16. Glorifying God in the Workplace (1 Timothy 6:1-2)Related Media
Those who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters as deserving of full respect. This will prevent the name of God and Christian teaching from being discredited. But those who have believing masters must not show them less respect because they are brothers. Instead they are to serve all the more, because those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved.
1 Timothy 6:1-2 (NET)
How can Christians glorify God in the workplace? What should a Christian worker look like? In this passage, Paul challenges Christian slaves to work in such a way that God’s name and his Word would not be slandered (v. 1).
Each person is called to work. Some work as students, some work as teachers, some work as mothers, some as businessmen, etc. Everybody works for a living. The only difference is the pay. Some don’t get paid at all, some get paid a little, and some get paid a lot. What should the Christian’s work life look like?
Often, people think of work as a bad thing. Some may even think it is a result of the fall (Gen 3:17–18). However, work was given before the fall. It was Adam’s responsibility to till the ground and take care of the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15).
In fact, Scripture teaches that we will work in heaven. In Luke 19:17, those who are faithful with their gifts and talents on earth will be rewarded with the task of overseeing cities in the coming kingdom.
Also, in Revelation 21:2, we see the holy city of Jerusalem coming out of heaven to the earth. Just the fact that heaven is called a city implies many characteristics about eternity. A city has commerce, art, education, and government. Heaven will not be sitting on a cloud doing nothing. It will be worshiping and serving the Lord together in the heavenly city and on the earth forever. It has always been God’s will for man to work.
Moreover, our God is a worker too! He creates and sustains the world by the power of his Word (Heb 1:3). He is not idle! He prays for his saints in order to save them to the uttermost (Heb 7:25). We serve a God who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Ps 121:4). He is always active in his creation.
Work is something we do here on earth and something we will also do in eternity. It is a way that we imitate God and bring honor to him. If work is something we will do throughout eternity, we must ask ourselves, “How can we work in such a way that God is glorified?”
It should be noted that for many Christians God has called for the workplace to be their primary mission field. It is where they will spend the most time and often where they will be around the most people. For the teacher, her mission field is her co–workers and students. For the businessman, his mission field is both his clients and co–workers. For the housewife, her mission is her husband and children.
It is in the workplace that many of us can spread the salt and light of Christ to the most people in an intimate way (cf. Matt 5:13–14). For this reason, this text is very important for us.
What should the Christian worker look like? In this lesson, we will study how Christian employees and employers honor God in the work place.
Big Question: How should Christian employees and employers honor God in the workplace and how should this be done practically at our current jobs?
Christian Employees Glorify God by Respecting Their Employers
Those who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters as deserving of full respect. This will prevent the name of God and Christian teaching from being discredited.
1 Timothy 6:1
It should be noted that in this passage Paul specifically speaks to slaves serving their masters. In our contemporary context, this may not directly apply to us. However, we can still learn many lessons from this that apply directly to the employee and employer relationship. Before that, let’s talk about the institution of slavery and Scripture’s teaching on it.
Interpretation Question: Why does Paul address the slave-to-master scenario, and what is Scripture’s view on the institution of slavery?
Again, Paul starts off describing the relationship of a slave to his master. In the epistles, we commonly see passages addressing slaves (cf. Eph 6:5–8; Titus 2:9–10; 1 Peter 2:18). This is probably because many early Christian believers were slaves. Christianity tended to draw the poor, the slaves, and the women—those commonly mistreated. In a world of tremendous partiality and prejudice, Christianity was particularly attractive since in Christ all people have equal standing (cf. Gal 3:28). Christ himself even taught, “Blessed are you who are poor” and “Woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6:20, 24). The poor have always been drawn to the beauty of Christ.
Slavery in the Roman Empire was a common institution. It has been estimated that there were some sixty million slaves, which covered about half the Roman Empire. Slaves held every type of position; they were teachers, doctors, artists, musicians, and almost anything else you can think of. Some were born into slavery, some sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts, and some were taken forcibly into slavery.
It should be noted that Scripture clearly teaches that the slave trade was sinful and contrary to the Word of God. We see this in 1 Timothy 1:9–10 (NIV):
We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.
However, Scripture never sought the abolishment of slavery as an institution in the ancient world. Many poor people sold themselves into slavery to support their families.
In fact, Scripture permitted the institution of slavery and provided regulations for it. In Israel, after six years, a slave was supposed to be set free, and if he wanted to serve his master forever, he could put an earring in his ear to commit to this service (Ex 21:2–6). Similarly, Paul gave regulations for slavery as an institution throughout his writing (cf. Col 3:22–4:1; Eph 6:5–9).
