ALIVE | Work | Ephesians 6.5-9
Topic: New Testament Passage: Ephesians 6:5–6:9
Christopher Rich – February 2, 2020
Introduction | Why is Work so Hard?
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we continue our series walking the through the book of Ephesians called ALIVE: The way Unearned where we see life with God has been given to us.
In Christ, we have been made alive for a purpose. To live in the way God has created us. Both the rewards of and endurance in this life are by His grace alone so they are by nature unearned.
Living New - The way unearned is not a way unchanged. Chapter 5 verse 15 says we are to “look carefully how we walk” and in verse 16 it says making the best use of time. This n the context that we have been made Alive by God and that He has prepared “good works” for us for us to “walk in them”. This include pursuing wisdom over foolishness and being stewards over the life we have been given. Joy and patience are to plays itself out in relationship and in responsibilities where we are engaging with each other making a (joyful harmony with God and people) with attitudes that are not entitled but are grateful to God all leading to dispositions humility rather than pride where we don’t seek to dominate one another but rather submit to one another. This is possible when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit in us not in our ability to change ourselves. Those are big important assumptions that have to proceed any discussion of the instructions from God. When we skip identity and go right to instructions, we will think our identity comes from our ability respond to direction rather than in receiving the grace and mercy of God. There are few ways we screw up our sense of identity and purpose than when it comes to the concept of work. We are Alive for a purpose. The way unearned is not a way without work. Before there was sin in the world there was purposeful God-given work to cultivate a culture of flourishing. Work was meant to be fruitful and good; we know this when we are enjoying our work. Sin has turned what should be productive into painful toil so we should not be surprised when our work is difficult or discouraging. We are all made to work. Since most of us spend ½ or more of our waking hours involved with work, if we’ve been made ALIVE by Christ then it will have an impact on our work. We are going to be looking at this from a variety of angles both practical and theological.
PART I |ALIVE Work for an ALIVE Employer | Ephesians 6:5-8
Eph 6:5-8 |5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
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 rightly the hair on the back of our neck stands up. This text, and similar sections like Colossians 3, is often used by those hostile to Christianity and the Bible to claim the Bible/NT not only allows for slavery but endorses it. It is true this text has been perverted by those who seek to dominate others specifically used by slave owners in the South to spiritually abuse those under them to believe their less than status in man’s eyes was endorsed by God. 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 where freedom and flourishing reign people are not in domination over one another but live in humble submission. Paul’s letter to Philemon specifically address the relationship between a bondservant and his master where the clear the gospel implication of to this earthly relationship was/is emancipation and brotherhood.
What is a Bondservant? 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 Ephesus. While not given full legal status, a bondservant was often someone who owed significant debts and could have been sent to a debtors’ prison. An alternative, a family 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 house they enjoyed serving in. There was abuse this was not ideal, let’s not pretend this wasn’t that bad. There was not the freedom of movement geographically and rarely socioeconomically. Estimates are that 1/3-1/2 of all people in Roman society were slaves with some areas even out numbering “free” people. 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 all work for someone. 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 and there are great applications for us today. Just as children are to obey their parents in the Lord, we are instructed to follow the direction of those in authority over us in the different spheres we work and serve in. Paul is telling the bondservants they are to obey their earthly masters (masters according to the flesh) of the masters not out of terror. Fear and trembling is better understood as reverence with humility, so we work out of service and respect of the Lord who is ultimately our 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. The way unearned may not change your earthly circumstances but it does change how you engage with them. 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 an attitudes changed in our circumstances. This doesn’t me we don’t work and strive for change, but it means sometimes we are where we are for a reason and we don’t know why yet. Some situations need to be left others need to be pressed into to produce the change God wants for us.
