Summary: 56th in a series from Ephesians. Job satisfaction comes from taking Jesus to work with me.
In 1977, country singer Johnny Paycheck recorded the hit single “Take This Job and Shove It”. The chorus of that song began and ended with these well-known words:
“Take this job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more.”
Apparently, that song really struck a nerve with people, becoming his best-selling record, with over 2 million copies sold and inspiring a movie with the same title.
Attitudes towards our work certainly haven’t changed for the better since then. A February 2007 report by the Conference Board found that Americans are growing increasingly unhappy with their jobs. Today, less than half of all Americans say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61 percent just twenty years ago. Although the rate of dissatisfaction is highest among workers under 25 years old and among those who earn under $15,000 per year, as we might expect, what is really surprising is that even among older and higher paid workers the rate of job satisfaction barely exceeds 50 percent.
But certainly that is not what God has in mind for His children. Listen to the words from the author of Ecclesiastes:
Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him - for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 5:18, 19 (NIV)
The Bible is really clear that God intends for His children to find satisfaction and happiness in their work. But exactly how are we to do that? As we continue our journey through Ephesians, we’ll find that Paul addresses that issue with his readers. Let’s read our passage out loud together:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Ephesians 6:5-9 (NIV)
I know that for many of you, your first reaction may be that Paul isn’t addressing our work at all in this passage. He’s writing here about the relationship between slaves and masters. But once we understand the nature of slavery in the Greco-Roman world that Paul lived in, I think we’ll see that this passage does indeed give us some very practical instruction about how we can “take this job and love it” rather than wanting to “shove it.”
Most of us get our ideas about slavery from our study of slavery in the United States where slaves were kidnapped from Africa and brought here to the United States where they were forced to work for their masters, often under very cruel and harsh conditions. But the slavery in the Greco-Roman world of Paul was much different.
In the Roman Empire there may have been as many as sixty million slaves, with somewhere between one-third and one-half of the population in some form of servitude. In some areas of Asia Minor, slaves actually outnumbered freemen.
Initially, most slavery resulted from conquest in war, where the vanquished foes were forced into slavery by the Greeks, and later the Romans. Others became slaves as a result of incurring a debt and they were forced into slavery in order to pay their debt. Jesus refers to that kind of slavery in several of His parables. Still others were born into slavery. Although some forms of slavery, such as rowing on a ship or working in the mines, did involve poor working conditions and harsh treatment, that was not the normal situation for most slaves.
In fact, almost all labor was performed by slaves, even those tasks that we would consider to be “desk jobs” like teachers and tutors, secretaries and personal advisors. Most slaves were actually members of the household and the law required the masters to provide them with food, clothing and shelter. In many cases, slaves could save up money and buy their freedom. Paul alludes to that practice in 1 Corinthians 7. Although the masters did have absolute authority over their slaves, there were some laws, mostly quite inadequate, however, that did provide penalties for mistreating slaves. Nonetheless, slaves had absolutely no rights before the law, evidenced by the fact that they could not even marry.