It should be noted that even though Scripture never calls for the abolishment of slavery, it certainly has led to its abolishment throughout history. Christians in England were leaders in the abolishment of the slave trade in that nation. Similarly, Christians in America led the way to the abolishment of slavery.
Throughout Scripture, God’s plan to change the world was never by a human or political revolution. The Jews were looking for a messianic king who would abolish the powers of the Roman Empire. No doubt, some slaves were also hoping for Christian leaders, like Paul, to provoke rebellion against their masters. However, Christ came primarily to abolish slavery in the heart of man. He came to make man a new creation.
Slavery has been abolished by Christianity in many places around the world through changing the character of people. Scripture teaches the equality of all people—the equality of men and women. It teaches the need for proper respect in the workplace between masters and slaves. Scripture’s plan to change the world has always been by changing the inner man and his thinking (Rom 12:2).
Because of the teachings of Scripture, Christian slaves in the ancient world commonly went for a higher price than regular slaves. This is because they worked hard and were honest and respectful as if they were serving Christ and not man (Eph 6:5–8). This should be true of Christian employees as well.
Here in this text, Paul calls for Christian slaves to consider their masters “worthy of full respect” so God’s name will not be slandered (1 Tim 6:1). Again, this has applications for Christian employees.
Application Question: How can Christian employees give full respect to their employers?
1. Christian employees respect their employers by always working with all their heart.
Colossians 3:23 says to slaves, “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people.”
Work “with enthusiasm” can also be translated “heartily.” Christian employees should never be known for being lazy. They should work with all their heart because they are seeking to please the Lord.
Often, it is difficult to find motivation to work hard for an employer who is unfair or doesn’t treat people rightly. Sometimes, we may even lack motivation because we don’t like our job. However, we must still hear Paul’s words, “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people.”
As you can imagine, this type of work ethic among slaves would have probably incited a lot of persecution. If everybody else was slacking off and one slave was working hard, they would have called him the “master’s pet” or a “sell–out.” They would have mocked him and hated him.
This sometimes happens to Christians in the workplace as well. They have been excluded and shunned because of their work ethic. Clearly, Daniel was hated for his work ethic and the favor it brought. His co–workers hatched a plot to get him thrown into the lion’s den (Dan 6). Christians should be aware of the possibility of persecution for their labor.
No matter the situation, Christians should work heartily for the Lord and by doing this they give full respect to their employers.
Application Question: What are some reasons you at times struggle to do your job with all your heart? How is God challenging you to grow in this ethic?
2. Christian employees respect their employers by working hard at all times.
Colossians 3:22 says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in every respect, not only when they are watching—like those who are strictly people-pleasers—but with a sincere heart, fearing the Lord.”
Paul commands them to obey even when their master’s eyes were not on them. As with many companies, people often only work hard when the boss is around. When the boss is gone, they tend to work less. Paul said this shouldn’t be true of Christians. They should work hard all the time, even when nobody is watching. By doing this, they respect their employers.
3. Christian employees respect their employers by not complaining.
Titus 2:9 says, “Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything, to do what is wanted and not talk back.” We live in a world where everybody complains in the workplace. They complain about their bosses, their co–workers, their pay, and the amount of vacation allotted to them, among other things.
Anybody who has worked in the workplace knows that it is full of complaining, even in Christian organizations. However, an employee who demonstrates full respect for their employer works without complaining. Look at what Paul taught in Philippians 2:14-15:
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world.
When Christians do this in the workplace, they shine like a star in the night sky. It marks a Christian in a dark world, and it also demonstrates that they are children of God.
4. Christians employees respect their employers by working with integrity.
In Titus 2:9-10, Paul says:
Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything, to do what is wanted and not talk back, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything.
In those days, it was common for slaves to practice dishonesty and even steal from their masters. It’s not much different today with employees. They practice dishonesty by wasting their employer’s time. They are paid to work a certain number of hours a day, but instead of working, they play on the Internet or waste time in other ways.
Also, it is increasingly common for employees to steal from the workplace. They steal paper, pens, and anything else they can get. They say to themselves, “I’ve earned it.” In general, there is a tremendous lack of integrity in the workplace. Often, workers will “flat-out” lie to get what they want or to make up for their mistakes. There is very little integrity.
