Colossians 3. 22-4. 1 Mystery of Work
Topic: New Testament Passage: Colossians 3:22–4:1
Good Morning. Today we’re going to be continuing our “Mystery” series in Colossians, looking specifically at the Mystery of Work, looking at chapter 3:22-4:1
Paul starts out Colossians in the first chapter by reminding us that, as Christians we’ve been transferred from one kingdom to another, from a domain of Darkness to the Kingdom of the beloved Son Jesus. He goes on to speak to the “preeminence of Christ” as not only the Creator of all things, but the sustainer who holds all things together. That he both made the earth, and everything in it, and he continues to actively work in His creation. In light of these truths the remainder of the letter is various calls to strive for maturity, move away from sin, and put on a new identity in Christ. Chapter three has been spent unpacking the characteristic of this new identity and how it should be live out as an individual, with in families, and as a community. There is a clear implication that big theological truths of the Gospel are to sink deeply into our hearts, our inner being, and the results should be visibly expressed in each the outward workings of our lives, particularly our relationships. We’ve recently looked at how the Gospel is lived out at our homes in marriage/family and today we are going to focus on what it means for Christ to be preeminent in our work. Since most of us spend ½ or more of our waking hours involved with work, if Christ is to be preeminent in our lives, he better be in our work. We are going to be looking at this from a variety of angles both practical and theological.
If “Wives, submit to your husbands” is often met with great resistance in our culture then “Slaves obey” is almost universally offensive and can be downright troubling to our sensibilities. We are less than 150 years removed a Civil War fought, in part, to abolish the practice of brutal racial slavery in our country. Even today oppressive slavery is far from extinguished and many of us are aware of the increasing volume of human trafficking. In our minds Slavery = Racism/Human Trafficking so we come to verses like this and the hair on the back of our neck stands up. This text, and similar sections like Ephesians 6, is often used by those hostile to Christianity and the Bible to claim the Bible/NT not only allows for slavery but endorses it. The Bible, the Gospel, is NOT pro-slavery. On the contrary, countless times in scripture, including throughout the writings of Paul, the overwhelming message has been the fullness of Gospel removes worldly oppression and restores all things under the lordship and authority of God.
While throughout history there have likely been scores people who have attempted to use this text to oppress others let me be clear what this text is NOT. This scripture is not talking to the estimated 40-50k young women/girls in the horror of human sex trafficking in the US to be obedient to their oppressors or serve their clients with a sincere heart. It’s not telling the drugged up child soldiers in Africa that God wants them to gladly obey their commanders in the slaughter of their families and countrymen. As with nearly everything, context matters.
This text is included in a section on rules for Christians Households and immediately follows instructions for wives, husbands and children. While for us that seems like an awkward paring it’s not by accident. The Greek word doulos is used 126 times in the NT and over 85% of the time it is translated as servant, or occasionally bondservant. Rarely is it translated to slave. If you have a decent study Bible it will include a note for the word slave to say servant or bondservant. I believe, bondservant is likely the best translation based on the context as Bondservants were often considered part of the family, particularly in urban Roman city like Colossae. Additionally we know Paul also wrote and sent a letter to Philemon at the same time in which he discusses the relationship between a bondservant and his master. While not given full legal status a bondservant was often someone who owed significant debts and could have been sent to a debtors prison. As a positive alternative, a family or persons with means would pay this persons debt in exchange for prescribed times of service to repay their debts at which time they could either be freed of there “bond” or they could willingly agree to remain part of the business or household in perpetuity if it was a person/house they enjoyed serving/working with.
This idea may still seem constricting as Freedom Loving Americans, but the reality is most of us only have the illusion of freedom particularly economically. Nearly all of us are in debt at a variety of levels. Proverbs 22:7 says the borrower is the slave of the lender. You may not think you have a “master” but you likely have a “master card”. We are all slaves/servants to something or someone. We all have work, even if you’re self-employed you’re not independent as you are a servant to your clients. We need to see ourselves in the text. The issue with many bondservants is they would know they had to serve for a prescribed time so they in essence the would work hard when the Boss was watching, but would slack off if he wasn’t around and just try to wait out their time. They may have agreed to a level/time of service but that didn’t serve their time joyfully. Or they would go the extra mile, maybe even try to outdo other bondservants, when the boss/master was watching as a way to incur favor, either to get let off early or have some greater level of status with the home/business. This NEVER happens at our workplace!
