Jesus On the Job
January 23, 1994
“Servants, 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 the good he does whether he is slave or free. Masters, treat your slaves 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
Servants don’t advertise.
You’ll never see anybody with a sign up, “Quiet, servant at work.”
People don’t put that on their resume; they don’t put that on their business card.
Servants don’t advertise. In fact, you don’t even know they are around until they are gone. Then suddenly you can’t find your copies, you can’t find your filing, there is nobody to fix the coffee, there is nobody to water the plants, there is nobody to remember the birthdays, there is nobody to do all that stuff that you just took for granted.
You don’t miss a servant until they are gone. You don’t realize what you had until they are no longer here. This is 1994, the Year of the Servant. Our theme verse is “I am among you as one who serves.” Our whole goal this year is to develop a servant’s spirit at Calvary. We talked about the fact that servants are unusual people. You find servants in unusual places. Then we discovered that servants will do unusual and unlikely things. Lastly, we talked about the fact that servanthood begins at home. If you are going to be a servant, you can’t just talk about it on Sunday morning. It is going to touch your life as a mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, child or parent.
This week a great servant went to heaven. I suppose that most of you would not have known Oceile Poage. If you came to the church during these last months when Oceile was suffering with cancer, you didn’t know her. Oceile sang in the choir, but you might not have known her that way. She never spoke up front, never had a scripture reading, never lead in prayer, wasn’t a platform-type person. She died Monday night, a true servant. She loved to sing, to bake, to encourage, to write notes, to come up with a smile and say an encouraging word. Those who knew her, know it may be fairly said that she will never be forgotten.
Oceile was, in the truest sense of the word, an unforgettable character. She was both unforgettable and a character. Besides being a wife, a mother, and a sister, she was also a servant. Cancer came last March, beginning with discomfort in the stomach. For three or four months they couldn’t diagnose it. Then in the summer it got serious and on September 15th came the bad news: cancer of the stomach lining. Prognosis: maybe three months, maybe not Christmas. Nobody really recovers.
I think that it is at a time like that when your real faith shows through. When the doctor says, “You’re probably not going to make Christmas,” that’s when you find out who you are and what you believe. That’s when the world discovers what your values really are.
I do not think I am far off the mark to say that Oceile was never more beautiful as a person than these last few months, that her faith was never stronger, that her servant’s spirit was never greater, that she went out singing, praying, praising, that she was truly ready to die. She didn’t spend these last four months wallowing in self pity. As you talk to the family, they said she never complained. She hated drinking that stuff she had to drink because of the chemotherapy and was trying to gain weight because most of her stomach was gone, but she never complained.
She still made food for other people and called other people. One of her special gifts was baking pies—banana cream pie for those who like that, chocolate cream pie for those of us who are close to the Lord. She died on Monday night. The last time she brought pies over to our house was a week ago Wednesday, about four days before she died.
Where do you think Oceile was last weekend? She wasn’t here. She was in Baltimore. It was obvious to all who saw her in those final weeks that she was dying of cancer. What was she doing in Baltimore? She was a servant, and servants serve to the very end. They don’t need any instructions and nobody has to tell them what to do. They don’t even have to look around. They just know where service is needed and they do it.
She went to Baltimore because she had a 99-year old friend, a widow, whom she was concerned about. So she flew last weekend with her daughter and son-in-law and brought food to Baltimore and cooked meals. Sunday night, just before she came back, she went back to her friend’s house one last time, not to say good-bye, but because she was afraid her friend didn’t know Jesus and she wanted to make sure before she left.
I think she had a premonition of the end because she called her friends and daughters and told them to take care of each other, to love each other. Then Monday night, mercifully, the end came quickly. Tuesday morning we got something in the mail here at the church from Oceile. It was her last offering to the church. The check was signed by her, written before she left to go to Baltimore, and mailed before she left. I thought of the text, “She being dead, yet speaketh.”
Servants don’t advertise and you don’t realize who they are and what they’ve done until they’re not around anymore.
