THE HARD TOPIC OF SLAVERY
This is a Bible, right? We like the Bible, right? We believe the Bible, right? How many of you have read the Bible and hit certain points where you’re like, “I have no idea what to do with that. I know it’s true, but my head just exploded. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that part of the Bible”? Have you ever had that? You ever had that? Peter, a guy who was discipled by Jesus and wrote a couple books of the Bible, says that parts are “hard to understand,” OK? We hit one today; it’s on slavery, Ephesians 6:5–9. We tend to go through books of the Bible. This is week sixteen in our Who Do You Think You Are? series. We’re looking at “I Am Rewarded,” and Paul talks about slavery.
I still remember, as a new Christian, I was in college, had just met Jesus, had just started reading the Bible. I had a professor who was not a Christian, but his brother was a Christian missionary, and he studied the Bible a lot just to outargue and annoy his brother. Not the most noble motive for Bible study. And he liked to blow up evangelicals emotionally in class. That was his favorite hobby. So, I didn’t know this, and he would use all of his biblical knowledge to argue against Christianity and the Bible.
So, I remember sitting in a class, and he said something to the effect of, “So, anybody here believe the Bible?” I’m a brand-new Christian. “Yes!” State College, “Yeah, yeah, I believe the Bible!” He’s like, “So, you believe in slavery?” I was like, “Oh, let me get my hand down. I didn’t know this was a two-part question.” He’s like, “Because the Bible supports slavery.” I was like, “Oh, I just started reading. I apparently have not gotten to that part. I should now go study.”
And I didn’t know what to do. So I started studying. “Well, what does—now, the Bible does talk about slavery. What does it say about slavery? Is God a God who endorses slavery or opposes slavery, and what do we do with this big issue?”
Well, that’s where we find ourselves today. Paul’s writing a letter to a church. He himself is not a free man. He’s a man who is in prison, and he’s writing a letter to a church that he planted in a city called Ephesus. And in that church, there were masters and slaves. You’ve got to see this. They’re sitting together maybe in the church, and then they get a letter where Paul says, “Here’s what Christian slaves should do and not do. Here’s what Christian masters should do and not do.”
Can you imagine how awkward it was in that service? It’s going to be that awkward today, OK? Just talking about slavery seems awkward, right? Is it just me? Do you feel awkward? I do, and I thank you for joining me in the awkwardness.
SLAVES AND MASTERS
So, let us open the Bible. Let us not have a superficial misunderstanding of it. Let us have a deep consideration of it to see what God might mean when he speaks to slaves and masters.
So, Ephesians 6:5–9, we’ll read it together. “Bondservants”—some of your translations will say “slaves”—“obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant”—or slave—“or free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he”—that is Jesus—“who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Here we are, dealing with slaves and masters. And immediately what happens as soon as we hear that word “slavery” is we import into it slavery as was practiced in the United States of America, but might I remind you, he’s speaking to those who are part of the Roman Empire roughly nearly two thousand years before the United States of America even became a nation, and before it became a nation that ever practiced slavery. And so what we’re looking at is perhaps not the same meaning in the Roman Empire as is meant in American history.
AMERICAN SLAVERY WAS SINFUL
So, let me just be clear up front—very clear. We need to thread the needle on this. We believe—I believe the Bible teaches, I’m convinced, that slavery, as was practiced in the United States of America, is ungodly; it’s unholy, and it’s unjust, OK? And I’ll get to my reasons why in a moment. But, we need to be careful not to take a word and then pour into it a lot of meaning that it wouldn’t have originally had in its context. We’re separated by cultures. Now, American slavery—let me explain it to you—these are reasons it is sinful and awful.
Number one, it’s almost entirely racial. American slavery was almost entirely racial. It was a black-and-white issue; it was a racial issue. God made all people in his image and likeness. We all descend from one man and one woman. We’re all part of the same extended human family. And according to the teaching of the Bible, one race ruling over another race as if they were a favored race—well, that’s evil, that’s unjust, that’s racism, but that’s how American slavery was predominately practiced.
Number two, American slavery was a lifetime status for most—meaning, once you were a slave, you were a slave for the rest of your life. Unless your master decided to emancipate you or you somehow were able to amass enough wealth to purchase your freedom, you were in an unchangeable, unending, lifelong state. The Bible, in no regards, sees this as a good thing—people made in the image and likeness of God are not to be treated as property and owned as commodity. And it was a lifelong state.
Number three, the children born into a slave family were also slaves and possessions of the master. So, this is not just that your life is as a slave; it’s that your entire legacy is one of slavery. So, to use my family as an example, if I were a slave, all five of my children would be slaves. Their children, my grandchildren, would be slaves, and from generation to generation, as our family grew in number, we would all be the possession of one master. We’d all be the possession of one master. And again, that is unjust, it’s ungodly, and it’s unbiblical.
The same thing happens to Jacob’s family at the end of Genesis. God’s people, they seek refuge in a time of economic downturn and famine in the nation called Egypt, and there, they expand in numbers to the point where they go from a family of perhaps five dozen people to a nation of a few million people, some four hundred plus years later, and they’re all owned by the Pharaoh as slaves. That’s unjust. God’s people didn’t appreciate it when it was done to them, and God’s people should oppose it when it’s done to anyone else.
