April 7, 2019
Colossians 3 – New Identity, Deep Roots – Part 13
Believe it or not today is our last week in Colossians 3. I’m actually kind of sad about this because we’ve been camped out here for the past 4 weeks-plus we started off this series in January by looking at Col 3. So we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorites chapters in Scripture. But each week we’ve been saying that it’s all about our new identity in Christ. That we’re no longer about the old tendencies and ways we lived, it’s about who we now are in Christ. And so last week we saw the theology of chapter 3 applied to families-particularly to marriage, this week we’re going to see that theology applied to work everyone’s favorite topic. So to get started I want us to start off with the best that work can be-turn to the person next to you and answer the question what is your dream job? If you could do anything for a career, any kind of job you wanted what would it be? Hopefully, something came to mind. I read an article online that listed some dream jobs for people that actually pay well and at the top of the list was video game player. Of course (back in my day when it was Pac-Man and the first Mario Bros there wasn’t professional gamers!). But it also listed other dream jobs like ethical computer hacker (cybersecurity), voice-over artist, Disneyworld character, food stylist for magazine and cookbook photo shoots, ice cream taster, stunt person, blimp pilot-apparently it pays well and you just leisurely fly over football stadiums to advertise stuff. Now I realize pastor is high on the list of dream jobs-it’s amazing but there is a dream job I’ve always thought about. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always wanted to be an author, of course, a dream job-but because I like reading so much my other dream job is toll-booth or parking garage attendant. Meaning that you work in the little pay station. And I remember seeing fellow students when I was in college working at the parking garage and they sat on the stool and we’re always reading a book. You’d pull up and they’d be engrossed in their chapter! I always wanted to ask what are you reading in there-anything good? But being paid to read and every once in awhile exchange some money-what could be better. So one day I’ll live the dream and work in a parking garage!
But as we come to this topic of work I want to start with a working definition-we all do it and we can’t get out it. That’s work. Not the most exciting definition out there, but work is a reality for everybody-whether you physically go to work having a full-time job, whether you work from home raising your children, whether you work by being a student at school, or whether you’re retired there’s always work to be done, chores to complete, tasks to accomplish, jobs to finish. Work is an essential component of who we are, it’s included in the very fabric of our make-up. Last week, we talked about Adam and Eve as we explored the issue of marriage-and this week I want to return back to them for a moment as we explore the issue of work. Look at Gen 2:15. First job on planet earth. But think about it for a moment-what chapter is this verse in? It seems like an obvious question with an obvious answer-chapter 2-but chapter 2 describes life before the Fall which happened in chapter 3. Chapter 2 is telling us the way things should have been, the way God designed things to be in the perfect world that He made-and that includes work. Work isn’t the result of the Fall or God’s punishment for us and maybe you’ve never realized that before. Work was always God’s intention for mankind. Now ideally work is a blessing because it allows us to be creative and innovative. By using our God-given talents we can set goals, make plans, see progress, share ideas; there are fulfillment and teamwork, a sense of accomplishment and pride, even enjoyment in our work. Now you might think about the job you currently have and begin to doubt that, saying-I’m not so sure this was God’s intention for me! Maybe your job is long hours with little pay and minimal fulfillment or enjoyment. But what you’re fighting against isn’t work, as defined by Gen 2, you’re fighting against work as it was affected by the Fall in Gen 3. Notice what God said thereafter mankind sinned-3:17-19a NIV. All of a sudden, because of sin, work got a whole lot more difficult. Did you catch these words? Painful toil, thorns, and thistles, the sweat of your brow. Those were things Adam knew nothing about. To him work was easy and sweat-free. He had no idea what weeds were-everything grew perfectly. This is a massive change. After the Fall work is now frustrating and hard, it’s menial and tedious, it takes effort, our knees hurt and our backs ache. It wears us out and drains us of energy, fulfillment can be hard to find in the midst of toilsome labor. I like the analogy that one author, Randy Alcorn, gives concerning work. He said that prior to the Fall work is like paddling a canoe downstream-you’re doing something, you’re working, but it sails right along without any obstacles and it feels good. After the Fall, however, work is like paddling a canoe upstream where you’re fighting against the current, expending lots of energy and effort, breaking a sweat to get where you’re trying to go. I’m sure your job feels like that some days-paddling upstream or swimming against a tidal wave! But work, just like our lives, our bodies, the earth, is severely tainted because of sin, it’s a whole lot different than God originally intended, but that doesn’t mean work is a bad thing. For as Gen 2 showed us, work is a gift from God, much like marriage is a gift from God. And just as we saw last week how marriage was ruptured by sin but restored in Christ, so work is also ruptured by sin but restored in Christ.
