giant stone rolling just behind me and I need to keep going to keep ahead of it. That’s the nature of work. Never really done. But investing in my relationship with my children is a vital part of how I can glorify God with my life – really probably more important than anything else on that list.
Sometimes we glorify God in our work by knowing when to stop, what to prioritize.
2. The Lord will reward our work for our faithfulness, not its significance
Paul reminds them and us of Judgment Day. For the Christian, Judgment Day is not a fearsome day, because Jesus has already taken our judgment on Himself on the cross. There is no wrath left for us because we have trusted in Christ.
But there is reward for the good we have done. That reward is not based on how important what we did was, but how faithful we were to do it unto the Lord. No job is menial when look at it in this light. Any honest job can be done out of the desire to please the Lord and glorify Him in how you do it. Maybe the more menial gives a special opportunity to do this.
A famous pianist and teacher, Nadia Boulanger, a woman who was friends with important people like the composer Stravinski, writes of a woman whose work impacted her – not because of how important it was, but how unimportant.
There is nothing boring in life except ourselves. The most humble work does not have to be boring. I remember Madame Duval, the old woman who cleaned the floor in my place in Gargenville. I think of her with profound respect and reverence. She was 80 years old. One day she knocked at my door and said, "Mademoiselle, I know you don't like to be disturbed, but the floor, come and see it; it shines!" In my mind, Stravinsky [a famous composer] and Madame Duval will appear before the Lord for the same reason. Each had done what he does with all his consciousness. When I said this to Stravinsky, who knew Madame Duval, he said, "How you flatter me, for when I do something, I have something to gain. But she, she has only the work to be well done."
And by the grace of God, if we do our work for the glory of God – no matter what work that is – we’ll one day hear the Lord say “well done, good and faithful servant…”