And number four, people were treated as possessions of their master. They were part of the estate. And so, in our nation’s history, you could look at even some of the Founding Fathers and the wills that they would write to pass on their possessions from one generation to another. They would say, “I bequeath this land, I bequeath this, you know, wealth, I bequeath this livestock, and I bequeath these slaves.” And the slaves sometimes would be listed alongside of the livestock as simply part of the economic portfolio for the family, and then they could be exchanged from one generation to another.
People are made by God. People belong to God. People are made with dignity, value, and worth in the image and likeness of God. And to treat a person as you would a piece of property or livestock, a possession, is to disrespect the image and likeness of God that they bear. And that’s how American slavery was practiced.
LAWBREAKERS, REBELS, UNGODLY, SINFUL . . . AND SLAVE TRADERS
Does the Bible ever expressly condemn that kind of slavery, also known as slave trading, where one racial group goes and takes another racial group that was previously free and then enslaves them and their children as part of the estate, passed off from generation to generation? Well, the man who wrote Ephesians also wrote another book called 1 Timothy, and here’s what he says in 1 Timothy 1:9–10: “We also know that the law”—so, the truth of God’s Word—“is made not for the righteous but for”—and now look at the imagery and the constellation of wording that he uses—“lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious.”
He’s really making his point, right? I mean, just look, if someone came to you and said, “You are a lawbreaker, a rebel, ungodly, sinful, unholy, and irreligious,” you’d say, “I got the point right around lawbreaker or rebel that you think that I am a very diabolical, despicable, deplorable human being.”
And then he gives a list of sins, and for our purposes, we’ll pull this one out: “For”—what’s the word? “Slave traders.” Slavery, as was practiced in the United States of America, is slave trading. A free people enslave a free people, treat them as possessions, as well as their children, and then pass them on as part of the family estate. And he says that “is contrary to sound doctrine.” The language there is of healthy, life-giving, society-flourishing doctrine.
So, let me be exceedingly clear: The Bible absolutely, unequivocally, clearly says that slave trading, which is slavery as practiced in the history of the United States of America, is an evil in the sight of God. Have I been clear? Have I been clear? OK, so both of you think I have. That’s great, it’s a good start, and I rejoice in that.
Now, the question becomes, when Paul here speaks of slavery, why does he not—why does he not altogether reject the institution? I believe it is because ancient slavery was different. Roman slavery was different from American slavery, and so Paul is not going to outwardly—or outrightly, I should say—reject the entire system, but he is going to focus on the believers who are living within a certain governmental structure, how to be godly in the midst of even ungodly circumstances. And his silence on the institution of slavery, as well as other things, is not to be in any way interpreted as a tacit approval of those structures. Similarly, here he is writing a letter to people who are under a certain governmental authority, and he’s teaching them, both slaves and masters, how to act in a way that is godly within those social structures.
Similarly, let’s say today I was to write a letter to Christian leaders who are in a devoutly Muslim country that was governed by the Quran and Sharia law, and the whole paradigm of that governmental system was antithetical to Christian theology. My writing to the believers to tell them, “Here’s how to conduct yourselves in the midst of this governmental system,” would not be a tacit approval of the government. It would be direct instruction, for those who are under the auspices of the government, how to conduct themselves in a way that glorifies God in a system that does not glorify God.
Similarly, let’s say I was writing a letter as a spiritual leader to the underground church in a place like Communist China which is prone to atheism. If I were to instruct Christian believers how to conduct themselves in an atheistic Communistic government, that doesn’t mean that I believe in atheism or Communism, just as I don’t believe in Islam or Sharia law. But if those are the structures that God’s people are under—if those are the systems that God’s people are in, and they don’t seem to be changing anytime soon, how should we conduct ourselves even in circumstances, situations that we don’t believe are godly but we’re under the authority of?
That’s Paul’s focus and emphasis, and I would say those who do think biblically have been the ones who have opposed slavery historically. It was William Wilberforce who fought against slavery because of his biblical convictions. It was Abraham Lincoln, who, because of his biblical convictions, fought against slavery. And I liked the movie. I wished they would have included his faith.
We live in a day now when even biographies that make it to the big screen like Lincoln or Jackie Robinson—they edit out their love for Jesus and belief in the Bible, which compelled them to do things like fight against racism, because we like to make them into the heroes, and they were trying to make Jesus into the hero. And to truly tell their story is to say William Wilberforce was compelled to oppose slavery because he believed the Bible. Abraham Lincoln was compelled to oppose slavery because he believed the Bible. Jackie Robinson, the great baseball player, was compelled to press against racism because he believed the Bible. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by the teaching of the Bible and the liberation of God’s people as slaves in Egypt, and that’s why so much of his ministry was filled with biblical imagery. So, this kind of justice is historically the domain of God’s people, guided by God’s Word.
Back to the point. Slavery, as was practiced in the Roman Empire, is similar and dissimilar to slavery as was practiced in the United States of America. And I know this is going to get a little complicated, and some of you feel like you’re going to college, and you’re hoping to avoid college. It’s just a one-hour collegiate lecture. Hang in there.
