Recently, I read through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Colossians is similar to Ephesians, and like Ephesians includes a section on the Christian household, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. It was the message to the slaves that stood out to me.
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please me, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:22-24 (HCSB)
These verses, if taken out of context, could raise cries of injustice. However, they must be balanced with Paul’s words to masters in both Colossians and Ephesians, as well as his letter to Philemon, which I understand to be a subtle stand against slavery. We should not see in these verses any lessening of the tragedy of human slavery and human trafficking.
What Paul is saying here is that slaves should see their work as being more than just work for their masters. Their work is service to the Lord. Can we apply this to workers today? If it refers to slaves, I believe that applies even more to those who work voluntarily and for a wage. In fact, implied in these verses is that fact that all work and labor is service to Christ. All labor and vocation are ministries for Christ.
Paul’s exhortation contains important aspects of serving Christ in our work. First, our work is not done to please others, but to please God. This point raises the standard for quality and motivation of work. We do not work primarily to get ahead or to get paid, but rather to serve Christ and bring glory and honor to His name. Therefore, our work should be done wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm. Nothing done for God is routine or unimportant.
Also, Paul recognizes the potential for masters to mistreat slaves. The same is true in employer-employee relationships today. Employers potentially could treat employees unfairly. Paul’s assurance is that such suffering does not go unseen by God. God is just. He will repay the wrongdoer. In the meantime, we are to see our work as service to God and not to others. He will repay excellent work done in His name.