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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 1045am Svc, 2011-07-03

Text: Colossians 3:22-4:1

Most of us who are adult Singaporeans spend up to half of our time on weekdays at the place where we work. We face a very huge challenge - How to retain our Christian identity in our work place. You may be a CEO, a professional or managerial staff or an office clerk. But does the fact that you are also a Christian affect the way you work? When you leave home for work every morning, do you leave your Christian identity behind? Should you be a worker first and a Christian second, or a Christian first and a worker second? One passage that will help us to have the right perspective of our working life is Colossians 3:22-4:1. In order to understand the background that leads up to this passage we shall start our reading from v.12. 

In this passage, Paul begins to give practical instructions to the Colossians by reminding them of what they are now. They are no more children of the world living under God's wrath. Because Christ has saved them, they have become the elect of God, holy and beloved! And so they must live differently from before. Their lives should now exhibit new virtues such as compassion, humility, patience, peace, gratitude and love (vv.12-15). But above all, their lives from henceforth must be focused on the Lord Jesus Christ (vv.16-17). This is in keeping with what had been taught so well in the first chapter of Colossians concerning the pre-eminence of Christ. Thus, the minds of these Colossian Christians should be filled with the Word of Christ, their hearts should be singing with grace to Christ, and all that they do should be done in the name of Christ.

In all this we are actually no different from the Colossians. Because of what we have become through Christ - the elect of God, holy and beloved - we must live lives that are different from before. Our lives should exhibit the very same virtues that are mentioned in vv.12-15, and we should be focused on Christ in our minds, in our hearts and in all that we do. Only then will we be a shining testimony that may lead others to find salvation in Christ.

Such Christ-centred living should first of all be applied to our home life. This is dealt with in vv.18-21. Christian wives, husbands, children and fathers are to be different from non-Christian wives, husbands, children and fathers. And the details of this have already been covered in our last quarter's sermons. But in the rest of the passage, we see that Christian servants and masters ought to be different from non-Christian servants and masters. This injunction is very applicable to Christians who work as employees and employers. And what we need to know is how different should we be as workers? Firstly, we should have-

I. A Different View of Our Respective Roles

You will notice that in v.22 servants are being addressed. The word 'servants' here actually refers to slaves. And the word 'masters' at the beginning of the next chapter refers to those who owned these slaves. This brings out an interesting phenomenon in the early church - that slavery continued to exist among Christians despite the fact that all of them were equal in Christ, and hence all class distinctions should be abolished. In v.11 of our text Paul had written that, 'there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.' (cf. Galatians 3:28)

Because of this, you would find Christian slaves and Christian masters worshipping together within the same church. On Sundays they would come to church and sit together to praise and worship God. They were all fellow brothers in Christ, and of equal standing before God. But when they were at home, Christian slaves accepted their subservient role to their masters. The Colossian church had one master-and-slave relationship that we know of - Philemon and Onesimus. The details are recorded in the Book of Philemon. Philemon was a prominent member of this church and a convert of the apostle Paul. Onesimus was Philemon's slave, who had stolen from Philemon and run away to Rome to avoid arrest and punishment. But somehow he met Paul in Rome and was gloriously saved through him. Onesimus then became a devoted servant to Paul. But Paul knew that he could not keep Onesimus because he belonged to Philemon, and he has to face the consequences of his crime of stealing and running away.

Roman law gave Philemon full rights to have Onesimus executed for these crimes. But Paul wrote a letter, asking him to apply Christian love and forgiveness to Onesimus, and Paul even offered to pay Philemon whatever the slave had stolen from him. Thus Onesimus returned to Colossae bearing this letter to his master, and was no longer resentful of his role as a slave because he was changed by Christ. The injunction in Colossians 3:22 for slaves to obey their masters in all things was meant for Onesimus and for other Christian slaves in Colossae.