SLAVERY IN ROMAN SOCIETY
There were four ways, at least according to my study—and I’ve been to the city of Ephesus three times, I’ve been into the archaeological digs, I’ve met with certain professors, I’ve asked the hard questions, I’ve looked at the infrastructure of the city. I want to be a good Bible teacher for you. I’ve been to this place, I’ve done my homework. My understanding is there were at least four ways that someone became a slave in Roman society. Two were unjust, and two were arguably just. The first two were just.
Number one, you would be paying off a debt. So, in our day where you have bankruptcy or just escalating debt, you are able to amass a bit of wealth, or maybe an exorbitant amount of wealth, and then “default,” all right? Just go into bankruptcy, walk away. The result is that people have incredible personal debt and we have crippling national debt. It’s not working, all right? The Bible says that the borrower is slave to the lender. A lot of people aren’t slaves, but every time they get their bills, they feel like slaves—amen?—like somebody else is in charge of your life.
In that day, they didn’t have these legal parameters. You would, instead—let’s say you wanted to obtain a piece of property, you wanted to buy a piece of livestock, you wanted to take out a loan to start a new business or to cover some debt, as part of your contract, you would say, “And if I cannot repay this, I will become a slave of yours. I will work for you for free for X number of years to pay off my debt.”
That would change credit cards a lot, wouldn’t it? Let’s say you got your credit card application and you read the fine print, and it was, “And if you fail to repay, you have to come work for the company for five years with no income to pay us back.” How many of you would not have a credit card, OK?
So, that is one way to have some sort of guarantee against the loan. “I will work to pay off the debt if I am unable to pay you back.” Is that just or unjust? Well, that’s just. Otherwise, what you’re encouraging people to do is take out large loans and debts and then you’re encouraging them to default and then to bankrupt those who are borrowers. That’s not just.
Number two, the second way that people became slaves is they would—of their own volitional choice—place themselves in a position of slavery. Let’s say you came from a very poor family. Let’s say that there was an injury in your family. Let’s say that there was a famine or a massive economic downturn. Or let’s say that you had tried to work the family farm, you had tried to work the family business, whatever that might have been passed on to you, and you just couldn’t make it go. It just—your thing wasn’t working. And your family is hungry, and you can’t make ends meet, and you don’t know what to do.
What you could do was you could find someone who is affluent, and you could approach them and negotiate a deal. You could say, “I would like to be part of your estate. I would like to be part of your extended household, and in exchange for me coming to work hard for you, you’re going to provide my family a home, you’re going to provide my family an income, you’re going to provide my family food.”
See, today, people go from job to job to job. People have no loyalty to their employer, and their employer oftentimes has little to no loyalty to them. But this would be a commitment. “I’m going to be a great worker, and you’re going to be a generous provider, and if we could agree to that, then I will join your household, and you will take care of my family.” Is that just or unjust? Well, that’s just. That actually could help some people from starvation have a viable, better life. That’s not a bad thing.
The two other conditions are unjust. One is that people were taken as prisoners of war. So, two nations would go to war, and the conquering nation would enslave the conquered nation. And oftentimes, what this was was you could have a foolish king, you could have a falsely ambitious king, and he would go declare war, and then your nation would fall, and all those who were poor peasants who didn’t have the wherewithal to flee would be taken as slaves simply because they had a king who lost or a king who was foolish. Is that just or unjust? That’s unjust. These are people who didn’t do anything. These are people who didn’t deserve anything. That’s unjust—to conquer a people and then enslave a people, to take away all of their rights and dignity as God’s image-bearers.
Lastly, category number four, sometimes slaves were previously abandoned infants. In that day, infanticide was practiced. They had some forms of abortion, but it was very primitive, and so the child would be born. Let’s say it was a child with any sort of disability or physical deformity. Let’s say it was a girl and they really wanted a boy to be the family heir to carry on the family line. Let’s say the family was in an economic downturn, and they didn’t want another kid. Let’s say there was an adultery and this was an out-of-wedlock, illegitimate child. What they would do, according to ancient reports is they would practice infanticide. They would just leave the child to die. Sometimes they would literally place the child out with the trash. So, the garbage goes out, and there’s the baby.
Immediately, some of you are going to say, “That’s horrific.” Let us just say we have no moral high ground on how we treat babies, amen? We have no moral high ground for how we treat babies. We’ve got a trial going on right now with a man, by all accounts, who seems to be a murderer under the guise of a doctor, and the media doesn’t even want to cover the story because it’s so horrific. It’s like once a baby’s in a mom’s womb or out of a mom’s womb, one is murder, the other is not, and sometimes that’s a matter of minutes. It’s because we’re a bunch of murderous hypocrites, that’s why. So, let’s not look back and say, “Boy, they were primitive. That’s really, really, really awful conduct.” Let’s say people never change, and we’re as evil as they are, OK?
And if you’ve had an abortion, Jesus loves you, he can forgive you, there is hope for you, but the taking of a child’s life is a very serious thing.
Nonetheless, they would put the children out with the trash. Many of the children would die, but sometimes then the children would be taken, forced to be gladiators, soldiers, and slaves—that was the boys. The girls would become servants and prostitutes. Is that just or unjust? That’s unjust.
Now, by way of encouragement, some of the Christians in the early church started taking these kids in as well, and Christians became known for adoption. They realized, “God’s our Father, he adopts us into his family, he gives us full family rights, we have an inheritance.” All of this is the language of Ephesians, by the way. If you’ve read Ephesians, all of this is the language of Ephesians—that we’re fathered, we’re adopted, we’re blessed, we have an inheritance.