We’ve spent four sermons now talking about trying to develop that servant spirit. We want to talk now about what it means to be a servant on the job.
I want to begin with the observation that servanthood, if it’s going to be real, must be seen on the job. It’s not enough to come to church and just talk about being a servant. If you’re really going to serve, it’s got to be seen where you work. There are at least three reasons why that is true.
1. Servanthood has to be seen on the job because that’s where you’re going to spend most of your life.
No matter what your job is or how many times you change, if you work full time over the course of 50 or 60 years, the biggest single block of your life is going to be spent in the workplace. Therefore, servanthood has to be seen there.
2. Servanthood has to be seen on the job because that is where your faith is most clearly seen.
In here, inside the church, we’re all Christians, we’re all saints of God, we all say that we love Jesus. But out there we’re rubbing shoulders every day with people who don’t know Jesus Christ. It is one thing to say “I am a servant” in here; it is another thing out there in the world. What did Jesus say? “You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hid. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” The way you show your Christian faith is by your Christian spirit and the good deeds that you do outside of this place.
Many of you have heard of Service Master. Many of you know that it was founded by Marion Wade, an outstanding Christian man. He was so committed to living out his Christian faith, that inside the Service Master headquarters a huge sign on the wall said this, “If you don’t live it, you don’t believe it.” Don’t mouth pious platitudes about serving, just go out and do it.
Don’t talk to me about being a servant. Show it to me by the way you live.
3. Servanthood must be seen on the job because on the job is where servanthood is most needed in our world.
We all know that the American system is based on capitalism. We all know that capitalism is based on competition. I want to say competition is not bad. It can be very good and it can be healthy and motivate you to do your best. But competition in a fallen world often becomes ugly, negative, and mean spirited.
Let’s face it. Out there it is a dog eat dog, cut throat world. Out there you are told that the way to the top is to look out for number one, to climb as fast as you can, to step on people on the way, and to get on top and to fight as hard as you can to stay there. It’s mean out there. It’s tough out there. It’s hard out there. It’s cold out there. There aren’t many servants out there.
That’s why you have to be a servant on the job, because there aren’t many servants out there.
So what does a servant look like on the job? The answer may surprise you. Lets look at Ephesians 6:5-9. The preceding passages dealt with husbands and wives and children and parents. You can see Paul’s attitude. He’s talking about being a servant in marriage and being a servant at home. Now he’s going to talk about being a servant in the workplace. When he says the word slave, just think of the word employee and when he says master, just think of employer or owner.
Notice that in this passage there are two levels. There is the level of being a slave. There is also the level of being a master. That is good, because most of us live on both levels at the same time. Most people are both slaves and masters. Most of us have people we work for, people who are over us, or people we answer to. Most of us have people on our level that we work with, and most of us have people who work for us or under us or who answer to us in some way. So for most of us, aspects of being a slave and aspects of being a master will apply to us directly.
What is God’s word to those of us who work for a living? It is in one word, the word obey. He says, “Slaves, obey.” There is nothing tricky about that. We all know that we are to obey. When we go to our job, we are to do what we’re told. Exactly how are we to do that? What does obedience and servanthood look like on the job?
Here are four ways to do your work as a Christian:
1. Do your work respectfully.
Look at verse 5, “Obey your earthly masters with respect and fear;” as some translations have it, “With fear and trembling.” That is to say, when you go to work in the morning, you ought to go with fear and trembling that you might do a good job that day. It means that you ought to take your job so seriously that you worry lest you do a poor job. So many of us take what God has given us to do lightly. The Bible says that when you go to your job, when you call on a client, when you make a sale, when you have a project to complete, you are to approach it with fear and trembling so that you can do your best work.
As Christians, no matter the job, our motto should be, “Do Good Work!”.
