Today was our first day gathering as one church in two locations. It was fantastic at both Westside and Downtown. I'm really excited about this new season in the life of our church. Below is the text for today's sermon. You can download the audio here and the manuscript as a PDF here.
Everything for Work (Col. 3:22-4:1) | 07.20.14
Back in the late 80s, Tom Cruise starred in one of his first hit movies, “Rain Man.” Before we even knew what autism really was, Dustin Hoffman played his brother Raymond who suffered from the disorder. Sometime in the movie he proclaims what many had begun to think at the time. He says matter-of-factly in the movie, “K-Mart sucks!” People say that was the beginning of the end for that company. I just know those were my feelings exactly at the time. I was in the middle of my first real job, ringing up customers, stocking shelves, cleaning up messes, putting up with jerks. I thought K-Mart stunk, too. But as I think back, it actually was a pretty good time in my life. I first began to really walk with Jesus there. I learned how to work hard. And I think I began to understand a little about how walking with Jesus related to working hard.
We are nearing the end of our series through the book of Colossians. We’ve entitled it “Jesus is Everything.” We’ve seen that God’s purpose in creating and redeeming is that Jesus might be seen as everything. We’ve seen that through Him alone, and only through our identity in Him, we have purpose and power for living. Colossians 1:18 says that the Father is doing all things that Jesus “might be preeminent.” Colossians 3:11 puts it simply. “Christ is all!” He is everything! That’s the Father’s agenda - to make much of Jesus. Is that ours? Particularly when we happen to find ourselves working at K-Mart or its equivalent or for a jerk of a boss?
We’re going to talk about our work today. Do we make Jesus everything there? I think there are three major errors we make when it comes to how we approach our work.
The first is this: we make our work everything. We give it all our time, thought, and energy. Our main identity comes from the office. When we do well, we’re up; when we fail, we’re down. That’s idolatry. We’re made to worship Jesus, to put our heart there. Work can’t be everything to us. Or something’s really wrong.
The second error is this: we make our work nothing. We find no value or importance in our job. We don’t take it seriously. We don’t work diligently. That’s a problem, also. We forget that we were made as human beings in Adam to work, to create, to cultivate the earth. Of course, the fall happened. It’s no longer a bed of roses. There are lots of thorns there, in fact. It’s frustrating and hard. Regardless, work is still our calling. It’s from God. It’s good. Work can’t be nothing to us. Or something’s wrong.
Here’s a third: we make it a means to something. What do I mean? We work for the paycheck. We work for the weekend. We endure a bit longer to retirement. We labor to build a reputation. I almost left this one out until I read Aarik’s lead school notes from a session this past year. We sometimes can even Christianize this. We show up just to evangelize. We only do it to fund missions. As he puts it, “We act as if only what happens inside the church walls matter. You hurry up and get your work done so you can do important stuff. But we have removed the spiritual dimension from at least 40 hours a week of our lives.” Again, God works. He made us to work. We image Him when we do. We labor for something, yes, but something more than all those things. Even though some of them are good.
Work is meant to be something. Not an end unto itself. Something significant. And this can only come about if Jesus is everything. It’s meant to point to Him. We’re meant to make Jesus everything in our work, serving Him and honoring Him in a way that will lead others to make Him their everything, as well. Let’s pray.
An Aside: Work or Slavery?
You might now be thinking, “Where does this passage talk about work?” It’s talking about slavery, right? And you might think, if the Bible talks about something so outdated and evil and even seems to support it, why should we listen anyway? I want us to talk about that before we jump into the text.
First, this passage doesn’t talk about the slavery that comes to mind in America. This isn’t anything like what was perpetuated through the African slave trade here in America and in Europe. Yes, people owned others. That’s wrong. But servants often did leave this life. They were freed after a certain length of time, or they bought their way out of it. In fact, Paul elsewhere encourages people to seek freedom if they can. Here he also extends them dignity, addressing them when elsewhere they were ignored - even putting them on the same plane here with their owners. And there just wasn’t the rampant abuse we think of when slavery comes to mind. Also, the Bible truly never endorses it. Anywhere in Scripture. What the Lord does here is take a reality in society and tells people how they can survive and even thrive in those less than ideal circumstances. The truth is that this slavery isn’t that unlike our work today, particularly if we have jobs we feel like we can’t escape, with bosses we don’t particularly like.
