This past Sunday I spoke on Ephesians 6:5-9 and the topic of work. Work is such an important part of our lives and we spend 40 or more hours a week working. For some of us, work is so closely tied to our identity that we really work 24/7. I think of homeschooling moms, live-in care providers, pastors and others. Regardless of how many hours we might work, we all struggle with our motivations and our work ethics. According to a Salary.com 2013 survey, a whopping 73% of those surveyed work strictly for the paycheck. The Towers Watson Retirement Attitudes Survey has identified that for the youngest workers, the 10 most important factors (out of 23) were, in descending order: job security, base pay, healthcare benefits, vacation time, reputation of an organization as a great place to work, length of commute, career development opportunities, retirement benefits, challenging work, and promotion opportunities. How about you? What motivates you? What is your top 10 reasons to work? How do you work – do you overwork? Do you underwork? And what does God have to say about all this?
Although originally applied to “bondslaves” and “masters,” it is very helpful to apply it to any work situation. (BTW: for a very helpful discussion on Slavery and the Bible go here.) This passage in Ephesians teaches us three key things about work. These truths are radical and profound in their affect on our work.
1. We Work for Christ
If you look through this passage you will see over and over again the radical idea that we work for Christ: verse 5 “as you would Christ”, verse 6 “as bondservants of Christ”, verse 7 “as to the Lord and not to man”, verse 8 “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, verse 9 for masters.. “knowing that he who is both their master and yours is in heaven”. It is unmistakable that work for the Christian is not primarily to please a boss, not primarily for self-promotion, not primarily even to earn a paycheck and definitely not primarily for self-fulfillment. No, work for the Christian is primarily for the Lord. We work for Christ!
Why would anyone be interested in working for Christ, primarily? Well, I think it begins with recognizing how he has first worked for us. We need to recognize what he did for us when we had messed everything up. While we rebelled against God, spurned him and his ways and made a mess of things, without any pleading from us, Christ came and worked to clean up our mess. He gave his life as a ransom for us – to free us to live forgiven and beloved and with him forever. 1 Peter 2:24 puts it this way: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” With this wonderful news of grace in our hearts from a God who so loves us, we will find power to gladly work for Christ!
2. We Work To Do the Will of God
Notice that it says that we are to work “doing the will of God from the heart.” Isn’t that interesting? What sorts of things would a bondservant have been doing back then? Things like cooking dinner, sweeping the floor, teaching mathematics and business, overseeing the farm, selling things in a shop, overseeing investments. What would masters have done? supervising projects, training new workers, reporting to their supervisor, making sure the projects were done well and efficiently. These were the sorts of things bondservants and masters did then, ... not too different from what we might do. All work is to be worship, no matter what the occupation. It is all deeply valuable to God when we do it in him, with him and ultimately for him. It is all the will of God. Whether we are changing a diaper, emptying the trash or discovering supernovas, all work for him is worship, all work for him is doing his will!
3. We Work for An Eternal Reward
Finally, and amazingly, we do all this to receive an eternal heavenly reward. That is so amazing. All and anything we do for the Lord in our occupation will be credited towards our heavenly reward. It says in verse 8, “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”
I can’t illustrate this better than this account attributed to the 20th century pastor, H.A. Ironside:
When I was a boy, I felt it was both a duty and a privilege to help my widowed mother make ends meet by finding employment in vacation time, on Saturdays and other times when I did not have to be in school. For quite a while I worked for a Scottish shoemaker, or "cobbler," as he preferred to be called, an Orkney man, named Dan Mackay. He was a forthright Christian and his little shop was a real testimony for Christ in the neighborhood. The walls were literally covered with Bible texts and pictures, generally taken from old-fashioned Scripture Sheet Almanacs, so that look where one would, he found the Word of God staring him in the face. There were John 3:16 and John 5:24, Romans 10:9, and many more.
On the little counter in front of the bench on which the owner of the shop sat, was a Bible, generally open, and a pile of gospel tracts. No package went out of that shop without a printed message wrapped inside. And whenever opportunity offered, the customers were spoken to kindly and tactfully about the importance of being born again and the blessedness of knowing that the soul is saved through faith in Christ. Many came back to ask for more literature or to inquire more particularly as to how they might find peace with God, with the blessed results that men and women were saved, frequently right in the shoe shop.
It was my chief responsibility to pound leather for shoe soles. A piece of cowhide would be cut to suite, then soaked in water. I had a flat piece of iron over my knees and, with a flat-headed hammer, I pounded these soles until they were hard and dry. It seemed an endless operation to me, and I wearied of it many times.
What made my task worse was the fact that, a block away, there was another shop that I passed going and coming to or from my home, and in it sat a jolly, godless cobbler who gathered the boys of the neighborhood about him and regaled them with lewd tales that made him dreaded by respectable parents as a menace to the community. Yet, somehow, he seemed to thrive and that perhaps to a greater extent than my employer, Mackay. As I looked in his window, I often noticed that he never pounded the soles at all, but took them from the water, nailed them on, damp as they were, and with the water splashing from them as he drove each nail in.
One day I ventured inside, something I had been warned never to do. Timidly, I said, "I notice you put the soles on while still wet. Are they just as good as if they were pounded?" He gave me a wicked leer as he answered, "They come back all the quicker this way, my boy!
"Feeling I had learned something, I related the instance to my boss and suggested that I was perhaps wasting time in drying out the leather so carefully. Mr. Mackay stopped his work and opened his Bible to the passage that reads, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
"Harry," he said, "I do not cobble shoes just for the four bits and six bits (50c or 75c) that I get from my customers. I am doing this for the glory of God. I expect to see every shoe I have ever repaired in a big pile at the judgment seat of Christ, and I do not want the Lord to say to me in that day, 'Dan, this was a poor job. You did not do your best here.' I want Him to be able to say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"
Then he went on to explain that just as some men are called to preach, so he was called to fix shoes, and that only as he did this well would his testimony count for God. It was a lesson I have never been able to forget. Often when I have been tempted to carelessness, and to slipshod effort, I have thought of dear, devoted Dan Mackay, and it has stirred me up to seek to do all as for Him who died to redeem me.
H. A. Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth, Moody Press, 1945, pp. 37-39.
So, I hope these three key truths help you work in a new way, no matter what you might be doing. We work for Christ, we work to do the will of God, we work for a heavenly reward.
If you would like to hear the whole message on this passage check out the audio here.
Have a great day at work!
(P.S.: Sorry to once again be absent from blogging. I have relied on Twitter for regular posts but am realizing it is hard to say much with only 140 characters. I will continue to tweet and post on Facebook but hope to start at least weekly blog posts to better serve folks. I hope you find this helpful!)