Sadly, Christians often aren’t much different. I heard a story about an employer who had a bad experience in hiring two seminary students. Every time he saw them, they were having conversations about the Bible or theology during work time. In fact, the employer once overheard one of them talk about a wonderful devotion he had while using the bathroom. The man said, “I just had the most wonderful time. I read three chapters of John in the john!”1
Christians must respect their employers by practicing honesty and integrity; by doing this, they make the teachings of Christ attractive.
5. Christian employees respect their employers by developing wisdom and discernment.
In offering an employer “full respect,” certainly we must develop wisdom and discernment (1 Tim 6:1). At times, there will be commands that we shouldn’t obey. We should never obey anything that calls us to disobey God. The best way to respect our employers is by fully respecting God.
Therefore, Christians must develop wisdom based on Scripture so they can interpret what commands or expectations from leadership might conflict with the Word of God. They must be able to properly evaluate things like social and corporate drinking at bars, which can at times lead to drunkenness and other debauchery. They must be able to properly evaluate relational boundaries between the sexes. They must be able to evaluate what is unethical in the workplace and what would conflict with their conscience, since Scripture calls us to maintain a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:16). To offer full respect, we must have God–given wisdom and discernment.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to fully respect and honor your employer?
Christian Employees Glorify God by Serving with an Evangelistic Focus
Those who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters as deserving of full respect. This will prevent the name of God and Christian teaching from being discredited.
1 Timothy 6:1
When Paul says, “This will prevent the name of God and Christian teaching from being discredited,” no doubt, he is not just referring to employers respecting our faith, but ultimately coming to know God in a saving way. That should be one of our focuses as we work for the Lord. We should desire that our employers, co-workers, and those we serve would come to know Christ.
Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” First Peter 2:12 says, “and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears.”
Application Question: How can Christians serve with an evangelistic focus?
1. Christian employees serve with an evangelistic focus by being prayerful.
Colossians 4:3-4 says, “At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may make it known as I should.”
While serving, we should pray for our employers and co-workers. We should pray for blindness to be removed from their eyes, for open doors to speak with them about Christ, and for an opportunity to invite them to church, among other things. While working, we should live in prayer.
2. Christian employees serve with an evangelistic focus by being wise and waiting for opportunities.
Colossians 4:5 says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities.”
The word “opportunities” can also be translated “time”; however, this is not referring to chronological time but to seasons or opportunities to witness and share the faith. Often those come when co-workers are discouraged, struggling, or simply inquisitive about spiritual things. Those may be opportunities to pray with them, share Scripture, invite them to church, or even share the gospel. As Christians, we must always be looking for opportunities to be a blessing to those we serve or serve with.
3. Christian employees serve with an evangelistic focus by having gracious, salty conversations.
Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.”
Often work environments are full of complaining, swearing, and ungodly talk. However, if we are going to be evangelistic at our work places, our conversations must be gracious—seasoned with salt. In ancient times, salt was a preservative—used to keep things from spoiling. In the same way, we must develop the ability to turn ungodly conversations into redeeming ones about faith, family, future, etc. If our words are no different than those we work with, we lose opportunities to shine as lights.
Are you working with an evangelistic focus?
Application Question: What types of opportunities has God given you to be a light at work or school? How can you more effectively share God’s grace with others?
Christian Employees Glorify God by Offering Special Devotion to Christian Employers
But those who have believing masters must not show them less respect because they are brothers. Instead they are to serve all the more, because those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved. Teach them and exhort them about these things.
1 Timothy 6:2
Obviously, in Ephesus, some Christian slaves were not respecting their Christian employers. It wouldn’t be uncommon for a Christian master to attend a church where his slave was an elder or deacon. Some slaves must have reasoned, “What right does my master have to tell me what to do—we’re equal in Christ?” Or some might have expected special treatment. This may have caused some Christian slaves to rebel, work less diligently, or even disrespect their employers. The phrase “less respect” literally means “to think down.”2 They undervalued the authority of their Christian employers. However, Paul corrects this and commands them to serve their Christian masters with a special devotion.
It is good to remember that being in Christ doesn’t change our place in society as a son, daughter, husband, wife, employer, or employee. Part of being made in the image of the triune God means to be in loving relationships that often include authority and submission. God has always dwelled in a perfect, loving relationship with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. However, that loving relationship includes authority and submission; God the Son submits to the Father, and God the Holy Spirit submits to the other persons of the God-head. It is the same in society. Relationships function based on love, authority, and submission. This is seen in a child’s relationship with his parents (Eph 6:1), a wife to her husband (Eph 5:22), and an employer to his employee (Col 3:22). This is not inequality. All people are equal, but we have varying authority based on the positions we hold. This authority and submission reflect the relationships in the God-head.