That ought to be a standard for those who name the name of Jesus Christ. I can tell you that somehow today we have lost that attitude in America. We have lost the idea of doing good work. We have lost in our culture the idea of doing a good day’s work for a good day’s pay. We have lost the idea of coming in and doing a good job and giving 100% to what God gives us to do. In our society we have lost the idea of craftsmanship, we’ve lost the idea of workmanship, we’ve lost the idea of excellence, we’ve lost the idea that work is a noble pursuit. For far too many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, work is what you do so you can get to the weekend. That’s not a biblical view. Our view ought to be that God is gracious to us to give us something to do, and we’re going to do good work because he has given it to us.
Let me say it this way: being a Christian is no excuse for shoddiness. I don’t know how to tell you this. There have been too many times in my ministry when Christian owners, Christian leaders, Christian businessmen and women have said to me, “Pastor Ray, I’m not going to hire any more Christians, because they take advantage of our faith relationship. I am going to get some people from outside, because they know that when they show up they’ve got to do a good job.” It is a shameful thing for a Christian brother to say to me that a Christian employee would use their knowledge of Jesus Christ as a excuse to do less than their best. When you go to work you have to understand that being a Christian means you’re going to do your best every single day. That’s what it means to do your work with true respect.
2. Do your work sincerely.
“And with sincerity of heart.” This also means with concentration. This word has the idea of focusing all of your mental powers, of putting all else aside and focusing on the job at hand. How many of us come to work or have a job to do or a project to finish and we work about five minutes, then we start diddling, then we start fiddling, then we start getting itchy and hungry and thirsty. We have to have somebody to talk to. We have to get up and move around. I’m talking about myself now. I know exactly what I’m talking about. My attention span is short. But listen! If we’re going to be Christians on the job, we’re going to concentrate on the job that God has given us to do. We’re going to give it that 100% effort.
This word sincerity also literally means “no folds”. Picture one of those Roman robes that has a lot of folds in it. When you looked at it you couldn’t see the whole thing because it was all folded up. He’s saying that when you work, there ought to be no folds in your motivation, no secret ideas, no secret plans, no hidden agendas, no secret reasons. If you are going to be a Christian on the job, what you see is what you get. You ought to be able to say, “You don’t have to worry about me, about my motivation, about whether I am going to be loyal and do my job, because as a Christian being sincere means there is nothing tricky or hidden on the inside.”
Wait a minute. What that means is that if you promise to show up at 7:30, you show up at 7:30. You don’t come waltzing in at 7:45, 8:00, 8:15, 8:45, or 9:00 with some lousy excuse. It means that if you say you’re going to call on a client, you will move heaven and earth to call on that client. It means if you say you’ll stay late, then you’ll stay late. It means if you’re given a tough assignment, you’ll do it. That’s what it means to be a servant on the job. Let’s not make this so pie in the sky. It means you’re going to show up on time, do your job, work hard, and get paid well for it because you’re going to be a good worker.
Christians ought to be the best workers.
We ought to be the most motivated. We ought to be the most productive. We ought to be the ones working the hardest and giving 110% all the time. Why? Because we’re not just working for an earthly master but we’re working for Jesus Christ.
Some of us are worried about witnessing to our co-workers. You want me to tell you the best way to witness to your co-workers? Do good work. Excellence opens doors for evangelism. Good workmanship opens doors. Craftsmanship opens doors. Determination and perseverance open doors. Every once in a while I heard people talking about Christians who have just tried to cram Jesus down people’s throats at work. Over the years, as I have investigated those cases, basically every time those cases come to my attention, the problem is they were preaching Jesus a little much and working too little. It has been my experience that when you truly do good work, God will open doors for your witness. I really believe that if you will go back to your job, back to what God has given you to do, and if you will work with excellence and perseverance, God will open doors for you.
3. Do your work conscientiously.
Read now in verse 6, “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.” I believe the older versions say it this way, “Not with eye service, as men pleasers.” What is eye service? That’s when you’re sitting there and somebody says, “Quick, here comes the boss,” and you clean off your desk and suddenly you’re hard at work making phone calls, typing, filing or doing whatever you’re supposed to do.
