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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Do Your Work as a Servant of Christ
Text:Ephesians 6:5-9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-05-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 84:1,2                                                                                           

Ps 116:7,9                                                                                                      

Reading – 1 Peter 2:11-25

Ps 127:1,2

Sermon – Ephesians 6:5-9

Ps 90:1,8

Hy 78:1,2,3,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, a really big part of our life is filled by work. For Mom in the home, there’s always something else to clean or cook, fold or organize. For Dad, he leaves first thing in the morning, and he doesn’t return from the office until late afternoon. Meanwhile, the school kids are busy with long months of schooling each year, and the young people have demanding programs at college or university, besides a part-time job or two. If you added up all the hours, you’d see that we work a lot each week, each year, and for many years of our life.

Which means, of course, that if you’re working, you need to be working for God. Work or school isn’t a part of our life that can be separate from who we are as Christians, something almost “worldly” that we have to do until it’s time to participate in “more holy” activities like going to club or church. No, in our lives there should be no division between holy and unholy—for it should all be holy, when we can dedicate every moment to God.

Put it this way: it’s not just a minister who has a holy job—we all do. And it’s not just a missionary who’s involved in kingdom work—we all are. Consider the two tax collectors mentioned in the New Testament, Zacchaeus and Matthew. Jesus called one of them to be an apostle, and the other He sent back to his day job with the calling to do it honestly. Between Zacchaeus and Matthew, was Matthew’s calling in life higher, more spiritual? It was not. Christ gives to each person a responsibility to use their talents for him in the area He assigns us.

This is the teaching of our text. In this latter part of Ephesians, Paul is giving instruction to Christian households, to husbands and wives, to parents and children, and now also to servants and masters. He addresses our real-life relationships and shows how the gospel must colour everything that we do. In our text too, the Spirit has much to say about working as a Christian, doing our daily task as a child of God. I preach the Word to you from Ephesians 6:5-9 on this theme,          

God teaches slaves and masters about our calling in Christ:

  1. the attitude and obedience of slaves
  2. the attitude and consideration of masters

 

1) the attitude and obedience of slaves: The first thing to notice about our text is that four verses are addressed to servants, and just one verse to masters. It’s likely that this is because of the makeup of the congregation in Ephesus, that many of them were in fact slaves. And that was something normal; in the Roman Empire at this time, a vast part of the population was in servitude. It has been said that at no time in world history were there more slaves—perhaps some 60 million people.

When we talk about slaves, or when Paul addresses “bondservants” (6:5), we shouldn’t picture people with chains on their wrists and ankles, people who had zero freedoms. This also wasn’t slavery based on a person’s race or the colour of their skin, like it was in America and elsewhere. In the first century, a bondservant was anyone who had the permanent obligation of service to another person.

People would enter slavery in different ways. Some were born into it—they were slaves because their parents were. Some volunteered for slavery because they owed a lot of money, and this was a way to deal with debt. Others became slaves as punishment, or as prisoners of war.

Some slaves in this time enjoyed a measure of freedom, and some even received an education, but there was no question: life as a slave could be very difficult. For in the end, a slave was considered a piece of property, his master’s possession. As a result, slaves were sometimes treated terribly. They could be beaten for the smallest mistake, they could be exploited sexually, and even if they were enjoying stability right now, at any moment they could be sold. Their life really wasn’t their own.

Which makes it remarkable how Paul speaks directly to slaves in our text. Nobody did such a thing in that culture; because a slave was someone else’s possession, you would speak to his owner, not him. But God looks at every human being as having true dignity, and at every person as having meaningful responsibility—slaves, too.

When the good news of salvation started being preached around the empire in the first century, slaves were among the many who received it with faith. And the gospel of Christ is a wonderfully liberating thing. It sets us free from sin and its punishment, and sets us free from a pointless life of serving ourselves.

Yet for a slave, becoming a Christian didn’t mean they were liberated from all their obligations. These slaves now had a heavenly Master, yet their earthly master remained. They didn’t have a choice to be slaves or not, but they did have a choice about how they were going to act in that position.

That’s often true, isn’t it? Putting faith in Christ doesn’t grant an escape from difficult circumstances. Being a believer doesn’t guarantee a life that’s free of hardship, the opposite is true. But through faith in God, our whole life is transformed, and our purpose—wherever we are—becomes clear.

So Paul doesn’t instruct the Ephesian slaves to rise up and rebel, but rather to be Christian where they are. By serving faithfully, they can serve God: “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh” (v 5). This is the primary exhortation: Listen to your master! These slaves have to recognize who has authority, and they have to do whatever lawful thing they are ordered to do. If they’re given a task, disobeying their master is not permitted, neither is back-talking or delaying, but they have to submit.

At the same time, the Spirit reminds slaves about who they really are. “Be obedient to those who are your masters according to flesh.” They should remember how they’re actually the servants of another and greater master. You might have a master “according to the flesh”—in this temporary and physical life—but you also have an eternal master over your spirit, and He is gracious and faithful. At the moment your earthly position might be low and disgraced and difficult, but you still belong to Christ, and you always will!

