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Labor Relations to the Glory of God
1 Timothy 6:1-2b
I’m so thankful for Faith Bible Church . . . for you all. So thankful for the privilege of serving here. I’m thankful for my job. There are lots of jobs I wouldn’t want to do. For instance, I would not like the job of a tower climber. I’m not really excited about working with big cats either–not only because of the danger, but I don’t think I could pull off the leather costume either.
Working with crocs is not my idea of a great job. I wouldn’t really enjoy being one of those people who follow behind the horses in a parade either, being a pooper scooper–that doesn’t seem very exciting to me. There are other jobs that would not be enjoyable. For instance, cleaning porta-loos. Working the porta-loo business is not my idea of fun.
Also, being a trash sorter would be kind of boring. Trimming ingrown toenails–I couldn’t really get excited about that. And my least favorite of all–a job that no one in their right mind should want. The body-odor-smeller job–not a nice occupation choice. Would anyone really dream of landing that job?
Listen, there are a lot of undesirable jobs in the world–jobs that we would obviously try to avoid. But here is what’s interesting–in a recent Gallup poll, 50% of American workers said they were not happy with their current employment. Half the American workforce doesn’t like their jobs, or their bosses, or their work conditions, or their pay. And that tells us a lot about the contentedness (or discontentedness) of today’s workforce in America.
Now you would think that in the Church of God, where Christians have a more eternal perspective and a worldview that allows them to live above their circumstances, that that statistic would be quite different. And yet even Christian employees still have to grapple at times with demanding work conditions and difficult bosses.
And so the question we want to answer this morning is this–how does a Christian employee conduct himself (or herself) in a way that glorifies God, even if salary, work conditions, leadership, and personal rewards are severely lacking? How does a Christian worker navigate the sometimes-trying experience of serving a mean, unkind, ungrateful, unethical, unbelieving employer?
Today’s passage is short, it’s to the point and it answers those questions very clearly. If you’re new to us here at Faith Bible Church, we’ve been working our way through the book of First Timothy and today we are in chapter 6. And the subject in the first two verses of chapter 6 is “Labor Relations to the Glory of God.”
Let’s read 1 Timothy 6:1-2b now. It’s only two verses long, and Paul gets right to the heart of the matter. “All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against. 2 Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.”
Verse 2 continues, but we’ll pick up that last phrase next week, because I think it really connects with the next section. So what I want to do here is to simply walk through the text and see Paul’s argument. It won’t take us long and I’ve reduced it down to a simple outline. It’s in your notes and it’s on the screen. The first thing Paul does is give a general command to all Christian workers. He says . . .
1. Honor your boss
In verse 1 he says, “You need to consider them as worthy of all honor.” It’s not determined on whether your boss deserves honor or not–you are to give it anyway. It doesn’t matter if your employer is good or bad–you are to honor them. It doesn’t matter if your supervisor is nice or unkind–you are to honor them.
Now let me give you a little context. In Paul’s day, as the Gospel was spreading like wildfire–slaves, among others, were getting saved and they were learning Gospel truths. And one of those Gospel truths taught by Paul in Galatians 3:28 was, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And that’s true–slaves and freemen are equal in the eyes of God.
These slaves were hearing this–but they also needed to know that just because there is equality in Jesus doesn’t mean that a Christian slave can dishonor his master. That’s why Paul writes this command. Imagine what would happen to the testimony of the Church if unbelievers could say that Christian slaves were not as dependable as non-Christian salves.
Imagine if a business owner said that he’d rather employ non-Christians than Christians. That would be terrible for the testimony of Christ and for the spread of the Gospel. That’s why Paul gives two reasons here why Christian slaves should honor their master.
A. So God would not be discredited
B. So the Gospel would not be discredited
Listen folks, you have the power, in your work context, to cause people to either speak against your God or to speak well of your God. You have the influence that will either cause people to be impressed by the character of your beliefs or to cause them to be turned off by them. It says it right there in verse 1.
So the question for you today is, what kind of employee are you going to be? Each and every day you turn up in your place of work and you have a decision to make. “Today, am I going to make Christianity look good by my lifestyle, or am I going to give it no effort–no thought whatsoever and go ahead and discredit the Gospel by living selfishly?”
It’s a daily decision. If you’re a lazy worker, if you’re disrespectful of your job and workmates, if you’re always late, if you don’t work hard–the worst consequence for you is not that you might be fired or demoted or held back from promotion. No–the worst consequence is that you will bring God’s reputation into disrepute. And that is far worse than being fired, because now you’re messing with God. And you don’t want to do that.
