We are called to do everything – even what we do for a job – for the sake of Jesus, as if we were doing for Jesus. Because, in fact, we are doing it for Jesus. We must also remember that we live for Jesus not by trying harder, but by trusting that his power is at work in us, and allowing his Word and his Spirit to guide our choices
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Colossians #35. Colossians 3:20-4:1
Remember, we are in a section of scripture where the Holy Spirit is giving some practical instructions concerning what it means to do everything, both in word and deed, in the name of Jesus Christ. Because we belong to Jesus, we should live differently than the people around us. We just spent several weeks examining some of what that means for relationships between men and women. Paul continues with more family relationships:
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:20-21, ESV)
Paul wrote about this in slightly greater detail to the Ephesians:
1 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. 2 “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: 3 If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4, NLT)
This letter would have originally been read out loud in each house church in the city where it was first sent. The letter would then have been copied, sent to nearby cities, and read in the house churches there. Paul knew that children would be sitting there with their parents as the letters were read, and so he addresses them directly. From this we can understand that children were present in Christian churches from the very beginning. For the next seventeen centuries or so, children were present with their parents whenever they gathered with their church. The children were part of the worship time, and they were also present for the sermon, the celebration of communion, and, for prayers. In the early (house-church) centuries, they would have been there for the “discussion time” as well. Children were incorporated into the life of the life of the church, just as they had been involved in the life of worship of ancient Israel.
The instructions specifically for children are straightforward: obey your parents. In the Ephesians letter, Paul adds that this was the first of the ten commandments that had a promise attached to it (read Exodus 20:12). Fathers are told not to provoke, or aggravate their children. In the Ephesians letter he reminds them to also raise their children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. In other words: teach your children about Jesus Christ. Help them learn the Bible, and develop a habit of reading and studying it.
For the next sixteen centuries or so, all Christians understood that it was the parents’ job to instruct their children in the Christian faith. In the writings of Martin Luther from the mid-1500s, it is clear that parents were expected to instruct their children in the Christian faith. This was how it was for the Jews and the ancient Israelites before them:
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV)
During the eighteenth century in England, a well-intentioned man was concerned about all the orphans who had no parents to instruct them in the Christian faith. He started a weekend school for the orphans, and it quickly became called Sunday School. Unfortunately, it was not long before parents decided to give up their responsibilities, and turned the instruction of their children over to Sunday schools.
Last time we considered the fact that men have a responsibility to lead their families spiritually. Here, we see that responsibility applies also to bringing up their children in Christian faith. My own philosophy, based upon my own experiences as a child, is that kids often learn more about faith from watching adults worship, pray and grapple with scripture, than they do from being in a classroom setting on Sundays. I am happy to help equip parents to bring up their children as Christians, but it is primarily the responsibility of the parents, not of some kind of Sunday school. I have been doing this now for twenty-five years, and I am happy to say that most of the kids who were brought up worshipping in house churches with their parents and other adults, and getting instruction directly from the parents, are doing well in following Jesus. In other words, it works.
Let’s continue with the next few verses:
22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:22 – 4:1, ESV)
Many English translations have “slaves” rather than “bondservants,” and in fact slaves is the best literal translation. However, slavery in the ancient Roman empire was radically different from what most modern people think of when they the words slave, or slavery.
Let’s get a few things straight. Many people, using verses like one, claim that the Bible endorses slavery. However, when we read the text, we can see that the Bible is not saying that slavery is good and right. Instead, it is giving practical advice to those who are slaves, and also reminding those who own slaves that in fact, both slave and master belong to God. In other words, no human being can actually “own” another, because God owns them both. The entire book of Philemon is, in some ways, an expansion of Colossians 4:1. Altogether, text of the New Testament makes it clear that all people, slave or free, belong to God, and are accountable to him. Slavery therefore, is unnatural. The fact is, slavery was universal throughout history in all cultures worldwide, until Christians, (and Christians alone) had enough influence to abolish it.
It is true that during the years leading up to the American Civil war, some southerners tried to use the Bible to justify slavery. However, no Christians before them ever tried to interpret the bible to justify slavery, and no Christians outside of the southern United States accepted their faulty way of using the bible. On the other hand, the abolition of slavery worldwide was brought about by Christianity, including abolition in the United States.
