Sermon Notes

Ephesians 6:5-9 June 11, 2000
Walking Wisely: Christ-Centered Career

Job descriptions are a very important indicator as to what will be involved in a job. It is important, therefore to be well trained to interpret key phrases. For example:

"Competitive Salary" We remain competitive by paying less than our competitors.

"Join Our Fast Paced Company" We have no time to train you.
 
"Casual Work Atmosphere" We don't pay enough to expect that you will dress up.

"Must be Deadline Oriented" You will be six months behind schedule on your first day.

"Some Overtime Required" Some time each night, some time each weekend.

"Duties will Vary" Anyone in the office can boss you around.

"Must have an Eye for Detail" We have no quality control.

"Seeking Candidates with a Wide Variety of Experience"- You will need to replace three people who just left.

"Problem Solving Skills a Must" You are walking into a company in perpetual chaos. Haven't heard a word from anyone out there. Your first task is to find out what is going on.

Working is something we all do. It is part of our calling, our vocation. Our jobs certainly vary with age and station in life. If young, you are called to be a student; if retired, you are called to serve in ways you never had time for before. Despite the child’s blunder of answering the question, "Does your mommy work?" with, "No, she’s a mom," each one of us works.

One day a man spotted a lamp by the roadside. He picked it up, rubbed it vigorously and a genie appeared. "I'll grant you your fondest wish," the genie said. The man thought for a moment, then said, "I want a spectacular job--a job that no man has ever succeeded at or has ever attempted to do." "Poof!" said the genie. "You're a housewife."

Each of us in our jobs may well feel overwhelmed by what we have to do each day. For a couple years I've been blaming it on lack of sleep and too much pressure from my job, but now I found out the real reason: I'm tired because I'm overworked. To realize this all it takes is a little math.

The population of this country is 237 million. 104 million are retired. That leaves 133 million to do the work. There are 85 million in school, which leaves 48 million to do the work. Of this there are 29 million employed by the federal government, leaving 19 million to do the work. 2.8 million are in the Armed Forces, which leaves 16.2 million to do the work. Take from the total the 14,800,000 people who work for State and City Governments and that leaves 1.4 million to do the work. At any given time there are 188,000 people in hospitals, leaving 1,212,000 to do the work. Now, there are 1,211,998 people in prisons. That leaves just two people to do the work. You and me. And as far as I can tell, right now I’m the only person working!

If you're into bumper-sticker philosophy, you've probably seen the axiom, "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go." For a vast portion of the workforce, that's the best reason they can muster for going to the job each day. According to one poll, only 43 percent of American office workers are satisfied with their jobs. In Japan, the figure dips to 17 percent. Our passage this morning focuses on the issue of work, but it deals with a situation few of us can immediately understand. In the first century, Christian slaves had even less reason to be enthusiastic about their work. The vast majority of the workers were slaves. Indeed it was considered beneath any Greek or Roman to labor, for to be employed denoted the status of a slave, whether that labor be with the hands or the mind. In the mist of a low view of employment, Paul gave the readers in Ephesus a way to grasp a glimpse of glory amid the grind.

5. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.

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.

7. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men,
 
8. because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

9. And masters, treat your slaves in 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.

For the past few months as we enter into the final sections of Ephesians, I’ve entitled this section: "Walking Wisely" in light of 5:15. Based on our position in Christ, how we interact with others demands we live circumspectly; we must be careful. What Paul calls us to do is indeed impossible were it not for the command in verse 18: "be filled with the Holy Spirit." The careful life, obedient Christian walk, is done not by one’s own ability, but by the work of God’s grace in the person. What does a spirit-filled life look like? While some may want to see the spectacular, Paul points to the mundane, but impossible lifestyle of giving thanks to God (focusing on the vertical) and submitting to one another (looking at the horizontal). This everyday evidence of walking wisely, of being filled with the Holy Spirit is seen in how we interact with one another. The question Paul wants us to ask ourselves is this: "Am I submitting to others? Am I setting aside my rights so that I can serve another?"

This is seen in how wives respect their husbands, how husbands love their wives. This is understood in children obeying their parents and parents training and instructing their children. Paul continues on in verses 5-9 in the household context of masters and slaves.

Before we delve into this passage we need some historical setting to understand the situation.

