No Favourites

“Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and He has no favourites.”
Ephesians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In this verse we replace the words “Masters” with “Employers”, and “slaves” with “employees”. It then makes more sense in our society today. When we do this we receive a picture of the ideal workplace, of how it should be. Harmonious attitudes dictate an environment where, as far as possible, the business aims and goals of the owner are achieved. Thankfully today, our working environments are governed by laws and regulations, and the dangerous practices of previous years, with their long hours and disregard for worker health, are behind us. Though, having said that, my next door neighbour died prematurely through a cancerous lung condition called mesothelioma, probably gained when he was a carpenter working with asbestos. And the next village has a number of retired coal miners, their lives blighted by a variety of lung conditions. So we don’t have to return to Victorian days to see the effects of a poor working environment.

But life for the workers hasn’t always been bad. In the 18th and 19th Centuries there were several entrepreneurial philanthropists who employed people and tried to better their lot, in an otherwise savage society, in the process. Near where I live is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, called New Lanark. A textile mill established in the late 18th Century but now preserved so that visitors can get a glimpse of life in that period in history. But the outstanding feature is how the owners tried to provide work, food and education for people who otherwise would have been scratching a subsistence living. A fortunate work force well-treated, by the standards of their day, by their employers. 

Sadly there were many examples of workers being badly treated in history. And not just workers – life in general in previous times was often brutal and difficult. Life expectancy low. Infant mortality rates high. We need to remember those historical days as a reminder of what life was like and how it has shaped our societies today. Not days to be erased or periods of history to be cancelled, as some try to do.

So employers are encouraged to treat their employees well because everyone, regardless of their status in life, has the same God, the same Father, in Heaven. And Paul reminds us that God has no favourites. Just because one person is wealthier than another doesn’t imply that God blesses that person more than the other. One day we will all have to give an account for our lives, to God.

The Workers (2)

“As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”
Ephesians‬ ‭6:6b-7‬ ‭NLT

We are “slaves of Christ”. The word “slave” is perhaps not the most popular way to describe us pilgrims. It has so many negative connotations, still lingering in our DNA, a stain left there due to the practices of our ancestors. Even today, examples of slavery, occasionally bubble up to surface in a media report. Sad tales of unfortunate people locked into a situation because the hold another person has over them. There are even tales of “slavery” occurring in a marriage, an unhappy husband or wife locked into a relationship from which there seems no escape. 

So what does it mean to be a “slave”? First of all, we have to realise that slavery in Paul’s day had good and bad points. Of course, the bad included the loss of freedom and potential abuse, but in many cases the slave was treated as part of the family. He or she was fed, had the clothes they needed and a bed to sleep in. And we read in the Old Testament, about slaves who came to the end of their tenure and were due to be released, but chose instead to stay with their masters (Deuteronomy 15).

But to be a “slave of Christ”? Are there any bad points? The paradox we have is that as Christians, we are called “slaves of Christ” but in so being, we are set free. Free of sin and its consequences. Free of the worldly and dark practices so endemic around us. To be enslaved to God means we live in His ways, live with His people, submit to His will, and enjoy His protection. We are His possessions and have been elevated from the mundane into a position of royalty as part of His family. We are sons and daughters of the living God. So, back to our question – there are no bad points of being enslaved to Christ.

I remember an old Bob Dylan song and the chorus goes like this, “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed, You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. In this life we will never be truly free in the absolute sense because we are bounded by our capabilities and our life-choices. If we don’t follow God then we are following the devil – there is no other choice, no other way. We can never escape from either – if we are not following God and His ways then, by default, we are following the devil and his ways. We may think we are following neither but the reality is as the song says – we will be enslaved to either God or the devil.

So as pilgrims in today’s war-torn world, struggling through the devil’s minefields on our way to our promised land, we must remember our status as royal sons and daughters of God our loving Father. Sin has defined our environment but we don’t have to be enslaved by it. Christ has set us free.

The Workers (1)

“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.