“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you.
Ephesians 6:5-6a NLT
Thankfully, slavery has been abolished in the UK. But these verses apply very well to those involved in the workplace. Employers and employees. Bosses and workers. The principle of slavery is of course not applicable because the “earthly masters” have no hold over their workers in the way a slave master or slave owner would have had, but there is the expectation that the workers do a job in return for monetary payment. A job that furthers the business aims of the employer.
So Paul writes to the slaves about how they should do their job and treat their owners. Treating my employer with respect was always something instilled within me, from my earliest job experiences. Sometimes the manager above me, representing my employer, wasn’t worthy of due respect because of his or her behaviour, but their position as a manager was. Something I often had to remember.
Paul was right when he used words such as “obey” and “deep respect“. “Serve” and “please“. Such qualities exhibited in the employer/employee relationship mean the job gets done efficiently and in a cohesive and harmonious atmosphere. The word “fear” doesn’t, or shouldn’t, apply in the workplace today, though there can always be the thought that if we don’t shape up and do well for our employers, we could lose our jobs. A fearful event for many, probably.
In the workplace, do we try and please our employers? Even when they aren’t watching? I have been in workplace situations that deteriorate into chaos and mayhem when the boss has been absent, and it’s not a nice place to be. In such industries where manual labour is employed, many companies put in place bonus schemes to incentivise their workers, or instal cameras to check up on them. Paul was obviously aware that the slaves of his day would try and skive off, given the opportunity. And it can be the same in our workplaces.
Most pilgrims today will be employed, and in the workplace they will do a job to earn money. But Paul encourages them not just to serve the employers, but to serve them as to the Lord. In other words, we pilgrims work for Jesus. Would we do that in a way that is less than 100%? Would we skive off from our service to God? In their seats in the Ephesian church, you can perhaps feel the guilt rising from those who were slaves. They would have listened and compared, and resolved to do better. In our workplaces, perhaps we too should listen to Paul’s words. Inviting Jesus to join us in the seat next to us in the office will perhaps make a difference to the way we do our jobs. After all, He’s there in Spirit.
But this is not a legalistic instruction from Paul. A “do it or else” reminder to unwilling listeners. We do our work well because of our love for God. As we read earlier in this epistle, God lavished His love on us. A love that is transforming and life-changing. A love that changes our lives and the lives of those around us, as we allow that love to spill out into their lives as well.