Beloved, how do these words speak to us? We’re not bondservants or slaves—far from it. For if you’re an employee, even if it’s an entry-level job at a fast-food place or a construction company, you have rights. For instance, you’re allowed to quit, you can demand a safe work environment, you can even ask for higher wages. You also don’t have to obey absolutely—some tasks you’re allowed to refuse. Even if you work seventy hours a week, and you owe the bank a pile of money, you’re not a slave.

Still, if we’re under authority, God calls us to act in a certain way. As we do our weekly task—whatever it is—God requires faithful submission. Those who have been given a job need to do it with obedience and in a spirit of diligence. That’s true for you students busy with assignments at school, for you employees carrying out projects at work, for you children doing the chores in the home: “Obey your masters in sincerity of heart.”

Now, Paul is realistic about the challenges of working for someone else. If you’ve ever had job, then you know this too: you have to watch your attitude carefully. For example, it’s easy to talk back to the one in charge: “Why on earth are we doing it this way?” Or we take issue with the rude way an order is given. We don’t like being told what to do, so we criticize.

But we have to acknowledge our status and position. It is God’s will right now that we receive orders, rather than give them. In his perfect sovereignty, the LORD has put us in this position of being an employee, a worker. And if we have a humble heart, we’ll recognize we don’t always know better, that sometimes we just need to listen.

Are those in authority always right? Do managers and teachers and parents always decide what’s best? Certainly not. So pray for the Holy Spirit’s help in being able to submit, not answering back to the one who orders you, not reacting in an unchristian way.

Something Paul warns about is doing our work “with eyeservice, as men-pleasers” (v 6). This is a temptation, that we do our job to get attention and praise from other people. Then we’re always on the lookout for compliments. Or perhaps we do everything we can to gain the favour of “the higher-ups,” because we’re chasing a promotion. We want to please them above all.

It’s also a temptation to work hard only when people are watching. If your boss is out of ear-shot, or your teacher isn’t looking, if you know this work won’t be reviewed by anyone, you might give only a half-hearted effort. As long as we’re doing enough to meet a minimum standard, we’re OK.

But God calls us to work hard not only to advantage ourselves, and not only when we’re being watched, but always. And why? Because we belong to him, and we want to please him! Do your daily work, knowing that God’s eye is always on you. Like the Spirit says in Colossians 3, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men” (v 23).

Indeed, working well is more than not talking back to your manager, or not cheating your boss out of his money. Rather, the Spirit says we must “with goodwill [do] service” (v 7). “Goodwill” is doing our work faithfully, doing our best.

In whatever task we have, we must work “in sincerity of heart” (Eph 6:5). For that’s where it always begins: in the heart. What is your motive in working? What’s your attitude toward Monday’s to-do list? The Spirit says, “Obey… with fear and trembling” (v 5). Of course, that’s how earthly masters would control their slaves—through fear: fear of a beating, fear of being sold. But our perspective is different. The “fear” that fills us when we work should not be the fear of other people and what they’ll say and do, but the fear of God! Because we love and revere God, we want to do everything for him.

Yes, remember who you are, that you work “as bondservants of Christ” (v 6). Reflect on that phrase and what it means: as “a bondservant of Christ,” you are his! You’re not your own, but in body and soul you belong to him. On the cross He bought you with his precious blood, He broke your chains, so now you’re in his full-time service. This is why the Christian worker’s goal is to do everything “as to the Lord, and not to men” (v 7). Serve the Lord in the particular place He has assigned you, through the talents and opportunities that He has given.

Working hard like this has two key results. First, we can be a blessing to other people. For instance, when we earn a wage, God is giving money that we can use to support our family. That’s our calling, and through our work God gives the opportunity to fulfil this calling. Don’t forget to be grateful for the gift of a wage, the gift of your daily bread! Through our work, God also gives money that we can use to help the needy, or to promote the preaching of the gospel. By giving away part of our earnings, we show again that we’re working for the Lord, not for men, and not for ourselves.

We can also bless others through making our work a means of witnessing. If you’re surrounded at work (or school) by those who don’t know Christ, then you have a great opportunity to share the good news. Don’t leave the gospel in your desk drawer. Make your co-workers and your employer and your clients interested in what lives in you. Let them notice that you work diligently for your wages, but that you’re also content. Be dedicated to your work, but let it be known that you’re dedicated firstly to Christ.

We work hard so that we can bless others, and second, we work hard to glorify God. Remember that the Lord has put you exactly where you are today. He hasn’t made a mistake in the particular gifts that He gave you, or in the job you hold. By embracing your present position, accepting your daily assignment, you show that you trust God. You trust He knows what He’s doing in leading your life. By using your weekly opportunities, you show that you are grateful to God for equipping and providing. By being faithful (even in a little), you show that you’re being conformed to Christ, who was faithful in all things.

Now, the hard reality is sometimes we toil for years and never seem to get ahead. We can work incredibly hard at a job that isn’t satisfying, or we can labour every day for people who never say thank you. Sometimes work feels pointless—since the fall into sin, God said that this will be the regular challenge besetting our labours on earth: thorns and thistles, sweat and frustration, fatigue and boredom.