There are many motivations that can produce reverent obedience in the workplace. The most common is to earn praise or promotion from our “earthly masters” through insincere people pleasing. The issue with many bondservants is they would know they had to serve for a prescribed time so they 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 terms of service but 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! How have you experienced work when you have simply gone through the motions or worked in the way of “eye service” verse when you have worked sincerely and cheerfully? When we work this way, we think I will lead to less effort and free moments of our lives, but there is a hidden slavery found it this mindset. When we are people pleasers, we are not living as God pleasers. When we are working or living with a desire to have the affirmation or approval of others we are willingly placing ourselves in bondage to the changing whims of imperfect people rather than resting our identity in the unchanging security of a perfect God who loves us. Who do you work for? Who are your “earthly masters”? Who are you when no one is watching? We have forgotten who we actually work for. Hours of our lives are spent working so how we work and who we work for matter to the God who gave us life. You work for God!
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! Idle – Lazy We don’t work to live, that implies that only part of our lives the part we enjoy is living. We also don’t live to work. Idolatry – Work acholic We are made to work but we are not made for work. 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 is a rich theological term. Vocation comes from the Latin word for “Calling”. Before the reformation the term vocation was reserved for priest, monks, nuns 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 being a pasotr was a vocation, everyone has vocations with 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. 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 gives 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 in 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 just a good one!
The Doctrine of Vocation begs us as individuals to ask the question “what is my calling?” 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. Eph 2:10 We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. There is a reason you were saved. You are His workmanship created for good works that He has prepared. 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” Martin 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?” Genuine Good Works have to actually help someone else. When we love and serve our neighbors we’re loving and serving Christ. “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” - Martin Luther
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 6 Bondservant of Christ. Is your work supporting or hindering your other vocations?
Our Callings will be hard work. We live in a fallen world where nothing is easy. We work sincre with a good heart. 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 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 with rythms of rest. If you’re never tired, you’re not fulfilling your 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 through school. For a season my calling was to be a lifeguard/swim instructor/valet to help pay for college. If was still doing that 20 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 “beyond” certain positions, 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. We have to be careful not to fall into the trap that Calling is that thing at the next stage. God determines the times and places we live, the jobs we have, so our vocation is always in the here in now. Each stage of life requires us to constantly be reminded of the truth that while we serve a variety of earthly “masters” 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 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. God puts others into our lives to act as mirrors to show us our weaknesses and accurately judge our strengths. If we’re truly called to something others we know, trust, and respect will likely confirm our call. This means at times your dreams and your call won’t always match up. If you’re NOT called to do your dream job now or ever it maybe because it is your dream job and not His specific calling for you now.
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 that changes how see our work.
Unearned approval. The way unearned recognizes we already have God’s approval, we are promised a great inheritance, and He is our greatest authority, so all the work we do is for Him. Knowing we work for God gives us significance and purpose in any role despite how it may be regarded by others. We can work with intentional purpose in whatever endeavor we have in front of us knowing ultimately it is Jesus’ work in our place that has made us Alive.
“YOU WORK FOR THE KING, AND THAT CHANGES . . . EVERYTHING! …. No matter what you do, your job has inherent purpose and meaning because you are doing it ultimately for the King. Who you work for is more important than what you do.” – Sebastian Traeger, Gospel at Work
PART III |ALIVE Leaders | Ephesians 6:9
Eph 6:9 |9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
When our callings place us over people, we treat them with respect as one under authority. This changes how we lead. When we are in authority, we do not forget we are also under authority, so we treat those working under us with mercy and grace. 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 each soul will either have a positive or negative impact on them and 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 or you 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.
Our call is to Jesus We’re not hoping our hard work will please God, we hope in Jesus because of the work He has already done for us. 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 years lowly carpenter in a small town. Over 90% of Jesus life was just as mundane and normal as ours. 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 are debtors enslaved to sin. 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. 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. Because He’s paid 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. Knowing we have a promised inheritance. To be made Alive is to be made a servant as much as a son. We are set free to joyful work when we Trust Jesus.
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 because He is the only master truly worth serving so we have freedom to work when we Trust Jesus.
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 was we Trust Jesus
PRAY- Praise God for giving us purpose and allowing us to patriciate in cultivating a culture of flourishing. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you sincere motivation in the work and tasks in front of you. Pray God would use you for His purposes in your workplace.