Don’t do that to God. Don’t do that to Christ. Don’t do that to the Gospel and doctrine of God. We need to discover how to honor our bosses. There’s something we have to learn as Christians. Becoming a follower of Christ does not release us from obligation. And it doesn’t deliver us from unpleasant conditions either. Being a Christian means that we embrace difficult circumstances with joy, knowing that in those trials we have the opportunity to display the glories of Christ.
You see, as Christians we have to change our mindset because we’ve been sucked in by the errant thinking of this world. The world has told us that we should expect job satisfaction. The world has told us that our work should make us feel good about ourselves. The world has convinced us that employment will give us some self-esteem.
But that’s all pagan psychobabble. The primary reason to work is not even to make money. No–the primary reason to have a job, and to be faithful, and to be a living testimony, and to work hard is because it glorifies God. Your work is an act of worship. That’s why Paul says when you go to work, honor your boss–because in doing so, you will make God and His Gospel look wonderful. Then in verse two, Paul moves onto . . .
2. Two specific commands to employees of Christians
A. Don’t disrespect your Christian boss
If your boss is a fellow-believer, look at verse 2–he says, “Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them.” Why? Because your Christian boss is family. Because your boss is a brother (or a sister). You don’t do that to a family member. Brothers and sisters love one another. They don’t look down on each other. They don’t think less of one another.
Evidently, Paul needed to say this because some of the Ephesian believers were taking advantage of the fact that their masters were also Christians. In fact, it was very possible that a slave could occupy the position of elder in the church and his master could be one of the lay people in the congregation. And in those situations, it would be easy for that slave to take advantage of the fact that he was the elder and allow himself at home or in the workplace setting to disrespect his master.
B. Serve your Christian boss even more
So Paul says, “Don’t do that!” What you ought to be doing in that scenario is to “serve your Christian boss all the more.” That’s Paul’s second command in verse 2. If your master, if your employer, if your boss is a Christian–“Serve them all the more.”
We don’t take it easy when we know that our boss is a Christian. We don’t assume that he’s going to treat us differently than the other employees who are not Christians. We don’t expect that he will treat us better or go lightly on us. In fact, it’s the opposite–we serve our Christian boss even more conscientiously for two reasons.
First Because he/she is a fellow believer
Second Because he/she is beloved
Listen, if you happen to work for a Christian boss–that should motivate you even more to honor Christ, because you’re in this thing together. You and your boss can combine forces to bring an even stronger testimony to those around you as they observe your wonderfully unexpected, loving, and rightly-ordered relationship. It would be an amazing thing for unbelievers to witness.
Remember when Onesimus, the run-away slave, got saved? Paul sent him back to his Christian master. It was the right thing to do. It would have been wrong for Onesimus to say, “Oh well, now that I’m saved and my master is saved, I’m free to do whatever I want!” No, the fact that he got saved increased his responsibility to return to Philemon and fulfill his duty.
Now those are our two verses for this morning. Like I said, the passage is brief. It’s not difficult to understand these two verses. But there are some issues here. You would have noticed that I have used some terms interchangeably. I have freely interchanged the terms “slave” and “employee”, and I have also freely combined the terms “master” and “employer” or “boss”. And maybe you’re wondering if that’s even appropriate.
Okay, let’s deal with that question. What was slavery like in the Old and New Testaments, and what crossovers, if any, does it have to labor relations today? It’s an important question, because if there’s no overlap, this whole sermon is roasted–sunk, kaput, and we’re done. But if there are similarities, then we can work from those.
So let’s talk about slavery in the Bible. The first thing we have to do right off the bat is dispel any notions that slavery in the Bible was the same as the terrible human trafficking and ethnic segregation that was practiced here in the dark days of American history. No Christian here in this church endorses that kind of torture and misuse of people, and neither does Paul.
If you go back to chapter 1 of 1 Timothy, in verses 9 and 10, the Apostle Paul himself condemned kidnappers along with immoral men, liars, and murderers. So whatever Paul had in his mind as he addressed masters and slaves, it had nothing to do with an organized system of kidnapping, murder, racial segregation, or abusive behavior.
So when we talk about slaves and masters in Scripture, you can’t be thinking about the evil African slave-trade, because that’s not the system Paul lived in. Throughout the Old Testament, we find very honored servants called slaves, who enjoyed many of the same blessings in the household as the master’s own children.
