40: The Ministry of Employment

Lesson 40

Ephesians 6:5-9

One of the most difficult things about my job is that situation when I am having a conversation with someone I don’t know very well – perhaps it is at a social function of some kind or on an airplane,  – and eventually they get around to asking me what my profession is. And the reason I dread that is that, in the large majority of cases as soon as I say that I am a pastor the conversation is basically over. It is as if they just can’t think of anything else to say. If it is at a social occasion they suddenly see someone across the room that they have really been needing to talk to, so they excuse themselves, or on the airplane they remember that report that they needed to read before they get to their sales meeting at the airport, and so forth. Or the corollary of that is when we are in the dressing room at the gym or some other place where people can speak their mind, someone will say a curse word and then they will look at me and say “Excuse me.” I guess people will always misunderstand the work of the pastor.

But it is a very significant thing to know that the Word of god speaks to this very subject. And that is significant, I say, because we live in a day when, as never before, there seems to be a complete dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular.” The average person thinks in terms of his religion and his job as two completely separate things. Unfortunately, this is true even of many Christians. The worship we rejoice in so fervently on Sunday very often has little to do with the way we live on Monday through Saturday. In fact our government has formalized that attitude by taking the term “separation of church and state” completely out of its historical context and given it the force of law in recent years. We have come to the point that in many instances it is actually illegal to express our religious beliefs publically!

But God never intended our society to operate this way. Although it has been true of governments and individuals down through the centuries, God never intended that His people put these two things in such separate categories.

And we know this because in giving us His instructions about how to live the Christian life, the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write instructions about employer/employee relationships right along with His instructions to husbands, wives, and parents and children. In the last part of chapter 5 and the first part of chapter 6, he deals with those very relationships.

The essence of God’s viewpoint of “labor relations” is found here in Ephesians chapter 6, verses 5 through 8. And what is that essence? Well it is all through this passage. In every single one of these verses in which He is talking about this relationship between employers and employees, he puts it in the context of serving Christ. Look at verse 5, for example:

Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ.

Then in verse 6 we read, as servants of Christ, doing the will of God.

Verse 7: As to the Lord and not to men.

Verse 8: knowing that whatever good anyone does he will receive the same from the Lord.”

This is why I am calling this lesson “the ministry of employment.” Because if you are thinking carefully you will see that God’s viewpoint of the Christian and his employment is that it is a ministry.  The way we treat our employees is a matter of honoring Christ. The way we respond to those who are in authority over us is a part of our walk with the Lord. So let’s look at the details of this very practical passage now.

The first thing that is important for us to understand is the circumstances of service. Which are described in the first part of verse 5.

 Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh . . .”

To understand the full implications of this verse and of these instructions we need to know that the word “servants” is a translation of one of the Greek words for “slave.” Anytime we talk about employee/employer relations the matter of unfair working conditions comes into the picture. And that is a legitimate concern. However, it is important to realize that in this primary passage that deals with the subject of employer/employee relationships the context is slavery.

t is beyond the scope of this lesson to go into it in detail but let me just say in passing that the Bible nowhere condemns slavery. The approach which we find in the scripture is to deal with the situation as we find it. And the New Testament was written to a world where slavery was the accepted norm. God doesn’t tell us to get rid of slavery, He begins by telling us how to live within a society where slavery is common. Now let me quickly say that if the instructions that the Bible gives about freedom and justice fairness and mercy are followed, slavery will soon disappear. And that has happened throughout the world wherever the principles of the Word of God have been applied. You see, the primary focus of the Bible is not the abolishment of slavery, or abortion, or rape, or alcohol or any other societal woes, but the changing of men’s hearts no matter what social issues may be involved. If the hearts of men and women are made right with God through the saving power of Jesus Christ, then we have a foundation from which social issues can be dealt with.

But there is a very important application to make in the fact that this passage is addressed to slaves. And that is that if you are reading this lesson from the standpoint of an employee, no matter how bad your working conditions may be, they are not a bad as slavery. The people to whom Paul originally addressed these words had no options as to their employment. In most parts of the Roman Empire the slave owner had the power of life and death over his slaves. And although there were some possibilities of being released they were very limited and unlikely. Our employment conditions in this nation and this generation are incalculably better than slavery. No matter how bad your situation may be, you can always quit. No matter bad your boss is he doesn’t have the power of death over you. That is not to downplay the difficulties that you may face. But it is to point out that it could be worse.

So that is the context in which these instructions from God are given. I think you by the time we are through discussing this passage you will agree with me that these are very practical and workable instructions. But they are given to be used in even the most difficult of employment situations.

We have been talking about “the circumstances of service” but now let’s think about the characteristics of that service. What is the kind of employee that God wants to see? What did the Holy Spirit tell Paul to write to these slaves about? Well, in the last part of verse 5 and going down to verse 7, we find the principle of submission.

 

“With fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ.”

Now that seems pretty management oriented, doesn’t it? “You’d better tremble before your boss.” But don’t reject it right off the bat. This term “fear” is used repeatedly in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, to refer to respect and appreciation. To put it as simply as possible, it is not a fear of being punished if you don’t do right, but a fear of disappointing the one who is your authority A fear of not measuring up to his standards. This further clarified in the next phrase of verse 5. Notice, Paul goes on to say “in sincerity of heart.” Maybe as you read this about fearing that you will disappoint your boss, you think, “well, I can play that role, I can act that way toward my boss.” But I want you notice that God says that this must come from the heart. This must be a sincere showing of submission. You must sincerely want to please your employer. Now at this point some of you are thinking, “Well, that leaves me out then. I cannot resect that man; I cannot sincerely try to please him. If that is the way you are thinking, the next phrase might help. Notice that verse 5 goes on to say as to Christ.