During Paul’s day slavery was the norm. Scholars have estimated that in the first century Roman Empire there were some 60 million slaves. They did all the work, and not just the hard physical labor we’d imagine. They were the doctors, teachers; even many of the closest advisors to Caesar were slaves.

Culturally, the slave was viewed as not as a person, but as a thing. Aristotle centuries before explained how the slave was to be viewed. The master and slave could never develop a relationship, for they had nothing in common. The slave, Aristotle said, was "a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.’ Varro, writing on agriculture, divides agricultural instruments into three classes — the articulate, the inarticulate, and the mute. The articulate comprises the slaves, the inarticulate the cattle, and the mute the vehicles. Cato, giving advice to a man taking over a farm, says he must throw out everything that is past its work; whether tool or slave, for when a slave is ill it is sheer extravagance to issue him with normal rations.

The law supported such a view. Gaius, the Roman lawyer, in the Institutes lays it down: "We may note that it is universally accepted that the master possesses the power of life and death over the slave." If the slave ran away, at best he was branded on the forehead with the letter F for fugitivus, which means runaway; at worst he was killed. The terror of the slave was that he was absolutely at the caprice of his master. Augustus crucified a slave because he killed a pet quail. Vedius Pollio flung a slave still living to the savage lampreys in his fish pond because he dropped and broke a crystal goblet. A Roman writer lays it down: ‘Whatever a master does to a slave, undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice and law.’" (Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, pp. 179-180)

Having said that, during the early years of Christianity’s spread, great changes were taking place.

Slaves could count on being freed at some point. Slave owners were releasing slaves at such a rate that Augustus Caesar introduced legal restrictions to curb the trend. Despite this, inscriptions indicate that almost 50 percent of slaves were freed before the age of thirty. What is more, while the slave remained his master's possession he could own property - including other slaves! - and completely controlled his own property, so that he could invest and save to purchase his own freedom.

We also must understand that being a slave did not indicate one's social class. Slaves regularly were accorded the social status of their owners. Regarding outward appearance, it was usually impossible to distinguish a slave from free persons. A slave could be a custodian, a salesman, or a CEO. Many slaves lived separately from their owners. Finally, selling oneself into slavery was commonly used as a means of obtaining Roman citizenship and gaining an entrance into society. Roman slavery in the first century was far more humane and civilized than the American/African slavery practiced in this country much later. (Hughes, 206)

One other point to consider before we delve into our passage: People often wonder why Paul does not address what we perceive to be the obvious evils of slavery. Why no critique?

Paul’s response to slavery illustrates the means by which society is best transformed. Rather than mounting a political and social machine to overturn injustice, Paul overturns culture through Gospel transformation. As lives are realigned in light of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, societal structures are corrected. Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire pointed out this truth when he said, "While that great body [the Roman Empire] was invaded by open violence or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigor from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the capital."

Rather than seeking a political or cultural upheaval, God changes the internal first, the heart first and then the external. So, rather than wrestling with questions of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of slavery, Paul seeks to apply the Gospel to a world contorted by sin, and in that, change the world.

It is in that we see the key to this passage and all of Ephesians. What is the means by which we interpret our place in the world, how we organize our relationships? Christ-centeredness interprets all we are and all we do. Notice the constant refrain here of the centrality of Christ to understand our work. The problem most people have is they focus on their circumstances, not on their Savior. Paul sees the sovereignty of God in every facet of life. He has put you where you are and will use you where He has placed you. Even in slavery, the slave must first understand that Christ is still their Lord.

Christ-Centered Serving

Christ-centered activity

The command for the slaves is the same as for children: obey. As we saw there, it literally means to come under the hearing of another, to allow them to instruct and command. But Paul sets the parameters of this obedience by how he describes those they are to obey.

The English word "master" is kurios, lord. At first it may seem scandalous to append such a title to the slave owner, but this was the how the word was used. But notice how Paul describes this lord with a lower case "l"? They are lords, masters according to the flesh, earthly masters. The realm of their authority is limited in scope. Their spiritual freedom remained untouched.