In fact, just a couple weeks ago we read in Genesis 24, those who are doing the FBC Bible reading plan, that Abraham trusted his beloved slave to go out and find a daughter for his son Isaac. That’s an important task. But such was the trusting, loving, personal relationship between the master Abraham and his servant that he would even do that. Slaves were considered part of the family.
When you get to the New Testament, there were more than 50 million slaves in the Roman Empire. In fact, most historians would say that one third of the occupants of Rome were slaves–a third of that society. That’s a lot of people.
In most cases, those slaves were better off than regular citizens in the city. They were certainly better off than day-laborers, who would stand on the street corner waiting for work each day. Most slaves were welcomed into the household and were provided food, clothing, housing, education, and healthcare–not just for them, but often for their entire family.
And don’t be thinking that slaves got the worst jobs, either. New Testament slaves were often well-trained and well-educated. They could be the barber, or the butler, and the cook–but they were also the family lawyer, business manager, accountant, and medical doctor. In fact, most commentators believe that Dr. Luke, who traveled with Paul and wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was a slave who served in the household of the most excellent Theophilus.
So in this sense, the master-slave relationship closely parallels the employer-employee relationships of today. In many cases, becoming a slave was a desirable thing to do. Now listen–the system wasn’t perfect and there were abuses that came from the hearts of evil men, just like there are evil men today who abuse the rules of employment law in capitalist America. But those are the exceptions, not the norm.
So with all that in mind, understanding that abuses can happen, there are still many more parallels between the slavery of Bible times and modern-day contracted work arrangements that we see today. So yes, the principles that Paul applied to slaves in his day do apply today in our system of employment. So we’re not going to throw today’s two verses under the bus.
Now let’s bring it back to 2018. God wants Christian employees to consider their boss worthy of all honor–okay, how do we do that? How do I work in a way that glorifies God and His Gospel? To answer that question, I want us to read four passages that lay it out very clearly.
The first passage is Ephesians 6:5 to 8. What’s interesting about this text is that both this passage and the one we are studying in 1 Timothy are directed to the same church in Ephesus. Timothy was in Ephesus, so now this church has been schooled twice on this issue. This is what Paul said the first time around. Look at it in your notes or on the screen.
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free” (Ephesians 6:5 to 8).
But Paul didn’t stop there, because he also wrote to the church in Colossae. Look at this. “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:22 to 24).
And then to Titus he wrote, “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:9 to 10).
And lastly, in what I think is one the most clarifying passages of all, Peter says this in 1 Peter 2,”Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:18 to 21).
You want God to look favorably at you? Be willing to suffer for righteousness sake in the workplace. Verse 21 is so important to understand, folks. Christians were not only elected before the foundation of the world, but they were elected, predestined, called for the purpose of suffering. You were chosen, handpicked by God to follow in Christ’s footsteps. And since He suffered, then so too we will suffer if we live by His commandments.
Don’t run from suffering for righteousness’ sake. Don’t try to escape from it. Embrace it in the same way Jesus did. These verses are so helpful for us to define exactly how God expects us to turn up to work each day.
Okay, let’s do this. One author takes these Bible texts and reduces them down to workplace principles. I want to give them to you because I think they’re helpful. If you practice these nine workplace principles, you can be sure you are pleasing our Lord. Here we go.
1. Believers are to serve their employers obediently (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22)
They must dutifully, submissively respond to their employer’s orders. Understand your boss is in authority over you. You’re not there to do your will. You’re there to do his.
2. Believers are to serve their employers completely (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22)
They are to carry out whatever tasks are assigned to them. We don’t get to pick and choose what we want to do. We do all of what they want. We’re not supposed to make their job harder. We aid them by completely fulfilling all of their assignments—unless, of course, it would be sinful for us to do so. I’m going to speak to that issue soon.
3. Believers are to serve their employers respectfully (Ephesians 6:5)
They must honor those God has placed in authority over them. Speak highly of your boss, even when other employees are trashing them. When your boss treats you badly, respond in humility and self-control. Put on the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t get sucked into work-mate gossip about your supervisor. Don’t even listen to that stuff. Respect your boss’s position and understand his responsibilities and the weight on his shoulders. Try to make their job easier.
4. Believers are to serve their employers eagerly, in sincerity of heart (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22)
They should serve voluntarily, not grudgingly. Don’t complain about the workload. Don’t complain about having to turn up every day, or poor conditions. Instead, show initiative. If you see something that needs attention, take care of it. Arrive early with an attitude of eager service. Offer to work additional hours to get a project signed off on time.
