Series: Better things are coming
- Philemon 1
- 1 Peter 2:18-25
Christians are people who were once were lost in sin, but:
- who received a new life from God by grace
- who come to Christ and honour Him
- who spiritually sacrifice praise to God
- who draw from eternal hope to overcome present suffering
- who now live as aliens
- who are now satisfied in Christ, and say “no” to sinful desires
- who now freely submit to worldly authority for the honour of God
- who respect worldly authority because kings are under God
- who only fear and ultimately obey God as their highest authority
Holiness in the workplace:
- Christians are always mindful of their salvation in Christ Jesus
- Christians always follow the example of Christ Jesus
- Christians always respect those in authority over them
- Christians demand no right other than what they enjoy in Christ
It would be reasonable to think that all politicians, once elected into parliament, would aspire to become a minister of some department, or even become Premier of Prime Minister. In Australian politics, especially in the current climate, there are two departments considered to be prickly ones: Industrial Relations and Immigration. Both departments can prove to be full of land mines; think about dealing with Unions on one hand, and refugees on the other hand.
Our text deals with both: we are refugees on a working visa, without any right or citizenship; and we find ourselves in the workplace every day, either as employer, or as employee. The question is, how do Christians live as employers and as employees – sometimes in hostile environments?
Christians belong to Christ
In a seminar I recently attended the question about what the church has to offer to this world was on the table. The short answer was: the greatest gift the church of Christ can give to this world is to live like the church of Christ. if we apply this to the workplace we can sum it up by saying that Christians need to radically live out who they are in Christ in the way they do their work, and in the they they treat their workers.We are Christians because we belong to Christ; our very name connects us to Him who we serve – we slaves of Christ, and we need to seek his glory in anything we do because Christ connected us to Him. How?
Let’s begin at the end of this chapter, verse 24-25:
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24–25)
Verse 25: We were like lost sheep, going our own way. We faced danger and death and, like the lost sheep, we could not find our home back to God. We were not born with spiritual compasses to find our way back home. Delivered out into the snares and pitfalls of our archenemy, the devil, our life was hopeless, without sense and meaning, without future. Paul puts it this way:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10–18)
But God … The grace of God in Jesus Christ is this: Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree, by his wounds we have been healed. These words come from Isaiah 53, that wonderful chapter in the Old Testament referring to Christ as the suffering Servant. When Philip explained to the Ethiopian in his chariot (Acts 8) the meaning of this chapter about Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, he believed and was saved. He was made a new man in Christ. He became a servant of Christ, a Christian.
This is what happens to every Christian: out of the darkness, as Peter puts it earlier in this chapter, God calls us into his marvellous light. His call is based on the work of Christ who is the Cornerstone once rejected by the builders.
What now? No-one walks away from Christ the same way he or she came to Him. Listen: “So that we might die to sin and live for righteousness”. We are united with Christ, we are forgiven and healed, we return to Christ on the calling of God through the Gospel to die to sin – and live for righteousness. The Bible calls it first of all repentance, but repentance for the Christian never stops – it continues in the daily repentance of sanctification: to more and more we say “no” to the world” and say “yes” to see the will of Christ displayed through our Christian witness.
With this in mind let’s go to the second point.
Christians need to live like Christ
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21, NIV)
There is not an moment in the life of a Christian that he or she should take his eyes off Christ. In every situation, under all circumstances, by and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we must follow Him. A true disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who walks with Christ and learns from Him. I find it interesting that Jesus demanded of his disciples to follow HIM, not in the first instance remember his words. How important that might be to know the Bible, read it and even drill into our memory some verses of the Bible, these things cannot take the place of our complete submission to Christ and to walk with Him. Listen to John 15:
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4–5)
O, may we as church of the Lord Jesus Christ understand these words – it will make all the difference. This is exactly what Peter wanted those who read his letter wanted to understand: Christian living is not memorise and a set of rules; Christian living is to walk in the shadow of Him who healed us by his wounds. At his command we do, and for his sake we follow his example.
