Each follower of Jesus, no matter their station in life, is called to work as unto the Lord. Working unto the Lord means that we will avoid a faulty view of work. There are at least four faulty views to avoid.
The first faulty viewpoint is when people think “working as unto the Lord” is just for people in Christian ministry. Avoid the trap of thinking that professional ministry work or church work is somehow more important than other work. It is not. All of our work matters, and that is what Paul is trying to teach us in Colossian 3:22-4:1. Even a slave could work as unto the Lord. Even if you feel satisfied at work less than 80% of the time (see previous post), your work matters, and you can do it unto the Lord. In fact, your work, though it might seem to have no relationship whatsoever to the Kingdom of God, is actually Kingdom work. How so? Check back to the next post as we’ll look into this further.
The second faulty viewpoint is when some pastors or church leaders make it seem like the only important thing in God’s eyes is for you to show up at church and serve on church committees and ministries. While we might not say these words, we church leaders can insinuate that we want you to, “Just get work out of the way so you can get to what is really important…church!” Is it more important?
No doubt active, consistent, sacrificial participation in the relationships of a church family is important, and that’s not me talking. That’s clear in Scripture. But what Paul reminds us here in Colossians 3:22-4:1 is that work is important too. Think about the section of verses from last week and this week: Family and work. The two places most people spend most of their time. How much time do you spend at work or at school each week? You probably spend 40-50 hours each week at work or school. How you use that time is just as important to God as the time you spend in church. In fact, given that you spend so much more time at work than you do in church, I think there is a strong case to be made for viewing how you use that time at work is even more important. God cares about your heart attitude and not just time spent in what would be called by society, “ministry.”
A third faulty viewpoint, Paul refers to in verse 22, when he cautions slaves about only working hard when their master is looking. On a basic level this is something we all understand. The boss walks into the room and all of sudden there is a flurry of activity as the workers, who previously were having a conversation unrelated to work, stop their conversation and get back to work. Clearly, no matter our station in life, we should be people who work hard.
Paul is not, however, saying that we need to be workaholics. We might call that Faulty Viewpoint 3.1. This can be difficult in our contemporary society because more and more people work from home, or work has access to us at all times because of our smart phones. People often say to me that being a pastor must involve the pressure of being on-call in the middle of the night. That’s simply not been my reality. Probably less than five times in 19 years of pastoral ministry have I been called out in the middle of the night. What is my reality, though, is that my phone connects me to the church family all the time. Text messages, phone calls, emails, social media. There is a very real sense in which I’m on call a lot more than pastors were in the old days. Those boundaries and lines get fuzzy. Many of you know this reality in your jobs too. Where do you draw the line? It is hard to know. We need to learn to disconnect, to rest, to take a sabbath. What I see Paul discussing here is the reality of laziness, of procrastination, of irresponsibility. We should be people who are known for being on time, being diligent, reliable, hard workers.
It seems to me, though, that there is a shadow side to hard work, and it might be what is at the heart of workaholism. Let me explain with an illustration from the world of education. Educational theorists and researchers have noted that adult education is vastly different from child education, precisely because adults choose when they want to learn and what they want to learn. Therefore adults tend to be very motivated. A student who barely made it through high school or college may find years later that they get straight As in grad school. This could be due to people who seek to “work as unto the Lord,” and they find their motivation benefited greatly by years of perspective through which they have matured. This could also be due to the fact that adults tend to be the ones paying their tuition bills. But the shadow side is the reality that work and education can give us a kind of high, especially when it results in power, promotions, adulation, achievements, and increasing paychecks. What we have to be careful about is that we don’t equate perfectionism with “working as unto the Lord.” We can achieve high marks and lots of accomplishment, not because we’re worshiping the Lord, but because we are incredibly egotistical or narcissistic, wanting to look good and, in fact, wanting people to praise and worship us. That is not what working as unto the Lord is. Do you see it, again? It is a heart issue: someone’s hard work on the outside does not necessarily equal someone working as unto the Lord.
The final faulty viewpoint Paul gives us about work is in Colossians 4:1, and this is for the bosses. Treat your workers well, because you have a boss too…Jesus. Similarly, James writes in James 5:4, “The wages you have failed to pay the workmen who mow your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” We Christians should be leading the way in paying our workers. We should be known the world around as paying above-average wages, in giving benefits, in graciously and lovingly leading our employees. Churches, especially, should be amazing employers. I was so proud of Faith Church’s Leadership Team last year. When the pandemic hit and our part-time staff were out of work for months, the Leadership team paid them their full amount the entire time! If you have a leadership role of any kind in your school, in your workplace, in your volunteer group, how will you clearly work as unto the Lord in how you treat the people you are responsible for?