5. Believers are to serve their employers excellently, as to Christ
They must do their jobs to the best of their ability, as if they are working for God Himself. Pretend Jesus is your boss. How would that change things? You’d be the first to arrive. You’d be the last to leave. Go above and beyond. Under-promise and over-deliver. Exceed everyone’s expectations–not to impress them for your sake, but to make your God look wonderful.
6. Believers are to serve their employers honestly, “not by way of eyeservice” (Ephesians 6:6, cf. Colossians 3:22)
They must not put on a show for the boss by working hard only when he is watching. Own your failures. When I was 14, I worked on an egg farm (or is it a chicken farm?) after school. A co-worker and I dropped 6,000 eggs when a container overturned. We cleaned it up, hoping our boss wouldn’t find out–but he did find out. What do you think that did to my Christian testimony at the time? Honesty goes a long way to reflect Christ in the workplace.
7. Believers are to serve their employers humbly, not “as men-pleasers” (Ephesians 6:6, cf. Colossians 3:23)
They are not to show off to man. Pride will kill your testimony. Don’t convince yourself to think that you know better than your boss. It’s his business. It’s his division. It’s his unit. Humble yourself and do it his way. The success of the Gospel is more significant than the lot of any one individual.
8. Believers are to serve their employers spiritually, “doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6)
All work is sacred and performed ultimately for the glory of God. Our heart has to be right. We take that job to put God’s glory on display. We turn up each day to do God’s will and He wants us to work hard. So we do it for Him. It’s a spiritual work of service.
9. Believers are to serve their employers eschatologically, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.”
Listen, we are all going to stand before God and He is going to judge us on how we worked at our jobs. If you want rewards in eternity, then honor your boss today.
Okay, these are the nine workplace principles from Scripture. If you practice these, you will prove your commitment to God and His Gospel. And you’ll be rewarded accordingly in Heaven.
Now we need to finish our time this morning discussing a few ethical questions, because we live in a day when we have more choice than ever before. No one tells you who to work for. You can choose your own employer. You have the freedom to interview for a position and make up your own mind whether you want to take that job if it’s offered to you.
That good, God-given and lawful freedom that we enjoy has actually created some ethical problems for us–and I have three for you. Can a Christian be in a labor union and can a Christian go on strike? What if my boss is unethical or doing something illegal? What if my boss is downright unreasonable? Those are the three ethical questions I want to answer, so let’s jump right in.
1. Can a Christian join a labor union or go on strike?
Unions exist to stand for the rights of workers–that’s why they are there. That corporate bargaining power of a union is engaged to compel companies to treat their workers in a fair way. But if a Christian employee is supposed to be more interested in his employer’s success than his own, then surely joining a labor union is exactly what Christians ought not to do.
Would Jesus have gone on strike? Certainly not to improve his own lot in life. But He did speak up when others were being mistreated. He did protest when God’s glory was being defiled. The overturning of the moneychangers’ tables at the Temple is a great example. Let’s think about this.
If 1 Peter 2 says anything, it says this. Even if the company we work for is unreasonable, we should still submit. In fact, we ought to be willing to suffer personally in that situation, learning to trust God, because by doing so we are following in Christ’s footsteps–that’s 1 Peter 2. So it seems then that striking for a pay increase is not something that would be appropriate for a believer.
But it’s not always that easy, is it? Some of you belong to a union because you can’t work in your chosen profession without first joining the authorized union. Some of you pay union fees because it is mandated. Teachers, construction workers, cops, firemen and others often find themselves in a situation where they are contractually obliged to follow along with union decisions.
So in that situation, if a Christian decided not to strike with the rest of the union, he or she would at the same time be breaking a contract made to that group of people, thereby failing to keep a promise and committing sin in the eyes of God. So it becomes very complicated and each situation would need to be evaluated according to its merits.
It’s kind of like when a country goes to war. Some wars are just, in that they are fighting against tyranny and against evil. But some wars are unjust, because they’re simply about extending borders and control and wealth. And so the Christian has to decide whether the cause is just or unjust.
So too in a labor dispute–if the reason for the strike is to get another $1/hour, then a Christian would think twice. If the reason for the strike is because a company is morally and biblically bankrupt, putting kids into slave labor or deliberately putting workers in harm’s way by neglecting to provide safety equipment, then that strike could be warranted.
