How GRATEFUL you are depends on THE SIZE OF THE GIFT. Imagine you got back from a holiday, and your friend, who’d been collecting your mail, said, “There was a bill that needed paying. So I paid it for you.” If it was a $40 phone bill, you’d be GRATEFUL. And if it was a $1000 car insurance bill, you’d be REALLY grateful. But imagine if it was your annual mortgage statement, with $500,000 still owing. And he’d paid THAT. You’d be SO grateful, words alone wouldn’t be enough. You’d want to show it with ACTIONS. With some sort of grand gesture that was fitting for a gift as big as THAT. The bigger the GIFT, the greater the THANKS.
A great gift
Today we’re thinking about the Christian at WORK. And there’s lots of PRACTICAL DETAILS. About our attitudes, and actions, and words, and priorities. And we can get lost in all the detail. And it can become another TO DO list. Another list of laws to keep. And we can end up feeling beaten up and guilty. As if it’s all about what WE NEED TO DO. So I want to start by reminding us who we’re working for. And what he’s DONE for us. God’s CREATED us. And he’s king over EVERYTHING. He’s CHOSEN us, and given us JESUS. He’s SAVED us, and made us his CHILDREN, and given us ETERNAL LIFE. A great gift! And that gift deserves the BIGGEST RESPONSE we can GIVE. A response of everything we’ve got/ in every part of our lives. INCLUDING at work.
And both our Bible passages –Micah and Colossians –BEGIN WITH GOD. In Colossians, we started reading from Ch 3 v 22. But the section begins back in v1. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Think about what God’s done. And think about who you now are. We’ve been raised to LIFE, and given a new identity. And then it continues, with all the practical details of how we RESPOND. V5 – put to death therefore whatever belongs to the earthly nature.
Or v12 “Therefore, as God’s CHOSEN PEOPLE, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED, clothe yourselves with COMPASSION” etc. In other words, begin with WHO YOU ARE according to God, and then RESPOND to him APPROPRIATELY.
Or v17 And WHATEVER you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, GIVING THANKS to God the Father through him.
In other words, Do the things that PROMOTE the name of the Lord Jesus, and that further his cause and his kingdom. And do them because you’re THANKFUL TO GOD.
And that INCLUDES the verses we read earlier. About slaves and masters. And about praying, and being wise with outsiders, and taking opportunities to talk about Jesus. All of which we’ll think about later in the context of WORK.
Then there’s the Micah 6 passage. It begins with God, too. So put your finger in Colossians 3, and flip over to Micah. God’s angry with his people Judah. He’s brought them into the Promised Land, but they’ve disobeyed him. And so he’s bringing charges against them (v1-2).
But before he gets to the charges, he reminds them of everything he’s done for them. V3. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. 4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. 5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counselled and what Balaam son of Beor answered
He SAVED them from Egypt. He GUIDED them with leaders. He’s PROTECTED them from curses. They owe him their LIVES. V5, he calls them to REMEMBER. Remember from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” Remember. Set your MINDS on what God’s done for you. And then you’ll know his RIGHTEOUS ACTS.
And “righteous acts” mean more than just good works. “Righteous” means acting according to his contractual obligations – doing what he’s PROMISED to do. God made a COVENANT with Israel. He promised to be the God, and they’d be his people. He promised to RESCUE them. And LEAD them. And PROTECT them. And FORGIVE their SIN. And PROVIDE for them. And he KEPT HIS WORD. 100%. Always acted according to what he’d PROMISED to do. So those are his righteous acts, because he acted according to the contract.
A grateful response
That’s the GIFT we’re to be grateful for. That’s the GOD who’s done EVERYTHING for us. So the question is how do you show your gratitude in a ways that’s FITTING? What can you OFFER a God like that? In verses 6 and 7, we hear from one of the accused. “How can we respond to a gift like THAT? What’s the best we can offer?” 6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Or perhaps even the ULTIMATE sacrifice. Shall I offer MY FIRSTBORN for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Sacrificing his oldest CHILD! Even though God’s FORBIDDEN it. But even THAT won’t satisfy God’s demands. So what’s the ANSWER? In v8 Micah responds. You don’t need to GUESS. V8. He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
When God made a covenant with his people. There were TWO SIDES to the agreement. God would do certain things. And he’d expect certain things of his PEOPLE. God kept HIS side – that’s the righteous acts of the LORD, in v5. And he expects his people to keep THEIR side. It’s their RESPONSE to his good gifts.