This obedience was to be with respect and fear, or translated "with fear and trembling." But this response is not, in the final analysis, directed toward the boss. He may be an ogre, an unjust man, but no Christian is ever exhorted to be a trembling, spineless, chinless individual toward the boss. He is not to be "a mouse studying to be a rat." The respect that is to be shown to the master, the respect you are to show toward your employer, illustrates how you respect Christ. God has ordained those means by which you can receive what you need to feed and care for your family. The respect toward the employer is because of Christ. There is to be an element of "fear" in all relationships when their essential sacredness is realized. We can’t pray: "Give us this day our daily bread," and then curse the means by which God gives it to us.

In addition to this respect which is evidenced in how you work, in how you speak regarding your employer, there is to be sincerity. This eliminates the "Eddy Haskal" syndrome of fawned politeness. There must also be sincerity mingled with the respect.

"Sincerity" comes from two Latin words: sine ("without") and cera ("wax"). In the ancient world, where the making of pottery was an important industry, dishonest potters would sometimes cover up cracks or flaws in their pottery by filling them with wax. In normal usage this might not be detected. But it could be seen if the pottery was held up to the light before it was purchased. Then the wax would show up as a lighter hue. Good pottery was sometimes stamped with the words sine cera ("without wax") as proof of its good quality. (Boice 220)

But the Greek word used here, haploteti, combines the idea of genuineness with generosity. It means not only will they be honest in their dealing, but they will be sold out, too. The word literally means "one fold," not hiding anything, not double minded. You should have a singleness of heart.

Christ-centered attitude

Paul moves from the Christ-centered actions in the work place, to Christ-centered attitudes in the work place. Superficial obedience is outside the realm of permissible actions, because it reveals a skewed attitude.

We are to give 100% to our vocations. This 100% is not 12% on Monday, 23% on Tuesday, 40% on Wednesday, 20% on Thursday and 5% on Friday. It does not fluctuate based on the presence or absence of your supervisor.

When we work more diligently because we know the boss is around, if we slack off if we know no one is watching, we betray a faulty attitude of what is the center of our life. We imagine that the manager, the owner, the employer, is the one who has ultimate sway in your life. Based out of fear of loss of employment or desire for their praise, you forget who the true manager is; you neglect to understand that you are a slave...of Christ.

It is like when you were in gym class in school and it was time for push-ups. As the coach orders everyone down and begins to intone, "up-down,-up-down," and all are following until he looks to the side. In that moment the students go on "hold."

It is summarized by the notice on the employee bulletin board: "In case of fire, flee the building with the same reckless abandon that occurs each day at quitting time."

What is to be our motivation, the controlling influence in the way we approach work? Doing God’s will.

There's a story about Sir Christopher Wren, one of England's greatest architects. Approximately three centuries ago, when he was building St. Paul's Cathedral, he was said to have taken a walk among the workers, most of whom did not know him. To one he asked, "What are you doing?" The man replied, "Anyone can see I'm cutting stone." He put the same question to another and was told, "I'm earning five shilling two-pence a day." He moved on and asked a third, who replied, "Why, I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren build a great cathedral to the glory of God."

Doing the will of God here is doing your work. People spend restless hours trying to ascertain God’s will for their lives. Here it is, plain and simple: work hard, serving your employer because you are serving Christ. A significant and often overlooked way that we serve God is in our everyday tasks. Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, "The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays - not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."

There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes. (William J. Bennett, The Book of Virtues)

Doing this will has a view to God’s reward (verse 8). This verse causes confusion, but only if we wrench it from its context.

First, the word "reward" conjures up images of working hard so that one can attain a higher standing in heaven. But Paul here is not promising a higher standing, but the goal of what faith is. The person who works, with a view not toward just getting a paycheck, not for the immediate alone, but sees all of life in view of eternity, that is, they live by faith, for them, they will receive what Christ purchased for them, eternal life.

What Paul is describing here is the person who lives out the Gospel; it is the person for whom the Gospel has penetrated each aspect of life. When we understand justification by grace alone received by faith alone, then we are able to pour ourselves into whatever vocation God has called us to and know that our position is secure. We will receive (which is what the word "reward" here means) what Christ has promised us. The other option is that of a self-centered life, that is, without repentance and faith and their fruits, there can come no service rendered as there is to the Lord from the heart, that He can reward.

