The third section of the Tick and the Cross diagram (see Session 1) is called Redemption (or decreation). It is the upward element of the tick and it is intersected by the Cross of Christ. This represents the sweep of history from the Fall through to the New Creation. We will therefore look at this section in two parts: firstly in this blog we will think about the New Testament passages which help us to consider what it means to redeem our work. Then secondly, we will consider some of the wrong ways of working that are significant challenges to this aim of redeeming our work.
Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth writes about the freedom that believers enjoy in Christ. The focus in chapter 10 is on eating and drinking and it is therefore in that context that Paul offers this wide reaching principle for life: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are far more familiar with the concept of working for our own glory, or at best the glory of the company or organisation we work with. Yet Paul is urging the Christians in Corinth to work in such a way that the glory would go to God and not to themselves. This command is very counter cultural, it was then and it still is now. That is the backdrop to the passages we are going to focus on in this blog.
These passages mostly focus on the relationship between slaves and their masters. At first glance we might think that these verses have little application to us, but I that think they contain important principles that are transferrable to our Employer-Employee relationships. The truth is that many believers at the time of writing would have been slaves. Christianity’s emphasis on our equal standing before God was particularly attractive to women, to the poor and to slaves. In the Roman empire slavery was common and they served in all walks of life. Some were born into it, some sold themselves into it to pay off their debt, and others were forced into it. With this in mind I am going to focus on four key passages in which Paul instructs believers in their work and we will assume that our primary application will be with respect to our employee-employer relationships :
1. Wholehearted Service to the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1):
Paul has plenty to say both to slaves and their masters and the first two passages pick up on very similar things. We never get a sense that Paul wants to change people’s situations, but rather to encourage them to serve with faithfulness and integrity within the situations that God had placed them in. Firstly, both passages instruct slaves to obey their masters. In Ephesians Paul urges them to do so with respect, fear, sincerity of heart and in the same way that they would obey Christ:
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.Ephesians 6:5-9
Paul does not want them to obey in order to win (or curry) their masters favour. No he is urging them to live as slaves of Christ and work as if they are primarily serving Him. When we change our perspective on who it is that we are ultimately serving, our work will surely be transformed. There is no room for half heartedness here! Indeed, that is emphasised in these passages also: Colossians speaks of doing whatever we do with all of our hearts:
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favouritism. 4 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.Colossians 3:22-4:1
Both passages are clear that we should serve God because ultimately it will be Him who rewards us. We are promised an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Paul instructs masters too, asking them to treat their slaves as He treats them in a way that is right and fair. In these verses Paul is really raising the bar for us on how we go about our work. That is true whether we are the master or the apprentice. If we are able to live out this radical perspective on our work then it will have an impact on others.
2. Impacting the people around us (Titus 2:9-10, 1 Thess 4:9-12):
The last two passages focus specifically on what happens when we work wholeheartedly and as to the Lord. Paul asks Titus to teach the slaves on Crete to be subject to their masters in everything. They were not to talk back, or to steal, but rather to prove themselves trustworthy. In doing so, he says that they would make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.
9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.Titus 2:9-10
In the second passage Paul is urging them to love one another more and more. He then asks them to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life. This is the kind of life that contains the space to hear from God. He wants them to mind their own business rather than meddling in the lives of others. He exhorts the calling to work with their hands – something that that was looked down on in ancient Greece. In doing so he says that their lives may win the respect of outsiders and they would be able to care for their needs.
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
There is something very distinctive, and often very contagious, about the kind of person who works with integrity and sincerity. It begs the question why and often leads to great opportunities to speak about our faith. In my experience in the secular workplace I remember two great examples of this. On one occasion someone from another team was loaned to my team temporarily. I had never met this person, but when we did meet, he said that he knew I was the Christian. My reputation had clearly gone before me and I had become known for being a Christian! We had some good conversations whilst working alongside one another during this secondment! On another occasion, I became close to one of my managers and we often talked about all kinds of things when we met. However, it wasn’t until after his mum died, that the opportunity to talk about Jesus and Heaven really arose. He had lots of questions at that time and we talked often about them together.
In summary, we began by saying that God wants to redeem our work and we’ve seen there is a part for us to play in doing so. He wants us to work in such a way that God will be glorified. Ultimately this means that we need to have the perspective that we are working primarily for Him. If we genuinely believed that, it would transform the way that we go about our work, and as a result the people around us would begin to notice this radical distinctiveness. Let’s pray that this would be true of each of us.
See other posts in this series
- Created for work
- Working from a place of rest
- Finding Purpose in our work
- Working for the glory of God
- Wrong ways of working
- New Creation Work