And what does he expect? Firstly, ACT JUSTLY. Justice gives to everyone EQUALLY. A level playing field. There’s no advantage in being attractive, or educated, or rich. Sexual orientation, or language background, or disability, or race, or age won’t stop you treating someone fairly. And God wants ACTION, not just WORDS or THOUGHTS. And that’s where your colours will REALLY show. Because it’s easy to SAY you’ll treat someone a certain way. But DOING can be a lot harder. And cost a lot more, not just in money, but in time and complications and emotions.
Secondly, God expects us to LOVE MERCY. It’s the Hebrew word HESED, or “loving-kindness”, or “covenant faithfulness”. God wants to see a society where people are COMMITTED to one another. We’re they’re genuine, and consistent, and true. Where honesty and reliability and trustworthiness are VALUED. God’s shown US kindness, or covenant faithfulness. And he expects us to show the SAME. And we’re to LOVE it. VALUE it. ENCOURAGE it. MODEL it. CELEBRATE it.
And as we look back through the history books, we see that, time and again, it’s CHRISTIANS who lead the way in these two qualities in our society. In ACTING JUSTLY. And LOVING MERCY. It’s been Christians who are first to look after, and defend the sick, and the aged, and the handicapped, and the poor, the imprisoned, the foreigner, and the children. Because THEY TOO are made in God’s image, and valuable. Justice treats them EQUALLY. And MERCY is committed to their well-being and flourishing, whether they can contribute or reciprocate, or not.
The THIRD response is to WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD. Which means to go through life listening to God, rather than yourself or the world around you. It’s trusting HIS WAY, instead of yours. His guidance, his correction, his priorities. He’s your God, and you’re his child. In other words, live within your covenant relationship with God. Live it out as you walk through life. Humility is the ATTITUDE TO GOD/ that will SHOW ITSELF in the ACTIONS TO OTHERS of acting justly and loving mercy.
That sort of response is for ALL of your life. But you can see it’s PARTICULARLY applicable in your WORK LIFE. Because that’s what God focusses on in v9-12. His people WEREN’T acting justly, or loving mercy, or walking humbly before God in their business practices. V10.
10 Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ILL-GOTTEN TREASURES and the SHORT EPHAH, which is accursed? 11 Shall I acquit a man with DISHONEST SCALES, with a bag of FALSE WEIGHTS? 12 Her rich men are VIOLENT; her people are LIARS and their tongues speak deceitfully.
God cares about how we work. He cares about short-changing people. Or charging more billable hours than you work. Or arriving late, or leaving early. Or being too creative in describing the benefits of a product. Or quoting high for a job because you know there’s no competition. Or quoting low to get the contract, then making up the difference with “unexpected” additions. Or putting pressure on clients or competitors with heavy-handed bullying tactics.
God hasn’t treated YOU that way. So don’t treat OTHERS like that. Respond to him by acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before him. THOSE are the religious offerings God wants to see before he sees religious offerings like sacrifices or church attendance or donations or prayers. Fulfil your contractual requirements in business as God fulfils his to you. Let YOUR righteous acts reflect GOD’S righteous acts.
That’s MICAH. Flip back to Colossians, and we’ll spend a few moments thinking about work in THAT world – specifically, SLAVES.
It’s probably helpful to say a few words about SLAVERY. Slavery in the Roman world was quite different from slavery in America. It’s estimated that up to a third of people in Italy were slaves. They worked in households, but also in businesses and shops, as teachers and doctors, in mines and on farms. Many of them CHOSE to enter slavery to pay off debts. In lots of ways it wasn’t THAT different from working life TODAY.
So it’s people like THIS who are commanded (v22) Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 WHATEVER you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,
God is WATCHING. Even when masters AREN’T. And he wants to see CONSISTENT service. In EVERYTHING – the yucky parts of the job as well as the enjoyable parts. Obey at the END of the day just as much as the START of the day. And be RELIABLE. TRUSTWORTHY. KEEP working, even when the boss isn’t checking up on you. Or even if HE’S gone home early. And be SINCERE. CONSISTENT. Don’t be ONE thing when people are watching, and ANOTHER when NO ONE’S watching. Sincerity of heart is about being the same thing INSIDE as you are OUTSIDE.
You see MOTIVATION is important. (The REASON you work hard). Don’t do it to win the BOSS’S favour, or for promotion or a pay rise. Do it with REVERENCE TO THE LORD. In RESPONSE to him. In GRATITUDE for who he is, and what he’s done for you, and for who you are.
It’s the same motivation if you’re a BOSS. Ch 4 v1 says Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
You value God’s fair treatment of YOU, and so you REFLECT that in how you treat those UNDER you.