That’s eye service—when you work hard because you think the boss is coming around and you slack off when you think he’s gone. Eye service is also what you do when you have your eye on the clock, seeing how you can shave five minutes here and ten minutes there before lunch or after lunch or before you get off work. It is trying to cut corners on your job. What does “as men pleasers” mean? It means trying to do something not because it needs to be done but simply to curry favor with your boss. There is another term for that and I won’t go into it here.
What is wrong with eye service and being a man pleaser? You’re doing it for the wrong reason. Verse 6 says, “but like slaves of Christ.” Our problem is we read this text, not realizing how revolutionary this text was. It was written to men and women who were born in chains, and to those men and women born in servitude, the word of Jesus is, “Don’t think of yourself as a slave of man, think of yourself as a slave of Jesus Christ.” Do your job because you’re working for Jesus. Do it because you’re doing the will of God from your heart.
Do it because Jesus Christ is watching you.
You know that old chorus we teach our kids:
“Be careful, little hands what you do, be careful little hands what you do, for the Father up above is looking down in love, oh be careful little hands what you do. Be careful, little eyes what you see, be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down in love, oh be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful, little ears what you hear, be careful little ears what you hear, for the Father up above is looking down in love, oh be careful little ears what you hear. Be careful, little feet where you go, be careful little feet where you go, for the Father up above is looking down in love, oh be careful little feet where you go.”
Doing your work conscientiously means using your lips, your eyes, your ears, your hands and your feet in the service of Jesus Christ. You do your work not for your boss, not for your paycheck, but because Jesus Christ in heaven is watching you. That’s revolutionary.
4. Finally, do your work eagerly.
“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord.” Notice how this comes up again and again. Do it with all your heart and all your might, as if you were serving Jesus Christ, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
This is the opposite of working with a sullen spirit. This is the opposite of working half-heartedly. This is the opposite of working with a lazy attitude. This is the opposite of doing your work while you’re dreaming of finding another job. Do you have a job? Would you like a promotion? I’ll give you a secret about how to get a promotion. Go back to work tomorrow and do your work eagerly, throw yourself into it.
When the people up on top are looking to promote people, what are they looking for? People who are wholehearted, eager, 110% committed to it. The world is filled with lazy, lead-butt, no-good, no-count workers. Every corporation is filled with people like that. You want a promotion? Do your work like the Bible says. Somebody will notice you.
William Barclay said it this way, “It is the conviction of every Christian worker that what he produces must be good enough to show to God.” How about what you produced this week? Is what you did this week good enough to show to God? How about the students? Is what you did in your class work this week good enough to show to God?
When you buy clothes you take them out and unwrap them. You stick your hand in the pocket and out will come a slip that says “inspected by #37.” Then two weeks later you’ll go buy a pair of pants and it says “inspected by #37,” the same guy. It’s always the same guy, #37, no matter how many pairs of pants you buy around the world. What our text is telling us is there is a tag attached to every piece of work you do, and it says “inspected by #1.” This is an ennobling view of work.
This cuts through all the nonsense we hear today about work being something you do just so you can go have fun with your life. No, if you’ve got a job you’re called by God to view your job as a calling and a ministry, a mission field. You are called to your job as much as I am called to mine. Sometimes we talk about calling as if it only referred to pastors and missionaries. That’s not true. If you have a job, it’s a calling in your life. That’s why Martin Luther said, “Even a dairy maid can milk cows to the glory of God.”
Verse 8 tells us that the reason you do it is that the Lord will reward you. I think the number one problem that many of us face in a sermon like this is the discouragement of feeling that nobody pays any attention to what we do. I have been in places in my life where I have felt that if I gave 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% it didn’t make any difference. It wasn’t going to affect anything and nobody was going to notice. That is very discouraging. Sometimes we talk about a thankless job and there really is such a thing as a job that from the earthly point of view is truly thankless.
Let’s face it. Most of us don’t expect to be praised for what we do. The three phrases we fear the most are: Could I talk to you for a minute? Would you stay after work for just a moment? And worst—We’ve been watching you. That strikes fear into everybody’s heart, including mine, because we expect that if somebody has been watching us, it is because they are going to kick us. What we are told here is that God is watching, not in order to kick you, but in order to reward you. And everything that you do on the job, every piece of good work you produce, is seen and will be rewarded because God will be no man’s debtor.