Take a look at the passage in your Bibles-Col 3:22-4:1. Now thankfully slavery’s been abolished in our country and masters don’t own slaves anymore. Unlike in the day when Paul’s writing where slavery was very extensive across the Roman Empire, it’s illegal for people in our country to be treated as a commodity or sold as a piece of property-but I’m sure there are days when you feel like a slave at work; days when your boss acts like a hard taskmaster, days when work is absolute drudgery so these verses in Colossians apply to all of us as we consider our jobs and the work God’s given us to do. There’s a variety of points in the text that are very relevant.
None more so than the very beginning-v. 22a. This is an incredible statement to read because it’s saying to do what your master tells you to do-plain and simple-obey in everything-so that means to obey your boss regardless of how you feel about it, to obey even when you’re told to do something icky or hard. The verse isn’t saying to obey only when you agree with what the boss or the higher-ups are telling you to do, it isn’t saying to obey when you like the particular task, but if it’s beneath you or seems too menial then you can ignore it or try to get out of it. The text isn’t saying that-v. 22a. Obviously, if your boss tells you to do something dishonest or sinful or harmful to someone you have to stand up and say no. But in all other circumstances, we’re to obey in everything. And this is particularly powerful when you remember that the original audience was slaves who were told to do the lowliest, most degrading, back-breaking tasks out there. Paul didn’t tell slaves that they should tell their masters to take a hike and find somebody else to do the job. He didn’t tell them to rebel or throw off their chains and run away. In fact, if you remember when we introduced these series-2 guys were transporting and delivering the letter of Colossians-Tychicus and Onesimus. And Onesimus was a runaway slave-and Paul is having him return back to his master Philemon. So the guy who has this letter in his backpack is literally doing this-being obedient to his earthly master. And let’s be honest, our jobs are nowhere near as hard or painful as that of slaves, so there should be no reason that we can’t do what God’s Word is telling us to do here. So Pt1: Christ-centered work: Obedience, not grumbling. That’s really the distinction we’re talking about. I’m not going to ask how much you grumble about work. But I read a survey this week that listed the top 10 things people grumble about most-guess what was number 2? Work. The weather was number 1-fair enough-but work was right at the top of the list. It said that people complained they worked too hard, didn’t get paid enough, didn’t get the respect they deserved from their boss, had bad working conditions, unrealistic expectations, the list of work complaints was lengthy. And I’m sure every one of us has grumbled about those things before. Now in case you’re wondering, the rest of the top 10 things people grumbled about included not feeling well, messiness, being hungry, spouses, slow internet, politics, traffic, and annoying sisters! That one rounded out the top 10!
But how many times have you grumbled about work and didn’t do what your boss asked? How many times have you ignored the new work policies that went into effect, how many times have you done things your way not the way you were told? How many times have you and your fellow employees sat around bad-mouthing your boss or the higher-ups and either flat-out disobeyed, not doing what they told you, or did it but complained the whole time, cutting corners whenever they weren’t looking? Or if you stay home, how much have you grumbled about how the kids never listen, the house is always a mess, or no one appreciates the work you do? We’ve all been there, grumbling away about our jobs and what we have to do but I love what Colossians is saying if you’re a Christian, if Christ has changed your heart and give you a new identity, then your work ethic, the way you do your job every day and relate to your boss ought to be completely different from the way other people act around you. Look at what Paul says in Titus 2:9-10. Does your work ethic display that? Does the way you conduct yourself at work show good faith and adorn the doctrine of the Savior, meaning display the gospel and reveal Jesus’ grace? Can people vividly see His grace by how you work? One commentator on this verse said A Christian worker ought to be the best worker on the job. He ought to obey orders and not argue. He ought to serve Christ and not the boss only, he ought to work whether anybody is watching or not. And that brings us to our second point.
Look at how the verse continues-v. 22b. If you have the NIV it says not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor. Talk about a convicting statement! So Pt2: Christ-centered work: Sincerity, not eye-service. I’m sure we’ve all seen people do that. When the boss or the right people are watching they’re working super hard, trying to look good or get the promotion, but as soon as the boss steps away-well, then their work level decreases dramatically. Or it’s when your job performance is being evaluated-you do it all perfectly, to the letter of the law, demonstrating what a great employee you are, but when the evaluation is done and in the books-then, you’re back to doing things your normal way where you’re really lax on the rules and procedures. It’s selfish because you’re only working to promote your own ease and comfort, not to actually be obedient and loyal to what you’re supposed to be doing. Who hasn’t struggled with this? It makes me think of the teacher who steps out of the classroom for a minute-do the students keep diligently doing their school work? Hardly, the room erupts into instant chaos, although there’s usually one kid who keeps doing his work telling everyone to knock it off and quiet down! Or I’ve mentioned before that at my high school job we’d open our mouths under the ice cream machine to see who could eat the most without a brain freeze. But the moment the boss showed up we quickly swallowed our ice cream and wiped our mouths-just cleaning the ice cream machine-no fooling around here! In one way or another we’ve all been there, tempted to show eye-service and look good in front of the boss, to be a people-pleaser-and it’s dishonest. It’s putting up a façade, an appearance of something that really isn’t the truth. And this passage is calling our bluff. The word sincerity means honesty, genuineness; that your standard of work is the same whether the boss is watching or not. It’s about doing your job with integrity and thoroughness; because that’s what you’re called to do in Christ. People shouldn’t see a double-standard in you; they shouldn’t see you trying to get away with things when no one is looking, your co-workers should see an authentic commitment to the tasks you’ve been given.