And they realized, “If this is how God treats us, then this is how we need to treat children.” In fact, it was the Lord Jesus himself who did not have an earthly father but had an adoptive father in Joseph. And so Christians started adopting kids, not to make them prostitutes and gladiators but sons and daughters, and to write them into the family estate and to give them part of the inheritance.
All that to say, slavery, as was practiced in the ancient world, was complicated; it was diverse. Some was unjust, and some was just. And so you can’t say, “All slavery’s wrong.” Well, if a guy signed a contract and said, “Lend me $100,000, and if I don’t pay you back, I’ll work for you for four years to pay off my debt,” that’s not unjust. But if some guy goes out and picks up an abandoned child and forces it to be a prostitute, that is unjust. And so the situation is complicated, and what this requires is deep study and consideration. And the way it worked in the church was slaves and masters would worship together because they were brothers and sisters in Christ.
And you could have masters that, in the church, had their slaves as pastors. You can see where this gets very complicated. They’re out in the field during the day; the slave is calling the boss, “Master.” They walk into the church, and the master is calling the slave, “Pastor.” Because you could be a spiritual leader in the church, slave or free. That’s what Paul says in Galatians 3:28, I think it is—there’s neither slave nor free in Christ. We’re talking about your integrity, your doctrine, your character, not about your status in the society—and that is so important. In that day, if you were educated, if you owned land, if you were wealthy, you were a ruler. In the church of God, it depends on your doctrine, your integrity, and your character, not your race, not your income, not your education level, not your socioeconomic background. And so as this is being read, this causes a lot of confusion in the church.
And some would say that the early church, as it grew in the Roman Empire, a large percentage—perhaps even the majority—of those who were Christian converts in the early church were slaves and/or former slaves. So this is not a minor issue. This is a major issue. So the church is together, and maybe the majority of people are slaves or have been slaves. The questions is, what does God have to say about this institution, about these relationships?
See, God doesn’t just care about what happens when we die; he cares about what happens while we’re alive here. He doesn’t care just about what happens in the church; he cares about what happens outside of the church. And he has exhortations for those who are in authority—the masters—and those who are under authority—the bondservants or the slaves. That being said, as we examine this—and I like teaching here. What we don’t believe in is a superficial, simplistic reading of the Bible. We want to look at what the author said to the original recipients, how it fit in their context, and then pull the principles forward two thousand years later to the world in which we live. What we don’t want to do is take our culture and then read everything that was said two thousand years ago and import all of what we understand into that context.
So, we’re looking at the timeless Word of God and its timely application two thousand years ago, and what I want to do now is extricate the principles that would have direct application to how we conduct ourselves today. In so doing, there is not a direct correlation between slavery and employment. The closest thing that we have is an employer and an employee; someone who is in authority, someone who is under authority; someone who contractually is obligated to work for someone else, and that person who is then contractually obligated to pay and provide for those goods/services rendered, whatever the case may be.
GOOD WORKS THAT GOD HAS PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO
Does God care about your job? That’s the big question. We worship the Lord Jesus, who himself worked a job. Our God becomes a man. Our God lives without sin. Our God, for the first roughly thirty years of his life, worked with his dad as a carpenter, swinging a hammer, doing a job. Jesus’ worship didn’t begin the day he started preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus worshiped the day he began obeying—as a child, obeying his mother and father, as an employee, working under his father.
I want you to see that the problem in America is, some people worship their work. As Christians, we do not worship our work. We worship Jesus, and our work for us is an opportunity to worship Jesus. We want to do a good job in authority and under authority, as Jesus was perfectly under authority and now rules in authority. And Paul told us earlier in Ephesians 2:8–9 we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, and then in Ephesians 2:10 he said, to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
Are you a barista? Those are the good works he’s prepared in advance for you to do. Are you a stay-at-home mom? Then those are the good works he’s prepared in advance for you to do. Are you a construction worker who has boots, a truck, a lunchbox, and a tool belt? Well, then you’re like the Lord Jesus—minus the truck—and that is the good work he’s prepared in advance for you to do, right? Are you a banker? Are you aCEO? Are you a student? Are you a Community Group leader? Are you a Redemption Group leader? Are you an elder? Are you a deacon? Are you a big brother who has certain chores? Those are the good works that God prepared in advance for you to do.
So, relationship with Jesus leads to good works like Jesus. I’d like to say it this way: we’re not saved by our works; we’re saved to our works by Jesus’ works. So, how does this apply to your work? And let me say that your work will include those things that you’re paid for and those things that you’re not paid for—right, Mom? How many moms—at three o’clock, kid throws up and yells. Mom doesn’t say, “Double time! I get paid double because the child threw up, not between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; the child threw up at 3 a.m. on Thursday. That’s double time. Oh, he threw up at 3 a.m. on Saturday? Well, that’s triple time. I get triple the income—which is zero.” Mom just does what’s right, OK?
So, whether it’s a kid who’s doing their chores, whether it’s a parent that’s just loving their child, whether it’s a Community Group leader or volunteer in the church that’s serving the Lord—whatever it is, that’s your work. That’s your work, and your work is a way that we worship God as Christians.
And so he’s going to give directives to those who are under authority and those who are in authority.