Notice two rules for the boss. “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them for there is no favoritism with God.”
1. Do not threaten.
2. There is no partiality.
Those are two things that bosses and parents have trouble with. We make threats, we crush dreams, we push people down, we play favorites and we wonder why things don’t work out. Notice the reason in the text for not doing that. Don’t do it because both their master and yours is in heaven. There is a master above the master. There is a boss above the boss.
Just a word to those of you who either own your own company or are the boss or are self employed. What’s the bottom line today from the world’s point of view? It’s how much money did you make, how big is your business, where do you rank, what kind of empire do you have, how much of this world’s goods do you control?
Our text is telling us that if you are an owner or employer or boss, when you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you how much profit you made, how many people you had working for you, how big your empire was or what your after-tax profit was. He’s only going to ask you one question: “How did you treat people?” If you treat the people under you like dirt, in that day it won’t matter that you made money, because in that day your money will be gone and your empire will vanish, and the only thing that will be left is the record of how you treated people in this life. That’s a solemn thought.
Who are you working for? John Stott, the great British pastor and Bible teacher put it this way.
“Our great need is the clear-sightedness to see Jesus Christ and to set him before us. It is possible for the housewife to cook a meal as if Jesus Christ were going to eat it or to spring clean the house as if Jesus Christ were going to be the honored guest. It is possible for teachers to educate children, for doctors to treat patients and nurses to care for them, for lawyers to help clients, shop assistants to serve customers, accountants to audit books and secretaries to type letters as if in every case they were serving Jesus Christ.”
Christian, who are you working for? Who are you speaking for? Who are you calling for? Who are you selling for? Who are you teaching for? Who are you investing for? Who are you contacting for? Who are you working for?
If you’re only working for an earthly master, our text is telling us you are wasting your life. Behind the earthly master stands the Heavenly Master. Behind your boss stands The Boss. Behind the top gun stands The Top Gun. Behind the Chairman of the Board stands The Chairman of the Universe and behind the home office stands The Home Office.
If you’re just doing it for a career or a paycheck or an earthly boss, you as a Christian are wasting your life.
When you do a good job, you are serving Jesus Christ just as much as a missionary on the other end of the earth. The other side is also true. When you cheat your boss and do poor, shoddy work, when you’re lazy, when you show up late, when you’re not respectful, conscientious, sincere and eager, you are sinning against God just as much as the cheapest thief on the street.
Friday I preached from Oceile’s Bible. It was one of the easiest funeral services I’ve ever done because she preached it for me. I took her Bible and read from the things that were written. Her Bible is just covered with notes and quotes and thoughts. The pages were brown because she had read them so much; they were stained with her fingerprints and tears. On the front page of her Bible she had written notes from sermons and at the very top, as if to remind herself of something that she never wanted to forget, she had written those familiar words, “Only one life, ’twill soon be passed, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
The following little piece of poetry was written by a 28-year old woman in 1919. It’s called “Martha”.
“Lord of all pots and pans and things,
Since I have no time to be
The saint by doing lovely things
or watching late with thee,
Or dreaming in the dawn light
or storming heaven‘s gates,
Make me a saint by getting meals
and washing up the plates.
Although I must have Martha’s hands,
I have a Mary mind.
And when I black the boots and shoes,
Thy sandals, Lord, I find.
I think of how they trod the earth,
What time I scrub the floor.
Accept this meditation, Lord,
I haven’t time for more.
Warm all the kitchen with thy love
and light it with thy peace.
Forgive me all my worrying
and make all grumbling cease.
Thou who did love to give men food
and room by the sea,
Accept this service that I do,
I do it unto thee.”
A servant left us this week. Who will take her place? We need an army of servants. God help us that this year we could be like Jesus who said, “I am among you as one who serves.” Amen.