Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:5-9
Sermon Title: The God-Fearing Breadwinner
Memory Verse: Colossians 3:23-24
MAIN IDEA: Glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by being a God-fearing bread winner.
Embrace these six principles to be a God-fearing Christian in the workplace.
1-Work with a Fear of Christ
2-Work Doing God’s will from the heart
3-Work intending good will
4-Work trusting in God’s reward
5-Work without being threatening
6-Work with God as Master
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The audio message will differ because the manuscript is not followed word for word. Thanks for understanding.
Christian images fill our society. We are said to have a westernized Judeo-Christian morals culture. We have available Christian radio and television programs. Every city has at least one Christian church. People purchase cross pendants and clothing with Christian slogans. Christianity receives mention in the media. We live where there is Christian influence. Even the opposition to Christianity speaks of Christ.
Imagine living in Ephesus in the first century before Paul arrives. Apart from the minority of a few Jews, everyone is a bona fide pagan who worships idols and follows the culture without question. The home does not have a foundational Christian worldview. You have no Christian grandmother to pray for you or no Christian relative. You never hear about the one true God in the marketplace. There is no Christmas holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. No Easter to celebrate the resurrection. There is not even a minor understanding of the Ten Commandments nor are there any Christian role models to follow. Christianity is utterly and totally absent.
When the Apostle Paul comes to town and preaches the gospel, God saves people. Christianity is completely foreign to them. They need to change much of their life. The self-indulgent lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt. Everything in the home, workplace, and place of leisure is evaluated to see if it is right and proper before the Lord. The first-century believer carries a great deal of cultural taboo baggage. Does my baggage go on the Jesus train to heaven, or does I leave it here at the station? God commands Christianity to be not only about being saved from sin but living a life pleasing to God. He commands us to leave some of our cultural practices behind.
God must teach the new Christian what it means to follow Him. With Jewish converts to Christianity, there is an existing moral foundation and a mindset to integrate religion in every area of life. Teaching pagans is not the same as helping a Jew be a Christian. When Paul writes the letter to Ephesus, the church is around eight years old. Old habits die hard. Paul needs to encourage the integration of Christianity into practical living.
In chapter five of Ephesians, believers are encouraged to be Spirit-filled. Being Spirit-filled means putting to death the deeds of the flesh. The flesh is selfish, and the Spirit leads us to have a “putting others-first” attitude and mindset.
We begin putting to death the selfish deeds of the flesh by subjecting ourselves to one another in the fear of Christ. The second half of chapter five and the beginning of chapter six teach us how we may be subject to one another in our relationships. Chapter 5, verses 22-33 speaks of marriage, chapter 6, verses 1-4, speaks of God-fearing life in the home. We now reach the section which informs us of how we are to be subject to one another in the workplace.
Before looking at the text, let’s make two observations.
The first observation is that relationships in the home (marriage and parent/child) are typically a relationship between Christians. Relationships in the workplace are different because it often involves working with unbelievers. The dynamic between relating to our spouse and children in the home is very different compared to relating to a non-Christian in the workplace.
The second observation is that the Ephesian workplace is different from our culture. In Ephesus, the workplace is a master and slave relationship, and with us, it is an employee and employer relationship.
Slaves in Ephesus are not what we understand to be as slaves. It is estimated that as much as 35-40% of the population are slaves. Being a slave is an economic relationship and not a “ball and chain” relationship. Slaves in the first century performed almost all the menial jobs as well as many professional jobs such as teachers, doctors, surgeons, and architects.[i]
Let’s not get the wrong impression and think slavery is just a job. Slavery isn’t all good. Slaves have no legal status and are considered property. A master’s power over a slave is absolute. The master may sell the children of their slaves. Whether the slave has a good life depends upon the goodness of the master and the type of work the slave does. Some work is hard and dangerous. Some work is very good. Some household slaves live in conditions that are envious. Some slaves are wealthy and employ slaves. Some masters use physical punishment and abuse. Other masters have a close relationship with their slaves and see them as family and even bury their slaves in the family tomb.[ii]
When reading the passage in Ephesians about slaves and masters, in some ways we may see overlap with our culture and in other ways, we may not. Some slaves have a great work situation in the first century, and others have a horrible situation. Some employees have a great work situation in our culture, and others do not.
With these two observations, we may know the principles of this passage apply to us, even though the association between a slave and master is different than that of an employee and employer today.
