Rev. David Holwick
First Baptist Church
West Lafayette, Ohio
January 23, 1983
Workers and Bosses
Ephesians 6:5-9, KJV
Last week I spoke about slaves and masters. Slavery has been outlawed for a long time now but the principles in this passage can easily be applied to the modern workplace. Around the world the workplace is the center of crisis. This is especially true in the United States. More and more products are imported from overseas which results in closed factories and massive layoffs. Whereas we use to think "Made in the USA" meant top-quality, it now means the product is high-priced and sloppily made. Workers sabotage their machines and products. Perhaps one of the ugliest aspects of the crisis is the tension between workers and management. Strikes are common and many of them have become violent.
As bad as things are here they are worse in the rest of the world. Unemployment rates as high as sixty percent are common in the Third World. People consider themselves lucky if they earn twenty-five cents an hour. Communism has made the most of these problems. Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, said the dissatisfaction of workers was the chief problem in the world. When this dissatisfaction reaches a critical point the workers will rise up as a group and revolt against their bosses.
Just about everyone will have a job at some time in their lives. Most people spend a third of each day at an office or factory. In my opinion, the real problem is not the work as such - most people want to work. The real problem is people. We are concerned about how our boss and fellow-workers treat us. We are concerned about our status; that is, what other people think about our job. These things can get us down and make the best job drudgery and a constant pain. Communism's answer is to revolt and create a classless society where everyone is equal. Christianity has a more subtle answer but one which I think is more effective and realistic.
First of all, people are not equal in this life. This is unfortunate but true. There will always be slaves and masters, workers and bosses. Most of us will be slaves. We will work for others. Some will end up being masters. This is a fact of life - even the classless society of Russia has classes. All Russians are equal but some are more equal than others.
How should we deal with this? Should we revolt like the communists? The Bible says we should honor Christ where we are. As Paul says, "Be obedient to your masters." The great message of Christianity to every man is that it is where God has set us that we must live out the Christian life but this if often difficult to accept because our tendency is to rebel. People rebel by switching jobs every few years or turning to alcohol and drugs to drown their frustration. Others take it our on their families. None of these escapes really work; instead they will destroy you and the ones you love. To be a Christian doesn't mean you deny you have problems at work. It means you face up to the problems. The circumstances may be all against us but that only makes the challenge greater. Christianity does not offer us escape from circumstances, it offers us conquest of circumstances.
How do we conquer a bad situation at work? The Apostle Paul says one way is to work well all the time. Look at verses 6 and 7:
"Not with eye-service; as men-pleasers but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men."
Note how Paul focuses on both negatives and positives. On the negative side, we should not work "with eye-service, as men-pleasers." We all know of people who spend more time looking out for the boss than they do on their task. Their eye is always on the boss, waiting to see whether he is coming or watching. If no one is watching they either do nothing or else do the bare minimum but when the boss is present they work hard to try to impress him. Paul is condemning the attitude that is merely concerned to keep out of trouble and is not interested in the work at all, the attitude of a person who only works when they are watched. If you are a Christian then this should not describe you.
What then are we to do? Paul says we are to work with goodwill. Instead of goodwill, other translations have "zeal" or "enthusiasm" or "cheerfully." A good attitude makes a boring job bearable and encourages those who work with you. When a Christian does a job, he or she should produce the best product or service they can. I think a believer should always try to be the best in every department. I am not saying that a Christian will always be the most able person of their group. They may not be - there may be others who are not Christians who are more able. But you should give it the best you have in you.
Becoming a Christian doesn't make you intelligent if you are unintelligent, but what it does is this, it makes a person use whatever powers they have always to the maximum. That's the secret. Other people may have more powers but if the Christian uses the powers he or she has to the maximum, they are probably doing better work than the other person. The Christian should be all-out, always industrious, always honest, always truthful, always reliable, always helpful. You cannot give a person new abilities or powers; but a Christian, however, unintelligent they may be, can always be an honest person, a reliable person, a person who keeps good time, a truthful person, a person whose word is their bond and always a person on whom you can rely. And all this, precisely because they are a Christian.
Why should a Christian work this way? The answer is obvious. In doing this the Christian honors God and pleases him. This is God's will for a Christian. Every single piece of work a Christian produces must be good enough to show to God. Christians should not do good work just so we'll get more money or promotions but because we serve Christ in this way. This is the single most important motivation in our passage and is in every verse.
In verse 5 we are told to serve those over us with fear and trembling. It's not really our bosses we should tremble before but God. We serve our bosses with singleness of heart; that is, with complete sincerity, not so much because they deserve it but because Christ does. In verse 6 we are not men-pleasers but slaves of Christ. Working "all out" is equated with doing the will of God. Verse 7 reinforces this by saying our work is ultimately for God, not men. We see this constantly illustrated in the Bible. Think of the story of Joseph. Joseph was one of God's people, yet he became the slave of pagans. But because he was a godly man he became a favorite wherever he worked and he won promotions. He did everything he was given to do with all his might and he did it for God.
According to verse 8, God rewards the good work of Christians. We should work hard because it will please Christ, not to gain a reward but good work does in fact bring its own reward to the doer. That is how God intends it should be. Good actions are followed by good consequences. As Paul says in Galatians 6:7, "we reap what we sow." This principle has been built by God into the universe and so applies both to masters and slaves, bosses and workers. This principle is a good witness for Christ. Our reward of good work is a good testimony.
Paul gives only one verse to masters, probably because there were so few of them in the early church. He begins by telling them everything which applies to workers (or slaves) applies to them as well. That says so much in so few words that most people probably miss it.
Workers have been asked to make it their aim in all their duties to please Christ and to pursue this aim cheerfully and with goodwill. Bosses are now asked to put the same principles into practice in their particular situation: in their treatment of workers, it is Christ whom they first aim to please and their personal attitude also will be one of cheerfulness and courtesy. If workers tend to be lax in their jobs, the key fault of bosses is that they tend to rely on threatening. In Paul's day this applied to slaves who were threatened with physical punishment. Today, the threat is that you will be fired. I see this fault in many American companies, especially large ones. Managers are told only to think of productivity and output. The personal needs of the workers are not considered at all. This may be the most efficient way to run a business but it is not a very Christian one. Paul says bosses should forebear, or give up, threatening. It has no place in Christian relationships.
The motivation for having this attitude is that every human has a Supreme Boss in heaven, God. Paul goes on to say that God is no respecter of persons. The phrase "respect of persons" in Greek means literally the acceptance of people at their face value, the value given to them by other people and expected from others by the people themselves. The testimony of the whole Bible is that God does not follow this man-made standard. Distinctions of social class, wealth, and race are only outward appearances and mean nothing to God. As it says in 1 Samuel 16:7:
"The Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart."
Every Christian will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. He doesn't care if you were a worker or a boss, rich or poor. All he will ask is if you believed on him and what you did out of your love for him.
Don't be men-pleasers. Serve Christ and show it in your work and the way you treat others. The world is watching you - work like someone Higher is watching you too.
Holwick: I have lost track of the resources I used to prepare these older sermons, but I suspect William Barclay was an important source.
Typed on January 25, 2006, by Sharon Lesko of Ledgewood Baptist Church, New Jersey
Copyright © 2017 by Rev. David Holwick
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