Paul is telling the bondservants they need to obey their earthly masters in everything not out of fear of the masters, but out of service and respect of the Lord who is ultimately their master. Part of Christian living, despite conditions or circumstances, is being consistent across each arena of your life. Your time may be divided among diverse tasks and relationships, and your role may be different but in all you are under the authority of the Lord. Paul doesn’t give them, or us, a pass for if you have a harsh master or an idiot boss. He also doesn’t tell them that because the serve Christ the no longer have to listen to their bosses or they are going to be delivered from challenging work. While God absolutely, knows our work conditions and is involved our circumstances he is usually less concerned with changing our circumstances then he is with seeing our hearts changed in our circumstances.
Who do you work for? Who are your “earthly masters”? Who are you when no one is watching?
Paul gives practical instructions for theological reasons reminding all of us there is purpose for all that we do, particularly when and how we work. It’s what the reformers call the Doctrine of Vocation.
God created work before the fall. Even in a perfect world, Man is to work and cultivate. Idleness is not a biblical goal, fulfilling work is! Everyone, single/married, young/old is called to be an active contributor, not a passive consumer. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Because of sin, everything is broken, and work goes from fulfilling and joyful to toil. Work in the world becomes motivated by greed, oppression, laziness, selfish ambition, or even basic survival. As God sets out to redeem the world he includes redeeming work through vocation.
Some of this material is borrowed from Gene Vieth, Jr’s book God at Work where he borrowed almost all of it from Martin Luther and Calvin. Vocation has a pretty common meaning now as just a fancy word for “job” but it is actually a richly theological term. Vocation comes from the Latin word for “Calling”. Before the reformission the term calling/vocation was reserved for priest, monks, nuns and those who worked specifically for the church. The Reformers, Luther in particular, pared the concept of vocation with idea of the “priesthood of all believers” that pastoral office was a vocation, but that laypeople also have vocations that have holy responsibilities, authorities, and blessings of their own. Vocation/calling doesn’t mean all Christians become church workers, but it means Whatever you do is a sacred calling.
As Christians when we work, God works. God’s providence isn’t just how God controls but also how he cares for us. It literally means how God provides for us. God works in the “secular” world by vocation where he institutes families, work, organizations, and give individuals particular parts to play in his intricate design. Our vocations remind us that we’re dependent on others and others are dependent on us. Secularist calls this economics but theologically it’s the interaction of vocations. The scope of God’s power and care and the level of intricacy he is involved with all of His creation is more than we can wrap our heads around. God works in mysterious ways, but he also works in very ordinary ways. He feeds us in ordinary ways, he clothes us in ordinary ways, he provides our shelter in ordinary ways and heals us I ordinary ways usually using ordinary people who have been giving a specific purpose and/or calling. God works even through those that do not know Him. I don’t care if I have a Christian pilot or a Christian Allergy Nurse.
The Doctrine of Vocation begs us as individuals to ask the question “what is my calling?” I am NOT going to be able to answer that but I can tell you what callings/vocations look like.
Instead of asking “What Job/Career/School should I choose?” a Christian should ask “what is God calling me to do?” We’ve resisted “God Loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” to the point that we don’t believe that God has any specific purpose at all, and yet We are called to work.
Ephesians 2:10 We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
There is a reason you were saved. No because there is something unique and wonderful about you apart from God, but that you are God’s workmanship, and he has prepared for a purpose, for Good Works that he calls you to walk in. He didn’t save you so you can sit back and monk out for years at a time without loving, serving, and work for/with others for his Glory for the big high profile jobs, the dirty jobs, and the mundane jobs.
Our callings will serve others The Protestant reformation was beautiful in that it returned Christianity to an understanding that our salvation is NOT a result of our works, but of faith in Christ. At the same time the reformation gave birth the “protestant works ethic” The result of our salvation should lead us to good works that God has prepared for us.