Except for those of us who are retired, we all work for somebody, and we all need to relate with Christians and non-Christians in the workplace. Some of us are independent workers who work providing a service. In that case, when we talk of an employer, we realize you may not have an employer and you work for yourself. When hearing the applications, think of your customer as your employer.
Embrace these six principles to be a God-fearing Christian in the workplace.
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ (Eph. 6:5)
We are to obey those who are in authority over us in the workplace. They are our masters according to the flesh (in the material world as opposed to according to the Spiritual realm). We are not just to obey, but we are to obey with fear and trembling. We are not to cower like a dog cowers when we stand over them with a newspaper. To obey with fear and trembling means we are to show reverence and humility to those in authority over us.
We are to show respect in the same way we show respect to Jesus if He is in the same position over us. In other words, how might we obey our employer if our employer is Jesus? We will show Jesus reverence and humility; therefore, we are to show our employer the same.
We are not only to make our employer happy by doing what they ask, but we are to be pleasing to the Lord in the process. We are to please our employer without grumbling or complaining.
We are to have a sincere heart. When we work with a sincerity of heart, we work earnestly and do our very best. We are never to put forward a half-hearted effort in our labor. Working with sincerity of heart is to work with honesty; providing a genuine hour’s worth of work for an hour’s wage. Sincerity of heart is being honest.
We do not please the Lord when we disobey those who provide our wages. Most times, we don’t see ourselves as disobedient. Let’s think about this for a moment.
Having sincerity of heart means that we don’t take sick days when we are not sick because doing so is deceitful. The contractual benefit of sick days is in case of illness and not to extend the weekend or vacation. We may not lie and say we are sick when we are not. Doing so in insincere.
Have you ever done something your way because you think it is better than the company way? Perhaps we are supposed to use a specific tool or perform a specific procedure. Sometimes it seems our employer wants something done in a manner which seems to us as a longer, inefficient process. There is nothing wrong with expressing our desire to accomplish the task using an alternative method, but if our employer objects to our idea, we are to do it the way the employer asks.
It is never a good testimony to do things our way, and our employer finds out later we are disobedient to their wishes and desires. For example, don’t call in sick and post pictures of yourself on Facebook. Be obedient and sincere to our employer knowing the Lord desires for us to be obedient and sincere. Serve humbly knowing Jesus is our example of humility.
When we work, we are to work with a fear of Christ.
The second principle we need to embrace as a God-fearing Christian in the workplace is:
not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Eph. 6:6)
Working by way of eyeservice means we only work when someone is watching. If the boss isn’t looking, we goof-off. We make noises to make people think we are working. We might “pencil-whip” the work which means we complete the paperwork, but not the actual job.
When we work by way of eyeservice, our goal is to avoid punishment or to receive compensation from our employer, but not do the work. Some people work harder at not working than working. We put in our time looking like we are working, but we don’t do the work our employer thinks we are doing.
Sometimes, nobody notices because there is no way to monitor individual contributions. We punch the clock and hide somewhere. When we avoid work, others must pick up the slack for our lack of contribution.
Our employer may not see when we cut corners, spend time on Facebook, or leave the job early. But, the Lord sees everything. We need to labor knowing God is all-knowing and present with us always.
When we do our work, we are doing the will of God. God providentially provides us with our jobs. Often, we pray and ask God to give us the jobs we have, but then we don’t do the job in the way which pleases God. Our work is from His hand. We have a job because it is God’s will. We need to realize our labor is not for our employer alone, but our labor is for the will of God. He gives us the work.
The third principle we need to embrace as a God-fearing Christian in the workplace is:
With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, (Eph. 6:7)
We are to render our service to our employer with good will. We are to be intentional about extending good will. We are to extend good will as though we are extending it to the Lord. It is for His glory and name we intend good. There are countless ways which we may extend good will.
Our desire ought to be that when we enter the workplace, people are happy we are present. We are ambassadors for Christ. Nobody enjoys being around someone who is continually grumpy or complaining. Nobody enjoys being around people who are unpleasant until they have had their second cup of coffee. We need to discipline ourselves to be a source of joy with our employer and with the other people at our job.
Be an encouragement to others. Bring donuts to the break room. Compliment people when they do good work. Tell your employer you are thankful to be employed. Tell your customer you are thankful for their business. Offer suggestions which help people. Be thoughtful by remembering when others have a birthday or anniversary.
We also need to endeavor to be the person available to help others with their work. When someone drops something on the floor, don’t laugh at them, but instead, help them clean up the mess. Be the person who goes the second mile. Be the person others may count on to be faithful and dependable. Be willing to be on the job a few minutes early and leave a few minutes late.
