Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

“You slaves must obey your earthly masters in everything you do.  Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you.  Obey them willingly because of your reverent fear of the Lord.  Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.”  (Colossians 3:22-24) NLT

I bet the 2nd word in this passage caught your attention.  Slaves?  Everyone knows the enormous weight and angst that comes with this word, especially in this culture.  When we hear the word “slaves”, we think of injustice, claims of superiority, humans being treated as less than human, and racism in general.  In this country, slavery had its root in racism, prejudice, and injustice.  In the 1st century when Paul was writing, it had a slightly different connotation.  And yet when we read these words, we immediately become angry and dismiss whatever it is he has to say because he’s not talking about slavery as something that must be irradicated. Instead, he seems to condone it! 

So what is Paul really talking about here?  At the time when Paul was writing, slaves and bondservants had been an integral part of Jewish and Roman culture for a long time.  A person could become a slave due to inability to pay a debt or inability to support his family financially.  This is reminiscent of the proverb shown below:

“Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.”  (Proverbs 22:7) NLT

Other reasons a person could become a slave in 1st century Rome were childhood abandonment, being a prisoner of war, or other more nefarious reasons such as piracy or trading captives between nations.  Some actually chose to be slaves, in order to have someone else provide for them.  Apparently selling oneself into slavery in hopes of becoming the servant of a nobleman was not a surprising turn of events in those days.  In fact, the master/slave relationship was much more similar to the employer/employee relationship of today.  When the words above were written by Paul, this was what being a slave or servant meant in that culture. 

For us today, this passage says something to us about how we do our jobs.  Take a look at this passage again, from the perspective of an employee/employer relationship this time.  God is interested in how we work because he is interested in our hearts.  In fact, Paul says that the person we’re really serving at work is Christ.  This is disconcerting for those of us who do things at work that are a little unethical to get ahead, or who treat people poorly in order to get something we want.  When we work, we are compensated or rewarded by God himself.  While we may think that what we have came from us (our effort, our desire, etc.), we can't really claim responsibility for the opportunities that drop into our lap, our abilities, etc. 

"But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!"  (1 Chronicles 29:14) NLT 

For those of us who can’t stand the people we work for or can’t stand our jobs in general, what kind of difference would it make in our ability to focus at work knowing that God is interested in and will reward us for our efforts there in the office?  What God wants from us is faithfulness, honesty, and integrity, not just working hard when they're watching or working to earn "brownie points".  What we do at the office, regardless of who we're working for or what we do, is important to God.  Do you think God is pleased with the way you conduct yourself at work?  Or do you need to make some changes so that your next employee evaluation is a good one? 

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