From this, we see that the Gospel of Christ did not bring about the abolition of slavery at that time. This would come about only many centuries later. The reason for this is that slavery was very deeply entrenched in society at that time - about one-third of the population of Roman Italy were slaves! It was not something that could be eradicated overnight. But the Gospel of Christ did transform radically the way that Christians slaves and masters in the early church viewed their respective roles. Paul did not tell Christian slaves to seek freedom from slavery. Instead, he instructed them to fulfil their role well by being good and obedient slaves to their masters. Neither did Paul persuade the Christian masters to release their slaves. Instead, he instructed them to fulfil their role well by giving their slaves fair and just treatment. Now what has all this to do with us?

As Christians, we should understand that God has appointed each of us to fulfil a role in the community, whether as a doctor, accountant, bus driver, teacher, lawyer or soldier. And God has blessed us with certain capabilities that fit us for the particular role He has given. E.g. Bezaleel the son of Uri was tasked to construct all the furniture of the Tabernacle and he was gifted with artistic skills for his task (see Exodus 31:1-5). The same thing was true for other people in Scripture: Our Lord Jesus was a carpenter. Paul was a tent-maker. Luke was a doctor, and Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen. Likewise each of us must see our work not merely as a job that we hold to make a living, but as a God-given role that He expects us to fulfil well.

And God may see fit to change our roles as circumstances change. E.g. Moses' role was changed from prince, to shepherd, and then to deliverer of Israel. Joseph's role was changed by God from slave to prime minister, and he fulfilled both of these roles very well. Nehemiah's role was changed from being a king's cup-bearer to being a builder of the walls of Jerusalem and he fulfilled both these roles well.

The way that you view your role in your place of work will definitely affect the way you work. You will be a better worker if you see it differently from the world. The world largely regards work as a necessary evil. It is something that everyone has to do in order to get more money for play and enjoyment. Work is undesirable and stressful, while play is very desirable and restful. Work is useful only as far as it enables man to play and indulge all his lusts and worldly desires in leisure and fun-filled activity.

But to us who are saved, work is not to be viewed as a necessary evil. It is a gift from God. We see work as something good and useful. It gives us the opportunity to learn how to be patient, responsible and diligent. Through work, we can develop initiative, creativity and social skills that will make us more useful both to God and to our fellow man. When God made man, He did not make man to play, but to work. Adam was not placed in the Garden of Eden to frolic and laze around under its shady trees. He was placed there to work! Genesis 2:15 tells us that 'the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.' Besides having a different view from the world of our respective roles, being a Christian also means that we must apply-

II. A Different Set of Principles to Apply

The world has its own set of principles when it comes to work. E.g. 'Work smart, not hard. Get everything that you can get by all means, but don't get caught.' Bosses would therefore exploit their workers to the fullest and use them to swell their company's coffers. Employees would soon learn to deceive their bosses, take sick leave when they are not sick, and use various means to get more benefits from their company.

The masters and slaves in Paul's time were doing the very same thing. From Colossians 4:1 we can infer that there were masters who did not give their slaves what was just and equal. From Col 3:22 we can infer that many slaves were not obedient to their masters in all matters, and were diligent only when their masters were watching them. And what motivation would they have to do more than that? Slaves had no freedom and no personal rights. They received no payment for all their hard work except their daily rations of food and a place to sleep. They only obeyed their masters out of fear - the fear of what their masters would do to them if they refused to obey. Earlier on we had seen the example of Onesimus - in his unsaved state, this slave stole his master's goods and ran away.

But all this had to change when slaves became Christians. According to v.22 they must now obey their earthly masters in all things. This means that there cannot be any hidden disobedience at all. They cannot just give an outward show of obedience, but it has to be an obedience from the heart. Why? Because the one they should fear now is not their earthly master who cannot see everything they do, but their heavenly Master who sees all things. 

The same thing applied to earthly masters who became Christians. They had to change the way they handled their slaves. They must now treat them as fellow human beings, who are made in the image of God. They must love them and take good care of their welfare, always remembering that they have a Master in heaven who watches how well they treat their slaves.