Tell your employer you desire to make their job easy. Ask if there are ways you may be a blessing to your employer. It is always good to make sure you understand what your employer expects of you. Ask good questions. Seek clarification whenever you are unsure. Don’t be slow to humble yourself by admitting you don’t know how to do a certain task. When finished, ask if the job is done according to their expectations.
Be a person who is conscientious and pays attention to details.
Let your employer know you intend good will toward others. Ask if there are ways you might help your employer for good. Tell your employer, “I desire to do good will as I render service to your company. Is there anything I may do which is above and beyond my normal expectations which may be a blessing to you or other employees?” Place a note on your calendar to remind yourself to ask once a month how you may be a blessing.
Our work is a ministry in which we may demonstrate grace and mercy. If someone wrongs us, extend forgiveness and grace. When we wrong others, ask for forgiveness. Ask God to reveal ways to demonstrate the gospel through words and actions.
Work with a fear of Christ, doing God’s will from the heart, and intending good will to others. The fourth principle we need to embrace as a God-fearing Christian in the workplace is:
knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. (Eph. 6:8)
Have we been working for a long time without being recognized? Has it been a while since we received a raise? How are we to respond? Are we to become bitter? Are we to complain to others who work with us? What should be our response when we work hard but do not receive right compensation? Should we slow down, accomplish less, and not try as hard since nobody seems to notice our efforts anyway?
Jesus teaches us to lay up our treasures in heaven (Mat. 6:20). One way we do this is by obeying God’s commands of being a good worker. God knows our every need including our need to be rightly compensated for our work. When we work according to God’s principles, we are storing up our reward in heaven.
Perhaps we have not received a raise because God is helping us see our heart. Perhaps God sees our heart and knows our paycheck is an idol. Maybe God desires for us to find joy in other places besides our wallet and the things we may buy with the extra money.
Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6). Do we value the joy of doing good work unto the Lord or do we value the compensation? Is our satisfaction in our paycheck and receiving recognition or is our satisfaction in knowing we are doing the Lord’s will by being a godly employee? Do we believe God is provident and that He will make sure we will receive a promotion at the right time?
When we lack contentment, we need to have an honest assessment of our values. God desires for us to find our joy and satisfaction in being righteous, faithful, trustworthy, kind, and a godly employee in the workplace.
Our memory verse for this week sums up this point very well:
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Col. 3:23-24)
Work trusting in God’s reward. The fifth and sixth principles we need to embrace as a God-fearing Christian in the workplace applies to the employer:
And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, (Eph. 6:9a)
First, observe that this verse teaches that all the principles for the employee apply to those who are employers. The text says, “do the same things to them” AND give up threatening. God expects the master to have a fear of Christ, do God’s will from with sincerity of heart, intend good will toward others, and trust in God’s reward.
In applying the previously mentioned principles, the master will most certainly not threaten the slave. It is impossible to intend good will toward others and threaten them at the same time.
Some masters physically mistreated their slaves. Certainly, Paul has this in mind when writing the letter. Slave masters may not abuse their slaves. In fact, history shows Christianity greatly improved working conditions in first and second century Roman civilization. We trust threatening employees with physical violence is not a problem today.
Christianity goes the second mile and turns the other cheek. Therefore, we need to think beyond physical threatening. There are many ways the employer threatens the employee which is not physical abuse. For example, some employers like to remind the employee who is in charge. They remind the employee by asking things like, “Who signs your paycheck?” or “Do you like working the third-shift?” Those are what we call a veiled threat.
Most people work very hard. People in our employment need to know they are appreciated. Employers need to be everything but a threat. A good employer will help their employees achieve. They will provide clear expectations, so the employee always knows where they stand. Be sure to provide clear, measurable objectives to your employees. Let them know what you want them to do and when you want it completed, and how should they accomplish the task. It is threatening never to know if work is being done according to expectations.
A good employer will be gracious and forgiving when an employee makes mistakes. A good employer knows people try, but will sometimes fail. Help employees who are struggling. Help them be secure in knowing that, if they do their best, they are a welcome part of your organization.
Take time to recognize good work and provide incentives for success. Share in the profits. Award days off when people work long hours or accomplish difficult tasks. Make your company a place where people want to stay and enjoy working. Provide a safe, clean, and fun work environment. Ask people how you may improve as an employer and how you may improve the workplace.
