22 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. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. ESV
English Bibles translate doúlos as either “slave”, “servant” or “bondservant”. In the first century, the word denoted compulsory service to a “master” that ranged from owning an individual to working for someone in order to pay back a debt. Sometimes a contract was involved. It was very different than the slavery of African-Americans in the U.S. that we typically picture when we read the word “slave”. The application for this passage for us today is clear: God gave us irrefutable instructions about our employer-employee relationships that equally apply to a teacher-student or coach-player relationship. This teaching also governs every other relationship where one person has authority over another.
Read v22 again. How does that make you feel? God expects you to obey your boss out of your reverence and awe (fear) for him. He obviously does not intend you to break his holy laws by cheating, stealing or lying. The Lord expects you to be one of the very best employees your boss and company have ever had. Whoever you serve or report to in your job, you are to do so with the utmost integrity and with a stellar work ethic. Strive for excellence in all you do, whether anyone is watching or not, because your Lord sees all you do. Even when your boss is unfair to you, doesn’t give you credit or acknowledge your contributions to the company, you are to serve them wholeheartedly at all times.
This can be a very difficult teaching to obey. How do you continue to work hard for someone who treats you so unfairly? How can you faithfully serve on those days when your boss is being a professional jerk? God clears that up for you in vs23-24. His perspective about your work or studies is that you are doing it ALL for him. Yes, you are accountable to a manager or professor, but in actuality you are reporting directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. The way to work with whole-hearted integrity is to continually remind yourself that the Lord is aware of everything you are doing, all day long, and he is the one you are serving. Your work matters to God! The way in which you do your work (quality and attitude) is especially important to your heavenly Father. He cares about your most mundane tasks. He wants you to represent his name at your job so that others will praise him for how you are working.
When a co-worker asks you why you are always on time or why you work so diligently, you are to share with them this truth. Let them know that your relationship with God is such that he wants you to give your absolute best at work because your work is important to him. The last sentence of v24 sums it up beautifully: You are serving the Lord Christ. The word for “serving” is the verb form of the noun doúlos, from v22. Your relationship with Jesus is friend to friend and servant to master.
When you don’t feel like working hard because your boss doesn’t appreciate you or your client is being unrealistic or your instructor is showing favoritism, know that Jesus is fully aware. He wants to empower you in the depth of your soul to be able to overcome those feelings with faith in him. It may help you to picture in your mind Jesus sitting at your manager’s desk. Whatever helps you to serve the Lord in your job, do that. But know that in everything you do at work, Jesus wants you to do it with your whole heart because you report to him, first and foremost.
God gives you even more motivation to work diligently by reminding you that you have a promised inheritance. The way you serve the Lord in this life will impact your life in the world to come. In the new euphoric world, there will be rewards for faithfulness to Jesus that will come from how you served him in this sin-infested world. That’s another reason to work with integrity and to jettison complaining to fellow employees. Your attitude, even with the most boring assignments, matters to the Lord of the cosmos. Isn’t that astonishing? If it matters to him, shouldn’t it matter to you too? Keep that reality in the forefront of your thinking throughout your workday.
What do you do when you’re treated unfairly at work or school? Sing out with Queen Elsa from Frozen, “Let It Go”! You can let it go by trusting in God who is all-knowing and full of mercy and justice. He assured you in v25 that every wrongdoer will be handled with justice by the just and holy Judge. You must never pursue personal vengeance or reciprocate a wrong done to you. You are instructed to trust God and let him take care of all retribution. You can let it go knowing that God is trustworthy, righteous and just.
If you are in a job that you don’t like, you must continue to work hard and do your absolute best, every day. If you want to find a better job, then look for one. Search and interview as diligently as you can but trust God with the outcome. Realize that he may keep you in a difficult job to grow your faith. Therefore, as long as you are employed you are to serve that employer as if you are directly serving the Lord, because in reality, you are. Work with the integrity of Jesus.
Next, the Lord spoke to all who are employers, coaches, teachers, anyone who has authority over others. Is that you? Read 4:1 again. You are to treat every employee equally with absolute justice and mercy. Treating them with compassion has nothing to do with whether they deserve it or not. They may deserve to be fired on the spot. You are to treat each employee with absolute dignity knowing you also have a Master in heaven. Your Master in heaven is full of grace so give 'em grace!
Each employee or student was created in the image of God and is to be treated as such. Your goal is to be the kind of boss or authority figure that brings out the best in those who report to you. Treating your direct reports the same way that Jesus would treat them will inspire them to bring their best to the job. That may not be true for every single person, but it will play out for the majority. Employees are always impacted by the power of God in a boss or manager. Be winsome and let them see Jesus in you. Remember what Christ said about greatness: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) As a manager of others, your job is to serve them first and foremost. Be the first to admit failure and the last to promote yourself. Give every responsibility and each employee your absolute best. As you faithfully serve those who report to you, you can trust that God will honor your efforts. Keep your mind fixed on the things above instead of promotions, raises and a better benefits package (3:1-4). You will need his constant help so continue praying for wisdom and power.
- Have you owned the Kingdom Come Prayer in 1:9-12 ? If not, write it down on a card or sticky note and make it a habit to flare prayer.
- How do you come across to your boss and peers? What is one attitude change that you need to make so that you really are serving the Lord Jesus at work or school?