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Can I ask you a few questions this morning? They’re rather personal so keep the answers to yourself. But for those of you who work outside the home, Do you like your job? Do you enjoy going to work every day? How about your boss? Do you like your boss? Are you glad to see him or her each morning?
If you’re not, then you’re in good company. Most Americans don’t like their jobs, at least according to a Forbes magazine article that I read this week. The article reported that 52% of Americans are unhappy at work which may explain why every other person on Route 422 in the morning looks miserable.
The survey asked workers how they feel about their work experience, job security, wages, promotion policy, vacation time, sick leave, health insurance and retirement plan. On all those measures, workers were much happier 30 years ago than they are today.
Another article I read said that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because of a bad boss or supervisor. Fifty percent of workers surveyed in a Gallup poll last year said they quit at least one job because of a bad boss, a boss who lied to them, cheated them, used them, betrayed them, harassed them, bullied them, treated them less than a person.
So if you like your job and you like your boss, thank God. You are blessed! Please don’t take that for granted. You are in the minority.
(Blank Slide) But what if you don’t? What if you don’t like your job or your boss? What do you do? Quit and look for another job? That’s certainly an option. And in our culture we’re free to do that. It happens all the time. But there’s another option, one that the Apostle Paul presents in Ephesians 6. If you have a Bible turn to Ephesians 6 (p. 817).
Today we wrap up our summer series in Ephesians called Becoming Who We Are. Throughout the series we’ve talked a lot about our identity because Paul talks a lot about our identity. As believers in Jesus we are “in Christ.” That’s the theme of the first three chapters. And then in chapters 4-6 Paul’s been applying our identity to how we act as husbands and wives, parents and children. And now he wants us to know what it means to be “in Christ” on the job as an employee and as an employer. And it’s radical stuff.
Look at Ephesians 6:5, Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
Paul begins verse 5 by addressing slaves. And right away you might be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m not a slave.” Or you might be thinking, “This is exactly how I feel at work. I feel like a slave.”
In the early church, slaves were coming to Christ in record numbers. The church was packed with slaves because “in Christ” they found worth and value. They became human again, not just tools to be used. And as people they had choices to make and so Paul encourages them to make good choices when it comes to serving their masters, just like we have choices to make when it comes to serving our bosses.
Now just a word about slavery. When it comes to slavery the Scriptures are sometimes accused of endorsing it because of passages like this. But the Bible never endorses slavery. Instead, it recognizes slavery as a reality in that world. In Paul’s day there were over 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. Forty percent of the population was slaves, 40%! Slavery drove the economy and was a vital part of Roman life.
For Paul to imagine a world without slavery would be like us imagining a world without electricity. It’s hard to envision that. And it would take almost 2,000 years before committed Christ followers like William Wilberforce would abolish slavery first in England and then in America.
And of course Paul wrote often about the hope that one day everything would be set free. But until that day comes God wants slaves to know how to live and act within that abusive system. And the model for them is Jesus and his life of submission and obedience. This goes back to Ephesians 5:21, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The Greek for “obey” in verse 5 is the same exact word that’s used in verse 1 for children obeying parents. In other words, as employees who are “in Christ” our number one responsibility is to do what our boss tells us to do unless there are legal or moral reasons not to. But that’s not what Paul’s addressing here. Obedience is job 1.
Do you want to be a witness at work? Do you want to represent Jesus well? Do you want to be “in Christ” on the job? I’m sure most of you do. Then be a cooperative employee.
Be a team player in the office, in the shop, at the yard, in school, on the field, at home or wherever your job takes you. Submit out of reverence for Christ. Remember, you may be the only Bible your boss and your co-workers will ever read.
My guess is that some of you really need to hear this today because you’re struggling at work. You’re thinking more about getting out than about being in Christ on the job. But before you go to the HR Department with a complaint or start sending out resumes ask God to help you be a team player and to see your boss as Jesus. That’s right. I told you this is radical.
Look again at verse 5, Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
Obey your boss the way you would obey Christ. Put Jesus’ face on your supervisor. Ask God to give you spiritual eyes so that you can see your boss, even a bad boss, as you see the Lord. Believe it or not, Jesus is in your office. Jesus is your boss!
Look at verses 6-7, Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.
This is heart stuff. This is not something you can fake with a plastic smile. This is how the Holy Spirit wants to transform us from the inside out if we submit to him and allow him to do his amazing work in our lives.
Treat your boss with respect, Paul says. Why? Because everybody deserves respect. Every person, even your boss, even a bad boss, is created in the image of God. And every person, even your boss, even a bad boss, is loved by God enough for Jesus to die for them.
In fact, we’ve never locked eyes with a person that God didn’t create and that Jesus didn’t love enough to die for, including your boss.
