And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24, N.K.J.V.)
While the word “whatever” brings all of life into play, the specific context for this passage deals with Christian slaves in the Roman empire. Some scholars estimate that half the population of that empire were slaves. Slaves in the Roman empire could be uneducated or educated. They could do manual labor or skilled labor. They could work in mines or on farms, or they could work as physicians, tutors, or accountants, etc.
Interestingly, when Christianity began to sweep over the empire, scores of slaves became Christians. Just as interestingly, scores of slave owners became Christians. This set up a challenging dichotomy for all involved. Should the Christian slave remain in his/her slot in life or say, “I am free in Christ” and rebel? And what about the Christian slave owner? Should he release all his slaves from their service and in so doing deal himself a heavy financial loss, not to mention a crippling blow to the upkeep of his home, property, and business interests? These were monumental questions with which the early Christians wrestled.
The apostle Paul wrote under the inspiration of God and provided remarkably consistent counsel for the questions. That counsel went as follows:
- Jesus placed Himself in the role of a slave when He laid aside His glory in heaven, came to the earth in the likeness of man, and died a sacrificial death on the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
- Every Christian — whether that Christian be a slave or a free person — was an equal part of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-13; Galatians 3:26-28)
- Every Christian should think of himself or herself as being a slave to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22-23; Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1)
- Christian slaves should continue to show their masters honor and not talk back to them, so that the God of Christianity and His teachings wouldn’t be misrepresented and blasphemed. (Romans 13:7; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9-10)
- Christian slave owners should actually serve their Christian slaves rather than looking down on them. (1 Timothy 6:2)
- Christian slaves should remain in their place, continue to obey their masters in all things, and do quality work in complete honesty, as if they were rendering the service to Jesus Himself rather than to the masters. (1 Corinthians 7:20-22; Ephesians 6:5-7; Colossians 3:22-23; Titus 2:9-10; see also 1 Peter 2:18-25)
- Even if the Christian slave’s owner did not appreciate the slave’s quality work and reward the slave for it, Jesus would grant the slave eternal rewards. (Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24)
- Christian slave owners should treat their slaves well, giving them what was fair and not threatening them with punishment, knowing that their own Master (Jesus) was watching from heaven. (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1)
It can been said that by addressing the issue in this way, Paul accomplished two things. First, he kept the Christian slaves from throwing the entire empire into chaotic upheaval. Such an upheaval would have gotten Christianity labeled as the religion of rebellion, and that reputation would have trumped the fact that Christianity is all about submission, submission to Jesus Christ. Second, with Paul’s God-inspired counsel, he provided the seeds for slavery’s eventual downfall. When a master has to start treating his slave with kindness and (gasp) seeing himself as a servant to that slave, that takes away the sadistic allure of him viewing that slave as his property.
But how can we, as Christians today, apply all these ancient passages to our lives? We can do it by pulling out some divine principles concerning the workplace. Therefore, I’ll offer a list of those principles as a close to this post. Consider each one carefully:
- Workplace Principle #1: We should understand that Jesus placed Himself in the role of a worker when He laid aside His glory in heaven, came to earth in the likeness of man, and did the work of God the Father. (see John 4:34; 5:36; 9:4; 17:4; 19:30)
- Workplace Principle #2: We should understand that each Christian has equal standing in Christ and we are all part of one body, and that applies to any Christian coworkers we might have.
- Workplace Principle #3: We should think of ourselves as being slaves to Jesus Christ and bring all areas of our lives, including the workplace, under His lordship.
- Workplace Principle #4: In the workplace, we should render appropriate honor to our bosses and in so doing cultivate a good testimony as a follower of Christ.
- Workplace Principle #5: In the workplace, we should always do the best job we can because we should see ourselves as doing our work for Jesus even more than for our employers.
- Workplace Principle #6: We should always keep in mind that even if our quality work goes unappreciated at our place of employment, Jesus will reward us handsomely for it in eternity.
- Workplace Principle #7: If God places us in a position of authority in the workplace, we should rule in humility and fairness, treat our workers well, and understand that a God-given role of authority is merely the God-given opportunity to be a servant to those over whom we rule.