Second, this passage doesn’t mean we can call the rest of this chapter outdated and irrelevant. Tony recently led us through the sections here about marriage and family. Wives are called to submit to their husbands. Children are called to obey their parents. Some will say, “This section here about slavery deals with that culture and isn’t relevant now. We should throw out this submission to husbands nonsense, as well.” But that won’t quite work.
Although the callings to submit and obey are similar here with marriage and slavery, the institutions aren’t alike at all. Marriage was given by God in creation. The roles in marriage, too. Slavery comes from the fall. It’s a distortion of the way God set things up. Additionally, if we choose to throw out submission in marriage due to this logic, what about children obeying parents? Is that just something for those days, too? Maybe parents should do what their kids say?
The bigger problem, though, is that the book of Ephesians says marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. As the man leads his wife, he images Christ caring for His people. As the wife submits to her husband, she images the church following Christ. This section of Scripture is not culturally-restricted to Paul’s day. We don’t have this kind of slavery much today. But the passage still applies. It speaks broadly to hard circumstances. Will we seek to honor God? It speaks particularly to our work. Will we honor Him there? Well, then, what does it say? Let’s look at that now.
What We’re To Do
First, we see a clear command. It reads, in verse 22, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters.” The command is really clear. “Obey.” Do what he or she says. Just do it. Now it also says “in everything.” Really? It doesn’t mean we foolishly obey into sin. It doesn’t mean we blindly plunge into danger. “In everything” is put there for a pretty simple reason, though. It’s there to remind us that we don’t just do what the boss says when we want to do it. We don’t just obey him or her when it sounds fun or easy or interesting. We’re to “obey [them] in everything.”
We are to obey our “earthly masters.” Those words I think serve to qualify the obedience here, also. We have a heavenly master, right? We obey Him, first. Period. But what we see in this passage is that when we obey those “earthly masters,” at least in the vast majority of situations, we obey our Boss in heaven, too. Here’s what we’re to do. We next see how NOT to obey this command.
How NOT To Work
Second, we see here how NOT to work. We are to obey, verse 22 goes on, “…not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers.” What’s that supposed to mean? This week I disappointed myself greatly when I only got 25 right out of a 30 question quiz over the sitcom Seinfeld. I know this shows my age, but there are reruns on nightly. You have time to catch back up on the greatest comedy of all time. Anyway, there is this great episode where George Costanza buys calzones daily for his boss, George Steinbrenner. He tips in the jar at the counter of the pizza place but the guy doesn’t notice. The next day, it happens again, so George fishes his tip back out so he can put it back in again. That’s what the owner notices. And he kicks him out. For stealing from the tip jar. That puts George in a quandary, as his boss only wants his lunch from that restaurant.
That’s the type of behavior that’s condemned here. Only doing things - here work - when someone’s eye is on you - here your boss. I remember back in those K-Mart days all the fuss that took place when the district manager came into town. Everything had to be clean and perfect. When he walked out, things went back to normal. The Lord calls us above and beyond that. We can’t be Facebooking or trying to top our high Tetris score right up until the boss walks in. We can’t just go back to leaning on our broom and jacking around with our coworkers the minute he walks out the door.
As the passage says, we can’t be “people-pleasers,” just doing what it takes for those above us to like us. No brown-nosing. But, even if we’re working hard every moment of the day, pleasing our employer can’t be our primary purpose. Why’s that? It’s because we always work, as the Reformers used to say, coram deo - before the face of God. His eye is on us. He is the one we should really want to please. He’s our Master. He’s put us there. He wants to use us there.
How TO Work
Third, then we see how TO work. We are to labor, it says in verse 22, “with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” We’re not just working to impress our boss. We’re not just going through the motions outwardly to get on his good side, to gain that promotion, to maybe get a raise. We’re to do it from the heart.