And while you’re at it, pray for your boss, even a bad boss, especially a bad boss. Remember every boss has a boss and is jumping through hoops for somebody else. And they’re passing that pressure on to you.
And every boss has a story too. And so often the anger and the pain of life gets expressed in the workplace. So remember to be kind to everyone because everyone is fighting a battle, even your boss, and especially a bad boss. So Paul says obey them, respect them, fear them, serve them as if they were Christ, not only when they’re watching you, but even when they’re not.
When I was in college I earned money landscaping during the summers. I worked with a couple of other Christian guys and we called our lawn business The King’s Kutters. Cutting grass for the King of Kings was our motto. And from time to time we would say, “Cut every lawn as if Jesus Christ lived in that house.”
Again, this is heart stuff. This is the kind of transformation that the Holy Spirit longs to do in our lives. Cooperate with him and see what amazing things can happen at work. Sharing Christ at work starts with being a cooperative team player.
Unfortunately, the church has done a wonderful job over the centuries misleading people into thinking that what happens on Sunday is worship, but what happens Monday to Friday is not. It’s secular. That’s not true. Paul is putting Jesus’ face on your boss and is saying serve him or her like Christ.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what we do here on Sunday mornings. I love to come here and worship the Lord in song and prayer and Bible teaching and the conversations we have with one another, but we need to be reminded that our worship doesn’t stop here. Jesus is waiting for all of us to show up for work on Monday morning. And how we work every day is a spiritual act of worship that will be rewarded by Christ someday. And not just with a paycheck.
Verse 8, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
What a perk! It would have been enough for God to say obey your boss, respect your boss, serve your boss well because I say so. But he goes way beyond that and says, “I’m going to reward you far above your salary package, and your benefits, and your perks, and your stock options. Every day you have the opportunity to earn rewards from me if you do your work well. You may not be recognized by your boss and given the credit that you deserve. You may not be paid what you’re worth. But I know. I see. And I’ll reward you for whatever good you do.”
That’s what it means to be in Christ on the job. Don’t be fooled into thinking the only reward you get is the amount on your paycheck. God is keeping his own account on us. That’s the big picture. That’s the bigger story that goes way beyond the bottom line and pleasing the shareholders.
This is radical stuff and some of you desperately need to hear it today because you’re struggling at work and wondering if there’s more to life than your job or your career. Yes there is. Way more. Our work is our worship and will be rewarded by Christ. It’s him that we serve. And how and when he chooses to reward us is completely up to him.
So verses 5-8 focus on employees. And now Paul turns his attention to management, to bosses which many of you are as well. You have people working with you and for you.
Verse 9, And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Let me paraphrase what I think God is saying here. It’s like he’s saying, “Listen, I’ve just spent twenty minutes with your employees telling them to respect you, to work hard for you as if you were Christ himself … no pressure … and to ultimately look to me for their reward. I’ve given them all kinds of spiritual motivation. Now I have a few things I want to say to you.”
“As bosses I want you to treat your employees the same way. I want you to respect them. I want you to be careful about how you use your power. Don’t threaten them. There are all kinds of fear in the workplace. A culture of fear drives most companies. The fear of demotion, the fear of humiliation, the fear of failure, the fear of embarrassment, the fear of termination. Don’t add to it. Don’t leverage it to your advantage. Instead, do your best to lower the fear factor. Change the culture at work. Don’t threaten them.”
“And if you need motivation, remember you have a boss too, your ultimate boss is me. And I don’t play favorites. I’m not partial to management. I don’t make a distinction between the CEO who makes $8 million a year and the high school kid who makes $8/hour. You know how I treat you with justice and mercy and grace. That’s how I want you to treat your employees too.”
“That’s what it means to be in Christ on the job as a boss. That’s the Bible I want your employees to read.”
Do you like your job? Do your like boss? I hope so. But if you don’t, before you go to HR or call your union with a complaint, before you start sending out resumes looking for a new job, ask the Holy Spirit to change your attitude, to help you see your boss as Jesus, and serve him or her with respect and fear and sincerity of heart just as you would obey Christ. Ask him to help you see your work as worship for which you will be richly rewarded because it is. Radical stuff, I know.
When I was in seminary a professor introduced me to Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence lived in a French monastery back in the 1600’s. He spent most of his life in a kitchen washing pots and pans and yet worshiped God as much in front of his sink as he did in front of an altar.
He wrote a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God. In it he prays, “Lord of all pots and pans. Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.” He goes on to say, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer. And in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several people are calling me at the same time for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees at the blessed sacrament.” There’s a guy who gets it.
Our work is our worship. Remember that when the alarm goes off tomorrow morning. And Jesus is waiting for you to show up to serve him. And he will reward you well. Let’s stand for closing prayer.