In my last blog for Stirring Our Affections, ‘Working With God Through Our Work‘, I talked about the need to see ourselves as Christ’s ambassadors in the workplace (2 Corinthians 5:16–20), working with God to accomplish the tasks he has set for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
However, it is also important that we see ourselves as working for God primarily.
In biblical times, most people were engaged in agricultural, trade or cottage industries. The concept of a 9–5 job is something that only became the norm after the industrial revolution.
It is actually the master–slave relationship in the Bible that most closely aligns with our present employer–employee relationships. Colossians 3:23–25 is instructive for us:
Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.
Let’s pause for a moment to realise the significance of this teaching for a slave. Slaves had little or no choice in who they worked for or what work they did. Their lives were dictated by the whims of their Master. Here Paul tells them to work for their human masters as if they are working for God, to do excellent work.
It is teaching that is aimed at the heart.
We have a lot more autonomy and responsibility than slaves. We can choose who we work for and what work we do. We are not bound to organisations. Yet, many would still see a great challenge in these verses.
Paul doesn’t say: “If your Master is a Christian and asking you to do things you enjoy doing.”
We are to work for our employers as if we are working for God.
This is also an empowering verse. If your employer is not acting in a very Christlike manner, then envisioning that you are working for God will give you an energy, creativity and freedom that might otherwise be lacking.
We know that working for God has an eternal dimension, that the work we do for God is “not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). In fact, it is an opportunity to give people a foretaste of the Kingdom.
The household codes that Paul is describing in Colossians (as he does in Ephesians 5–6), are a new way of envisioning our earthly relationships in light of the new kingdom that Jesus has established. In our working for God, we can show people a new way of working that is pregnant with possibility.
In Surprised by Hope, NT Wright says, “As a saved people, we are meant to be a foretaste of what life will look like on New Earth; so salvation is about what God is doing through us, not just in and for us.”
One of the most helpful books considering an eschatological dimension of work is Darrell Cosden’s The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. He provides the image of our working as lying in the period between the resurrection and the glorious return of Christ. We have been given the Spirit to help us in our working to anticipate the New Creation, and we can live out these possibilities in our working and our relationships, our conversations and our recreation. In these activities, we can glorify God and live according to his purposes.
Cosden says this means, “For ordinary Christians, it is largely through our work that we reflect God’s image and cooperate with him in bringing humanity and creation to their ultimate maturity and future.”
- What difference would it make for you to see yourself working for the Lord, rather than your human employer?
- How can you work for God in a way that gives people a glimpse of what the Kingdom looks like?
This idea of the Kingdom of God breaking into our present world gives us tremendous vitality in our faith and working right now. We are to pray for God’s will to be done on earth NOW, that we might be a light to others, and God’s stewards over all creation.
Kara Martin is Project Leader with Seed (seed.org.au), lecturer with Mary Andrews College (mac.edu.au) and author of the book Workship: How to use your work to worship God.