Workers and Those In Charge
Study #26 Colossians 3:22-4:1
by Bob Burridge ©2023
If you admit to knowing who Maynard G. Krebs is you’ve dated yourself. He was a character in the tv series “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” starring Dwayne Hickman from 1959 to 1963. Also staring weekly in that series was Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty. The character of Maynard was played by Bob Denver. We might know him better as Gilligan.
Maynard was a 1950’s beatnick. There was one word that sent him into shivers of horror. He hated the word “work”. He loved the music they call jazz, but his love was laziness. Of course like the entire show, it was a parody. When he visibly twitched all over at the word “work” — everybody laughed. It was the era of Red Skelton’s character Freddie the Freeloader. Parties in schools, churches, and offices often included a hobo theme. Back then work had a common place in the American ethic. Those who didn’t work were laughed at as sad unusual characters.
Today we don’t laugh at it any more. Taxes collected from those who work are used to support not only those who can’t work, but those who just don’t feel like working.
Work is a serious matter in God’s kingdom.
It was one of the first duties assigned to man after creation.
Humans were commanded to use, subdue, and manage all things for the glory of their Creator. In Eden the work was related to the garden itself. Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” As they gather their food their greatest personal need was met. Today the world God made has gotten much more complicated,than our first parents could have imagined.
Today, every day, well over 7.9 billion people need to eat, and put up with one another. We turn the rocks, minerals, soil, and water into plastics, computers, cellphones, SUVs, and space stations. Some manage and work in hospitals, governments, universities, and shopping centers. The work God calls us to comes in many kinds of labor organized at various levels.
The entrance of sin changed things in God’s creation.
After the fall of mankind in Eden, Adam struggled against the thorns and thistles in his labor. Work was no longer done with a pure and God-focused heart. The things we work with can be very frustrating at times. There’s also the struggles we have with the other people we have to work with and work for.
The job remains essentially the same. We are here to be representatives of our Creator to use, subdue, and manage his world for his glory. When we go to work it’s not first of all to get things for ourselves. It’s to be productive to use all things thankfully and responsibly for our Creator’s honor.
Not everyone does the same work in this complex world. Some own fields, others work them. Some sell the produce so the rest of us can have food to eat. Some own factories, others work in them, invest in them, or sell and buy what they make. Some teach, some heal, some build, some repair things. Some enforce and interpret our laws to maintain order. So we have a world of managers and workers. God gives instructions about how we’re to work together keeping his glory first.
Paul gives instructions
for those of us who are workers:
Colossians 3:22, “Slaves, 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.”
Workers are called “slaves” in this text.
The word for “slaves” there is “doulos” (δουλος) — which means a servant or worker. It’s not like our more modern use of the word “slavery”.
Today, most people think of slaves as people forced into labor against their will. They and their children are considered the property of their masters. Most came to be slaves before our Civil War because they were kidnapped from another country. But that idea of slavery is not what the Apostle means here. It’s the same word used in the New Testament for servants and workers. Christians and the Apostles were called “servants” of God using this Greek word. Several times the Apostle Paul introduces himself in his epistles as a “servant of God” using this word.
The work and service endorsed by the Bible isn’t like being owned slaves. It was an opportunity earn our living or to settle debts by working them off.
The Old Testament teaches that forcing a person into slavery deserved the death penalty. People should not be allowed to be taken against their will, sold, or owned as possessions. For example Exodus 21:16 says, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death. ” Deuteronomy 24:7 adds that workers should never be treated as property or sold. Deuteronomy 23:15-16 says that a slave leaving his master shouldn’t be forced to return as if he was owned.
The only involuntary servitude condoned in the Bible is for criminals. Exodus 22:3 says that a criminal unable or unwilling to pay back his victim, or refusing to pay what he owed, could be forced to work until his debt was paid. But he never became the property of his master.
In ancient Rome where Paul wrote this letter this biblical principle was not always obeyed. Humans were treated as if they were possessions of others and were abused. That’s not the way God tells us to treat those who work for us.
In its biblical context, and for Christians, the word “slaves” in Colossians 3:22 means “workers”. They are the laborers. They are the ones who don’t own or operate their own business. They may owe debts to work off, or are simply trying to earn an honest living.
God lays down clear duties for workers to follow:
Workers are to honor and obey their masters. We’ve already seen in this epistle how God is the master over all of Creation and must be obeyed. To display his kingly glory in the earth, he orders the church to be overseen by ordained officers. Homes are to be overseen by husbands (:18), and children are to be overseen by parents (:20). Now he shows us that in the workplace, workers are to obey their masters.
Each area of leadership has it’s own limited realm of authority. Bosses, business owners, and managers don’t have the right to make rules about our faith, worship, or homes. But in the workplace, their position of authority over the work being done must be respected and obeyed. It’s one more way God has designed society to display and declare his own Lordship. 1 Timothy 6:1-2, ” Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor …” Workers should “not be disrespectful” to them.
Respect is due even if your overseer doesn’t do his job well. 1 Peter 2:18, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” A boss’s failures are not excuses to embezzle, to be dishonest, or to show disrespect to him.
Ephesians 6:5 says that we should obey our managers “with fear and trembling”. That doesn’t mean we should be afraid of them. It means we should understand the awesome duty and responsibility God extends to them. They’re to manage the workplace as their part of God’s dominion over the earth. It’s the duty of the worker, to meet the needs of his employer faithfully and with respect.
Since this is a direct command of Scripture, unfaithful labor is a rebellion against God. God’s order must be clearly seen in our workplace.
Workers are not to serve in appearance only.
Colossians 3:22-23, “Slaves, 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. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,”
Ephesians 6:6-7 says laborers should obey their masters, “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.”
We should never do our work just to impress our supervisors.