What does all of this to do with the workplace and the way we are good employers and employees? In short, we need to do as He set the example.
Respect for bosses and labourers
“Submit to your masters in all respect.” Another way of translating this is “Show your masters all the respect you can.”
When Peter wrote this letter, working as a slave was very common. Slaves outnumbered free people in cities like Rome. Not all of the slaves were uneducated; in fact many of them had a very fine education, so much so that the majority of the teachers, doctors, and other professionals belonged to this class. Can you remember how the old Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey sneered at the young lady teacher, saying that education is of no use to high society for as long as there are people of the lower classes who know how to do arithmetic and can write?
Slaves had no rights; they were completely owned by their masters, who did with them as they pleased. And some master were horrible. The text in 1Peter 2 refers to “crooked” masters; they were unjust and treated the slaves harshly.
Some of Peter’s readers became Christians after they were bought as slaves. If they were free in Christ, and if they now belong to another Kingdom, did that imply that they were free from their masters, even the bad ones? No, Peter said, take your salvation as Christian into your workplace and live as Christian by the example of Christ, as someone saved from the slavery of sin.
Christians are not called to be Christians only on a Sunday. That’s where we make a mistake. The way we do our work every day is in itself an enormous witness. Paul writes:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, (Ephesians 6:5–7)
Colossians 3 puts it this way:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23–24)
The worker on the workshop floor, the mechanic under the oil-dripping car, the office worker trying to make the books balance, the teacher trying to instil knowledge in their students, do what they do for Christ. Yes, our trustworthiness, punctuality, honesty and reliability are things that adorn our message of Christ. We need to do what we do very well; if we did, talking about Christ becomes so much easier, and makes so muck more sense. The opposite is glaringly true: the unreliable, untrustworthy and dishonest worker will have a hard time to try to convince his unbelieving employer to follow Christ. If the attitude of Christ is reflected in our everyday work, then there is something of a holiness in the workplace, then the workplace becomes on of the most important files for evangelism. Even if it means that we take it on the chin when we are treated badly – because this says our text, is what our Lord did. And besides, the text says it is grace, or a gracious thing to do.
Not all of us work for someone – we have people working for us. Our text in 1 Peter does not deal with it, so I am not going to elaborate on the subject, other to take what Paul writes to Philemon: A worker who has become a Christian – and all Christian employers should pray for, and work towards the salvation of their employees – is better than a slave, he is a dear brother. If he or she is not there yet, treat them as Christ would have in love and respect.
Just a word to contemplate: Christian employees working for Christian employers should not automatically expect favours because they are in the service of a brother/sister; in this situation, everything the Bible says about holiness in the workplace stands. The opposite is also true: the Christian employer has no right to exploit his Christian employee, purely because Christian workers might be willing to walk a second mile without complaining. Sadly, many Christian employers dodge appointing Christian employees (and vice versa) because some Christians can be so un-Christian in the workplace. What a charge against Christianity!
One “right” – my standing in Christ
I think we would understand the Bible wrongly if we think it endorses the practice of slavery – especially as it was practiced in the time of the Roman Empire. What the apostles wanted the new Christians to understand very clearly is that they did not become Christians to overthrow all laws and customs. Surely the outcome of their testimony and the way they practiced their walk in the Lord did call for better work practices, and rightly so did Christians take the lead in the abolition of slavery, while the rest of the world clung to it purely to exploit their labourers.
So, ultimately, for the Christian at least, we do not claim as absolute standard and rule our rights under present governments or workers unions. My worth does not lie in my rights; my worth lies in my standing before God who called me to be his own through Jesus Christ who took my sin upon Him. Therefore, in some cases Christians might work the extra hour or two without pay; they might need to take it when they are not treated according to the standards of this world. After all, I think Christians should always approach their labour as service, first of all to God: it is He who enabled us to work and to earn a living. If things are going hopelessly wrong for Christians in the workplace, their first port of call is not industrial action, but a bended knee before the Saviour.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 13 September 2015