I’ve had some pretty lame jobs along the way. I still remember the time I was going to be a professional knife salesman only to end up selling zero knife sets. It seemed people didn’t like a stranger with knives on their front porch, and when you can’t sell a product to your own mother it’s a clear sign you should try something else for summer income.
I’m grateful for the various jobs I’ve had. They always make for good stories and learning opportunities. But as I look back on them, I see a tendency to fall into one of two traps when it comes to work — traps that I think most of us can identify with. We can either view work as a burden or we tend to make it our identity. When either of those two things begin to happen, it hurts our careers and our hearts in the long run. If work is seen as a burden, it will feel like a purposeless grind that we survive until our next day off or vacation. If work is where we look for our identity and worth, then we’re setting ourselves up to either be crushed when our work life doesn’t go as planned, or we will overwork ourselves to death.
For the person who puts their hope in Jesus, the good news is found in the reality that we have been given a new inheritance and a new identity as a child of God. This gives us a purpose to live from rather than a purpose to strive to attain. This foundation rescues us from work becoming a burden or an identity. In Ephesians 6:5–9, Paul says all work should be done “as if you were serving the Lord.” He tells both employees and employers to change their audience and to ask this question: who are you really working for?
The Apostle Paul knew that we all work for an audience, whether we are aware of it or not. Some perform to please parents, others to impress peers and superiors and some work strictly to live up to their own standards. All of these audiences are inadequate. Working for them alone will lead to overwork or underwork, based on who is watching.
As the rescuing power of Jesus sets us free from the potentially heavy burden of work and gives us purpose in our everyday lives, these seven characteristics will come to define our work life:
1. Work courteously and respectfully while remaining humbly confident.Serving with “respect and fear” means two things: by our actions, we value people for who they are as God’s creation, and we’re also not controlled by the opinions of others because we are already captivated with the awe and wonder of God.
2. Work with focus and integrity. Serve with “sincerity of heart,” which is literally translated as “singleness of heart.” The believer has clarity concerning work and must be ethical, not dishonest or duplicitous.
3. Work hard when not being watched. We are to work “not only to win their favor when their eye is on you.” This means we do more than what is only necessary to get by.
4. Work with cheerfulness and joy. Serving “wholeheartedly” (v. 7) means the believer can have a deep joy that goes beyond circumstances because our deepest needs are already met in the treasure of Jesus, not in our work.
5. Work without using guilt or intimidation to motivate people: “Do not threaten them” (v.9).
6. Work looking for ways to further the interests of others. When you lead others, “treat your slaves* in the same way” means you take an interest in coworkers as people and invest in their whole lives, not just in their productive work capacity.
7. Work without acting like you’re better than anyone or showing favoritism. Paul reminds us that class distinctions make no difference to God, and therefore they should not make much difference to us. We are not to be condescending, demeaning or haughty because we realize how much undeserved grace we have received ourselves, in Christ.
Christian workers can think and work in these ways because we have a new motive for work. Since we have an unimaginable reward in Christ (v. 8), our work does not have to be unduly tied to the amount of reward we get from our jobs. As you head into your workplace, you have an opportunity to look to your loving heavenly Father for accountability and joy in your work. He provides the balance we need.
For more ideas, check out these resources containing insightful thoughts concerning work:
GOSPEL-CENTERED WORK BY TIM CHESTER
DO MORE BETTER: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PRODUCTIVITY BY TIM CHALLIES
THE GOSPEL-CENTERED LIFE AT WORK LEADER’S GUIDE BY ROBERT ALEXANDER
This blog post is an adaptation of commentary found in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller.
*“Slaves” is not referring to our modern interpretation of the word. In this context, it is describing the employer /employee relationship. Click here for a further explanation of the term slave used in this passage.
Authored by NCC Assistant Pastor Rob Kirk | northcentral.org