How does this apply to Christian workers? It means that you must treat all your subordinates equally well and you must not make demands of them which are unreasonable. If you are a subordinate, it means that you must do all things honestly at work, even those things that your boss may never see or know anything about. Harry Ironside, a famous Bible teacher, used to tell his students of the maid who was asked how she knew she had really become a Christian. She replied, 'I know I'm a Christian because I sweep under the rugs now!'

Those of us who are in the working world will face situations where moral decisions have to be made. For instance, as you travel with a colleague on a business trip, she suggests that you bring along some expensive clothes that you do not intend to use on the trip. When you ask her why you should do this, she says, 'Well, in this way you can get them all dry-cleaned at the hotel and have it covered as a business expense. Isn't this smart?' Should you take up her suggestion?

Here is another situation: Your boss has just told you that he plans to retire from the company in 2 years' time and that he wants you to prepare to take over his post. But unknown to him, your own plans are to leave the company for further studies in 2 years' time, and to use the 2 years' salary from your job to pay for your studies. If you were to tell your boss what your plans are, you may find yourself out of a job very soon. So should you tell your boss now, or should you wait until the 2 years are almost up before you tell him?

In these situations, it is extremely tempting to do what everyone else would do. As many people would say, 'When in Rome, just do as the Romans do, if you know what's good for you.' There are things going on in the workplace everyday that are questionable and not entirely above board, but the common thinking is, 'Since everyone knows about it and everybody's doing it, then it must be OK.' Taking sick leave when they are not sick, taking advantage of other employees, asking a trusted colleague to clock in or clock out for them - these are all an accepted part of workplace culture. And when you are in it, it can be very hard to be different from the rest. 

Some years ago a member of our Filipina service who worked as a nurse in a local hospital was posted to a department that handles abortions. She objected to the posting because she knew that having any part in the killing of unborn babies would displease God. At first she was told that she may be sacked if she rejects the posting. But later on the hospital administration decided that she was too valuable to be removed, and so she was posted to another department and was able to keep her job. The Lord will honour those who honour Him (1 Samuel 2:30).

Please remember this: We have a different set of principles from the world in doing our work - God's moral law. This applies even to enjoying the company's fringe benefits. As Christians we should never take more than what is fair for us to receive. We must therefore be careful how we use expense accounts. Expense accounts allow employees to fund business trips, to purchase necessary office equipment or to impress potential clients over dinner. But even the most responsible employees have probably taken at least a bit of liberty with their company's expense accounts, for instance, taking a limousine taxi when they could have walked a few blocks to the hotel, or ordering the most expensive food item on the menu for themselves. 

The expense account is a privilege, not a right. You must use it with care to retain your employer's trust. Do not treat it as an ATM machine to finance exotic vacations for yourself, or dinners at 5-star restaurants or other personal expenses under the guise of 'business expenses.' When such abuse of company funds comes into public view, the consequences will be nothing short of scandalous. 

But even if this never comes into public view, it will always come under the view of our all-seeing God. God is interested in every part of your life, and that includes all the things that you do at work. And He requires you to glorify Him even through your working life. This brings us now to another way that we are to be different from the world in our working life. We have-

III. A Different Master to Work for (v.23)

Verse 23 says, 'And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.' The real boss that you are working for is not your human boss but the Lord Jesus. You are a servant of Christ. Many people think that in order to be a servant of Christ they have to resign from their secular job and go into fulltime ministry as a pastor or a missionary. If you think that way, you are utterly mistaken. The truth is that every type of work you do should be regarded as service to our Lord Jesus. Being a manager, accountant, postman or garbage collector is no less glorifying to God than being a pastor or full time Christian worker if you do the work in a biblical way.

So please think about this now: If you treat your work in the office as your service to Christ and regard Him as your actual boss at work, how would you carry out each day's work? Would you dare to do less than what is required of you? Would you always arrive late at the work place? Would you take sick leave if you are not sick? No, if Christ is your boss I'm sure you would want to work cheerfully and diligently without complaining. I'm sure you would want to treat your colleagues and subordinates with kindness and respect. And you would want to do all these things not to advance your own personal agenda or your career but to advance His fame and His glory. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, 'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.'

