Let’s look back for a minute on our tour through the book of Colossians. We started in chapter 2 where the apostle Paul warns us “not to be taken captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8). We learned that one of these deceptions is the “empty religion” of legalism where “self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body have the appearance of wisdom, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).
Continuing into chapter 3, the apostle explains that living the Christian life, defeating the flesh, is all about living into our new identity in Christ. It is seeing our old man crucified at the cross and putting on the new man who carries within him the attributes of “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness…and above all love, the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14).
Then Paul goes into specific examples of what living into a life of love looks like in our relationships; wives, husbands, children, and fathers. Today, we come to what love looks like in the workplace. “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Col 3:22).
This verse is not a biblical support of slavery. Rather, Paul was working within the parameters of his time. Today, we take its principles to apply to our employment. We are to work under our earthly authorities in a sincerity that pleases the Lord. We are to work in a manner that would be acceptable to the Lord were He our immediate supervisor. Paul expands on this idea in the next verse.
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24). What does our work life look like when we are working “heartily, as for the Lord”?
I can think of at least four principles that color our work with godliness. First, we work to provide for our families. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim 5:8). Second, we work to redirect wealth from the world’s system to God’s purposes. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.” Third, we work to display excellence, as evidenced in today’s verses in Colossians chapter 3. Fourth, we work to represent Jesus Christ to the world. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:13-16).
I have written on these four principles before and you can explore them in much more detail in this set of previous posts. As in all things related to the Christian life, our attitudes and actions in the workplace are to be a reflection of who we are in Christ. May you approach your work today as an expression of the heart of Christ that indwells you.