That’s pretty rare today, isn’t it? Particularly as you look at entry-level types of jobs. You go through the Subway line and the person clearly doesn’t care about his job. He looks like he hates his life and you, too. He’s not concerned about people-pleasing one bit. In Japan, it’s pretty much the opposite. You walk into a convenience store, and people about do cartwheels trying to serve you. They’ll do anything to please their boss and please you. But that’s mostly just an act. It’s uncommon there or here to see someone work hard and really want to do so. And we all know that’s not just hard in sub shops or c-stores. But that’s how Jesus wants us to live.
How do we do this? It says, by “Fearing the Lord.” We care what He thinks more than anything. We live to please Him. And we avoid His disapproval most of all. We’re not so concerned about managing our reputation. It’s His image we’re concerned about. He is our true Master and Lord. That leads to our next point.
How to Get There
How do we get to that place? Fourth, here’s how to get there. We need a new perspective, some new priorities. Something has to happen in our heart. Our motivation has to change. Something needs to take place inside of us.
They used to talk much about the Protestant work ethic here in America. Protestantism was brought from Europe back in the day. It taught that salvation was by faith alone, through Jesus alone. It taught all of life was lived before God’s face. It said the Lord made us and saved us for His glory. We’re proudly in that stream today, but sometimes we forget all of those truths.
Our culture has forgotten it all, for sure. In particular, it’s lost the concept of vocation, of a calling from God, something He has made us to do. We’re not just talking about being called into ministry here. That’s just for a few and not for a few that’s better than the rest. God doesn’t make the sacred/secular distinctions we often make. We’re also not just talking about callings that seem exciting or noble. We might be called to be a chef or a carpenter or a programmer or a banker. We can do them from the heart if we have the right perspective. In Japan, fear of man, of bringing yourself and others shame, is what drives the work. In America, we’ve dealt with that, too. But at one point it was at least influenced by a fear of God. If you take away the Protestantism, though, it’s no surprise when the work ethic eventually erodes, too.
We need to recapture that right motivation in the church. We see it here in verses 23-24.
Col. 3:23 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.
One motivation for us there is obvious. He will reward us. That’s a reason to “work heartily.” That same idea of sincerity is repeated here. We know that from Him we “will receive the inheritance” as our reward. And this is something far more than an earthly boss could ever give us. It’s interesting that this is given to servants - people who weren’t paid, people who certainly weren’t heirs. God would reward them. He’ll reward us. We’ll get paid, for sure.
What Work’s All About
But there’s something deeper going on here. The inheritance is in the new world, in the new heavens and new earth. But more than that, it’s Jesus Himself. That’s the deeper motivation our work requires. We work, as it says in verse 23, “for the Lord and not for men.” We are “serving the Lord Christ.” He is our real boss.
In some way we sometimes can’t understand, when we serve our employers, we’re also serving Jesus. We tend today to think of authority as a bad thing. But it’s good. The Lord is our ultimate authority, yes. But He has put earthly authorities over us - governors, parents, pastors, husbands, even bosses. When we do what they say and honor them with the right kind of heart, we’re really serving our Lord.
We are worshipping Him. We tend to think of worship today as the songs we do here. Or maybe the whole Gathering. But worship is an all of life thing in Scripture. Worship is delighting in Him and through that giving honor to Him. And that can take place folding laundry or playing basketball or repairing a car or building a website.
Paul says here, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Worship Him there, in your work. There in the cubicle or behind the counter. And these aren’t just jobs you like during seasons that are fun for bosses that just get it. This is all the time. When your boss feels like a slave-master and your job feels like a ball and chain, worship. Worship the One you’ll spend eternity with, in a new world where there will be no ogre managers or blue screens of death, but guess what - you’ll still be working!
It used to be that you were born into a family that made shoes, and that’s just what you did. Or maybe you grew up on a ranch and so you knew that would be your calling, as well. Now we have this idea that we can go everywhere and do anything and that there is one thing, one job out there that will make us happy. Maybe we label that our “calling.” If we can just get that, we’ll be golden. And we never do. We never quite find it. Our jobs are hard. We’re always miserable. So we quit and lurch toward something else. We approach work like we do love. We keep looking until we get that feeling. That vibe keeps evading us. We start and stop with lovers and employers. And we get no where. Go figure.