And he starts with directives for those who are under authority. Here, we’ll call them employees, but whatever authority you’re under. So, what authority are you under? Are you an athlete with a coach? Are you a student with a teacher? Are you an employee with an employer? Are you a church member under a church leader? Are you a child under a parent? What’s your overarching authority?
Some of you say, “I have no authority over me.” Then you’re in danger. Even Jesus Christ is under authority. He’s under the Father’s authority. He’s under his mother and father’s authority as he’s growing up as a young man. We all must be under authority. We all must be under authority. We’re sinners by nature and choice. We need to be under authority.
Some of you say, “I choose what authority I’m under.” Here’s the truth: you’re a person who is either under authority or not under authority. And if you’re a person who is not under authority, that will involve your relationship with God because you will not be under God’s authority or the authority of God’s Word—and that puts you in a dangerous place.
Here’s his word for us on how we conduct ourselves under authority, and I want to make a specific application to those of you who are going to get up and go to work today or this week, your job paid or unpaid: “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters.” OK, first thing, obey. You love that word, don’t you? You’ve got this word, you’re like, “Oh, I’d love to hear about obedience! I love obedience! My favorite word is ‘obey’! I love to be told what to do because I love to do what I’m told.” No, you don’t. No, you don’t. No, you don’t. We are all rebels. We’re all sinners by nature. We all buck authority. We don’t want anybody to tell us what to do.
So, “obey.” You’re like, “That’s a cute word, old Book.” Right? So, you don’t want to work for a company, you don’t want to have a boss, you don’t want to be told what to do. The Bible says, “If somebody’s in authority over you, obey them.”
Now, he’s also saying here that over them is Jesus. So if your person in authority over you is telling you to do something that is sinful, the answer is you need to obey your highest authority, which is Jesus, and not sin.
But the truth is, most of the time, we’re lazy, we’re selfish, we’re self-righteous, we’re proud, we’re defiant, we’re stubborn, we’re hardhearted. I know, not you but that other person you’re thinking about—they’re totally like that. And we just don’t like anybody to tell us what to do, right? We don’t.
It says, “Obey.” You know what that means? That means that somebody in authority over you, let’s say a boss, has a right to give you a job description and tell you what to do, and you should do it. Obey. Obey.
Now, imagine a world in which children didn’t obey their parents, and wives didn’t respect and honor their husbands, and employees didn’t obey their employers, and citizens didn’t honor their government. We don’t need to pretend to conceive of what that world would be like because that’s the world we live in. It’s rebellion, folly, sin, and disaster. It’s not working. It’s not working.
And some of you say, “I’m smarter than my boss.” OK, number one, maybe not. Maybe not.
Number two, even if you are, they’re still in authority over you, and if nothing else, salute the uniform. You’ll hear military personnel say this: “Even if I don’t think that that’s the greatest leader in the world, I will salute the uniform, and I’ll honor the office and submit to authority, because if I’m ever going to effect any change or become a leader myself, it starts with being one who is humble and submissive under authority before I have any right to influence or come into a place of authority.” Obey. Obey. Obey. “With fear and trembling.” This is respect. This is with respect—a bit of honor, all right?
We don’t live in an honor culture. We don’t. We don’t. We don’t. You go to an Eastern culture, or an Asian culture, it’s more of an honor culture. You honor those in authority; you honor those who are older. Not in the U.S. We’re not an honor culture; we’re a rebellion culture. And so it’s even become fashionable, right? Even so many of our cultural narratives, the films we love, the heroes we have, the music we enjoy—it just instigates constant rebellion, not obeying with fear and trembling. This is respect. Do you respect those in authority over you? He goes on to say, “With a sincere heart.” It’s a heart issue, right? You know whether or not your heart’s in it.
OK, employers, true or false? Leaders, true or false? You can tell when somebody’s heart’s in it or not? You can tell. Somebody whose heart is in it, is in the mission; they come self-motivated. Those whose heart is not in it, you need to continually motivate. You know your heart. You know your heart.
Some of you say, “I don’t love my role. I don’t want to be in it.” You know what? It may be until you learn that lesson, God will keep you there. And so if you’re waiting to have a new attitude once you get a new position, the truth is you may not get a new position until after you’ve gotten a new attitude, because God’s working on you. If you want to change your heart, pray. Do you pray for your boss—not imprecatory prayers from the Psalms, right? “Lord, kill them,” OK? [Congregation laughing] But do you pray for them? Do you know what? Do you know what’ll change your attitude, particularly if you’re under authority, you’re not super excited, you want to have a heart change? Start praying for those who are in authority over you.
True or false, the Bible tells us to pray for those who are in authority over us? The Bible tells us to lead peaceable and quiet lives and to pray for those who are in authority over us. That’s what the Bible says. Pray for those who are in authority over you. That will help to change your heart.
“As you would Christ.” Here’s the big idea: Above your boss is another Boss, capital-b Boss, the Boss of bosses. His name is Jesus Christ. So ultimately, you work for Jesus. Ultimately, you work for Jesus. If Jesus was your boss, would you work differently? We’d all say yes, right? You’d say, “If Jesus did my performance review, yeah. I couldn’t get away with anything, that’d be the first thing. And if I argued with him, I’d be wrong. So yeah, I would. Well, that’s your opinion, Jesus.” Oh, really? So, over your boss is Jesus. And ultimately, we work for Jesus. Ultimately, we work for Jesus. Do you believe that?
