Well, a lot of listeners listen to this podcast on their drive to work in the morning, so this seems especially relevant. We don’t want to waste our jobs. None of us does. We spend so much time at work, and it’s a place to pursue excellence. But why? Why should we pursue excellence at work, when we often don’t see any eternal value in our weekly duties and routines? It’s a question today from a listener named Dylan. “Hello, Pastor John. In Colossians 3:22–24, Paul exhorts his readers to ‘work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.’ Does this mean that any work not done in excellence is sinful? And how do we apply God’s view of work to cleaning our house, writing a paper for school, or working a 9-to-5 job? I have been feeling guilty about the way I handle these things for months now, and I’m not sure if I’m just being lazy, self-righteous, or am I disobeying the Lord?”
Well, the first thing with regard to his guilt or feeling guilty is that the Bible handles guilt in two ways, and both are very important. One is the blood of Jesus that covers all our sin, including how we do our work. None of us does our work as well as we could. We’re always falling short of the ideal. The other is to resolve to walk and work faithfully before the Lord in the freedom of that forgiveness.
“Everything we do, from morning till night, is to be done in a Godward way, in reliance on his grace.”
If we try to use the blood of Jesus as a free pass to walk in sin, our conscience will rise up and protest (thank God). And if we try to walk in faithfulness and obedience without relying on the blood of Jesus for forgiveness and enablement, we will either fail in despair, or we will look like we succeed and become proud.
It’s the two together — the blood of Jesus and the resolve of walking and working faithfully and obediently — that’s the key to the peaceful life of being forgiven before God and being vigilant over our hearts and minds as we go about our daily tasks. So, what is God’s will for how we should do our ordinary work, and then in particular, what is “working as for the Lord” from Colossians 3:23? Let’s get the bigger picture first.
God Owns Us
In the Bible, God makes total, absolute claims on our lives — all of our lives, including all of our work of whatever kind. Everything in our lives is to be done before the face of God, in reliance upon God’s grace, according to God’s guidance, for God’s glory. Listen to these amazing passages.
“The blood of Jesus covers all our sin, including how we do our work.”
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
Isn’t that amazing? Every word, every deed in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, the Father, through him.
Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16:3)
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:6–9)
This is one of my favorites just because it’s so amazingly sweeping in calling us to live Godward lives. It’s amazing. I love it. Oh, how I want to live to the Lord, before the Lord, always with reference to the Lord!
All those texts have one basic message: we belong to God; we’re not our own. Everything we do, from morning till night, is to be done in a Godward way, before his face, in reliance on his grace, guided by his will, and aiming to make him look magnificent and glorious as our all-satisfying treasure. That’s what work is for. That’s what all of life is for.
In my book Don’t Waste Your Life, there’s a chapter called “Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5.” That chapter tries to grapple with how you go about doing your daily work so as not to waste what it’s for.
Now, just a few words about Colossians 3:22–24. Here’s the text that Dylan is exercised about. It’s got the phrase “work as for the Lord and not for men” in it. The verse goes like this, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily” — here it is — “as for the Lord and not for men” — so work as for the Lord and not for men — “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22–24). So work as for the Lord, and Paul modifies this command in five ways. We can know there’s not much doubt here about how Paul thinks about this. There are five modifiers to what he means by “as for the Lord.”
“Resolve to walk and work faithfully before the Lord in the freedom of forgiveness.”
1. Not to be done with eye-service as men-pleasers. That is, you’re not just angling to impress others when you do your work. God, not others, is the one you have in view. You’re working in a Godward way first, not a man-ward way.
2. The opposite of eye-service is sincerity, he says. In other words, you really mean the good that your work is aiming to do. The work is not to impress others. The work is what it is. It’s for the good of others.
3. Fearing the Lord. In other words, fearing displeasing the Lord. Having a reverential desire to please the Lord in the way you do your work.
4. Working heartily. Literally, “from the soul.” That is, not half-heartedly, but putting your whole self into it.
5. Expecting a great reward from the Lord, even if man gives you nothing for it. That doesn’t matter in the end. What matters in the end is you’re going to get over-abundance — poured-down, pressed-together, overflowing, in-your-lap reward from the Lord.
Now, all five of those guidelines for how we do our work for the Lord are given to us not because the Lord needs our work. He doesn’t. Acts 17:25 states, “[God] is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything.” God doesn’t need our work. That’s not the point. Paul gave us these instructions because this will bring the greatest joy to us when we work this way. And it will show that God is our greatest treasure.