Thoughts from Doug Knox.
Practicing Value in Undervalued Labor
The Reality of Modern Work
We live in a universe in which two competing realities war against each other. On the one side, God loves work. He has set himself to a history-long work project, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things on heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10).
Everything from the creation of the world to the fall of mankind, from the redemptive work that began in Genesis and reached its climax with Jesus’ death and resurrection to the new heavens and earth moves us toward Gods goal of uniting all things.
Given that reality, it is no wonder that God has created a work ethic for us. A well-chosen work project can provides a source of unending satisfaction for a man.
The Darker Side of Labor
Unfortunately, we all know the reality of the other side of work. The world remains in sin, and our fallen world includes work place exploitation. Often, those who control others exercise power simply because they can.
Modern history bears this out. Our free society practiced slavery for far too long in its history. During the early Industrial Revolution, factory owners were only too eager to exploit children in brutal work environments. Significant portions of English and United States history deal with work arbitration. To this day, much work is undervalued and abused.
Bringing Dark Labor into the Light
What is a man supposed to do? Thankfully, the Bible gives us direction in this matter. In Ephesians, Paul writes this to those who had to serve as slaves:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ , doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…
I grew up under the teaching that slavery in Rome was more benevolent than the slavery our county exercised in the Deep South during American times. More recent studies have concluded that it was just as brutal.
Historians have estimated that during this time, up to half the population were slaves. Slaves were property whose thoughts and feelings lay below the radar. They were valueless except for what they could produce.
Many contemporary jobs are similar. The value of the job lies only in what a man can produce, while it ignores the man himself. In that respect, some work is little more than slave labor. Therefore, Paul’s instructions to slaves apply to us as well.
When Paul calls Christian slaves to obey their earthly masters as they would obey Christ, he is telling them—and us—to approach life radically. We are to use our minds and work as dignified individuals in a world that holds us to be valueless outside of our productivity.
Obedience as unto Christ
How do we do this? Paul tells us, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters … as you would Christ.” This is not all, however. Paul finishes the thought, “…knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” (Ephesians 6:8).
This is a significant promise for those in labor. According to Paul, Christ equates sincere obedience to their masters as obedience to Christ. Our daily tasks become service to the Lord.
Obedience out of Principle
Our service, Paul says, is to be “from your heart.” Whether or not our bosses acknowledge our labor, we work to fulfill a higher principle. Our earthly work matters in the eternal perspective.
Paul challenges menial workers to labor with a sense of purpose, because when we have a sense of purpose, we give our work a level of dignity.
Service Worthy of Reward
We know that slaves did not serve for reward. They served because others had life-or-death power over them. Like them, we may lack opportunities for advancement. But we know that the Lord will reward us regardless of our earthly position.
One author writes this:
What is remarkable here is that Paul directly exhorts slaves in a manner that is unprecedented, for in traditional discussions of household management the focus of attention was on how a master should rule his slaves. In the Pauline tables slaves, like wives and children, are treated as ethically responsible persons….They are as much members of the Christian congregations…as their masters.
Think of the dignity that this command lends to those who are treated with contempt. What we do matters to Jesus. He will reward us.