Just like in war, Christians ought to enter into a strike situation very reluctantly. But Christians should also be concerned for injustice, which means that sometimes it may even be necessary for a Christian to strike. Every labor dispute is going to present unique challenges. I’d say if you were ever in that situation, you’d need to be very wise. You should seek counsel. You should apply all the biblical principles in a balanced and logical fashion and we could help you with that, if it ever came about.
2. What if your employer is immoral or unethical? What if your boss is a liar and a cheat?
I had a boss who was exactly that–he was an engineer who lied to clients. He would invoice clients for incomplete projects. He would make promises he never kept. I was often stuck in the middle of an angry client and a business owner who didn’t care. And I’m there trying to figure out, do I obey my boss who wants to let a project fall over after being paid for it in full? Or do I try to honor my company’s promises to that client–promises that sometimes came from my lips, and contractual obligations agreed to in writing by my pen?
What if your boss wants you to lie? What if he wants you to break the law? What if he is doing illegal things? What do you do? Well, the Bible is clear. In those cases, we are to obey and honor our boss until he asks us to do something that is disobedient to God. It’s like in Acts 4, when the council told Peter and John to stop preaching the Gospel, and they answered, “You be the judge, should we do what God wants us to do, or what man wants us to do?”
The answer was obvious–in Acts 5:29, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” At the point where obeying an earthly authority over us means that we cannot obey the ultimate authority, God, then we turn away from that ungodly, worldly authority and do what pleases God alone. So we have to think each situation through very carefully.
Can a Christian be a whistle-blower? Let’s say you’re a nurse, and your hospital executives tell you that in an effort to save money, they want you to start reusing old needles. What do you do? Well, that would be illegal. That practice is against the law, so you have to say, “No.”
Let’s say you’re a builder, and the construction plans call for a certain kind of steel reinforcing in a concrete foundation, but your boss says, “Oh don’t worry about that. Quickly fill in the concrete and no one will know the difference.” What do you do? Well, you check your heart to make sure your actions are not based on revenge or payback for years of abuse.
Then, with a clear conscience, you attempt to deal with the illegal practice not because of any relationship it has to yourself, but rather out of a concern for others–because you don’t want that building to collapse on someone. Ask yourself—“Is my boss breaking the law? Is my boss harming people?” And if the answer is: “Yes”–then you are no longer bound to submit to your boss, and instead, you do what is right.
That might actually cause a lot of problems for you, but at that point you’ve got no choice. You’ve got to honor Christ.
3. What if your employer is mean to you? What if he or she is always condescending? What if he’s overly critical and never satisfied with your work?
Well, unless you are contractually obligated to stay in that job, and some of you are–whether you’re in the military, or you’ve signed a contract in professional sports, or you’ve landed a project that means you’re committed for a certain amount of time or to meet certain goals. In those cases you’ve simply got to serve your time. You’ve got to keep your promise.
But if there is no contract, then in this modern age you do have the option of finding a new job–right? If your boss is mean, you can give your notice. And it’s even legal to do that. But listen, your job is not primarily about job satisfaction. It’s about the Gospel. It’s not about self-esteem. It’s about making God look good.
But you say, “I don’t deserve that kind of treatment. No one should be allowed to speak to me that way!” Oh really? Jesus put up with much worse! He didn’t run. He didn’t try to escape His difficult circumstances. So I’d say this to you as a pastor—“Leave the job if you have to, but not before landing a new job. Don’t just quit with no prospects.”
But before you decide to move on, remember this. That difficult job and that impossible boss may be God’s good gift to you, to teach you to trust Him and obey Him in the midst of a trial. God may have you there for a reason, and why would any Christian run from God’s good plan?
Now I’m not saying that finding a better job is wrong. I’m not saying that looking for a promotion at a new company is wrong–I’m not. What I am saying is this–in 2018, people have become entitled, and comfortable, and unrealistic, and soft, and they run from any hint of testing. And they rob God of His attempt to grow them into Christlikeness. Please, please don’t run from those God-given situations which are often hard. But instead, embrace them and learn everything you can to be more like Jesus.
We work, first, to glorify God. We work, second, to put the Gospel on display. And frankly, where better do we find the opportunity to live a Christian life in front of unbelievers? The workplace is one of the best mission fields we have. We work, third, to provide for our family. The Bible says, if someone won’t work, neither should they eat.
That’s it—1) God’s glory, 2) the Gospel, and 3) providing for needs. There are no other biblical considerations when it comes to labor relations. Let’s not be distracted by ungodly modern employment philosophes. But instead, may God help us to keep biblical workplace priorities in order. Let’s pray.