Hi. Welcome to Redeem the Commute. I’m Ryan your host for the Daily Challenges. It’s Wednesday. It’s the day we take the topic we’ve been exploring all week. We try to see how the bible’s words on it challenge and transform our thinking. This week we’re talking about how following Jesus resets everything including our views of work. We saw that yesterday in the bible by exploring a challenging passage one where Paul was writing to the church in a city called Colossae and he spoke directly to those who were bondservants, kind of a mixture of employees and slaves in our thinking today anyway, and those who owned them.
The jest of what he was telling them was to act as if they were not wholly owned. Even though a slave was wholly owned by somebody else they were to act as if God owned them and to remember that those who thought they owned them on paper were their earthly masters not their real ones. The same way those who own slaves were to treat them with dignity and respect as human beings owned by God, not owned by another human being.
Challenging stuff for us to wrestle with because of the ways these passages have been abused and used to condone terrible oppressive slavery, but also the way that it applies to our world today it’s not always easy to see. That was my question for you yesterday to try to figure out how this actually connected with our world of employment in the 21st century. I think it’s pretty true though to say that slavery is alive and well. It’s alive and well for real when people are enslaved for sex trafficking and things like that or when they’re paid extremely low wages overseas and oppressed and we don’t even know it. We’re just buying products and we don’t know where they came from and who made it under what kind of conditions. Those are examples of modern day slavery.
Another form maybe a bit closer to home we can be slaves to work. We can be slaves to our own work yes we can. There are some signs that Christian author and speaker Timothy Keller tells us to watch out for. One thing to watch for is if our work becomes our sense of security in this life. If we don’t have a sense of what we would do if we lost our job. If everything underneath us would crumble. If we would have no foundation in life. If we feel that our work and our income is supposed to insulate us from life’s tragedies then we need to be careful. Tim Keller says that he gets asked often by those in high level jobs and positions how terrible things can happen to them. People say life wasn’t supposed to be like this. He says I have never heard a working class person say that. So many working class and poor people simply know that life is full of challenge and difficulty and tragedy and yet those with resources tend to think implicitly or explicitly that wealth and work can insulate us from life’s reality.
When our work becomes our sense of security we need to pay attention to what kind of work we’re really pursuing. What our real goal in life is. If it is something eternal, unchanging and safe and solid and secure or whether it’s something that simply has that appearance. The other thing that Tim Keller says to look out for is when our work begins to give us our sense of identity and confidence in life. He spoke about people he knew who because of their success in one area of life would pontificate at dinner parties about every other area of life about which they knew nothing. Their sense of confidence and authority in their work made them think that the whole of their being was completely knowledgeable about everything and completely confident and completely correct. We take our work one aspect of our lives and we make it the whole of our identity and that’s very dangerous.
The other way our sense of identity and confidence in ourselves can get all out of whack because of our work is when we start to think that we are our own saviors. That our work whatever we are a part of whether it’s our work ourselves or our work as a human race can somehow save all that we’ve done wrong. That we can completely fix our environment and the destruction we’ve caused. That we can completely find ways to be at peace with one another and end all wars. When we think that we eradicate all disease. When we come up with these things that we think we can work hard enough to achieve what we’re doing is we’re putting ourselves in the place of God.
We have thousands of years of human experience to show that we cannot save ourselves. Every time we get close to eradicating polio some other country has an outbreak. It’s tenacious. It’s like sin. Sin is tenacious as well when we think we’re going to eradicate war. When we think we’re going to eradicate famine. When we think we’re going to eradicate any of these things that enslave us in this life we’re starting to elevate our work to the level of God and we’re saying that we can work hard enough. We can be good enough, perfect enough to save ourselves and it’s a very distorted view of our work.