This also applies to any work that you may not like to do. You see, v.22 says that you are to 'obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.' Does this mean I have to do a task that I really dislike? Yes, if it happens to be part of your work responsibility. But what if I end up doing it only to impress my boss? Then it becomes eyeservice which is merely putting on an act. A Christian worker is to do all that is required of him well whether or not his boss is watching him, because he does it as to the Lord Jesus, and not unto men.

But doing this consistently is very difficult. It goes against our sinful nature. We will naturally not like to do what we don't like unless we can gain something worthwhile out of it. We crave for some tangible rewards, and we really dislike doing more than what we are paid to do. We keep regarding our work as a necessary evil that we have to endure just to get the money we need for living and playing. Or we go to the other extreme of turning work into an idol - we become 'workaholics' who neglect our families and our walk with God. How can we stop ourselves from falling into all these wrong and worldly attitudes to work? 

We can do it only by relying on our Master's help. Our Lord Jesus is the One who provides all the resources we need to overcome sin and to glorify Him in our work place. Please look at verse 17 of our text, which says 'And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.' Everything has to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. This means that we give glory and honour to His name, by acknowledging that it is only by His grace and strength alone that we can do all things. The accompanying words 'giving thanks to God and the Father by Him' show that this is the intended meaning. When we recognize that all we have done is possible only by the Lord's grace, then thanksgiving for that grace becomes the most natural thing to do.

Jesus Himself has said that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). You can't be a good worker unless His power works in you. You can't overcome that sinful nature inside you without Him. That is why you must seek His grace at the beginning of each work-day in order to be a good worker. When you step into your office or work station every morning what is the first thing you should do? Commit the day to the Lord and ask Him for grace to go through it. What should you do at the end of the day before you leave the office? Thank Him that His grace has seen you through another day at work. 

And whenever you have a bad day when all your hard work seems to be completely unrecognised and unrewarded, let this point you to another way in which you must be different from the world. You work for-

IV. A Different Kind of Reward to Hope for (v.24)

Verse 24 tells us, 'Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.' These words would really have given those first century slaves in Colossae the best motivation to obey their masters in all things and to do it heartily. Why? Because no household slave could ever hope to receive any inheritance from their master since that was reserved only for their master's sons. It was the most unthinkable and undeserved honour for a slave to be treated as an heir. 

And this is the kind of reward we ought to look forward to in our working life. You see, even when we have done our work obediently for the glory of God in the roles He has given to us on earth, we are unprofitable slaves - we have only done that which was our duty to do (Luke 17:20). And yet the Lord is pleased to make us His heirs. The Lord is pleased to reward us with a heavenly inheritance. And this is far better than any monetary remuneration or bonus we can ever receive because it is totally undeserved. This inheritance is given to us out of God's marvellous grace and favour through our Lord Jesus Christ - The same grace that was manifested on the cross where Jesus died; the same grace that has delivered us out of sin and darkness to dwell in His marvellous light; the same grace that works in us after we are saved that transforms us gradually into the image of Christ; the same grace that keeps us from falling and preserves us to the end until we inherit eternal life. Isn't God's grace actually the best reward that we can ever receive? 

And God's grace is also the best reward you can receive at work. It may be shown to you in very unexpected ways. He may grant you favour in the sight of your boss (as he did for Joseph in Egypt and for Daniel in Babylon). Or He may replace the management of your company with a better one so that everyone enjoys better treatment and there is peace in your work place. Or God may remove every obstacle that hinders your work so that all your efforts become fruitful. Your colleagues will say that it must be due to your luck or good fortune, but you know that it is nothing but the undeserved blessings you received from God's matchless grace. 

I would like you to consider how privileged you are to be a recipient of God's grace, and how this wonderful grace should now compel you to live and work differently from the world - with a different view of your role at work, with a different set of principles to apply at work, with a different Master to work for, and with a different kind of reward to hope for. May the grace of our Lord Jesus compel us to live the way that Christians ought to live in our work environment.

Vision & Mission


To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

February 18 & 25 - Fruit of Obedience

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10