• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 9 focuses on Ephesians 6:5-9.
When you are getting acquainted with someone, the conversation inevitably moves to this question, “For whom do you work?” It is a logical question. We spend more time at work than just about anywhere else.
What kind of employees are we? Aaron Gouveia, contributing writer for Salary.com, surveyed 1,000 workers in 2013 and discovered almost 70 percent said they waste time at work every day. Would you fall in the 34 percent who wasted 30 minutes or less? How about the 24 percent who admit to wasting 30 to 60 minutes?
Gouveia found the higher the level of education, the more likely the employee would waste time. People in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana are the biggest time wasters in the nation. Social media, online shopping, sports, entertainment and news are all things on which we use our work time.
What does God want to teach us about the way we approach work? The Apostle Paul’s letter to Ephesus provides valuable insight.
Setting the stage
Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote the letter to the Ephesians. He had spent three years with this congregation teaching and encouraging them. His letter reminded them they were chosen to be holy and blameless. Once they were dead in their sin, but through the grace of God, they were made alive in Christ. He prays they would be rooted and established in the love of Christ. Paul reminds them they are one body, and each member of the body is important so they all can come to maturity in Christ.
Paul worked diligently to help the Ephesians learn to live in light of the gospel. He challenged the church to put off the old sin nature and put on the new self that exemplified true righteousness and holiness. Applying these teachings would alter relationships.
Paul gave concrete examples of new ways to live in Ephesians 4 and 5: Forgive one another. Be kind and compassion. Get rid of anger, bitterness and harsh talk that would demean another. You cannot follow Jesus and keep living like you did before. It is against this teaching that Paul addresses the slave and master relationship.
Slavery was an accepted part of Roman culture during the first century. Paul didn’t argue to abolish the institution of slavery. Instead, he focused on how slaves and masters were to live in relationship to one another.
Slaves were considered legal property with no rights as people. They were viewed as things. They did what their master ordered. To do otherwise resulted in harsh punishment.
Now slaves and masters were coming to Christ. They were worshipping side-by-side in congregations. Colossians 3:11 provides a culture-changing snapshot of what was occurring: “Here there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Their world was being turned upside down.
Paul tells slaves to obey their masters with respect and from a sincere heart. Even as they obeyed Jesus with all they had, so were they to obey their masters.
To obey may have been difficult if the master was cruel, demanding and unreasonable. Paul reminded slaves they were to do their work “as if they were serving the Lord, not men” (Ephesians 6:7). God would reward them fairly for their work.
As radical as Paul’s words were to slaves, his teaching to masters may have been even more so. Basically, he told those who owned slaves to treat them as people, not property. They were not to threaten their slaves. Masters were to do the will of God, even as slaves were.
Masters were reminded they, too, served someone who had authority over them. Slave and master were accountable to God. He shows no favoritism.
Implications for today
The teachings of Jesus radically changed the world. He invited Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female into the kingdom of God with these simple words, “Repent and believe.” That change of mind led to a change in behavior.
Jesus turns our world upside down as well. In 21st century workplaces, are we motivated to work for our employers wholeheartedly because we belong to Christ? Are we time wasters or diligent workers? Employers, do you treat your employees well because by so doing you serve your Master, Jesus?
One of the sad indictments against Christians in our day is that there is so little difference in how we live from those who do not know Jesus. How we do our work is a reflection on our Lord as well as ourselves. How we go about our work is part of our witness, whether we are employee or employer.
Many people came to faith in Christ because Paul understood he worked for God first and served others second. It made all the difference in his life. Does it make that same difference in yours?