(22) Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, 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.
The very first word of that passage can knock you off your pin. So let’s settle that one first. The fact that slavery and the birth of the Christian church are both part of the First Century historical narrative doesn’t mean that Christianity endorses slavery. The Bible is clear, no one is inherently better than another, either on the basis of gender or race. And both Testaments champion the virtues of humility, justice and kindness. But the Gospel was born within a culture ravaged by slavery and, unfortunately, that culture showed no signs of changing any day soon. So, rather than give the impression that Christianity could only work effectively where Christian virtues framed the culture, the apostles provide the church with life principles that generate spiritual transformation within any authority structure, including a slave-driven economy. That’s why the Bible says, “If you’re a slave, be a good one,” and, “If you’re a master, be a fair one.” God hates slavery, but He’s capable of working in that and any other kind of environment.
While our current economic context is much different, these same principles lateral into your workplace, because the purpose of the Christian church has never changed. Regardless of where you might live, what century you were born into, or what work responsibilities you might have, as part of the Christian church you’ve been re-engineered to change the world. There are a lot of things that we come together to do as a church, like learn and worship and fellowship together, but worldchange is the sole purpose of the church.
Jesus builds His church virally, circulating the transformational power of the Gospel rapidly and widely from one individual to another. And, since people generally spend more time at work than at church, often even more than at home, God’s Kingdom can be advanced in the workplace as much as anywhere else. But a few things are required.
“Sincerity” (verse 22) is the word aploteti, from the Greek haplos, referring to a single priority focus. Paul uses it here to help us see through all the smoke (office drama, economic ambition, etc.) and lock in on the singular priority purpose for the workplace.
Hands down, my favorite television show as a kid was Get Smart. Agent 86 would pull up to the curb, jump out of his cool red Sunbeam Tiger and then hurry into some small business, maybe a bookstore or a laundry. Of course, the store was simply a front for what was really going on behind the back wall or in the basement. Max would say something to an employee, something that seemed rather random. But the next thing you knew, the store manager was pulling some kind of lever and the back wall was opening up, revealing a passageway that led to what was really going on at that address, which we soon discovered was a field office for CONTROL, a fictional secret counter-intelligence government agency.
God wants us to be devoted to our jobs, but for the right reason. Look at it this way—you’re Agent 86. And your workplace is simply a front for what God really wants to accomplish for you and through you. Your job does two things: it pays your bills and it connects you to people. The strategic combination of those two things opens up a passageway to something really big—the chance to shine the light of Christ and do something that’s more eternal than economic.
The word “reverence” (verse 22) is phobomenoi, from the Greek phobos, meaning fear, literally “to take flight,” that is, to be so afraid that you run away. If you revere God, it’s scary to think that you could be wasting an opportunity He’s given you to bring His transformational presence into your home or your workplace.
This doesn’t mean that, when your boss at work gives you an assignment, you say, “I’m sorry, I have a new boss, and His name is Jesus—I don’t have to take your orders. I only take my orders from Jesus.” But, ultimately, Jesus is the One you work for. His is the only performance review that really matters.
“All your heart” (verse 23) is the Greek psuche, which is a reference to the Greek soul, what they considered to be the “breath of life.” When you decide to pursue significance, rather than success, your pursuit of God’s priorities takes over your career goals. It becomes, as Paul says, the “soul” of your work efforts.
Work, job, vocation are all words we use to describe what we do in life. When we’re asked, “So, what do you do?” we naturally default to describing where we work. But the English word "vocation" comes from a Latin verb meaning "to call.” Our vocation or our job is actually a call, similar to that of a pastor. Work brings added frustration when we divide our jobs into two categories—secular and sacred. We need to be careful that we do not over-spiritualize my workplace (a pastor’s job) because, when we do that, we end up under-spiritualizing your workplace. My work is no more valuable and important than yours. We’re all in full-time ministry, regardless of who writes our paychecks. Ministry is your vocation, just like it’s mine. Paul said that when you go to work, you’re actually a pastor! You may not hold the office, but you certainly have the role. That’s your calling. Your “job” quite simply just facilitates that calling.
There is something that’s worth far more than receiving earthly payment for doing a job—it’s receiving a heavenly inheritance for fulfilling your calling.
So, what do you say?
Let’s go to work!