Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 1/16/00
If Christianity is truth, it should make a difference in the Church and the home that flows out into the marketplace. Part of walking worthily of our calling therefore is learning to view our jobs not merely as an economic necessity or an avenue of advancement, but as service to Christ. The Apostle Paul analyzes our labor in those terms in this passage.
First, if we are to conceive of our jobs as service to Christ, Paul teaches us THE MEANING OF SERVICE. The first thing to notice is that this passage is addressed to slaves. We mustn't get distracted by the issue of slavery, for that is not the main point of this passage, but we should pause on it. People wonder why a NT Church in which there was neither bond nor free in Christ did not attack such a cruel institution. Rather, Paul simply accepts it and tells people how to live in it. The fact is that the NT method of dealing with such social issues was not to attack them directly but to deal with them indirectly through its moral influence on individuals. PostModern people tend to assume that we are defined by our social position, and that therefore the way to improve our lot is by changing the social structures that define us. The NT seems to assume rather that social roles are defined by the type of people who are in them. Therefore, its approach is to teach people to be Christlike in whatever social role they find themselves. Does this mean that direct political action is wrong? No. We live in a democracy; the early Church did not. As Christian citizens of a democracy we have the responsibility to influence our society and its laws in ways pleasing to God. But we do need to remember that the NT approach is more basic, profound, and powerful. I suspect that our failure to change laws through politics has something to do with our failure to base political action on the foundation of Christlike behavior.
What then is the relevance to us today of a passage addressed to slaves? Calvin hits the nail on the head: if Paul commands slaves to serve their masters well, how much more should we who are more fortunate show the love of Christ to our employers! The basic principle of the passage, reiterated in every verse, is that we should treat our employer as Christ. Not that we give our boss Christ's authority or position in our lives--that would be idolatry. But Paul is giving a specific application of the general principle laid down by Jesus in Matthew 25:40--in so far as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me. The Christian employee is to treat his boss as he would treat Christ.
How do we do this? Paul gives us specific instructions for that, addressing THE METHOD OF SERVICE. It is first to be Respectful ("fear and trembling," v. 5). This phrase is not to be taken literally; we do not start shaking when the boss comes in the room. It is an idiom meaning to treat him with profound respect, both to his face and behind his back (that's the hard part!). He may or may not deserve such treatment--that is not the issue. The idea is parallel to the military doctrine that one salutes the uniform rather than the person. Respect is accorded to the position "as if" it were filled by Christ--because ultimately, it is.
Second, our service is to be Sincere (v. 5). the word is haplotes, which literally means unfolded--imagine a piece of cloth. If it is folded up, it becomes complicated, parts are hidden, etc. Sincerity is the opposite of that. God is not satisfied with the outward act of respect--He demands a correct inward attitude of the heart. Here is the real challenge of this passage: how does Dilbert feel true respect in his heart for the Pointy-Haired Boss? The only way is to remember that we are doing this as for the Lord and not for men.
Third, our service is to be Diligent. Paul may have coined the word "eyeservice" (v. 6), which appears only in his writings. It means that we don't stop working when the boss isn't looking. And that we do a good job even on projects which nobody will ever see--the stupic bureaucratic report that we know will be filed and forgotten. Why? Because the One we are really working for does see. We are doing it for Him.
Finally, our service is to be Enthusiastic ("with a good will," v. 7). How do we maintain our motivation in Dilbert's cubicle? How do we maintain motivation in spite of stupid decisions, pointless busywork, excellence that goes unrewarded, and diligence that is exploited? Only by remembering that we are really working for Christ.
This leads to Paul's third empasis, THE MOTIVE FOR SERVICE. Christ will reward you even if your boss does not (v. 8). This comes in the form of hearing Him say "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" on the Last Day, and also in the form of the knowledge that one had pleased Him now. That Christ does receive our service (or lack thereof) as if done personally for Him is a general theme of Scripture. We have already seen it in Matthew 25:40. And Paul had heard it straight from the Lord Himself on the Damascus Road: "Saul, why are you persecuting ME?" (Acts 9:4). Paul is merely applying that principle to our jobs in this passage. So we must train ourselves to look past our earthly boss and see instead the One who humbled Himself as a servant, who girded Himself with a towel and washed the disciples' feet, who said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" even as he was being tortured to death for us, who said to Peter the traitor, as He might have said to any of us, "Feed my lambs." If you had the opportunity to do any service for a Lord like that, how would you apporach it? With sincere respect, diligence, real enthusiasm, and even love, no doubt. Well, you have that opportunity in every Christian brother or sister. And you have it on Monday morning in your boss, whether he or she is a Believer or not. Though they may not deserve or even appreciate or even notice it, Someone else receives it also, and does.
In conclusion, what if all Christian workers took this spirit with them into the marketplace? Do you think their witness would be more effective? That Christ would be glorified? To ask the question is to answer it. That is why Paul included this instruction in his explanation of how to walk worthily. May God help us so to walk.
Here endeth the lesson.