Summary: Sometimes it needs to be spelled out in black and white for us....the Bible is very clear!
I love the study of history - learning about past civilizations and cultures. What it was like to live in the Roman Empire during its first two centuries particularly fascinates me. An area of Roman life that I found to be rather interesting was the position of slaves. In Paul’s day, half of the Empire’s population were slaves (60 million strong).
Most of these slaves’ work and lifestyles were quite unlike those that existed in America during the 18-19th centuries. They were not only crop harvesters and blacksmiths and domestics… Roman slaves were usually educated or skilled individuals who were teachers, craftsmen, merchant sailors, beauticians, doctors, secretaries, cooks, waiters and waitresses, treasurers, messengers, groundskeepers, political assistants or advisers, athletes, mechanics, personal bodyguards and the list goes on.
In many ways, I found that the relationship between the Roman slave and slave-master back then is fairly comparable to today’s relationship between the typical employee and employer in the business world. With that in mind, I do not believe we would be overly presumptuous to apply Paul’s instructions for yesterday’s Christian slave/slave-master to today’s Christian employee/employer. In addition, we will touch upon Scriptures which provide admonition directly pertaining to the responsibilities of employees and employers.
I. Duty of Employee: Obedient Labor (Colossians 3:22).
“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on the earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”
It should be noted that the Apostle condemns “external service” or “eye-service”, referring to the practice of performing a task indifferently and sluggishly until the supervisor or the boss shows-up and starts paying attention to our work. Under the sudden scrutiny by our superior, we suddenly perform our job with everything we got. We suddenly demonstrate great attention to detail and diligence.
Instead of just going through the motions at work, the Christian laborer will always put their heart into their work out of respect for the Lord’s wishes. Ephesians 6:6, “not by way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” On their job, the Christian worker will give their all because they are not laboring for merely their earthly boss, but for their heavenly ‘Boss’ - Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” We do not merely work for pay or ambition or to satisfy an earthly master; we work so that we can take every task and offer it to Christ. All work is done for God so that His world may go on and His men, women and children have the things they need for life and living. Thus, as Ephesians 6:7 instructs, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.”
When the Christian employee has this attitude, it will be demonstrated in two major ways -
A. The Christian employee will not be an argumentative or disruptive worker.
1 Timothy 6:1, “slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.” Titus 2:9, “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative.”
The churches of Christ have historically taken a negative view on membership in labor unions due to the fact that labor unions prevent a direct relationship between the employee and their employer. Rather than being subject to the employer, the union member is subject to the union leadership. Labor unions, by their very nature and purpose, do not hold the employer with much honor and oft times are quite argumentative. Through the means of strikes or the mere threatening to strike, they can be very disruptive.
I recognize that there are companies and employers that have been and are guilty of abuse and negligence toward their employees. However, the Scriptures do not provide circumstances in which it is acceptable to be argumentative nor disruptive on the job. 1 Peter 2:18-19, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.”
Christianity never in this world offers escape from hard work; it makes a person able to work still harder. Nor does it offer a worker escape from difficult situations; it enables them to meet situations better. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”
B. The Christian employee will not be a dishonest worker.