I remember working where lower level supervisors told us to look busy when the boss came by. We were to make the department appear busier and more dedicated than it really was. Our work shouldn’t be just an outward appearance of business as men-pleasers. It must be done diligently pleasing God who watches us all the time. God doesn’t call us to make an impression of respect and obedience. He commands the real thing. Our true heavenly master looks on the heart and the actual work of every worker.
Workers should only take what they earn. Titus 2:9-10 warns, “Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”
Embezzling is obviously wrong. This principle forbids taking supplies home. Even little things like pens or paperclips. Time on the clock shouldn’t be spent in personal e-mail and surfing the internet. Personal projects should be done on your own time, not the company’s. These things may seem small, but that kind of thievery is costly and immoral. Proverbs 18:9 “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” It’s never right to steal, even if you feel you are being underpaid.
The worker should expect to put in an honest week’s work.
In biblical days people worked a 6-day week and rested to worship on the 7th as God set it up at creation. They generally worked 10-12 hours each day (a 60-72 hour work-week). Today, many complain when asked to work just over 40 hours a week. Rather than trying to do as little as possible for our wage, God expects us to do as much as we reasonably can where God calls us. This doesn’t mean you let your work destroy your health, worship, or family. Your boss shouldn’t make you work on the Sabbath to miss worship. The only biblical exception is those who work in worship (Pastors), or those working in mercy or necessity for life (Doctors, Nurses, Police, military).
The first motive of our work should be to please God, not just our employer. Earning what we need is important and vital in God’s world as we exercise our dominion duties. We work because we need to pay bills and eat. God commands us to labor to meet those needs. While we work to support our families and provide a good future for our children, we ought to do it in the way that pleases God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
The Lord rewards faithful workers
because they are actually serving him.
Colossians 3:24-25, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”
Ephesians 6:8 says, “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. ”
It’s not unspiritual to look for rewards, even earthly rewards. It’s the fair return for labor and good management. But there’s more. God promises blessings to those who labor obediently and honorably.
God created us to find a sense of accomplishment in our struggle against the thorns and thistles of life’s garden. Proverbs 12:27 adds that, “… the diligent man will get precious wealth.” As God’s creatures we’re made to work, and to see our labor opportunities as precious things in themselves. In Ecclesiastes 3:9 Solomon wrote about the proper view of work; “What gain has the worker from his toil?” He answers that in Ecclesiastes 3:13 which says that all our labor should be seen as a gift of God. We should rejoice in working well and honestly.
It’s in this context that slaves were told to be in godly subjection to their masters. It’s why Paul sent the Roman runaway slave Onesimus back to his Christian master Philemon. But he was to be received back not as a “bondservant”, but as a “beloved brother” in Christ.
Ultimately, all reward is from the Lord, our Master in heaven. As James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” To the faithful worker God brings blessing. To those who do wrong, blessing is withheld.
God also has instructions for those who manage.
Colossians 4:1, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
Ephesians 6:9, “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.”
The word translated “masters” is the Greek word “kurioi” (κύριοι). It’s the same word used in Ephesians 6:7 and 8 referring to Jesus Christ as our “Lord”. Just as Jesus is our master in all things, those we work for are to be considered our masters on the job.
Today, relating to our labor, this word “master” represents those who supervises us on the job. It could be a business owner, a manager, a boss, or foreman.
Managers are required to treat those who work for them with justice and fairness.
This means that both their compensation and treatment should respect their needs and work. Jesus said in Luke 10:7, “the laborer deserves his wages”. It’s the manager’s duty before God to sufficiently pay his workers.
God’s law given through Moses uses an example taken from oxen treading grain. It says that the oxen that tread the grain should not be muzzled as they worked. They should be allowed the to eat some of the rewards of their work. That law is applied to ministers and other workers by Paul in 1Timothy 5:17-18.
If a person is expected to spend his work days doing a given job, he should be paid enough to support his needs fairly. People hired to work full time should be paid enough to cover the fair costs of living, and to have enough left to enjoy the fruit of their own labor (Ecclesiastes 3). Biblical law even says that to delay paying a persons his agreed wages is a crime.
A godly manager should consider a person’s real needs in his salary agreement. It should also take into consideration paying God’s tithe of 10% to his church. It should consider his need to render to Caesar, or whatever government, the taxes it requires. It should include a plan to suspend work on the Sabbath for all workers. The idea of sweat shops that exploit workers is a direct violation of this biblical principle. Christians should personify the principle of fair work for fair pay.
Managers shouldn’t be cruel or threaten their workers. These verses tell us that an abusive manager will answer to God, who is his own master. Biblical law prescribed severe punishments for the cruel or unfair treatment of workers.
In New Testament days, the Romans treated their slaves inexcusably. But when Paul wrote to God’s people about their slaves, he prescribed a different attitude. They were to treat their workers with dignity, respect, and justice.
When a manager fails to consider all these matters: he perverts the principles God has given us in his word, he promotes a distorted view of labor and management like that of the fallen world, and he obscures the loving lordship of Christ which should be seen in all areas of authority.
We each often take on the roll of managers over someone’s work These rules apply to hiring baby-sitters, someone to mow our lawn, or to wash our car. All who work for us should be treated honorably and respectfully, and paid fairly. We should show Christ’s loving lordship in all our earthly labors.
Jesus is our perfect example of both loving leadership and obedient service.
As a servant he humbled himself and was faithful to the task given to him. He showed that servitude is a characteristic of kingdom greatness.
As a master he doesn’t lead his people and church by cruel threatenings. He lovingly warned of dangers, but lead lovingly as a caring shepherd. He provides well for his sheep. This is why David could write in Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
In our work, we ultimately answer to our Master in heaven. We serve him. It’s our kingdom duty as God’s creatures, and specially as his redeemed children, to be responsible workers and managers.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.