Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Representing God at Work
In the Roman Empire around the time of the New Testament there were an estimated 5 million slaves. That means about 10-15% of the entire population was in slavery. Slavery was an important part of the Roman economy, but it wasn?t, by and large, slavery like we saw in the 16th through 19th centuries. In Roman times slaves could be laborers working on a farm, or they could be doctors, accountants, or teachers. Though we don?t have a direct analog to this kind of slavery today?many people feel enslaved to their jobs, especially given the tough economic times in the Great Recession of 2008-2012. Today for many, it feels more like slavery than employment, especially if you work for a company or a boss that treats you like a slave.
So as we come to Ephesians 6:5-9, I think we can actually identify a lot with the slaves Paul?s addresses. And if you manage people or own a company, you may have felt a great freedom to misuse and abuse your employees. I remember when I was in the TV business, if you told the news director that you didn?t want to do something, he?d often say something like: ?I?ve got a pile of tapes on my desk of people who would love to do this job.?
If we were to write a secular guide to slaves and masters it might say: ?Slaves, get away with anything you can as long as you don?t get caught. Masters, do the same as long as the bottom line is served.?
As members of God?s family, this is not the way it should be. Paul has been talking about what it?s like to mirror God?s character in a dark world. He?s encouraged us to be ?filled with the Spirit? which means having an accurate way of assessing yourself and your environment, and an active way of engaging both in a redemptive manner that brings glory to God and furthers His kingdom.
Many of the guides to how to run a business run very counter to the way things work in God?s kingdom. So as an introduction, let?s look at how Jesus talks about the relationship between those in authority and those under authority:
Luke 22:24 ?Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. 25 But He said to them, ?The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called ?Benefactors.? 26 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. 27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn?t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves.?
So in God?s kingdom, the role of slave and master is actually turned on its head. ?How can that work in the business world?? you say. It can. In fact, James Autry, former head of a magazine conglomerate, wrote a book called ?Caring Leadership? that while not Christian, it lays out the very principals of what Jesus said here?that by serving others, you actually lead them.
So let?s see how this plays out in Ephesians 6:5-9:
Slaves are told to ?obey? their masters in the same way as children are to obey their parents. Paul adds the idea of ?fear and trembling? and I think that suggests to me the idea of respect. Hardly anyone respects their bosses nowadays. And some bosses don?t deserve respect. I?ve worked for these people and I know what jerks they are.
But Paul is saying that no matter how bad they are, respect the position they?ve been put in?but not for their sake, but for Jesus? sake. He says to do this in the ?sincerity? of your heart. The Greek word can also mean ?generosity?. As we?ll see, we need to recognize that we actually work for a different boss?who happens to be a Jewish Carpenter who is the King of the Universe. And He wants us to be generous?giving respect where none is deserved.
As employees we can never forget that we are actually ambassadors of Jesus in our workplace. And how you treat your boss can influence him or her towards or away from the gospel.
But it goes even deeper than that:
6 ? 8
Your job as a slave or employee is to do good work for the company or individual. It?s not to curry their favor, it?s to do a good job whether they are around or not and whether they affirm you or not. That?s because you really work for Jesus, and not your jerk boss. Jesus is the one who will do your performance evaluation, not your supervisor?at least that?s the one that counts.
And Jesus promises that all the good you do, even when no one is looking, and even when your boss does nothing but criticizes you, will come back to you from the real Boss. This can really help when your employer does yet another stupid thing and creates yet another form for you fill out or another process that doesn?t make sense.
Does this mean we?re just carpets to be walked on? No. You need to be the person Jesus is making you to be: honest, hard working, sincere. Sometimes it means you have to say hard things to the boss, but you do it with respect.
And Paul?s words are equally as strong to supervisors:
Paul tells masters to treat their slaves in the same way: with respect. The power of the boss is to disrespect and show favoritism. I was in a work situation recently where I saw that working. Paul says that the same leadership qualities that Jesus shows are the ones we as managers are to show: respect and servant leadership.
?Impossible? you say. ?I?ve got deadlines to meet and a bottom line to keep up. I can?t be Mr. Nice Guy all the time.? I?m not asking for that. Sometimes the most respectful thing you can do or an employee is to fire them. Sometimes the way to serve is to have that hard conversation that they are not performing and if they don?t get some help or change their ways they are not going to have a job.
But sometimes as managers we think that employees are just cogs in a machine. Instead of management, we should picture leadership. I think about the sergeant who is first up the hill in battle. I think of the boss who visits the hospital room of an employee?s spouse as they are receiving hospice care?not doing anything really except sitting and being a caring presence.
Just as heaven is about relationships, so too is management. It?s about being real and laying your life down for your staff, and finding ways you can serve them. They aren?t cogs; they are people.
You?ll find that inspiring rather than terrorizing gets a whole lot more production and loyalty out of people than you might imagine.
Autry quotes a saying ?if I gave you special treatment I?d have to do the same for everyone.? In fact, everyone should get special treatment. It doesn?t mean the same treatment, but everyone should be treated like they matter, like they are special, like they are loved. That?s how our Savior acts in our lives every day.
Examples of good slaves:
Joseph ? he went from a bad situation to worse, but determined to be the best slave no matter where he found himself. He was true to himself and honest to others. And he ended up as the second most powerful man in the world.
Daniel ? he got swept away to Babylon as a teenager. He could have either played the passive aggressive game?say ?yes? while the boss is around but then do what he wanted, or he could have sold out to a very pagan culture. He did neither. He was clearly who he was, to the point of opening himself up to the lion?s den, but he was also an excellent ambassador and manager and ended up serving multiple kings.
Onesimus as slave and Philemon as the master. Onesimus was a runaway slave that met up with Paul in Rome and got saved. In those conversations, Paul encouraged Onesimus to go back to his master Philemon. This was a very difficult situation for both. Onesimus could have baulked saying: ?I?m free in Christ.? Philemon could have had Onesimus beaten as a runaway. Paul stood in the middle saying ?he might serve me in your place.? Receive him back not just as a slave but as a brother, Paul urged.
So if you?ve got a bad boss, how do you know if you are doing a good job? Give yourself a performance appraisal, not according to the way your boss acts, but according to the way the real Boss, the capital ?B? boss operates. Are you honest, generous, and hard working? Those are just a few of the characteristics the Bible tells us we should emulate at work.
And how about you bosses? Authority brings with it great responsibility. Jesus will hold you accountable for how you treat your employees. If you treat them harshly or use favoritism, you are going to have to answer for that.
And remember?this isn?t really about the workplace at all. It?s about the kingdom of God. How can you be the best example of Jesus where you work?as a slave or master?
One of the reasons this is important is that we are actually engaged in a battle. The battle is over the hearts of minds of those who don?t yet know Jesus. The soldiers arrayed on each side are you, and the forces of darkness that will stop at nothing to neutralize your effectiveness, whether at home or at work.
Next time we?ll look at an analogy Paul uses to help us defend ourselves in battle.