But be reminded once more what it’s all for—what life is for. Paul sums up his words to the Ephesian slaves, “[Know] that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” (v 8). Whatever we do in this life in order to please Christ gets noticed. Maybe not noticed by others, but by him! If we believe in him, Christ pays eternal wages. In this life we might only get criticism and complaint, but He rewards our faithfulness.

And this is true, whatever our earthly position, “whether… slave or free.” There will be a final accounting for all servants of God—for we’re all servants, whether we’re the Mom working hard every day at home, or we’re the business owner making all the big decisions, or we’re the Grade 12er trying to get our certificate, or we’re the 70 year old retired from work but still busy with various projects. Each of us will be judged by whether we lived by faith in Christ, and whether we served him with our whole heart. So do we work in sincerity of heart? Do we work with the genuine desire to serve other people, and to honour Jesus as Lord?

 

2) the attitude and consideration of masters: Not all of us are employees. Some are business owners and bosses, senior managers and directors. There’s just one verse for them, but it doesn’t let them off easy. For they too, have a calling from Christ. Though you might be a (kind of) master over other people, you are still a servant of God!

Read verse 9 again, “And, you masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven.” See how the Holy Spirit sets every believer on the foundation of our identity in Christ. This is fundamental, life-changing: you have a Lord in heaven, who bought you with his blood. Whether slaves or masters, employees or employers, students or stay-at-home moms, belonging to Christ changes everything! “Your own Master is in heaven.”

So also Christian business owners and managers are called to live in the light of this reality. “And you, masters, do the same things to them.” Just like for slaves, for masters the critical question is attitude. With what kind of spirit do they regard themselves? Are you humble and grateful? And with what kind of eyes do they look at the people who labour under them? Are you considerate toward them? Are you fair?

Paul isn’t naïve about how it can go, for he exhorts masters to give up “threatening.” This was natural for masters in the first century. Like we said before, if you actually own the people who work for you, there’s a temptation to abuse them, to be violent, to take advantage of them. A slave had no easy way out, so a master could manipulate and exploit.

Those in authority today can do similar ungodly things. You don’t own your employees, but they depend on you to keep providing wages. You employing him is likely a critical part of his life’s stability. This makes your employee vulnerable to you, so you might want to threaten him, put extra demands on him, be cruel or harsh, knowing he’ll probably be reluctant to quit his job. A manager or a boss or a director has power—so how do you wield that power? Do you take advantage of this power and influence to serve yourself?

“Give up threatening,” the Spirit says, and instead show a loving consideration. You are called to demonstrate God’s love and the generosity in how you operate your business and direct your employees. Do you care for your people? Do you acknowledge the importance of life outside of work? God has also given you a calling to do your work heartily, “as to the Lord and not to men.” It’s not about advancing yourself, but serving God.

We said that servants or employees should work hard in order to benefit other people and to glorify God. The same is true for masters or employers: through being faithful and generous and wise, they can bring benefit to others and they can also build the kingdom of Christ.

For instance, it is a blessing that an employer is able to provide work for other people. God calls us to work, and employers open up opportunities for people to take up meaningful labour. So in Colossians 4, Paul gives this instruction to masters, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair” (v 1). Masters in the first century didn’t owe wages to their slaves. Instead, but they were expected to feed them, and give them shelter, and generally ensure their well-being. And in doing so, masters had to make sure they were being fair.

Certainly the same thing applies to employers today. It’s a Biblical principle that the worker deserves his wages, so employers must see to it that they honour the work being done Provide what is right: the right money, the right support, the right time of rest. Remember, they’re not your slaves!

When you’re a “master,” a business owner or director, God also gives you certain freedoms. It’s possible that you have a little more unstructured time in your schedule. That can be a great opportunity to use time in order to serve other people. Or when you’re self-employed, God might bless you with prosperity and success—that too, is a special opportunity that God has given you. If you are prospering, what will you do with these blessings? Will you spend and save and plan “as to the Lord, not to men”?

The key again, is remembering who we are: “knowing that your own Master is in heaven.” You might feel like you have a little empire in your control, a small kingdom of workers and resources. But you have a Master in heaven, “and there is no partiality with him” (v 9). What is partiality? It is favouritism or bias. It’s what we tend to do: we show preference to the rich, to the good-looking, to the powerful and influential.

But the Spirit reminds us that the day will come when all people will stand before Christ, and He’s not biased toward the great and powerful. There are no special deals with God. In the end, He doesn’t care about the size of our bank account, or the degrees on our wall, or the impressiveness of our resumé. He doesn’t care about how many terms we served in church office, how many promotions we got, or how many compliments we received.

When Christ comes again, all the ranks and positions of the world will no longer be relevant. Each of us will simply stand as individual persons before Christ, and we will answer this unavoidable question: “Did you live by faith in Christ as your Saviour? And did you put faith into practice by obeying him as Lord?”

For today, this remains the question for servants and masters, employees and employers, young people and retired folk and everyone in between. The question: You have a gracious Master in heaven, so are you gratefully serving him?  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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