In December 1994, the Air Force Times reported that Army soldier Joseph Cannon, who had just ended a six-year career, had not received a single military paycheck since boot camp. Officials said that Cannon's records were lost at his first duty station and he had never complained. He missed 144 paychecks, totaling more than $103,000! It seems Cannon had lived in the barracks, eaten only in the mess halls, and when he had special needs he had borrowed a few dollars from relatives. One observer noted, "It appears he thought his room and board were the payment the military offered, so he took it all in stride and never felt deprived or overlooked. He figured somebody 'higher up' would take care of him as long as he took care of his job." While Cannon's example may seem a major injustice or simply an example of "ignorance gone to seed," his simple trust in authority is endearing. (God's Little Devotional Book for Men)

"Come work for the Lord. The work is hard, the hours are long and the pay is low. But the retirement benefits are out of this world."

When we live with a view to living out our trust in Christ in every situation, we then may be saved from these excerpts from actual performance reviews for British Navy and Marine officers:

"His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of curiosity."

"This officer is really not so much of a has-been, but more of a definitely won't-be."

"Works well under constant supervision and when cornered like a rat in a trap."

"This young lady has delusions of adequacy."

"She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them."

"This officer should go far--and the sooner he starts, the better."

"This man is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot."

(from Jackspeak: The Purser's Rum Guide to Royal Navy Slanguage)

Christ-Centered Managing

Christ-centered management principle

We’ve spent much of our time on the verse applied to slaves. The text demands it, and let’s face it, even if we are in management, we are all answerable to someone, whether that be a boss or a board. But let’s quickly look at how living a Christ-centered life will affect how we oversee others in our employ. Paul’s response is short, though, not because there are so few masters in the congregation, but he commands the masters, the lords, to do the same as the slaves. All that which applies to slaves, now is applied to the masters.

This is the golden rule of management.

The respect you desire to be shown, the obedience, the dedication you desire, show that to them. Treat those you employ, those who answer to you, justly and fairly. You have no right to treat employees as chattel. They are not existing for your enrichment. You have no right merely to extract money from them, to exploit them, to use the sweat of their brow only that you may become richer. No Christian master has the right to think this way.

By and large, people like their jobs, they like their co-workers, but it's a different story when it comes to the boss. Perhaps showing the scars from a decade of downsizing, employees say they trust co-workers more than their bosses and feel their companies don't listen to them, according to two surveys. "People are satisfied at work but have mixed feelings about top management," said Sigal Barsade, assistant professor at the Yale School of Management. Little more than half of the employees would recommend their company as a good place to work, according to the second survey in which 9,100 people were questioned by consultants Watson Wyatt. While 61% of workers are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, only 32% feel management makes good and timely decisions. Moreover, only 35% characterize the level of trust between senior management and employees as favorable, and only 36% said their companies actively sought workers' opinions. Just 38% said the information needed to accomplish their work is widely shared. "Workers want to succeed but sometimes don't know how," said George Bailey, a director at Watson Wyatt. "And many companies aren't helping them to figure it out." (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 2, 1997)

Christ-centered unity

The reason for this command is again the great equality which exists as we see our life from heaven’s perspective. The time in which you were born is by a sovereign God’s hand; the education you’ve received is part of His plan; the position you’ve attained is by God’s grace, so when you look down on those seemingly less fortunate than you, you’ve spit in the face of a loving God who gave you such a good life.

At that point, be careful. As Colin Powell once remarked: "Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it."

Rather, understand that we all serve the same master, the supreme supervisor, the eternal employer, the Creator God with whom we must each give account. He is not dazzled by your resume; He is not awed by your job title; He is not wowed by your responsibilities. He is not nearly as impressed with you as you are impressed with you.

Before the Civil War, some visitors from the North were watching a company of slaves in New Orleans. The slaves were wearily shuffling along the dock. But one, in striking contrast, with head erect strode among them with the dignified bearing of a conqueror. "Who is that fellow?" someone asked. "Is he the straw boss; or the owner of the slaves?" "No," was the answer, "That fellow just can't get it out of his head that he is the son of a king." And that's exactly what he was. He had been dragged into slavery as a small child. He had already been taught, though, that he was no ordinary person; he was the son of a king. Now, after half a lifetime of hardship and abuse, which had broken the spirit of the others, he was still the son of a king! That is what you are, if you are in Christ.

Sermon Notes