This is where Christians and non-Christians respond to authority and our roles and our works differently. Some of you say, “I’m not going to do a good job; I have a horrible boss.” Say, “You know what? I’m going to do a good job because my boss’ Boss is a great Boss, and this is for Jesus.” Yeah, you want your company, your organization, your ministry to flourish, but ultimately you want to honor and glorify Jesus.
And if you do, part of what your work becomes, then, is your witness. Much of our life is spent at our job. And the truth is that if people know we’re Christians, how we conduct ourselves speaks good or ill of our faith. And it would be great to get to the point where if there was an opening at a company, they would call the church and say, “We need more Christians because they work differently than the non-Christians. They work like Jesus is their boss. They work on their heart, and they produce results.”
DON’T STEAL FROM YOUR COMPANY
“Not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers.” Are you one of those people who, when the boss is looking, you’re performing; when the boss is not looking, you’re not performing? How much time do you steal from your boss, billing hours for things you didn’t do, surfing the Internet, social media sites, reading my blog? Don’t do it on company time.
Listening to my sermon. Sometimes I’ll have people come up, “Pastor Mark, I listen to five of your sermons a day.” What do you do? “I have a job.” Your job is not to listen to my sermon all day, unless you have a job like driving a truck where you get to listen to a sermon all day, and that’s OK. Don’t just put your headphones in and then bill your boss to hear my long sermons, OK? Don’t steal time from your company.
Do you steal money from your company? Do you bill for things? Do you charge things? Do you misuse corporate accounts? Do you misuse receipts and reimbursements? Are you someone who steals items from your boss, from your business? One of the great problems for most businesses is not just theft but it’s employee theft. You’d say, “I’d never do that if my boss were looking.” Well, your Boss is who? Jesus. And he’s always looking, so keep your hand out of the company cookie jar. Don’t be like Judas. Don’t be like Judas; be like Jesus. Don’t start taking what belongs to the organization, doesn’t belong to you. That includes a sense of entitlement and thievery. You get what you get, and you don’t take more than you’re supposed to have.
And people behave differently. How many of you, you work with that person—or you are that person, that’s why you work with them—but when the boss is looking, boy, you are so—“Oh yeah, I’m just really—” Then when the boss isn’t looking, it’s like an episode of The Office. It’s just goofing around, messing around. He says, “That’s not it.” It shouldn’t just be when the boss is looking, because the ultimate Boss is always looking.
“But as bondservants of Christ”—we work for Jesus—“doing the will of God.” God wants your work to be an act of worship, to do it well, to do it wholeheartedly, to do it lovingly, to do it fairly, to do it honestly, to do it with integrity. And it doesn’t matter if you’re paid or unpaid; it’s under the Lord. “Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord, not to man.” Ultimately, we’re going to stand before Jesus and give an account for our whole life, including our work. How’s it going? How’s it going? How’s it going? That’s his word to those who are under authority.
REASONS FOR THE LACK OF SUCCESS
Here’s what you should do: humbly go to your employer and say, “I want to do a great job. I want to execute well.” This could be paid or unpaid. “I’m not clear as to exactly what your expectations are. I’ve got a pen; tell me. I want to do a good job. Can you tell me so I can do a good job?” Sometimes you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. You ever had that job? You’re sitting there like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” It’s like Home Alone. You’re that kid. You’re like, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.” You need to go ask humbly, “What do you need me to do?”
The second place where people fail is they can’t do the job. You’ve got a role; you’re like, “I can’t do the job.” Then, one of two things happens. You either need to get new skills so you can do the job, or you need to get a new job. So, that’s even being honest, and going to your employer, and saying, “I don’t want to just take your money. I either need some help or training or you need to tell me what I need to do to figure out how to do this,” or “I just don’t think I can do this, and I want to be honest about that. And I’m not negative, and I’m not blaming you, and I’m not declaring war. I’m just telling you I can’t do that. I’m not that person. That’s not—I’m not the best person for that.” There’s humility and integrity in that. Sometimes it requires more training, and you can do it. Sometimes you realize it’s just not going to happen.
Like, if you gave me an accounting job, there would be a better chance of me getting pregnant than figuring out the accounting job, all right? Me and numbers—it’s like cats and water, Superman and kryptonite. It’s not going to go well. I am not an accountant. You can say, “Go to accounting school.” “Oh yeah, and fly like Peter Pan.” Just a list of things that I should do. Not going to happen.
The third category is, you won’t do the job. OK, this is back to the obedience; this is the defiance. You’re like, “No, I won’t do it.” Is it a sin? “No, it’s not a sin; I just don’t want to do it. I don’t like it, it’s not something I believe in, it’s not something I’m interested in. I’ve got something else I want to do, something else that’s more important to me.” Then you need to either get a new attitude or a new job, but you can’t take money from your employer and then not do your job. That’s stealing. That’s stealing.
So, if your struggle is that you don’t understand the job, you can’t do the job, or you won’t do the job, you’ve got to be honest about that. You’ve got to be honest about that. What does he have to say for those who are not just under authority but those who are in authority?
“Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, there is no partiality with him.” So, here’s what he’s saying: every boss who is a Christian has a Boss named Jesus. So, what he’s saying is, “If Jesus is your Boss, he’s in authority over you, then you treat others under your authority as he treats you.”
CARE FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES
And he gives us three ways to do that. Number one, he’s basically saying, care for your employees, care for those under your leadership. Who’s under your authority? Are you gracious and generous and kind? I’m not talking about giving away the farm and being a bad steward and bankrupting the organization or being absolutely out of control. But what I am saying is, do your employees know—those of us who have the opportunity to be in leadership in an organization—that we love them, do they know that we appreciate them, and are we reasonably generous towards them? This is things like a fair salary, a decent benefits package. A decent benefits package.
Let’s just be honest and say that, for an employer, one of the great expenses is healthcare costs. So, for us as a church, as we sat down looking at healthcare, it was like, “OK, here’s all the plans. Well, this one’s cheaper, but this one would be more loving. Because this pushes a lot of the burden to the employees, this pushes some of the burden to the church.” And especially in a church like ours where there’s a lot of young couples on staff and a lot of people having babies, if you don’t read the fine point on the maternity aspect of the compensation plan, the benefits package, you could really hurt a lot of families, right?
So, we carefully, by God’s grace, go through those things, look at those things, try to figure out how can we be fair in our compensation, how can we be generous with our benefits, how can we lovingly provide for the whole family medical, dental, retirement, even a death benefit, so that if something tragic happens—let’s say there’s a widow and kids left—there is something from the employment of the church to be helpful—these kinds of considerations.
Now, for those of you who are employers, this can seem onerous because we live in a day where people use their company and leave their company. But if your heart is loving and generous and kind and compassionate, you’re at least doing the right thing, and some will appreciate it, and it could reduce those who want to leave, because they are loved in a way that is unique and unusual. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe, maybe not.
And he says as well, “Stop threatening.” This is when an employee is obstinate, rebellious, defiant. It’s not that they can’t do the job; it’s that they won’t do the job, but they still want the paycheck. And what happens, then, is the employer can get angry.
So for those of you who are employees, here are the reasons that employers can sometimes get angry. Sometimes it’s office politics; it’s the collection of people who are against the leader. Sometimes it’s the sabotage, the thievery. There are some times when someone just quits. Stuff doesn’t roll downhill; it rolls uphill, which means, if you have a lot of responsibilities and you don’t take care of them, or you just walk away and leave them, then they come up to the leader and then the leader’s very frustrated, because now everyone else’s work is collapsing into their life, and they’re overwhelmed. Those of you who are leaders understand what I’m saying right? Stuff doesn’t roll downhill; it rolls uphill to the leader. The leader, then, can get frustrated.
He says, “Don’t threaten.” And in that context, it was probably threatening to kill them, which is kind of a big threat. In our day, if your boss looks at you and says, “You need to do a better job, or I’ve got to let you go,” that’s not threatening; that’s prophesying, OK? They are just predicting the inevitable future that is forthcoming for you, OK? If they’re paying you, and they’re telling you that you’re at risk of losing your job, that’s not threatening you, that’s actually being honest with you. But what he says is, employers watch how you use your authority for those who are under your authority.
BOSSES WORK FOR THE BOSS
And then thirdly, people work for you, but you work for who? Jesus. OK, I’ll give you an example. When we starte, I was an unpaid volunteer the first three years. None of my salary came to me from the church, so I worked another job on the side. We started broke and young, and some of you know the story. I didn’t have a boss, all right? I was the only person working at the church. What I did with my time was really flexible. Do you think I work hard? OK, we started with nothing. By God’s grace, we have something.
I’ll be honest with you, I work really hard. Nobody has to motivate me. Jesus is my Boss; that’s my motivation. Let me say this, OK? You’re saying, “I just don’t feel motivated.” Then you forgot who your Boss is. If Jesus doesn’t motivate you, then the company’s mission statement, some sort of carrot-on-the-end-of-a-stick financial reward—if Jesus doesn’t motivate you, nothing will motivate you. For me, I work for Jesus, OK? I work for Jesus. As a pastor, that’s a little clearer than the janitor or the barista or the truck driver or the accountant. But ultimately, if we’re Christians, our mind is, “I ultimately work for Jesus.”
So, my practice has been, to work six-plus days a week. The Bible says to take a day off; I take a day off. I work very, very hard. I don’t want to just put in my hours; I want to produce results by the empowering grace of God. The goal is never to do as little as you can to earn as much as you can. The goal is never even to just retire but, even if you’re not paid, to still be fruitful and to serve Jesus, to make your life count, to do something that matters.
And here, he’s saying that Jesus is their Master—those who are under authority—and your Master—those who are in authority—and he has no partiality. He doesn’t look and say, “Well, if you’re the leader, you get to do less,” or “If you’re the follower, you get to do less.” He says, “Hey, you’re all my people, and I know what it’s like to swing a hammer and go to work and make ends meet, and I want you, whether you’re in authority or under authority, to conduct yourself in a way that is godly. To do your good work is an act of worship.”