Seek to be an employer that the people working for you don’t feel like they need to dust off their resumes every few months. Don’t be threatening.
Lastly, as a God-fearing employer:
knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. (Eph. 6:9b)
The Christian employer is not the boss; God is the boss. God does not look upon the workplace and single out the employer as the person who is above everyone else. The lowest employee is equal to the most important employee in the eyes of God. God cares just as much how the floor is swept as He does with the person who has the authority to make sure the floor is swept well.
God ordains who are the people in positions of authority just as He ordains everything in the universe. The same principles of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 apply to the workplace. The hand may not say to the foot I have no need of you. Every position is providentially placed. If God is overseeing the church, home, and government, He is also overseeing the workplace. We may believe God places each worker in the job He desires. In other words, employees are sent from God to you.
God is the Master who cares if one employee suffers or is hurt. God is the master who cares if people are working to please Him by being honest and righteous and by being Spirit-filled in how we subject ourselves to one another. God is the Master who cares if we intend good will toward one another. And, God is the Master who provides and writes the paychecks.
Work with God as our Master knowing we are all on equal footing.
Here are a few thoughts to motivate us to think deeply about these principles:
This passage fits in the context of what it means to be a Spirit-filled believer. We are people indwelled with God’s Spirit, and our work relationships are to be influenced by the love and unity of the Spirit of God.
We sometimes look for purpose in our life in our work. In other words, for some people, significance in life comes from the position they have at work and the talent they have in what they produce. There is purpose in our work, but the significance is not in the position or the task.
There is a need to build houses, cook food, make widgets, and fix vehicles. There is a need for us to do good quality work. Work is necessary and ordained by God. It is okay to find satisfaction in doing work. But, we must never allow the doing of the work to become the focus of our labor.
All the houses we build, cars we fix, widgets we design, lawns we mow, and the stuff we clean and paint will one day burn. None of it matters. The only thing that matters is our being conformed to the image of Christ for His glory. The way this takes place is in our relationships with other people. God is not going to reward us before His throne because we make nice products.
Ultimately, our work is about conforming us into the image of Christ. God is sanctifying us by bringing us into obedience. He is breaking down our pride by having us be Spirit-filled and subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Jesus is willing to wash the dirty feet of His disciples. Are we willing to do the same? To what end are we willing to subject ourselves to others? What matters to God is our character and how we treat other people. Our work relationships are providentially designed to mold us into being the person God wants us to be. He wants us to be a child in His image who is conformed to Christ, the foot-washer.
God does not ask us to do something He is unwilling to do. Think of how God works. He accomplishes His work with the principles He expects of us. He intends His work to be for our good will. God is working all things for our good. His work is an overflow of His loving heart. We are His children, and our work is to reflect His character. We have an opportunity to serve others with the love of Christ in the same way Christ serves us.
None of us are applying these principles perfectly. We all have room to grow in our being made into the image of Christ. I pray we all are convicted to grow and be conformed. The Lord is revealing areas of our work we may improve and be more Christlike. For some, the conviction is to adjust here or there. For others, the Lord is convicting us of the need for a major overhaul.
We are not to view our convictions of needing to change as a burden. God does not intend to rain on our life parade. God’s intent in His encouraging us to live the Christian life is that we obtain joy, peace, and satisfaction for our soul. The prince of this world, our enemy Satan, will have us believe sanctification is not for our good and will bring us misery. This is a lie! Holiness and righteousness are for our joy. Honoring God in the workplace is for our happiness; it is a blessing.
It is very likely people we work with will learn we are Christians. If we have shoddy work habits, and we are disobedient to our employers, or unkind to our fellow workers, we do not glorify Christ.
God is moving heaven and earth to bring glory to Christ. The last thing we should do is be a bad testimony to Jesus with our poor work habits and lack of consideration toward others. Do not drag the name of Christ through the mud because of laziness, inferior effort, or insubordination.
Our love of Christ is to permeate every aspect of our life. Our worship of God from 8-5, Monday through Friday is far more important than our worship on Sundays from 10:30 to noon. We spend more time at work than any other awake activity. Worship God in the place of work.
Our jobs are ministries. The workplace is a mission field. God providentially places each of us in specific locations. We are lights in dark places. We are living epistles. We carry the name of Christ. We represent all that is good and all that is right.
Employees are to subject themselves in the fear of Christ to their employer. And, employers are to subject themselves to their employees in the fear of Christ. Glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by being a God-fearing bread winner.