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Everyone labors. Everyone works. True, not everyone has a “nine-to-five” and some are not compensated financially for the work they do. But save for a few exceptions–those confined to bed, those with disabilities that preclude any kind of labor–we all work in one way or another.

Maybe it is the work of a mother, laboring to care for the needs of her children. Perhaps it is that nine-to-five (or six-to-six!) job that demands so much. It could be volunteer; it might well be labor for hire. Perhaps you do your work out of your car, from your home, or at an office, or in the great outdoors.

How does your life with Jesus impact the work that you do? How does life with Jesus influence the way you serve others?

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lays out (in Colossians 3:1-17) some broad guidelines for how we live out the life that is ours because of Jesus. With a big brush, he paints pictures of how we can relate to one another in light of what Jesus has done for us. Having done that, he turns his attention to some specific relationships, touching on husbands and wives and moving on to parents and children.

Then he picks up “laborers”–of various kinds.

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Colossians 3:22-24)

In a desire to make this passage relevant, some try to draw parallels between slavery in Paul’s day and the kind of work most people do these days. There could be some benefit in doing that, but perhaps a simpler way forward would be to note the foundation for the kind of relationship Paul enjoins on slaves.

He refers to them and what they do as “service” and as “work.” He uses words that can easily be understood as general terms for serving someone else and laboring on some task. And he offers some ground level counsel:

Do not do what you do “with external service.” Literally, the expression speaks of doing “eye-service.” The idea is one of doing what you are doing so as to be noticed.

Do not do what you do as those who “merely please men.” This adds another layer to the first idea. Not only should serving not be done in order to be noticed by others, but serving and work is not to be undertaken simply to curry favor with others.

Do what you do with “sincerity of heart.” No pretense here. When you labor or serve another, in your work for the benefit of another, do what you do because you sincerely want to be of benefit to them.

Do what you do “fearing the Lord.” This is not craven fear, shaking-in-your-boots kind of terror. This speaks of appropriate reverence. He calls us to do all out labor “heartily”–literally, “from the soul” or as an expression of who you really are–and to do that as if you were doing it for the Lord Jesus himself.

Here then is the foundation–for slaves, or servant, or workers of any kind. These ideas can readily be woven into all our serving, all our labor, all our work.

Don’t work in order to be seen. Don’t labor to curry favor with others. When you serve, make it from the heart. When you serve, recognize that in all your serving is an expression of your life with Jesus . . . the one who came to serve (Mark 10:45).


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