The Glory of the Ordinary: A Brief Theology of Work Part IV
Alrighty…. today is our final post on work from our time in Colossians. Last week we mainly talked about how the “bondservant” (in our time, “employee” or “worker”) should approach their daily work (work hard as for the Lord and not for men was pretty much the gist of the thing).
On this final day we’ll focus our time on the role of the supervisor, the big boss, the man, el jefe!
Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Now the first thing that should be pointed out is that as the boss you are not the “master”. Yes in the context of the Colossian culture the vast majority of work was overseen by “masters” of “bondservants” but in our day, in our culture you are not given that same sort of authority (typically a bondservant was something like an indentured servant; it should be remembered that though slavery did exist in the ancient Roman world it was not the same thing as the slavery practiced in Europe and America. For a brief discussion of the differences, go here.).
In God’s economy, Master and Bondservant, Employee and Employer are entirely equal. They are both made in the image of God, both sinners, both in need of much grace and both entirely dependent upon Him (whether they recognize it or not). The only real differences are in the ways they’ve been gifted (this thought of basic equality by the way was NEVER produced by any secular or pagan society prior to Christianity. Ever. So when a secular person speaks of “basic human rights” remind them they’re borrowing a specifically Christian concept).
Moving on, there are two parts to the verses instruction for people in charge (and this applies to any leadership situation, not just work):
1. Treat those under you justly and fairly-
It’s no secret that working under a good leader or teacher can make all the difference in the world. I have had both. When I was in my early twenties, I worked at U.P.S. under a phenomenal supervisor named Brian Decker (just wanted to give him props in case in some crazy way, he actually reads this). He took what was for me a terrible job at first, and made it something I looked forward to. He was encouraging, fair, and wasn’t afraid to get his own hands dirty. Because of this, he didn’t have to yell out his expectations all the time. His guys knew what he wanted, and because they respected him, they got the job done. So then, if you’re in a position of authority, treat those under you with the respect they deserve. Not only will you get better performance from them, but more importantly, you’ll be reflecting the character of your God.
2. Remember how your Master treats you-
Now this second part of the verse could be taken two ways. If, on the one hand you are treating those under you like garbage, then one can read this part as a threat: “You better remember that your Boss is watching you and He will hold you to account!” That is essentially what the verse right before this one says: “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality”. Is that true? Yes. The Bible is full of warnings not to take advantage of the power we’ve been given. Christian leaders are called to be “Servant Leaders”
But, on the other hand, as I read the New Testament it occurs to me that the way God motivates us to truly good works is not by threat, but by reminder of who He is and what He’s done for us in Christ. As I read 4:1, I hear it stated this way:
Remember how good your Master has been to you.
How good has he been to me? Well He sent His one and only Son to live perfecty in my place (Matthew 5:17), to die the death that I deserved (Romans 3:23-25). He rose from the dead for my justification (Romans 4:25). He ascended victorious over the devil, the world, and my sin (Acts 1). In the waters of baptism He gave me all that He accomplished on my behalf FOR FREE (Romans 6:1-4). He breathed new life into my spiritually dead soul (Ephesians 2:4) and empowers me to pick up my cross daily by His Spirit’s continual work in me (Matthew 16:25). I could go on, but you get the point. When the person you’ve been given responsibility over (a child, an employee, etc.) messes up, seek to deal with them the same way your heavenly Master has dealt with you. “Remember you also have a Master in heaven,” and He is infinitely patient and loving towards you. Oh how cool it is to serve a Good Boss.