Here’s a different way to think about it. In Lane and Tripp’s book How People Change, they use this illustration of a tree. Heat beats down on that tree. How that tree responds displays its root. Does it produce fruit? Or does it produce thorns? If it has a good root, fruit will fall off the branches. If it doesn’t, bad stuff alone will sprout out. Those authors say that’s what we’re like. If we’re rooted in Christ, if we’re trusting in Him, we’ll produce fruit when that heat, those hard circumstances come. If something else is down there, if we’re motivated by love for self and fear of others, bad stuff will burst forth. Thorns. The problem isn’t the circumstances. Those just reveal what’s going on inside of us. Is Jesus our everything? We’ll see.
Of course, I’m NOT saying you can never change your job. But all jobs bring heartache in a fallen world. And changing things up generally doesn’t change much at all. If our hearts are focused on loving Christ and fearing Him, we’ll produce joyful, obedient work, if we’re a mechanical engineer, a stay-at-home-mom, or a sandwich artist.
But our hearts aren’t the only things that matter. After the Gathering here, if my little girl walks up and hands me a picture she had colored of me, it would no doubt be beautiful. She’s 8. She did her best. There’s not much she could give me that would be unacceptable to me. But let’s say she’s 38. She walks up to me, and ultimately to the Lord, and that’s her offering. I’m going to say, “I sent you to college to learn that?” God’s going to think, “That’s all you did with my gift, seriously?” See, it’s not just about the attitude. It’s about the product, too. God is gracious, but His grace in us is meant to produce fruit. And that includes our vocation. If we’re working for the Lord, if we’re doing it with all our heart, we’ll strive to grow in our craft, advance in our skills, and do an all around good job. Martin Luther once said this:
The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors… The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
As I said earlier, the Lord made Adam and Eve, put them in the garden, and told them to cultivate the earth. God told them to take the stuff He had created and create other cool stuff out of it. Not just things that are useful, but things that are beautiful, too. That’s why we as Christians care about work. That’s why we believers care about art. We can’t do it perfectly. It sure isn’t easy. But we’re called to not just be good hearted fellows who work hard. That’s a start. But when we are finished, it should be something that honors the Lord. That’s how we image Him. That’s how we’re most human.
We as Christians have really gotten how our faith syncs up with our work all wrong. We think we just work so that we can throw tracts over the cubicle wall. We think we must endure this job until we get sucked up the pipe into heaven. But that’s wrong and tragic and sad.
Of course, we want to look for opportunities to share our faith in the workplace. And we certainly have to speak up. But we should bring a different attitude. Our jobs aren’t our everything, right? They’re not why we live. But they’re something. We’re serving the Lord there. We should also offer a different manner. Because these jobs aren’t where we get our identity, we treat people differently. We don’t feel pressured to one-up people and put down people. We respect our bosses. We care about those around us. We again offer a different product. What we turn in at the end of the month doesn’t look like a bunch of chicken-scratches. It’s good stuff. If we brought all of that, people might actually be willing to listen.
Work and Mission
And that’s a huge part of what we’re going for, right? I began this way: We’re meant to make Jesus everything in our work, serving Him and honoring Him in a way that will lead others to make Him their everything, as well. Don’t we want to work in a way that those around us will want to trust in Jesus, as well? Check out a similar passage over in Titus 2, verses 9-10.
Titus 2:9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
Here servants are to obey their bosses and be trustworthy, not fighting against them or stealing from them. But what’s the main purpose? It reads, “So that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” “So that” they may “adorn” God’s truth. The purpose? So we can make the gospel more attractive! We started out today looking at how NOT to work. We’ve seen or heard of those shows buried in your cable lineup called “What Not to Wear.” Why should we not wear those things? They make people look ugly or ridiculous. They don’t beautify them. They uglify them.
