His name was Henry James and on this particular Sunday morning, his wife was having a hard time getting him out of bed. She called, she screamed, she even cooked bacon, thinking that the smell would coax him out of bed. Nothing worked. And so, as a last resort, she went into the room and gave him “the look,” saying “Get out of bed… It’s Sunday morning and we’re going to church!” “No!” he replied. I’m not going. The people don’t like me, the service is boring, and frankly, some of the people there are mean to me!” And then he challenged her, “Give me three reasons why I should go to church today!” She replied, “Fine! First, God says that we are to be faithful in our worship. Second, the people do like you. They’re nice! And third, you’re the pastor, you have to be there.”
God has blessed me in that I have never had a ministry assignment that I didn’t like. I cannot recall ever waking up and not wanting to go to work! Now let me be honest, there are have been difficult days and there have been difficult people. I have had to put in long hours and sometimes I received very little compensation. But I loved the people and most of all, I loved serving the Lord. That might not be your story… but it can be. Work is difficult because of the fall of man, because of Adam and Eve’s sin. It’s difficult because we work with sinful people. It’s part of God’s punishment upon us for our sin. What I want to tell you today is that work can be a blessing. Work can be fulfilling – even if you’re cleaning toilets or sweeping floors. It can be a blessing even if the work conditions are terrible and even if your boss is a jerk!
We’re in the Book of Ephesians once again and we are in a section which began in chapter five where Paul is explaining to us the importance of submission. He began in 5:21 where he wrote that we were to be “subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” He continued in verse 22 when he commanded wives “to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.” Two weeks ago, we saw that in 6:1 he commanded children to “obey your parents in the Lord.” Today we are in 6:5 where he writes, “Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.”
Two things stand out to me in this section. First, God is calling us to a submissive role in the church, in our families, and in the workplace. He is calling us to be servants. Second, we are to submit to others as if we were submitting to the Lord. A Christian who is being filled with the Spirit is one who submits to others out of reverence for Christ. He submits to others just as He would to Christ Jesus Himself. It is one of the ways in which we worship God.
When I think of someone who is submissive, I think of Jesus. He submitted Himself to His Father’s will. He was obedient to His commands and to His Word. But He was more than just obedient, he was fully surrendered for the glory of God and the good of others. Paul declared in Philippians 2:6-7, “Though He was God, He did not demand and cling to His rights as God. He made Himself nothing; He took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.” Work becomes a blessing when we submit ourselves to the Father’s will and when we submit to others as if we were submitting to Christ Himself.
The world encourages everyone to stand up for his or her rights. God’s way is, “submit to one another in the fear of Christ.” He declares, “Make yourself nothing and become a servant.” In other words, a Christian has realized that this life is not about being served, this life is about serving. This life is not about other people doing things for you, this life is about doing things for others. This life is not about the blessings that we can get from somebody else, but the blessing that we can be to someone else. This life is about living for God’s glory and for the good of others.
Having addressed our submission to one another in the church, in our marriages, and in our families, Paul now turns to the workplace in Ephesians 6:5-9. When Adam and Eve sinned, God declared that from that day forward work would be difficult (Gen. 3:17-19). Along with the punishment of their sin, work would be difficult because of the people we work with – many of them are sinful, flawed human beings. Many of the companies we work for are driven by greed and are willing to use people to line their pockets. You can see why many people are miserable at work. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Work, regardless of the task or the conditions, can be a blessing. Remember, God declares in Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for the good of those who love God…” So how do we make work a place of blessing? How do we discover joy in our labor?
First, you have to determine who’s the boss. If you want work to be a blessing you have to determine who will be the boss over your life. Is it you? Is it your employer? Or, is it God? You cannot serve two masters. Joshua declared, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Paul wrote in verse 9, “And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” The Master of the slave and the slave owner is in heaven. Someone or something will direct your life. You decide. Make it God.
