This week we tackle the final example that Paul gives to illustrate his point that the Gospel transforms (should have transformed and should be transforming!) every aspect of our lives. We come to Ephesians 6, verses 5-9, “Submitting to One Another … at Work.” Every Christians should be asking daily, “How then should I live; how should my new life in Christ Jesus be reflected in every area of my life?” This is what I am talking about I speak about our Purpose, to “Bring honour and glory to God,” in our WORSHIP. Worship 24/7; every day of our lives and in every aspect of our lives. If you think that you are a Christian because you come to church most Sundays for a couple of hours, then you are missing the point. You might not be a Christian at all. You might be self-deceived. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21):
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
What does “doing the will of the Father” look like in my working life? Can I truly say that I worship the Lord in my working life? Is my working life being transformed by my new identity in Christ? Do I bring honour and glory to God in and as I work?
This is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 6, verses 5-9, but I would suggest that it applies not just to those who are working at a job for pay, I believe that it applies to all of us. It applies to children at home doing assigned chores. It applies to students in school, in college, in university studying under teachers or professors. It applies to workers, employees, everyone who has a supervisor of some kind or another. It applies to business owners, homeworkers – to anyone working “for” or “under” anyone else, and to those who have authority over and therefore responsibility for people. This passage applies to you and to me; to everyone.
The first thing that we need to talk about is the joy and privilege of work. There are a lot of people in the world who do not look at “work” in that way, but God gave us “work” before the Fall. He gave it to us as a Mandate, as “The Divine Mandate,” but He also gave it to us as a privilege, as a stewardship, for our joy. Before the Fall, God gave man and woman, created in His image, the Mandate to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over [all of it]” (Gen 1:28). Specifically to men, before God created woman, God gave the “Masculine Mandate” to “work” and to “keep” the creation (Gen 2:15). It was only after the Fall that work became “WORK” (Gen 3:17-19), but the “fall” of work is reversed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Work can be and is redeemed and transformed now, “in Him” and will be totally redeemed in the New Heaven and New Earth that Christ will bring in, in the eschaton. Do you think of “work” as a gift from God; as a privilege; as a joy?
The second thing to talk about is about our attitude, our “heart” as workers (vv.5-8). I know. I’ve been out there as a worker. I work now. We all (at least when we are focussed on self and now on what brings glory to God) have a problem of discontentment, of complaining about our work, of complaining about our supervisors, our situation, our limitations, our frustrations. Many have said that work would be a joy if it weren’t for people, but we are perhaps our own worst problem. It’s our heart that is at issue. Now when Paul writes to “slaves” or to “bondservants,” we often downplay the issue by saying that slavery in first century Judaism wasn’t the same as slavery practiced in the 19th century (and in many places around the world today) where the “slave” had no rights, was the “property” of the master, wasn’t even acknowledged to be “human” and could be beaten and used up, killed and/or disposed of at the will or whimsy of the master. But Paul’s audience in Ephesians was primarily Gentile, maybe even mostly “slaves” whose life was in the hands of their masters. Perhaps here Paul has in mind Christian slaves and their Christian masters, but in the parallel passage in Colossians (3:22-4:1) and in 1 Peter 2:18-25, it matters not whether our masters are “gentle” or “unjust,” our attitude to our work is to be shaped by our identity in the Lord. Paul writes: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters … with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, … doing the will of God from the heart, … knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:5-8).
How can we do that? It all has to do with the attitude of the heart, which flows from our salvation in Christ Jesus, our identity in Christ Jesus, our contentment “in Him.” Is that your testimony in your work?
Finally, Paul admonishes and instructs “Masters” as well, and except perhaps for the youngest children here, the babes and toddlers who are youngest in their homes, we are all “masters” in some aspect of our lives. Paul instructs us to “do the same to them,” fundamentally to have the same attitude towards those under us that was demonstrated for us by Christ Himself, the attitude of a Servant-Leader. Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-7:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
When James and John wanted to be elevated above the rest of the disciples, “to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matt 20:21), Jesus said to them, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (vv.26-27). In the Gospel, in lives that have been and are being transformed by being “the renewed in the spirit of [our] minds” (Eph 4:23), whoever has authority over another has responsibility to love, serve and uplift them.
How is any of this possible? I believe that it has to do with our identity “in Christ Jesus,” with our contentment with and in our situation in life according to His sovereign purposes, with the deepest desire of our hearts to bring all honour and glory to God. That is not to say that it is wrong to want to excel or advance in our work, or to improve our situation. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:21, “… if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.” He was in no way blindly defending an institution that was unjust. What Paul is admonishing us about, exhorting us to, is to set our minds, our “hearts” upon Christ, to elevate our thinking. We need to know that our new identity is “in Christ.” We are no longer to find our identity in our work. Remember how many times in the first chapter of Ephesians Paul repeated the phrases “in Christ,” “in Him,” “in the Beloved,” “through Jesus Christ?” I counted again – these phrases are found 17 times in the first 23 verses of this letter. As he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And in that new creation, we are to be content. Whatever may happen in this life, I am “in Christ Jesus.” Like Paul, we are to “learn in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).
I have been created, I have been saved in Christ Jesus, for the purpose of bringing all honour and glory to God. That includes worshiping God in every aspect of my life. In my marriage, in my home, and yes, even in my work.
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