(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)


DavidJohnson   Today together we are going to consider the very practical subject of service, of a godly work ethic.  Our study text in Scripture is found in the New Testament book of Ephesians. We will be looking at chapter six beginning with verse five, which begins in this way: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart just as you would obey Christ.

Now, you understand that God does not commend slavery. But because of the sinfulness, the hard heartedness of man, God allowed this evil practice. However, God also revealed very practical principles in dealing with the realities of life in a fallen world, even for slaves.

It is estimated that there were about 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire during the time of the apostle Paul.  Slaves were involved in almost every field. Some slaves were even doctors and teachers. For the vast majority of slaves, life was very tough and terrible. Under Roman law a slave was not even a person, just property, only a tool for the master, for the owner. If a slave, for example, was a runaway, at best he was branded like cattle on the forehead with the letter F for fugitif a Latin word from which we get our English word fugitive.  But at worst, a runaway slave was killed. Slaves were abused and completely at the mercy of their owners.

The apostle Paul addressed in his Ephesians letter to Christian slaves: Obey your earthly masters with respect, with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Certainly to obey this command, these instructions, they had to have been truly converted to Christ, genuinely changed on the inside, new creatures, a new creation in Christ Jesus. And these Christian slaves knew that they were at least free on the inside.

The original Greek word translated obey has the basic meaning of continuous, consistent submission, here to one’s master. Submission consistently, not just once in a while. Of course, the only exception for a Christian slave would be in regard to a command that involved clear disobedience of the Word and will of God, for example, to lie or steal. In this section of Scripture regarding a master slave relationship, there is obvious application today to employer, employee or teacher, student or supervisor, worker relationships.  As Christians, we should practice the principles given here. But even non Christians would do well to heed and would benefit by these principles.

Obedience to those over us is always a good practice unless, of course, they require of us something immoral or unethical against the Word of God. As Christians, we should serve and work as if unto Christ.  This practical principle is elaborated in the book of Colossians chapter three and verse 23: Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.

Therefore, to serve, to work for one’s employer, teacher or supervisor is God’s will and is, likewise, to serve Christ himself. Sometimes those over us may not in our minds deserve respect or obedience. Yet Christians are admonished to respect and obey in any case.  And to understand that at least their office, their position over us is to be respected.

Now this goes, of course, against the natural mindset. But as Christians, we should be different from the natural, the normal, the world and be good employees, good students, good workers regardless. Usually a consistent work ethic will be noticed and rewarded by those over us.  Employers, teachers or supervisors always desire honest, hard working, trainable, respectful workers. This should describe any and all Christians on the job or in the classroom.  In Ephesians chapter six and verse six it says: Obey them, not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but likewise, slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
We have a saying today, when a cat is away the mice will play. Or when the boss is away, the workers will play. No, that is not the way it should be. We shouldn’t work hard only when we are being watched and then hardly work when we are not being watched.  Instead, consistently seek to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. That is God’s way. That is the Christian way.

In Ephesians chapter six in verse seven it says: Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord, not men. That is, as Christians, ultimately we are not mere men pleasers. We are God pleasers, and as such, we serve whole heartedly as Christians, being consistently good employees, students or workers. It is actually part of our Christian witness that others may see Christ in us even in the attitude and action of our work, whether on the job or in the classroom, wherever we serve. Certainly as we serve in the kingdom of God.
In Ephesians chapter six and verse eight it adds: Because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does whether he is slave or free.  Reward here refers to rewards to Christians beyond salvation, because Scripture plainly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. And this is also according to Ephesians chapter two verses eight and nine.  Therefore, beyond salvation, there are rewards for Christians at the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body.  This truth is found in the second Corinthian letter chapter five and verse 10. The good that we do here has a lot to do with our attitude.  We serve and work not just with our heads and our hands, but with our hearts.  Everything we do, it is as if we do it first unto the Lord. We don’t just see a company or a school or a job, but Christ becomes our invisible go-between. Everything goes through him first. Christ becomes like a filter of our attitude and our actions on the job, in the classroom, as we work, as we serve. It is also about our Christian character, about our work ethic. It is our Christian witness also. And there is universal application for all of us according to what we do. Faithfulness to God dictates that we be faithful to whatever we are doing on this earth.

A Christian housewife or house worker cooks and cleans as unto the Lord. A Christian student studies as unto the Lord. A Christian factory worker labors as unto the Lord. Whether blue collar or white collar, we toil as unto the Lord. And, of course, we know that the Lord sees all. And habitual tardiness or absences, idleness or laziness is ungodly and, therefore unchristian like or unChrist like. Even non Christians should develop good habits of work and service which usually will be rewarded in this life.

In Ephesians chapter six and verse nine we are warned: 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.  And, therefore, those who are bosses, supervisors, managers or teachers also need to honor and respect their employees, their workers or students whether a Christian supervisor or not. Threatening those under you is counter productive. Authority and power are usually followed best when not abused, but instead authority and power with restraint and patience. And everybody ultimately answers to our ultimate master. The master in heaven is an equal opportunity provider. But there is no favoritism with him.

So whether employer or employee, teacher or student, a good work ethic is doing more than is required. It is about finishing what we start. It is about workmanship. It is about being faithful to the One we ultimately serve. It is as Christians tangible evidence, in our work or service, of a transformed heart.  There are basically two kinds of people who work and serve. First there are those who actually do the work.  And, second, there are those who take the credit for doing the work.  Always strive to be the first kind, doers, workers, servants.  To be a doer is best also because there is much less competition there. Hardly working should never ever replace hard work, honest work.

Circumstances on the job, in the classroom or serving in any capacity may not always be to our liking, but in Christ, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, faithful to the teachings of our Savior, we can conquer negative circumstances and glorify God through it. God gives grace to meet the challenges of work and service. Our responsibility is to apply God’s grace to our circumstances.

Now think about it. In the First century AD the Christian slaves in the early Church prove that it can be done even in the most difficult, terrible, tough circumstances. For example, it would be good for us to read and to study the small New Testament book of Philemon and learn how a Christian slave by the name of Onesimus was transformed even as a runaway slave once he became a Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as all Christians are.

Finally, the words ‘gung ho’ you have probably heard before. ‘Gung ho’ was a phrase popularized in America by American marines who came from the South Pacific during World War II. The word ‘gung’ is a Chinese word for work. ‘Ho’ is a Chinese work for harmony. And therefore it means work harmoniously. So, on the job we need to strive to be gung ho. In the classroom we can be gung ho.  Even in the kitchen we can be gung ho. And certainly as Christians in the kingdom of God our faithfulness should provoke us to be gung ho and do it all as unto the Lord Jesus Christ.


David Johnson preaches for the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, Indiana