The next verse builds on that very point-v. 23. The NIV it says to work at it with all your heart. So Pt3: Christ-centered work: Heartily, not halfway. Where would you fall on that spectrum? A recent study revealed that only about 30% of people give their best effort on the job-meaning 70% aren’t. And then the article went on to list the average amounts of time people waste their work day. Reading news websites-1 hr, 5 min; Social media-44 min; discussing random things with co-workers-40 min; making hot drinks-17 min; eating snacks-8 min; texting-14 min; and searching for new jobs-26 min! So this passage is challenging that, saying to give it all you have-not halfway. There’s a book we enjoyed reading as a family-Halfway Herbert. And it talks about a boy who only does things halfway-pgs 3-5. And it goes on to tell the story of how he learns to follow Jesus with his whole heart-but the point is well-made that a lot of us can be Halfway Herberts with the things we don’t like doing. Certainly, we’ll work hard when it’s a task we enjoy. I like doing dishes. I’m always willing to do that-no problem. Folding laundry is another story. I don’t like doing that and I purposely fold clothes bad so I don’t have to. I’m sure you can think of lots of tasks you don’t enjoy either and only do halfway. But the passage is saying to work heartily in whatever you do, meaning the enjoyable and the unenjoyable tasks. And every job-whether at work or home has a mix of both. I don’t think there’s a job out there that doesn’t have some hard and grueling aspect to it. So when it comes to the tasks we despise and would rather do it halfway, the verse is saying to do it fully, to keep at when you’d rather avoid it or quit. I came across a great statement that said, Godliness is associated with hard work. You cannot be lazy and be a godly employee. Those two things don’t mix. Hard work is integral, it’s essential, but let me interject, hard work isn’t being a workaholic. This passage isn’t saying to work yourself into the ground-something that far too many Americans are good at. It’s easy for people to let work become all-consuming, to make it their identity, to turn work into an idol. And that’s not at all what this passage is saying. Work needs to be done well, it should be done with hearty effort and energy, but also kept in the right perspective-and here’s why-v. 23-24.
That’s the truth we can’t forget. Too often we can fall into the trap of just serving our bosses for the intention of eye-service and people-pleasing, or we can fall into the trap of serving ourselves-Wow-look at all that I’ve accomplished in my work, I’m really something! And it ceases to become godly hard work and becomes prideful, pat yourself on the back, ego-booster where you hope people see all your hard work and appreciate it. But that’s what the verse is negating. Your work is ultimately directed upward. It’s not done for yourself, it’s done for the Lord. So Pt4: Christ-centered work: Serving Christ above anyone else. Sounds like a no-brainer-but that’s what it means to be Christ-centered. It’s when you approach your job, or whatever work or position or role God has put you in, by saying-Lord, today I clock in, I show up, I get to the office, I work from home, I volunteer at church ready to serve you. To do my work for the day because you have put me here and this is the work you are calling me to do. Far too many times we try to separate our work life from our spiritual life. We say-I seek God on Sundays when I go to church, and I seek Him in the mornings when I do my devotions, but after that I just have to get to work, put my nose to the grind and slog through the day. And we can wrongly make our work and our spiritual life two separate entities, two distinct aspects to our lives. We say that one is spiritual, the other is secular and thereby create this barrier between them, somehow thinking that what we do for 8 to 10 to sometimes 12 hours a day isn’t spiritual. But that shouldn’t be the case at all because when you look at these verses it’s clearly saying that your work is spiritual-v. 22b-24. The text can’t be any clearer. Your work matters to the Lord. He should be at the center of your work on a Tuesday afternoon, just as He is at the center of your heart on a Sunday morning. What would happen if you approached your job remembering this truth at the forefront of your mind-I am serving Christ when I’m here at work. How would that impact your day? How would it impact your attitude and performance? How would it impact the effort you give, the cooperation and the teamwork you’d display? How would it affect the way you treat your fellow co-workers? How would it affect the way you treat the employees you manage and oversee? Look at 4:1. God is calling you to pursue justice in the workplace, to treat people with dignity and honor, not being a hard-nosed, uncaring, abusive boss.