“God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.” Theologian Gustaf Wingren
Luther lit up the monks that claimed they were serving God by prayer and devotions. He said “These are not good works at all! Who are they helping? God is not impressed with you degrees or how many podcasts you’ve listened too, or how may conferences you’ve attend if it has lead you to serve and help other people. Genuine Good works have to actually help someone else. When we love and serve our neighbors we’re loving and serving Christ
How does my calling serve my neighbor? Who are my neighbors in my particular vocation, and how can I serve them with the love of God?
We have many callings at the same time. We don’t have just our work/job/career, but we also have callings to be husbands/wives, parents/children, neighbors and if we are Christians we are called to be part of a body of believers. These callings should work in harmony with each other and should not be in conflict or competition for time/energy/resources/devotion. All of these diverse calling are all under the clear/simple umbrella of verse 24 You are serving the Lord Christ. Is your work supporting or hindering your other vocations? Is you work serving Christ, others, or yourself?
Our Callings will be hard work. We live in a fallen sinful world where nothing is easy. Verse 23 says work heartily which means from the soul/life. Actual energy will have to be expanded. The bare minimum of Office Space is funny, but it’s not a biblical concept. If you want to know what you work should look like read the book of proverbs. It is clear teaching on the sins of laziness/sloth, encouragement to working hard while reminding us when enough is enough. Let there be no question whatever calling we are engaged in will be hard work. If we’re not working hard we’re not fulfilling our calling. Are you working hard? Are you working too hard?
Our Callings can and will change at various times and seasons in our lives. As a student your vocation is to learn and be trained but it also may be to work a “crappy job” to work your way though school. For a season my calling was to be a lifeguard/swim instructor/valet to help pay for college. If was still doing that 10-15 years later I would no longer be working in my vocation but avoiding what God had next for me. If all goes well and you have a lifelong vocation great, but it also possible you lose your job, take a “step back” or several steps back to do what is needed. This can be difficult because we feel we’re “past/beyond” certain conditions or postions, but there are times God humbles us for our growth and His glory. When you “retire” you don’t “retire” from vocation and wait to die, you merely retire from one vocation to another calling. We have to be careful not to fall into the trap that Calling/Vocation is that thing at the next stage. God determines the times/places we live and the jobs we have, our vocation is always in the here in now. Each stage in life requires us to constantly be reminded of the truth that while we serve a variety of earthly “masters” that we work hard, not for them but for the Lord. It’s for Him we strive and it from him we are ultimately rewarded.
Our calling comes from outside ourselves. They come from circumstance, opportunities given and doors slammed shut. God often uses other people to call us, we have to be hired/accepted before we can say we’re called. Many people feel they’re called to certain vocations that they are either not equipped for or are just not for them. The world tells us to ignore the voices of others and to only listen and believe in ourselves. The problem is we are poor judges of our selves. God puts others into our lives to act as mirrors to show us our weaknesses and accurately judge our strengths. We should be careful to consider our sources of input but we should know that if we’re truly called to something others we know/trust/respect will likely confirm our call. This means at times you’re dreams and your call won’t always match up. You’re NOT called to do your dream job maybe it’s because it is your dream job and not His specific calling for your life.
Our Calling will Glorify God We are all working towards something and for someone. The question is who and what? Christian or non, God can take our work and do good things for it. Our call is to work for His glory and not our own. You are to serve Christ and not yourself. Whatever you are doing you can be done for Him or for yourself. It’s an issue of you heart. It’s an issue of worship. As John Piper says, “when we worship God, we do diaper differently” When we serve ourselves and deny our master and creator in heaven verse 25 is clear there are consequences. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
We can do the right thing for the wrong reasons. 1Cor 10:31 Whatever you do, do it all to the Glory of God.
Is God at work in your vocation/job because of your willing worshipful heart? Or despite your selfishness and sin?
