Treatise on Work Authority

I don’t know about you, but I have a problem submitting to authority. Call it my sin nature, my culture, my temperament, whatever may fit, but I want to do things my way, when I want and how I want.

Perhaps I am not really alone in this, and this really isn’t something located in me or my society, but is something inherent in all humans. Writing almost 2000 years ago Paul tells us in Col 3:22-23 that we are to obey our earthly masters as serving the Lord. “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,”.

Certainly we are not bondservants in the same way people were then; we like to believe we are more sophisticated in how we do employment today, more cultured perhaps. Yet, I do not think it illegitimate to apply this command to our work environment today. This verse convicts me. Do I serve in “sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord”? Am I a “people-pleaser” who gives “eye-service”? The sin in my heart condemns me, and my lack of trust in God’s provision is revealed.

Where the legalist might read this and search out rules to follow, I wondered instead, if Paul ever said anything as to what this might look like if we zoomed out our perspective? I think he gives us that in his letters to the Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12 teaches, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

Again Paul reiterates the same sentiment to the Ephesians, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Chapter 4:28.

Therefore I think it is correct to draw from these verses two more applications to our work, namely that we are to strive to mind our own business as we work diligently, and to work and spend in such a way that we have extra to share with those who are in need.

Sometimes it is helpful for me to consider what is conspicuously missing from all these texts and more like them, to see what they are not teaching. What I don’t see is employers treating their employees as slaves, neither are the employees competing with each other for promotion or favor. There is no gossip, backbiting, or insubordination.

Rather we see one acting like the other is more important than they, that their job is to serve the other as if serving Jesus.

Clearly God has placed us all in our position, Daniel 2:21 says,

“He changes times and seasons;

he removes kings and sets up kings;

he gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to those who have understanding;”

The Psalmist agrees, “but it is God who executes judgment,

putting down one and lifting up another.” Ps. 75:7

Certainly God has placed us in our position, and our bosses in theirs. This doesn’t mean either is fixed for eternity, but it does mean we are to humbly and faithfully do the work set before us, and in a sense, not worry about the work of another. The words of Paul come to mind in Rom 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

Practically speaking this means we are to see ourselves as people under authority. Not withstanding illegal or immoral commands, this reminds us that we are to do everything commanded of us by our bosses, with our whole hearts in all sincerity, no matter how unwise or harmful we may think it. If God wanted us to make the decision differently, then perhaps He would have made us the boss.

My last example, to demonstrate this, is the story of Joseph. Sold as a slave, we get no hint that he was scrambling for power, nor that he was a backbiter, but that he humbly and faithfully did everything asked of him in his job. And because of his faithfulness, after a very long time, he was promoted, but that doesn’t mean his story is our story, we may humbly work and never be promoted our whole lives, that is up to God; our faithful obedience is up to us.

I want to leave us, as this is as much a word to me as to you, with a word of encouragement. It has been said that the law cannot give what it commands, but that the Gospel gives us what the law cannot: a desire to obey the law. How does the Gospel inform us in our work? Many ways of course, but I will leave us with just this one: Philippians 2:5-8

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 

and vs 12-13,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Christ left his heavenly luxury and recognition to become a humble servant, a lowly worker who never pastored a mega-church, never went to a far-away land as a missionary, never wrote a single book in person, washed His servants feet, was tortured and killed for our sins. When He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven He sealed His promise to us and this promise is why we can work humbly and faithfully seeking the glory of God and not our own advancement, recognition nor fame: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Mat 28:20b

He is with us in our salvation, and with us in our becoming like Him in every way, and having provided us with everything we truly need for eternity, we can faithfully serve Him on earth with no fear of His provision for us, for He is with us always, even to the end.

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