Cherish Work (Ephesians 6:5-9)

AUDIO

MOTIVATE

A story is told of a businessman named Harvey from D.C. who came to Kent Island, MD.[1] Harvey wanted a few days to get away from the traffic and crowds. He traveled through the town and came to a long pier along the Chesapeake Bay, and noticed a man coming in from a boat with 2 bushels of crabs. Harvey introduced himself as a visitor and found out the man’s name was Marvin. Harvey noted, “Marvin, you had a great catch today. Are you going back out this afternoon or evening?”

Marvin responded, “No, I’m done for the day. I’m headed home and going to rest and relax with my wife and family this afternoon before our evening crab feast. I may go out tomorrow morning, but we’ll see what the good Lord has planned.”

Harvey responded, “Marvin, I think I can help you. They don’t call me Harvard Harvey for nothing! You see, I have a MBA and I believe I can help grow your boating operation into a high profit business. If you work a bit more each day, you can catch several bushels of crabs and sell them. After a few years of doing this each day, you’ll be able to buy more boats and bring in more crabs. It shouldn’t take too long after that before you can become your own cannery and scale your business so that other crabbers will have to bring their crabs to you during the winter season. If things expand and explode as I think they will, you’ll be able to take your company public on the New York Stock Exchange, and become a multi-millionaire!”

Marvin is measured with his response and says, “Sounds great Harvard Harvey, but, how many years will this take?”

“Oh, probably 15-20 years” responds Harvey.

“And after 20 years and becoming a millionaire, what happens next?” asks Marvin.

Harvey excitedly says, “This is the best part. Then you can retire! In retirement you will be able to rest and relax with your family, and only work when you feel like it. Then you’ll know the good Lord will have blessed all your years of hard work.”

Sometimes we work so hard for so long to find happiness that we don’t realize its been available the whole time.

* Our horizontal focus of marriage, parenting, and work is often dysfunctional because we have little margin and even less time growing deep roots of faith. When we are growing in spiritual conviction and character, then the arenas of our life will be put in proper perspective.

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Cherish:

  • Cherish Family / Cherish Husbands / Cherish Wives / Cherish Children (Parenting)
  • Cherish Work
    • This last message I’ve thought several different angles about how to cherish family – surviving dysfunction (Genesis) or parenting practices (proverbs), but decided today 2 items:
      • Stay with Ephesians 6. I have not preached a sermon (only small group) on this passage.
      • Focus on work environment as this is a good summary of the environments we live and God uses to grow our faith and mission; often spend 2x much at work than home.

EXAMINE
Ephesians 6:5-9 (ESV)
5  Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
6  not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
7  rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
8  knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
9  Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Paul addresses bondservants/slaves. Unfortunately, slavery was an unquestioned social practice. Slaves did many forms of service from manual labor, domestic service, to even caring for people physically, financial mgmt., etc. As many as one third of the populations of large cities such as Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus were slaves. When we read about slavery in biblical times, our minds today are turned to slavery in America with the African slave trade from the 17th – 19th centuries. In fact, people have taken this passage, and others to justify the slave trade. But the slavery during the biblical setting was different.[2]

  • Slavery was not always involuntary; sometimes people volunteered for economic reasons – people could work off debt, own property, gain a better standard of living, and even achieve Roman citizenship.
  • Slavery was not always permanent. Most slaves could expect to be emancipated by age 30 and very few reached old age as a slave. Some even voluntarily chose to keep working for the same person.
  • Slavery was not always based on ethnicity. Various ethnicities were slaves and if you saw persons walking down the street in Ephesus, you could not tell by appearance if someone was a slave or not.
  • Slavery was not always viewed as inferiority. The very fact of Paul addressing servants in his letter with instruction of faith, ethnic reconciliation, ministry equipping and participation, marriage and family, all show a level of equality between bondservants and masters.

Certainly, biblical slavery was not undemanding or unproblematic, but it wasn’t like the semi-modern slavery we picture. Paul is not advocating a divine ordained reality or affirming the institution of slavery but merely prescribing attitudes and behaviors within an existing practice of society. Further, Paul revolutionizes the practice by commanded respect and gracious actions toward one another (1Tim 6:1-2; 1Cor 7:22; Gal 3:28; Eph 6:5-9; Col 3:22-4:1; cf Ex 21). In all, the ideas of slavery continued to be permitted and institutionalized, becoming what we know of the atrocity of slavery. It’s a good reminder that every institution left without biblical accountability and godly leadership has the likelihood to drift into corruption of power and cruelty towards people.

About Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 6, our best application today could be closer to the employer-employee relationship that it might be God-honoring. Note the reference 5x of work in relationship to God’s pattern and authority. Our example for work goes all the way back to the Garden in Genesis. Essentially, we could say “work is worship” (cf. Gen 2:15). Work isn’t part of the curse but was part of God’s creation design and imaging God.[3]

God’s design for creation was work results in human flourishing (Gen 1:28-31).

  • Life satisfaction comes from fulfilling our calling (vocation comes from Latin verb “voca”). All work is a calling from God, not just work in a church or work that produces income for missions. Therefore, every job, even menial tasks can be meaningful in glorifying God.
  • Psalm 147:13-14 “For God strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.”
    • God strengthens bars of gates through architects, builders, and wise politicians (oxymoron?)
    • God blesses children through teachers and pediatricians.
    • God makes peace through military and security officers, not to mention healthcare workers, counselors, and even physical fit instructors.
    • God fills with food through farmers, factory workers, restaurant workers, etc.