Why should we not work in these ways? They don’t make the gospel attractive. If we’re not serving Jesus and worshipping Him at work, why would they want to? If He makes no difference in our lives, how could He make one in theirs? That is, in the place we spend the bulk of our week? Our worship at work and our mission at work are very closely related.
So I want to ask you some questions: do you slack off? Do you brown nose? Do you show up late? Do you work like you Facebook for a living? Do you disregard your employer’s wishes? Do you disrespect her - either to her face or behind her back? Do you manipulate? Are you ungrateful? Are you disloyal? Do you steal - not just money or merchandise but your entire paycheck because you’re a sorry excuse for an employee? If you handed your handiwork to Jesus, would He say, “I died for this?” He might. But then, I bet He’d say, “Oh, yes, I certainly did.” Maybe you need to walk in on Monday and ask forgiveness. Maybe you can start by saying it to your Lord.
Know that yes, Jesus forgives you. He certainly does, if you trust in Him. But we need to get our heads on straight about our current jobs and those we’ll hold in the future. Most of us here would say that we’re at least trying not to make work our everything. Most of us here would not say it means nothing to us. I don’t think most of us would want it to just be a means to something else. Most of us here would say we want Jesus to be everything. We’re just not sure how to connect Him to that low-paying, boring as heck, seemingly meaningless job. But it connects. Our story - that involves our work - and His great story are very much interrelated. As Aarik puts it:
When we pretend it’s not good for us, we deny creation. When we pretend it’s easy, we deny the fall. When we deny it can make a difference, we deny redemption.
There’s nothing worse than going to work and knowing that it’s worth something but we’re not sure what. Friends, it’s about Jesus. It’s about glorifying Him - no matter if the hard drive crashes or the cake burns or the ladder falls through the window. It’s all about Jesus when the boss does you wrong or mocks you in front of others or dumps crummy work in your lap. In fact, it’s as those things happen, and we work through those in submission to Him that He is really worshipped. Not just when things go great. We can truly say then, in those circumstances, “Jesus is everything!”
And bosses, don’t be that type of employer. See the rest of the passage here. Verse 1 of chapter 4: “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” You’re no better than them, even if God has you in different roles. You know you’re not the real boss. Don’t take advantage of those below you. Pay them a fair wage. Give them time off. Say thanks every once in awhile. Ask forgiveness when you fail. And you will. I’ve been reminded of this during our two big remodeling projects, during this very busy time in the life of our church. There’ve been times I’ve been a jerk. I need forgiveness.
We all do. Bosses, fight to treat your employees “justly and fairly.” After all, you have a good Boss, right? And you should because you want those under you to see Jesus as everything, correct? But there is a judge, the true Lord and Master, who will make all wrongs right one day. That’s what verse 25 says, and most think it applies both to bosses and workers: “for the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” God will judge the insubordinate, slacker worker. He’ll also judge the unfair, jerk bosses. But He’ll also forgive.
The gospel is that Jesus came and lived a perfect life. He died a cruel death. He rose from the grave, displaying that it wasn’t all for nought. If we trust in Him, if we seek to make Him our everything, He’ll give us His obedience. It will be as if it’s ours. He’ll give us His forgiveness. His death pays for our sins. He’ll then go about changing us into people who work like He’s everything, who lead companies like He’s everything. Let me tell you, Karis Church, I’ve seen in you an impressive work ethic as we have worked together to remodel this Westside space.
If He’s everything, work will mean something. Something wonderful. And it will be an opportunity to serve Him with view toward others watching and wanting to worship Him, as well.
Karis friends, many years ago, I spent hours and hours up on a ladder with a paint brush in hand. That’s why I’m a bit skilled and a lot perfectionistic about painting. Those were some of the sweetest times of my life, making houses look nice, listening to preaching on the radio, taking lots of time to pray. Maybe that’s how we’ll spend our life. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe God wants to see if we’re faithful there. Yes, it’s all about Him. It’s about His glory. But maybe we’ll experience some joy there, too. Maybe even if we’re asking, “Would you like fries with that?”