Colossians 3:22-23 - Working for the Lord
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men...Colossians 3:22-23
When Labour Day comes around each September, it’s worth pausing to ask: why do I work? What motivates me to get out of bed each day, eat some breakfast, and head off to my daily work?
Here in Colossians 3:22-4:1, the Apostle speaks about labour in the context of slavery. In the first century, well over half of the population was enslaved. Whatever work had to be done, slaves did most of it by far. Even though many slaves had kind and compassionate masters, the reality was that masters had the power of life and death over their slaves.
The Apostle Paul doesn’t endorse slavery here in Colossians 3, but neither does he advocate overthrowing it by way of social revolution. Instead, he addresses believing slaves and believing masters and calls them both to show the style of the Kingdom of Christ. The gospel addresses slaves as real persons with inherent dignity and value and it makes masters accountable to their Master in heaven. As the gospel penetrated Roman society ever more deeply, it was inevitable that social structures would change to become more equitable and just.
We can be thankful that we live in a society that rejects slavery of some humans to other humans. But in one sense, we are all slaves of Christ. We’ve been redeemed in his blood and the result is that we are not our own but belong to Him as our Lord and Master. This has repercussions for the way we work.
If Christ is our Lord, then all of our labour is service to Christ. For Christians, not just church work, not just ministry of the gospel, not only Christian education, but all work is service to Christ. We don’t believe that some kinds of work are “higher” or “more spiritual” than others. Instead, all legitimate work has dignity and value because it is done for Christ.
That all work is service to Christ becomes clear when Paul says that slaves should work in obedience to their masters “out of reverence for Christ.” In this context, having “reverence for Christ” means being aware that we are in his presence even when our earthly master isn’t watching us at the moment. Even if the boss isn’t around, Christ is never absent from us and knows how we are working. That all work is service to Christ becomes even clearer when the Apostle goes on to say that slaves should consider themselves to be “working for the Lord, not for men.” Verse 24 says it most plainly: “It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Isn’t this something to remember on Labour Day and throughout the year? The gospel calls us to “work for the Lord.” We don’t work in the first place to make a living. We don’t work to advance our careers. We don’t work to get wealthy. We don’t work to win approval from other people. We don’t work only to have the freedom to do what we really want to do on the weekend. Nor do we work simply to pay off debts or get rid of our mortgages. Instead, we work for the audience of one, the Lord Jesus Christ. We make it our aim to please Him.
How can we please Christ our Lord in our work? The answer to this question would include: working hard to the best of our ability; working with all our heart, that is, really throwing ourselves into our work; striving for excellence in our work and showing contempt for mediocrity; finding work that best suits our talents and personalities; showing patience in the face of difficulties at work including unpleasant employers, fellow workers, and less than desirable pay.
Everyone today is looking for job satisfaction. Usually, job satisfaction is understood in terms of “what makes me feel good.” In reality, however, there is no job satisfaction like the kind we feel when we consciously do our work for the Lord. When we do our work for the Lord, then our job is never just a job. Instead, it’s a calling, a holy, spiritual task in which we serve Christ. Knowing the true nature of our work changes the way we feel about getting out of bed and taking up our task.