Now, obviously, if your lack of respect for your boss or your company, is because they are doing something illegal or immoral or unethical you need to seriously consider whether or not you can continue to go on with them. At any point along the line you need to be ready and willing to give up your job rather than violate God’s standards. But this is talking about that boss who is unkind, unfriendly, demanding, perhaps even unfair. He’s not “the boss of the year,” He doesn’t believe in “secretary’s day” or give a reserved parking spot to the “employee of the month. How do you sincerely seek to serve a person like that?  “As to Christ.” Maybe you can’t serve that boss in that way, but let me ask you something: can you serve Jesus Christ that way?  Doesn’t He deserve to be obeyed? One of the most often overlooked principles of Scripture is that God has placed us where we are. The biblical texts that tell us that are too numerous to mention. You have that job that you have because God provided it. No matter how qualified you are, no matter how long you studied to earn that degree and become qualified, no matter how brilliant your employment interview was, God gave you that job and He has a reason for your being in that office or that shop or whatever it is. Now He might move you to another job – and you might want Him to – but for now He has you where He wants you. You are representing Him. There are people in that office who need to hear about Jesus Christ. There are people in that office who need to be comforted with the comfort that Christ can give through you. No doubt there are many other things that God has in mind for you in that place where you work.

Now let me quickly say that part of submitting to your boss is to give him a full day’s work for a day’s pay. You must not ever use ministry as an excuse for not doing your work. That is the opposite of God’s standard.  But in your work you have an excellent opportunity for building relationships. You have an opportunity to let people know that you are available, to show them that your life is different, to be a representative for Jesus Christ and the truth of His word.

Submission to authority is the first of God’s principles for employees. But verse 6 gives us the second principle:

Not with eyeservice as menpleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the ill of God from the heart.

I am calling this the principle of singleness of purpose

 

Those are interesting phrases, aren’t they; “eyeservice;” “menpleasers” what do they mean? Well let me see if I can clarify it this way: Often I talk with business owners and managers. And more than once I have heard them use a catchy little phrase that is something like this. “You don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect. That’s what “eyeservice” is. Its trying to make ourselves look good. And unfortunately that seems to true across the board, throughout small businesses and large corporations. Employees have a tendency to do what they know will be seen. As sinful human beings we have a tendency to do what will make us look good.

And no matter what our job may be, many times our purpose is not only to do that job, not only to make sure that we get the approval and the credit and the praise for that job, isn’t it? But God says, “That’s not the way I want my children to work. I want you to have as your purpose to accomplish the goals of your employer – period!” Now if along the way you get some notice and some recognition, and some reward, that’s all right. But that is purely secondary. Your motivation should be to accomplish your employers’ goals.

How many times have you said, or heard a fellow employee say, “if I owned this business, I’d do things differently.” Let me ask you something” Is your attitude what it would he if you did own the business? Let me put it another way: If you owned the business, would want an employee like you are? That might be a sobering thought, and it should be.

Coming back to our text in Ephesians chapter 6, there is a third characteristic of the servant, and it is in verse 7.

With good will doing service, as to the Lord and not unto men.

In the   outline I am referring this as the characteristic of “sincerity”  And I do that because that is really the picture in this verse. You may be aware of the fact that the word “sincere” is a translation of a word that means “without wax.” And the background of that word is that in the first century when the one of the main utensils was the clay pot, potters would fill in tiny imperfections with wax. Then they would place decorations on the pot to make sure the imperfections didn’t show, and no one would be the wiser. Until, that is, the pot was heated or put under some other kind of pressure. And then the pot would break along the lines that had been filled with wax. Human nature being what it is this practice became so prevalent, eventually honest artisans and potters would advertise their wares as being “without wax” from two Latin words: “sine” meaning “without” and “sere” “meaning “wax” And that is what the Holy Spirit is describing in this verse, even though he doesn’t use that particular word. He says in so many words “I want you to have noting to hide. No hidden motives, no secret agenda, no cracks filled with wax.” Look at verse 7 again: With good will doing service, as to the Lord and not unto men. Notice that last phrase – “as unto the Lord and not unto men.” Think carefully here: you can hide those “cracks” from men, but you can’t hide them from God. If your service is truly done for the Lord, it will automatically be “sincere” – there will be nothing hidden, nothing disguised.

So those are the characteristics of “the ministry of employment.” Submission to authority,” “singleness of purpose,” and “sincerity in your work.” But perhaps you are thinking, “if I work like that, I’ll never get ahead in today’s market. “I’ll never succeed, in fact I may not even survive. It’s a jungle out there.”

I firmly believe that if believers in Jesus Christ will wholeheartedly obey these principles of God’s Word in the matter of employment there would be almost zero unemployment among Christians. The employee who is genuinely submissive to authority, has singleness of purpose, and is “sincere” – a person with no hidden agenda or motives in his service to his employer is exactly the kind of employee that employers are searching for. That kind of employee will be recognized and appreciated and rewarded.

Now I know that there are exceptions to that. It may not be true 100% of the time. But even if it is mot true in this lifetime, our real timetable is not in this lifetime anyway. As believers we “judge nothing before the time.” Because the real time of reward – of the rewards that count for eternity – is after we get to heaven and stand in the presence of Jesus Christ.

There is one last thing to notice in our passage today, and that is what we might call the coefficient of service in verse 9

And you masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own master is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him

How does the Christian employer respond to the kind of employer se have been talking about here? Here is the answer:  And you masters, do the same things to them!

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