With that straight, let us also understand slavery in the ancient Roman empire. It was nothing like slavery during the American colonial and antebellum periods. Slaves at the time and place of New Testament were not usually slaves for life. On average, those who served as slaves did so for about twenty years. Many people entered slavery voluntarily, to avoid starvation. Slave “owners” could not sell off the family members of their slaves. They could not imprison them, or do whatever they liked to or with them. Also, in the ancient Greco-Roman world, slaves were paid wages. Most slaves saved up their wages and bought their own freedom. Others were released by their “masters” after an agreed upon period of service. Others deliberately chose to remain in lifelong service to a particular family.
Maybe the closest thing we have today to Greco-Roman slavery is military service. When you join the military you receive some clothing, housing and an income, and even food. In return, you place yourself at the service of the military branch that you joined, for example, the Army. You can’t leave your Army post without permission. You can’t live just anywhere you want to, and you must do what the Army tells you to do. Until your term of service is over, you are not entirely “your own person,” so to speak, yet, there are limits to what the Army can make you do. That’s a pretty similar picture to slavery in the world of the New Testament.
In many ways, we could apply the instructions to ancient slaves to anyone who is an employee. Many people view their jobs as a sort of necessary evil. We need money, so we give up our time and skills in exchange for it. Most employers are concerned mainly with making money for themselves, and employees are merely a means to that end. Knowing that can steal our motivation to do good work. But I think we can hear these words to bondservants and apply them to our employment and careers:
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
By the way, if we really can take this attitude and do our work for Jesus (more than for our employer) and do our best to please Him, we will have a reward from him. In addition, usually if we are doing our best work, it generally makes us more successful at our jobs, which usually benefits us even in this life as well.
There are instructions for business owners, also. Employees are not just units of your business. You will have to give account to God for how you dealt with his human beings while they were under your authority.
This should be one of the most practical verses in the bible for a lot of people. A great and simple question we can ask ourselves is this: “Can I do this in honor of the Lord?”
There may be jobs, or even entire careers, that we can’t be involved with, because we can’t honor the Lord in them. This is obviously the case with some things. Even though it is legal in many places, a Christian cannot honor Jesus by being an erotic dancer or sex-worker. If you want to do everything for Jesus, it would be a conflict if you wanted to be a Buddhist priest, or a hit man, or a mime. Sorry just kidding about the hit man. No, of course, I’m kidding about the mime, but who can resist a good jab at mimes? They can’t talk back. For that matter, neither can some Buddhist priests. But I digress.
More seriously, in my opinion, (which could be wrong, of course) it would be impossible to honor Jesus through working at an abortion clinic. I think it would be hard to be an actor on certain TV shows or movies, and still do it for Jesus. As our culture moves father and farther away from Christianity, we may have to give up careers that used to be respectable. For instance, if Christianity were made illegal and it became law that prosecutors must seek legal penalties designed to stop people from practicing Christianity, then probably Christians should stop becoming prosecutors.
The Colossians lived in a world when certain careers required that they make sacrifices at the temple or shrine of the god that watched over that career. Christians simply could not have those types of jobs. I could be wrong on this one, but that’s my thinking, currently.
In addition to issues of career, let’s think about this this one: “Can I post this on social media, heartily for the Lord?” Some people should not hit the post button because what they are going to put up there is lewd or crude. Others because it is in a tone or language that does not honor Jesus Christ.
As a creative person, I am often considering the question of whether I am honoring Jesus with what I write, and how I write it. I think any artist who is a Christian needs to ask those types of questions. I am not talking about censorship, or making everything explicitly Christian. I am talking about living with Jesus as Lord of your life. If we are doing that even a little, it should show in the way we practice art. I’m certainly not in favor of setting up rules or committees to determine if someone is doing this correctly. But I think we who are serious about following Jesus need to be asking ourselves individually what it means to honor him in everything we do.
Now, all of this could be very daunting. Even if slavery was no worse than being in the Marine Corps, what if you have a difficult master, or commanding officer? It’s hard to work with all your heart for someone you don’t like or respect, a person who can easily make your life difficult, and often does just that. It’s hard to have to make choices that penalize us for being Christians. We need to the remember the beginning of this whole section of Colossians:
1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4, CSB)
Our treasures are not in this life. Our real life – really our entire life – is ahead of still. I am saying this a much to my 93 year old father as to my 20 year old daughter. Because the source of our life is not on this earth, it is not found in our own willpower. It is in Christ alone. As Paul put it in describing his own way of life:
20 I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, CSB)
We live for Jesus not by trying harder, but by trusting that his power is at work in us, and allowing his Word and his Spirit to guide our choices. Will you allow him to both guide you, and empower you so that whatever you do, you do for him?