And it’s a BIG response, because he’s a big GOD. He wants EVERYTHING. So, v23, WHATEVER you do, work at it with all your heart. The little things and the big things. The things that nobody notices, as well as the things that get you noticed. Because GOD notices. “With all your heart” is more literally translated “from your soul”. Be INTERNALLY motivated, rather than EXTERNALLY motivated. Don’t be motivated by competition, or performance review, or fear of missing out or retrenchment. Work hard, in reverence for the Lord, because YOU’VE BEEN RAISED with Christ. You have a new HEART, and a new SPIRIT, and a new PURPOSE and a new MASTER.
And even though you get a wage at the end of the week. There’s a far GREATER reward that’s coming. A far better remuneration. V24. since you know that you will receive an INHERITANCE from the Lord as a REWARD. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
The WAGES for being a Christian aren’t great. But the retirement benefits are OUT OF THIS WORLD. Our future inheritance. It’s how the chapter began. With a reminder of what God’s promised us in the future. 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and YOUR LIFE IS NOW HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then YOU ALSO WILL APPEAR WITH HIM IN GLORY.
That’s the inheritance we’re working for NOW.
V25 adds another future motivation for our work now. REWARD is certain, and so is JUDGMENT. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. That certainty works in TWO WAYS for the slave. It encourages him to work to PLEASE God, who’ll hold him accountable for his OWN actions. But it will also helps him deal with injustices at work. To trust that the unjust oppressor will ALSO receive judgment. We can REST in God’s justice. Romans 12:19 says Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
It’s a temptation for the Christian worker to behave dishonestly, because the BOSS is treating him badly. But NO, we’re to work honestly, because we’re not, ultimately, working for our employer, we’re working for GOD.
It doesn’t mean the Christian shouldn’t seek equity and fairness in wages or conditions. Just that we’re not to take personal revenge. Use the right means of seeking justice. It might bring equity, or it may NOT. But after doing what WE can, we should leave the ULTIMATE justice to God, who’ll audit EVERY set of accounts in the end. And that gives us comfort and hope. And motivates us to just keep working HONESTLY. To act justly and to love mercy.
Prayer and proclamation
In v2 of ch 4, it seems like we move onto a different topic. But I reckon it’s still relevant to this topic of work. V2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Great attitudes to have every day at work. Devoted to PRAYER. Seeking God’s guidance and strength for each decision you make. It’s what walking humbling before God LOOKS LIKE. And be WATCHFUL AND THANKFUL. Watchful for opportunities to show justice and mercy. Watchful for God’s leading. And thankful for him. For everything he’s GIVEN you, and GIVES you each day. If more of us took those attitudes to work, we’d be a lot HAPPIER, and we’d get a lot more SATISFACTION from our work.
In v3-4, Paul wants prayer for HIS work, TOO. That God would open a door for his message. And, v4, that he’d be CLEAR in how he SPOKE the message. And that should be OUR prayer as well – whatever job we do. (Open doors, and clear speaking). V5, we should be WISE in the way we act toward outsiders. It’s literally, “WALK IN WISDOM”. A whole series of wise decisions as you walk through the day, in your conversations and priorities and tasks. And as you deal with colleagues, or supervisors, or those under you, or with clients or customers.
And IN PARTICULAR, be wise in how you use your TIME. “Make the most of every opportunity”. In particular, the opportunities of CONVERSATIONS. V6. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Work is a great opportunity to MEET people. And to TALK to people. You spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with your own family! Those conversations can be an open door for the message about Jesus. Or they can CLOSE doors, and HARDEN people to him.
So your words need to be FULL OF GRACE. There’s no point winning an argument, but you’re such a bully that there’s no chance for MORE conversations. Better to LOSE the ARGUMENT, and be GRACIOUS. But it’s not about just agreeing with everyone, and not standing up for what you believe in. To make the MOST of opportunities, we have to SAY SOMETHING. Gracious YES, but also FULL OF SALT. Which is the idea of being DIFFERENT, and FLAVOURSOME, and INTERESTING.
And if we’re WISE, and GRACIOUS – if we LISTEN to people, and add value with our words, then we’ll have someone helpful to say to EACH ONE. It’s not “everyone” in a GENERAL sense. It’s EACH INDIVIDUAL one. Because every person’s DIFFERENT. And what’s wise to say to ONE person won’t suit ANOTHER person. Which is where being devoted to prayer, and being WATCHFUL comes in. Because it’s GOD who gives opportunities, and wisdom and grace and answers.
And it’s GOD we’re working for. In RESPONSE to his gracious gifts to us. And it’s in the name of Jesus that we’re DOING it all. So that HIS kingdom will grow. For HIS glory.