And that was something very radical in the culture. Very few masters treated their slaves with dignity back then because slaves were a commodity, not people. Historians estimate that in the Roman Empire 1 out of 3 people were in slavery. They were the untouchables, social outcasts who deserved nothing, living tools to be used-but the gospel changes all that. It’s calling masters to do the unthinkable by treating people the way God, our master in heaven, has treated us. God didn’t sit up on high and look down on us with disgust, keeping himself at arm’s length. Instead, He reached out with grace and mercy, He showed compassion for our helpless state. That’s what we’re called to model. If you’re in a position of leadership or oversight at work, are you treating people in a godly, dignified, merciful way? Or are you just sitting up on high, keeping your distance, demanding unrealistic results? This is how Paul was encouraging Philemon to receive Onesimus back-Phil 15b-16. Philemon is being challenged to no longer view Onesimus as a slave to accomplish some work-but as a beloved brother in the Lord.
That’s what Colossians is driving at. I love how in this passage-whether master or slave, whether employer or employee, the theme is the same-the gospel impacts your work. Your job is not an isolated thing, rather Christ should be at the center of what you do from 8-5 every day. Stop making a distinction between work and spiritual life; realize they’re unified, that because of who you are in Christ, because of your new identity in Him, everything is impacted. Your life has been reprioritized, repositioned around Christ and serving Him. And that’s the last point we need to see this morning. Pt5: Christ-centered work: Redefined by Christ, not merely blessed by Him. And what I mean by that is it’s easy to think that if we do all these biblical things. If we work heartily and with sincerity in our jobs, not grumbling or doing things halfway-but giving our all and working hard for God then He’s going to bless our work. To say to yourself-God’s going to see my efforts and make my sales increase, He’ll let me get that promotion and make my business really thrive with growing profits. If I apply these godly principles to my work then God is going to bless me, especially financially. But that’s not what God is after. He may bless your work financially if He so chooses, but more than that He wants to redefine your work so that what you do is all about Him. Look at what happened to the disciples in Luke 5:4-7 NIV. With just a word from Jesus, they had the best catch of fish ever-two boats overloaded with fish! Talk about financial success and blessing! Don’t you wish Jesus would do that for your business! Profits spilling out everywhere! But that wasn’t what Jesus was after. Look at how it continues-Luke 5:8-11 NIV. At the very moment of their greatest financial success, Jesus redefines their job, He redefines their purpose and says it’s about fishing for men; it’s about building His kingdom. Peter and the disciples could have gone into the market place and made a fortune that morning selling all those fish-but instead they left their boats and followed Jesus. They realized it wasn’t about Him just merely blessing their business, but redefining their work-to be fishers of men. And it’s no different for you and me. How are you fishing for men in your job? How are you letting Jesus redefine your work so that it’s centered on building His kingdom? How are you allowing the truth of the gospel and person of Jesus be displayed by what you do and how you interact with people? Are you showing grace in your work? Are you operating your business with justice and fairness? Are you taking the time to bless people and go the extra mile for your customers? Or are you using people to make money; overcharging them, cutting corners, doing things unfairly or unethically as long as you’re not caught? That’s what our culture does whatever it takes to get ahead and make a buck-but that’s not what we’re called to do. Jesus has come to redefine our work and center it on displaying Him and fishing for men. I challenge you to pray that this week-how can I be a fisher of men in my job, Lord? I like what Keller says-Every Good Endeavor.
And I’m here to say that’s what the purpose of our existence is all about. Remember how we said that work is actually a good thing, invented by God, a gift from Him, that’s unfortunately been tainted by sin. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but work shows up again in eternity. Rev 22:3 NIV. Heaven is not eternal boredom. It involves active service to Christ our King, it’s work-creativity, ingenuity, progress, plans, innovation. It’s work like it was originally meant to be without all the pain and toil and frustration as the curse of sin is lifted. Instead of paddling upstream, against the current, sweating and laboring with all you have, it’s paddling downstream, cruising along with the wind in your hair. Eternity is where you’ll find your dream job-what you were meant for! Now I don’t know what that includes or what God has in store-but there’s some glorious Christ-centered work to be done in the new heavens and earth that we can’t even begin to imagine. That’s when the real work begins, so let us be engaged in faithful, Christ-centered work now. May each one of us, tomorrow morning, with whatever tasks or jobs the day holds, whether it’s at the office, the factory, school or home, remind ourselves of the great truth that we are serving Christ and working for Him. And as we come to a time of communion this morning I’m reminded of how Christ completed His work on the cross-and then said It is finished. Without that work we would have no hope. His work-and His faithfulness to complete His work-is what brings us life.