As Paul unpacks and applies the gospel to the work of a slave do you see the repeated idea? (5)“just as you would obey Christ… (6)“as slaves of Christ…” (7)“serving the Lord…” (8)“the Lord will reward…” That’s transformational. Their work is an arena for serving Jesus who loves and gave himself for them. Again, if that’s true for the slave how much more true for us in our work? We don’t work for a pay packet or for the bosses approval or because we have to, but our work is a means of worship, it is an act of love and devotion, and it has eternal value. How would that change your work tomorrow or in the home?
Paul gives 2 implications. Firstly “Obey with respect and fear with sincerity of heart.” The first change is that it makes you respect your master not despise him. And notice there’s no asterisk or small print that says *if they are good. Paul is applying the gospel to hearts and motives. Obey your master not grudgingly but willingly. (6)Obey them not just when they can see you. I’m sure you remember messing about in the classroom until the whisper went round ‘She’s coming” at which point you’d grab the paper aeroplanes and sit up and pretend you’d been working the whole time as the teacher entered the room. That’s not something we really grow out of is it. We’re all tempted to work harder when someone can see us than when we’re on our own. But work as slaves of Christ “doing the will of God from your hearts.” God’s will is that his people glorify him and they can do that through their work as an act of loving worship to him.
But that’s also a helpful corrective. That doesn’t mean doing everything the master tells them to. You are serving Christ, doing God’s will. That means there are limits. If the master asked you to do something idolatrous, or immoral or that would suppress the gospel then you obey God not your master.
The issues isn’t whether the master is a good master, or whether he’s asking you to do what you want to do in the way you want to do it. But slaves are to obey their masters when it aligns with God’s will, when to do so serves Christ it doesn’t defame or deny him.
We’re to apply the same principle in our work whatever it is. We obey our boss unless to obey goes against God’s will. If we’re asked to do something immoral or idolatrous or that suppresses the gospel we must obey God not man. We can’t simply plead professionalism.
I heard a story of a billionaire Christian media empire owner. But not all of his business interests were good some of the things they made conflicted and contradicted his Christian faith. How did he reconcile the two? He described his journey to work and a bridge that crosses a river. He’s alleged to have said that bridge is the spot where his Christian life ends and his business life begins, and on the way home that bridge is where his business life ends and his Christian life begins.
Paul is saying that’s not possible for the believer. When it’s a case of serving the boss or God we have to serve God even if it means facing discipline or even finding another job. Serving Christ is the priority.
Secondly we wholeheartedly serve the Lord not people(7-8). Our service isn’t to be grudging, doing as little as we get away with. But neither is it to be aimed to win our bosses approval and the praise of colleagues. We serve to glorify Jesus, knowing that he loves us and sees and will reward us for our service. That will help us get the right balance. We won’t make work an idol that we serve to get our sense of self worth or identity from via praise, reputation or promotion. But neither will we despise it and do as little as we can. Instead we’ll serve wholeheartedly in the hours we’re called to work or study but be free to serve Christ in the rest of life too. Trusting that Christ sees our service of him in the mundane and the everyday and it has value.