Second, submit yourself to the boss completely. Jesus demanded that Nicodemus start over, that He submit fully to Him as Lord over his life (JN 3). To the rich young ruler, Jesus said, “Sell all that you have, give everything to the poor, and then, follow Me!” Paul wrote in verse 6, “as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart.” If you want work to be a blessing, you must determine each day that your boss is a Jewish carpenter and that you will obey everything He commands you to do. That’s why Paul commands Christians to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He is saying that we are to surrender to the Spirit’s leading.
Dallas Theological Seminary professor Howard Hendricks tells of a time when his flight was delayed. His fellow passengers were getting more and more irritated, and some of them began to take out their frustrations on the flight attendants. Hendricks noticed how gracious and poised one of the flight attendants was, and when they finally took off and she had a minute, he called her over and complimented her. She replied to his compliment: “I don’t work for the airline; I work for Jesus Christ. And this morning before I left for work, my husband and I prayed that I would be able to serve Christ in my job.” If you want work to be a blessing, do the same!
Third, live your life in such a way that the boss looks good! Have you ever been in a store or a restaurant and needed help? We all have. There is only one thing worse than not being able to find help, it is finding someone who really doesn’t want to help you! I cannot tell you how many times I have felt like I was bothering an employee in a store or in a restaurant. There is a lady at our local grocery store who works in the deli department. She always has a smile, acts like she is excited to serve me, and basically has a great attitude. (She should work at Chick-Fil-A!) Paul wrote in verse 7, “Render service with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to men.” This lady represents her company well, they look good because of her attitude.
Fourth, serve the boss with integrity. How we perform our duties at work matters. Paul said in verse 6, “Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart.” Our employers pay us for a full day’s work and we should deliver what they paid for. Paul teaches us that we cannot go to work and do as little as possible. It makes our boss look bad! Be a person of integrity. Give them your full attention the entire day. We are to stay off our phones at work and take breaks only when they’re allowed.
Finally, serve the boss by storing up treasures in heaven. Have you ever felt like your employer was taking advantage of you? Maybe you have felt like you weren’t getting paid enough? Maybe you have felt like no one noticed the sacrifices you were making? I am sure that the slaves Paul is addressing felt that way and I am sure that many tried to run away because of it. Feeling unappreciated or undervalued can cause us to give less than we should. Paul states in verse 8 that we should know that “whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord.” God cares so much about the work we give our employers that He promises to reward us in heaven for the work we do. When you’re at work, you’re serving Jesus and He not only notices what you do, He promises to reward you.
We all desire to do tasks that are meaningful and fulfilling. God often grants us just that. But not always. At the core of the Christian work ethic is not what we do, but whom we serve. When we see our work, whatever it is, as serving the Lord and not men, our work takes on a holy dignity and an eternal significance. When we realize that any work we do, no matter how ordinary or lowly, is for the glory of God and for the good of others – it takes on new meaning. It’s no longer work. It’s ministry. It’s a calling from God. Your reward is in heaven, your paycheck is an added bonus!
Emma Daniel Gray died on June 8, 2009, at the age of 95. On the office records, her title reads “charwoman.” In simplest of terms, she was a cleaning lady. As a matter of fact, she cleaned houses. Your job is probably more important than that, right? Nonetheless, there was a big story about her in the Washington Post when she died. The house she cleaned was the White House. Sounds like a great job, cleaning the president’s office. But for 24 years? For 24 years she was the charwoman for six different U.S. presidents. Each day she dusted the office of the President of the United States.
What makes the story of Emma Gray interesting to me is that she was a devout Christian. She would stand and pray over the president’s chair every time she dusted it. With her dusting cloth in one hand and her other hand on the chair of the president of the United States, she would pray for blessings and wisdom and safety. That is what turned her work to good. That’s what made it a blessing. She believed that she was chosen by God to be an intercessor for the most powerful man in the world. That is what earned her heavenly reward. Friends, of all the places you’ve got to go and all the jobs you’ve got to do—some of which are nasty—do it unto the Lord. That is what makes our jobs different. That’s what makes them a blessing.