2 ways we cherish work/vocation

#1) We cherish our vocation when we work wholeheartedly for the Lord.

Paul describes working wholeheartedly in following ways;

A) Work with a commitment to excellence.
Paul commands workers to “obey with fear and trembling, in sincerity of your heart… as you would Christ” (Eph 6:5). This command is not intended as demeaning, but communicating how the relationship should practically work. In another letter, Paul says it like this:

  1. Col 3:17, 22-23 “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him… work wholeheartedly fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord”
  2. Another
  3. Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.”
  4. Proverbs 22:29 “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”
  • Our work reflects our worship.
    • We often don’t work with excellence because 1) we lack appreciation for God’s means of authorities, 2) our motivation to work is money and money will never satisfy.
    • We often don’t worship with excellence because we either 1) misapply grace thinking God overlooks skill (cf. Ps 33:3), or 2) we are not motivated to worship God with excellence bc of our low view of Him.
  • Two contrasts to avoid: idle at work and making work an idol.
    • Idleness: We neglect responsibility to love our neighbor, and much more love God who works for our good and is a faithful Father to provide for our needs.
    • Idolatry: We work and never rest. You think work will not work without you; you’re irreplaceable. Rest becomes wearisome rather than refreshing.

B) Work with a commitment to integrity.
Paul commands servants to work “not by way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ” (Eph 6:6). In other words, Paul says don’t just work when the master is present, but work as if God is always watching. Faithful working calls for integrity, and seeing through your boss to the ultimate Master in Jesus Christ. The Christian should be one of the persons who works the hardest and honest in their work. They may not always be the most able (intelligence or skill), but a Christian should always give the best effort to their ability.
In other letters, Paul says it like this:

  1. 1Thessalonians 4:11-12 “we encourage you to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands… so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.”
  2. 2Thessalonians 3:10-11 “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat. For we hear that there are some among you who walk irresponsibly, not working at all, but interfering with the work of others.”
  • Who you work for is more important that what you do.[4] Remember, you’re always working for God.
  • Exhibit honesty.
    Proverbs 11:1“A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.”
    – Do you waste company time with extracurricular activity: conversations in break room, computer internet surfing, laziness?
    – Does your company expect you to make profits by falsifying information?
    – Is there a culture of manipulation of employees and customers or one that values kindness and truth?
  • Exude constructiveness (vs complaining); be a problem solver and not just problem identifier.
    Philippians 2:14-15 “Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.”

 

C) Work with a commitment to generosity.
Paul commands servants “doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord… knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Eph 6:7-8). In this command Paul is reminding that our work is for the good of others. When we live and give for the sake of others, we are reflecting our Savior (Mk 10:45) and reflecting trust that our Father will judge and reward earthly actions.

  1. God honors the generous (Proverbs 14:21, 31).
  2. 1Peter 2:12 “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil , they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.”
  • Serve your company faithfully and radically. Serve in ways that no one else would, as Jesus did.
  • Model generosity and teamwork among all.
  • Relate to co-workers & especially those on fringe – custodial, mailroom clerks, interns, not talented or unsocial…
  • Eat meals with co-workers, don’t play favorites.
  • Pray for your company & co-workers success and their needs.
  • Promote family of co-workers: spouses, children, extended family.
  • Speak about Christ and the gospel in your everyday, regular conversation
  • Place Bible on desk to identify yourself as a Christian. Be ready for questions & discussion.
  • Organize a Bible study at work (lunch break or post work) with permission, or off company time in public setting.
  • Invite co-workers to family activities, service projects, faith related events.
  • Be incarnational, live as Jesus among your co-workers, love people and lead them toward growing steps of faith in Jesus Christ.

 

#2) We cherish our vocation when we work under authority.

Further, Paul commands masters/supervisors to treat workers how they want to be treated. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him (Ephesians 6:9).

  • Stop your threatening. By default, bosses/leaders have authority, and the power that results can be used for good or greed. Paul is reminding leaders to follow the servant-minded Savior, who laid down His life for His apprentices.
    • Authority is used to protect purpose of organization and the people.
      • God says, “When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.” (2Sam 23:3-4)
      • Jesus said, “You know that rulers of the Gentiles lord It over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26)
    • No partiality with Jesus. Jesus is the Lord of the church and He distributes His grace equally to all people.
      • As leaders, you cannot discriminate but you cannot also always do for all what you do for one. Should your limitations (time, resources) stop you from doing for one what you cannot do for all? No! When you do for one what you wish you could do for all, people know you care.
  • Our job is to work wholeheartedly for God’s glory and to work under authority. These actions reflect you are an ambassador of the Lord Jesus and an agent of salt and light.

APPLY/THINK

  • Parents help children learn value of work… chores at home, service at church, etc.
  • Spouses learn to empathize and appreciate with each other’s tasks and roles.
  • Work as worship and spiritual growth not a distraction to your discipleship.
  • Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (Mk 10:45).
    • God is opposed to earning salvation but not opposed to effort in relationship.
    • Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Ps 127:1)
    • Labor for the Lord (1Cor 15:58)

 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

[1] Story adapted from Tony Evans, Book of Illustrations: “World, Conformity To.”

[2] Information about slavery in biblical setting from Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (1988), p.544-545. For a good summary, see also Sam Storms https://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/10-things-you-should-know-about-slavery-in-the-bible.

[3] A similar message I’ve taught on the topic of work as worship can be found here: https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2015/03/30/life-in-proverbs-my-work-before-god/ and for series of links: https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2016/09/05/work-and-labor/ 

[4] Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert, The Gospel At Work, p.16.

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