Ephesians 6:5-9: Christianity in the Workplace
Work is the thing that takes up the largest percentage of our lives. Most of our childhood is spent in school preparing ourselves for our work. Most of our daylight hours are taken up with working. Most of our adult life is spent, working. Many spend more time engaging with their work colleagues than they do with their spouses and families. Many have stopped and thought about this and have sought a dramatic change, some want to see more robots doing more jobs so that we as humans can enjoy our lives more; some have sought to reinvent the work week to less days; some have suggested more work from home; many have encouraged others to change jobs until you find the one that fits. God is a worker who made us in His image to work. And the Bible has much to say about the matter.
Despite the millions of people who may be working in difficult situations around the world, the Bible teaches us that work is good. Despite the many evils done in the workplace work itself is a gift of God. In the beginning God made mankind and put them in the garden and they were given jobs. We were put on this earth to take the unformed creation with all of it’s God given potential and shape it into a culture and society that glorifies God. The life of man before sin entered into the work was to be regulated by work and worship. Work has been affected by the fall but did not come into existence at the fall. Why has God made us to be workers? Based on the fact that we are made in His image we can guess that because He delights in work that He made us to delight in it. After He created in the 6 days of Creation we hear God’s commendation ‘it is good/very good.’ He takes joy in what He has made and seeks for us to know this joy. There may be other reasons as well. I suspect that the whole idea of mankind being given a world to develop through His work in obedience to God, which would have resulted in Adam being given access to the tree of life and entering into God’s rest, speaks to us of the gospel. Like marriage I think that there is a picture of the gospel. After all we are saved by someone’s work, the obedience of Christ on our behalf.
The Bible teaches us that as a result of sin we will now have to work by the sweat of our brows, that our labours will be met with difficulty. However, although work cannot function in the exact way that it did in Eden as part of a covenant of works that will result in man earning a place in God’s rest, it does still endure as the pattern of human life. Our lives are to be lived according to a rhythm of work and worship. The Bible condemns laziness and those who refuse to work. Ephesians 4:28, ‘Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.’ 1 Thess. 4:11-12, ‘and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.’ 2 Thess. 3:6-12, ‘Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.’
We have spoken in the past about how the gospel returns us to this high calling and puts working in the place of stealing and that in order to be generous; and industry in the place of laziness. We come now to a section that outlines many other useful principles that have shaped the Christian work ethic over the ages, Ephesians 6:5-9. We have dealt with the elephant in the room, the whole issue of slavery. But now that we have got that out of the way that it will not constantly trigger us as we read this portion, we can now see that there are many things that Paul is saying that are useful for us as we go about our work. Historically many have approached these sections recognizing that the slave/master relationship and the principles that Paul applies relate directly to the employee/employer relationship. So as we go through this section we will look at the principles for employees and employers.