This week's Bible Study - March 9, 2014
Who We Work For
Quote of the Week:
"I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."
Jerome K. Jerome
When you are meeting someone for the first time, what is the first question you ask? Perhaps it is not the most universal question, but for many people, the question is "What do you do for a living?" Certainly, not everyone has a job, but it is one of the most common aspects of individuals no matter where they live or what their background is. Perhaps we put too much worth on a person's career or occupation, as the same person could be working at a fast food restaurant or in a large corporation, or any other job. It may depend on the drive of the individual, their financial situation and ability to attend or not attend college, who they know or if they have caught a lucky break.
I (Don) have been blessed to be able to be able to work at the same company for nearly 30 years now. The company has changed names and I have worked on several different programs, but it has all been with the same company. While some of the jobs have been rather rewarding, some of them have been frustrating. Some of them have caused many sleepless nights and some of them have caused me to learn a lot of new things. While being at the same company may have been the norm in the past, it would appear that the experience of most people is and will continue to be to work for different employers over the course of their employment life. I have friends that have held multiple jobs and seem to be going from place to place every couple of years. Often, they choose to go from one place to another and at other times, they have been let go, often due to cutbacks and a bad economy.
As believers, it is important that we understand the type of attitude we should have about our jobs or the work we do. The same holds true whether we are working for a company, ourselves or even if we are volunteering somewhere. Too often, we tend to get caught up into thinking that our jobs are all about us, which can lead to problems. It certainly is helpful if you enjoy your job, but you can be certain that you will come across some jobs you just don't like. In some workplaces, you may work with a lot of good people and in other places you may feel like an outcast. Additionally, as believers, it is crucial that our views regarding work come from God's word, as opposed to prevailing thoughts in your workplace.
What problems have you seen in the relationship between employers and employees? I often think of the unions and how vital they were and are in certain industries. When employees are subjected to unsafe conditions and are treated grossly unfairly, unions have served a purpose. However, in many cases, unions and other organized labor have caused more problems than they have helped. We have seen strikes and walkouts and such to promote change. In some cases, change has occurred and in some cases, businesses have shut down. We have seen how strikes can paralyze a nation, cause harm to the economy and even lead to violence and murder. Obviously, when this happens, something has gone very wrong.
For many people, this passage is passed over, as it talks about slaves and masters. But if you were to read chapter 5 and 6 you would see that Paul is giving advice to people in who fall into many different relationships and counseling them on how to behave, get along and be respectful of one another, so that their actions please the Lord. Maybe people would pay more attention if it said employees and employers. In the 1st Century, nearly half of the population of the Roman Empire was slaves. So, you can imagine that there were many Christian slaves and masters. While there is no distinction between believers in Christ, there is a distinction when it comes to slaves and masters. And, while we may not consider ourselves to be slaves, each of us that work for others do voluntarily sell ourselves (our talents and abilities) for a period of time.
The key activity that is required in this verse is obedience. When we think of obedience, we normally think of following orders. Some people don't want to have anyone else tell them what they should do, but it is clear that the employee is to be obedient to the employer. We know that obedience is needed for the parent / child relationship and when that is not adhered to, there is bound to be difficulties in that relationship as well. Note that this passage says nothing about conditional obedience. There is nothing about protesting or other activity based on unfair conditions.
Some will look at this and say that this passage doesn't speak to the difficulties that they face in a job. I know some people have some pretty intense issues at work, but given that this is written to slaves, we should realize that there is not much worse of a 'job' to have, and even then, the Bible says that the slave is to be obedient. When employees choose to be disobedient and solve their problems by force, it perpetuates the problem and often leads to more violence.
Along with obedience, there is an attitude that is identified. We are to be obedient with fear and trembling. This fear and trembling is not towards your boss, but towards God. I suppose that some people do fear their boss, but we are accountable in life to God, in all aspects of our lives. We should seek to please the Lord, and not the boss. When we begin to lose perspective in that area, we will find that we have problems in all areas of life, including our work.
In our work, we should not be putting on a show and we should not be men pleasers. If you've had a job anywhere, from fast food to a large corporation, you have undoubtedly seen people that act busy when the boss is around but are idle at other times. There are others that seem to want to put on a show for others. Don't let this be you! We are truly servants of God and our service is to be to the Lord, even at our jobs.
When we are employed by others, we do have to take direction from them and follow their orders as we work. But, we are to be working for the Lord and not for men. Rather than threatening others, they need to be fair with others. I remember a boss that was in my area many years ago. He was what you would call a hothead. When things went wrong or when someone fell behind, he resorted to yelling. He was directed to take a Stress Management class, and after a couple of sessions, he got more upset and quit the class. He was expecting to learn how to manage using stress as a motivator, as opposed to managing his own stress. We all got a big laugh out of that, although he didn't think it was so funny.
Whether you are working for others or if you have others that work for you, we all need to remember that we have a common master in heaven. We are to enlist in His company and do the work He has called us to do. In God's plan, there is no partiality. We automatically rank workers in a workplace, based on skill and aptitude. However, when we come before God, we are the same in Christ. The key is to be found in Christ, and to realize the life impacting change that can come through Christ. It may not change your situation, but Christ will change your attitude.
Ephesians 6:7 says, "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people." This passage has much to teach us about HOW we serve others - whether it is within a paid job, a volunteer position or our own family. This also includes serving those we don't really like. This could be quite literally anyone. It could be a co-worker, someone you volunteer on a committee with, a neighbor, a family member or even a former family member. Then there are other times we have to serve someone who we think Is undeserving of service. Several years ago, I was faced with a decision to show kindness to someone who had been very unkind to me and my family. As I did what needed doing, I kept quoting the passage in Ephesians 6:7 - I am doing this as if I am doing it for the Lord….…. Over and over again I said this to myself. It might sound like a trivial thing to use as an example, but I can honestly tell you this was a very hard decision to make and to follow through on. I know that God was doing something in my life. He was asking me if I would be kind to someone who had been anything but kind to me….because it was what God wanted…not what the other person deserved.
So regardless of the situation, we need to step back and ask ourselves how we can serve this person or people as if we are serving the Lord. It doesn't mean you become a doormat, but when you have the opportunity to show the love of Christ and extend Grace to someone else, do you? You realize the word grace means showing someone favor when they deserve the opposite, which is exactly what Jesus gave us on the cross. How can you serve those around you as if you were serving the Lord? What would it look like for that to happen? I don't know you or your situation, but I know that every day you are given the choice to serve self or others….whom will you serve today?
I have no idea if you are working or not. I don't know if your experience with work has been rewarding or disappointing. We all will have highs and lows throughout a career. You will likely have some jobs that you despise and others that you love. However, in the midst of either, we are to have the same attitude. This is very difficult when layoffs happen and you see people that lose their jobs. This may have even happened to you, and has sullied your view of work.
God has given us purpose and part of that is through the things we do in life. Are you willing to give your best in your job, or in whatever pursuit you have, knowing that you are truly working for God in all you do?