4:1 Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
When our callings place us over people we treat them with respect as one under authority. Every other person we come in contact with is an image bearer of God. They are his creation, they are His servants. When someone is working for us or with us we need to remember we are someone under the gracious loving authority of God and he desires for us to treat others with grace and love. Remember the simple truth that those under you, in your care, or in a position of service to you, have a soul. How you interact with that soul will either have a positive or negative impact on them. As a Christian, your interactions with others will either reflect positively or negatively on your Master in Heaven.
My fear in all of this is that we will leave today in either pride that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, or despair that we are not measuring up in the callings of our life. I am also afraid that those who claim to follow Christ and those here that don’t will only hear work harder, be a better employee, or just a better person and will set out to try harder and do better. Trying harder or doing better will only continue swings of pride and despair, It will not lead to life, it will not lead to joy. We are not deist, we are Christians. We’re not hoping our hard work will please God, we hope in Jesus because of the work he has already done for us. For you.
Our call is to Jesus
We look to Jesus as our example of for humble work and service and as someone who sympathizes with us in all of our circumstances. Jesus left the comfort and glory of heaven and humbled himself entering the world as a baby in a poor family. Jesus grew up as a son, lived as child and learned as a student. He worked for likely 20 years as lowly carpenter in a small town. Even as the Son of God his period of active earthly ministry was just over 3 years (less than 10% of his life) was spent in active ministry. That means over 90% of Jesus life was just as mundane and normal as ours. Even in his ministry he came not to be served but to serve. He worked, he healed sick people, he preached and taught, he catered a wedding, and he washed the feet of his disciples, even the feet of Judas who betrayed him. He obeyed the Father in Heaven, with a sincere heart when he said not my will but your will be done, before he willingly submitted himself a brutal death on the Cross. It’s because of that sacrifice on the Cross, and his resurrection, that we don’t just look to Jesus as our example of a servant but we joyfully serve Him as the Lord Christ/ Master-Savior.
We owe everything we have to God but we live as though we are completely independent of his loving provision. It’s called Sin. We all have a debt of sin to pay. We may feel like we have freedom but we are slaves or our own sin. The time will come when we will die and our debt of sin will need to be settled. Alone, we will be found lacking at judgment and sentenced to an eternal debtors prison of Hell. That is the fate we all deserve.
1 Cor 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
But God is gracious to us in Jesus. For those who transfer their debt to Jesus, he pays our debt with a price, he redeems us from slavery, with his own blood on the cross. Because he pays our debt we get to become his bondservants and joyfully give our entire lives to serve him as our master in his kingdom, in his house. He doesn’t redeem us so we can continue wondering or remain in the slavery of the world and he doesn’t immediately remove us from where we are.
We get to obey because Jesus was obedient for us, to the point of Death on the Cross.
He calls us as ambassadors of his Kingdom and sends to into the world to proclaim the Gospel that there is loving master who saves sinners and releases them from bondage and in return he demands our entire lives not as just as servants but as adopted Sons and Daughters who get to enjoy the inheritance of the kingdom for all eternity.
It is a beautiful thing to be a bondservant in the kingdom of God. Paul, Peter, even Jesus half Brother, James, all joyfully call themselves Slaves of Christ and the Gospel because they knew He is God and He is the only master worth serving. I want to be a bondservant to Christ because he paid my debt with his blood on the cross. I want his purposes and his Glory to be paramount in my life because he purchased me for a price. My debt of sin, past, present, and future is paid for by him, and I want to willingly devote myself to His interests at the expense of my own interests because it’s my desires to be independent of God that lead me to my debt of sin in the first place. I pray you run to Jesus and fall to your knees, declare Him your Lord/Master and let Him be your savior/redeemer so you can be his bondservant and his adopted son/daughter. Now you have an opportunity to respond.
We are going to take communion remembering that as bondservants of the King our freedom from slavery of sin was paid for with a price and that price was the broken body and shed blood of Jesus on the Cross.
We’re going to give our tithes and offerings not to buy God’s favor, but to recognize that he has richly provided us with all things.
And we’re going to sing, not for eye-service or to please people around us but we’re going to sing compelled with sincere hearts that love, respect, and worship the Lord.
Galatians 3:27 -4:7