If you’ve taken our Christianity 101 course you’ll recognize some of those things I just said as what we call the consequences of sin in Christianity 101. Sin messes with our sense of identity. It messes with our self-worth. It pollutes our lives. I can go on, but when we take work and we elevate it to God level that’s actually sin. Remember we defined sin last week as when we take something in this world even a good thing and we pretend it is our ultimate good and that’s ultimately very bad for us. We do that with work a lot. In the passage we explored yesterday I see three things that Paul specifically advises the workers, the bondservants to do given their present situation.
The first one he says is to keep working. He doesn’t tell them to run away. He doesn’t tell them to quit. He tells them to keep working. He doesn’t want followers of Jesus to withdraw from every area of life except those that have somehow been blessed and considered holy. He wants followers of Jesus to be in every area of life working for his Kingdom so he wants them to stay where they are. Now we live in a different world where slavery is not a reality for most of us who are watching this video and in that case we actually do have the option of leaving. We just want to check our motives though.
Are we leaving because we are enslaved to something dangerous and we need to escape it or are we leaving simply because we’re tired, lazy, bored, running away from something that’s difficult. We need to check our motives, but I definitely want to make sure that this isn’t seen as a message saying slaves who are oppressed, who are being violently abused need to stay where they are because God says they should stay where they are and bless people somehow. This isn’t meant to be used as justification for that. It is talking about a very different mode of slavery than what we would see around the world today or what we’ve seen in the last few centuries. We talked about that more on Tuesday.
The second thing that Paul said the bondservants should do is they should work well. They should not just be people pleaser’s, but they should actually genuinely work hard, work to do good work. The reason for that is that God created us to do good work. He said work was good. He gave humans jobs to do. He said it was good. God himself did work by creating the world. It was seen as work in balance with rest. What He wants us to do through the words of Paul and the Colossians is continue to work and continue to work well. Work as if those we work for are human beings who need us. Serve them as real human beings. Do our jobs in ways that show the dignity that’s in every human being that makes the world a better place that builds the Kingdom of God. Whenever we can find work that is consistent with God’s values for the Kingdom that’s a good thing or whenever we can do our work in ways consistent with God’s Kingdom that’s a good thing too.
Finally, he wants the bondservants to work for God to recognize they are not wholly owned by human beings. They are wholly owned by God and to work as if they work for God to see a higher purpose in everything they do. A higher identity in them than just servants. They are created in the image of God. He wants the bondservants to start living in God’s Kingdom even as they live in the broken Kingdom of this world. Even as they live in a world that uses slavery for all sorts of terrible things He wants them to start practicing the Kingdom of God even if they can’t escape that. He wants them to remember they are created for a different kind of world than the broken one we live in.
Imagine how that would impact the life of an employee today. What difference would we see when they’re working well and working for God. How would we work differently? Would the gossip change? Would the griping change? Would the stealing change? Would the laziness change? It sure would.
As a challenge if we’re going to be followers of Jesus in the working world we need to watch ourselves and say am I working or am I just going through the motions. Am I working well? Am I working to care for others and to be generous even to my boss? Even when they don’t deserve it. Even when they use and abuse me. Finally am I working for God? Do I recognize that everything I do here is for my true owner God who created me and not for my employer, not for anyone else. This is between me and God and so I’ll work well because God created work and it’s good for me to do good work. You can see how connected all three of these things are. To continue working, working well, working for God.
My question for you today is to think about how this looks in your work. What aspect of your work have you stopped doing that you need to start again? What aspect of your work have you not been doing well? How can you do it for God? Think through some of the aspects of your work and where that might apply. I gave some examples earlier. Maybe those apply to you. Maybe different ones apply, but think through the aspects of your work where you have been less than attuned to God’s Kingdom. Don’t do that alone. It’s going to be hard so do it with a friend. Share this with somebody you know from the train or bus or from work or from the neighborhood. Make sure you’re sharing these challenges. Start a little discussion group where you watch the videos wherever you are through the week and when you do come together in person you have something to discuss. It could be the start of a great friendship. Have a great discussion. Don’t forget to read the bible on sync and I’ll see you tomorrow.Read the Bible in Sync Today