Now, some of you are immediately unmotivated, because you say, “It doesn’t matter. I won’t get the raise, I won’t get the promotion, I won’t get compensated, I won’t get thanked.” God knows. God knows exactly your objection, so here’s what he says in Ephesians 6:8—that Jesus rewards you. “Whatever good anyone does”—those in authority, those under authority, those with a Ph.D., those with a G.E.D; it doesn’t matter—“Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from”—whom? “The Lord.” It doesn’t say that you’ll get the promotion, it doesn’t say that you’ll get the raise, it doesn’t say that you’ll get the accolade; It does say that eventually, your boss’ Boss, the Lord Jesus, is keeping account, and he will reward you.
Do you believe that? See, the Bible teaches that we live by faith, not by sight, and a lot of us like to negotiate our deal up front. And I’m not against negotiating a deal, but the truth is, sometimes we just need to do what’s right, trusting by faith that Jesus will provide whatever reward is coming to us.
Some of you who are employers say, “What happens to my bottom line if I go ahead and make this adjustment to care for my employees?” Don’t be foolish; be a good steward. But it might be an act of faith that you’re saying, “Jesus, I want to do what’s right, and I’m trusting you to help me do what’s right.” For those of you who are employees and you’re saying, “You know what? I actually could do a lot better job, but I’m not sure my boss is going to thank me, I’m not sure my boss is going to compensate me, I’m not sure my boss is going to promote me.” Don’t worry about it; do what’s right, and Jesus will reward you.
Now, Jesus’ reward is three-fold. Sometimes it’s internal. How many of you, after working wholeheartedly, honestly unto the Lord, you have a clear conscience and an internal sense of joy because you just did what was right? You know what a clear conscience is worth? It’s priceless. Sometimes it’s internal. You’re like, “Hey, we did something great. I did my best. Jesus was glorified. My coworkers saw me reflecting the love of God to them. Yay, that makes me happy.” That’s an internal reward. “I grew in character, I learned, I matured.” That’s an internal reward.
Sometimes it’s an external reward. “We’re going to promote you. We’re going to give you a raise. We’re going to give you a bonus. We’re going to acknowledge what you’ve done. You were a great member of the Community Group, now we want you to be a Community Group leader. Now, we want you to be a Community Group coach,” or “We’re seeing in you godliness and faithfulness, and we’re wanting to honor that by the grace of God.” That’s external, and it’s ultimately eternal. Guys, we’re going to live forever, OK? The Bible says that this life is “a little while.” Now, it feels like a long while. In a million years, with Jesus in heaven, here’s how you’ll refer to this life: “a little while.” “A little while.”
So, you’re moving your rewards to eternity. You’re not losing your rewards; you’re moving your rewards. And the good news with Jesus is this: he doesn’t have limited resources. It’s not like a company that only makes so much money and we’ve all got to fight over what slice of the pie we get. Our God is the Creator of heaven and earth. Our God lacks nothing. Our God gives generously.
And so ultimately, if you have the long view of things, you say—if I asked you right now, “Do you want it today, or do you want it forever?” Anyone with any sort of business mind would say, “I’ll take the ever return on investment.” Forever return on investment is, true or false, good return on investment? It’s good return on investment. So, you’re not losing your rewards; you’re moving them to the kingdom of God and Jesus, who is our great Boss. He sees and knows, and he rewards all.
AnTrue or false, Jesus does good work? He lives without sin, he takes a humble job, he honors his mother and father, he’s good under authority, he says what the Father says to say, he does what the Father says to do. He goes to the cross, he substitutes himself, he dies in our place for our sins as our Savior. He says, “It is finished.” He’s taken care of all of his responsibilities, he’s finished his work, he’s atoned for sin, he’s reconciled people. He then raises from death, he ascends into heaven, and he’s coming again to judge the living and the dead, and his work is great, and then our life is to be fruitful, good works in light of his work, and then we will stand before him, and then he will reward us based upon how we invested our life and how we worshiped through our work. True or false? All true. All true.
So, let me do a little bit of transition. Now, what we’re talking about is stewardship and organizational health and people in authority, and people under authority, and is Jesus glorified, and is there any rewards that are happening, and what is our part to play in the job we have and the church we serve. And I would just call you and compel you today to search your heart and say, “Is there sin there? Do I need to apologize? Do I need to repent? Do I—where should I be serving? How could I be a better employee? How could I be a better volunteer? Even in the church, What’s my role? What’s my place? What’s my thing? How am I responding to authority? How am I exercising authority?”
Well, now we’re going to respond to Jesus and we’re going to sing because he does good work, right? And we’re going to take Communion, where we remember his work, his broken body, shed blood in our place for our sins.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you came to the earth and you worked a job. God, we confess, if we were you, we would not have worked a job, and we certainly would have not worked a blue-collar construction job where we had to get up early every day, we had to work really hard to live a simple, humble, poor lifestyle.
Jesus, you have done an amazing thing by not only working but working to take away our sin and to take away the hell that awaits us and to give to us this amazing gift of salvation that you have earned for us. So Lord Jesus, I pray that we would take our work and use it as an opportunity to worship as you did, and we ask for this grace, whether it’s paid or unpaid, that it would all be unto the Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
Slavery is among the most difficult topics in the Bible. Paul exhorts Christian slaves to obey their masters, but does that mean the Bible condones slavery? To be sure, American slavery is condemnable. But in Paul’s day, fair practices could be found. Then and now, employees are to obey their employers, and employers are to care for their employees. Jesus is Boss—he sees, knows, and rewards all.