Therefore, Paul commands Christian slaves to show special devotion to their Christian employers, as they seek to honor God’s name.
Observation Question: What reasons does Paul give for believers showing special devotion to Christian authorities?
1. Christian employers deserve special devotion because they are to be loved as fellow believers.
First Timothy 6:2 says, “Instead they are to serve all the more, because those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved.” Christian slaves should serve Christian masters with a special devotion because of their love for them. In John 13:34-35, Christ said, “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” As believers, we are commanded to love as Christ loved us—sacrificially. In fact, this love will identify us as true Christians.
First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (KJV). Love for the brothers is a mark of genuine salvation and this love should be demonstrated in every Christian relationship, including with Christian employers. Therefore, as we have the opportunity to serve under Christian employers, we should go out of our way to serve and love them, and not work less or disrespect them.
Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.”
2. Christians employers deserve special devotion because they are devoted to the welfare of their employees.
Another reason Christian employees should serve with special devotion is because Christian employers should be seeking the welfare of their employees. The NIV translates 1 Timothy 6:2 this way, “Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.” Certainly, this is how it should be, but even when it’s not true, Christians should faithfully serve them. This verse has many implications about how Christian employers should serve employees in order to glorify God, which we will consider in more depth.
Application Question: Have you ever worked for a Christian employer? How was that experience? Why is there commonly a temptation to offer less devotion or to expect special treatment?
Christian Employers Glorify God by Being Devoted to the Welfare of Their Employees
Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.
1 Timothy 6:2b (NIV)
How should Christian employers seek the welfare of their employees in order to honor God? What should we look like in leadership positions?
Interpretation Question: How should Christian employers seek the welfare of their employees?
1. Christian employers seek the welfare of their employees by paying fair wages.
Jesus said, “for the worker deserves his pay” (Luke 10:7). Slaves did not typically receive monetary wages, but caring for them included giving them adequate housing, food, working conditions, and probably even medical support. It should be the aim of employers to adequately provide for their employees. Sadly, for most, the focus is getting the most work for as little pay as possible.
2. Christian employers seek the welfare of their employees by encouraging and rewarding them for their labor.
Romans 13:3–4 says,
for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.
One of God’s purposes for Christian employers is to encourage good deeds. They should reward integrity and hard work. By doing this, they reflect the character of God, who rewards those who do good (cf. Heb 11:6; 1 Cor 3:12–14).
In America, this is often practiced by the President. Medal of Honor winners, championship teams, or other heroes are flown to the White House to be congratulated. This is done to encourage good works. Christian employers should practice this as well.
3. Christian employers seek the welfare of their employees by giving them fair discipline.
Discipline has a negative connotation to it; however, it shouldn’t. Even God disciplines those he loves (Heb 12:6). A Christian employer must, at times, discipline his employees. This means they give employees constructive criticism or negative reinforcement to turn them from wrong and help them do what is right. Again, consider Romans 13:4:
for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.
Without proper discipline, employers may actually promote sin and lead their employees down the wrong path.
4. Christian employers seek the welfare of their employees by praying for them.
One of the best ways to care for one’s employees is to pray for them regularly. Praying for their salvation, blessing over their families, productivity, and integrity, among other things, should be common place for Christian employers.
5. Christian employers seek the welfare of their employees by modeling Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 2:15, Paul says: “For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” As leaders, one of the best ways to serve our employees is to give off the aroma of Christ in everything we do—his kindness, love, forgiveness, and grace. When we spend a lot of time around something, we start to smell like it. If we spend a lot of time around food, smoke, or cologne, the smell starts to saturate our clothing. We should spend so much time with Christ that people can smell him and see him through us. The people we are serving through our leadership should see Christ in how we respond when they fail, when they succeed, and when they are discouraged. Our lives should exude an aroma that directs people to God. This is one of the ways we seek the welfare of our employees.
Application Question: As Christian employers, what is the proper balance between focusing on the task and on our people?
How can we glorify God in the workplace?
- Christian Employees Glorify God by Respecting Their Employers
- Christian Employees Glorify God by Serving with an Evangelistic Focus
- Christian Employees Glorify God by Offering Special Devotion to Christian Employers
- Christian Employers Glorify God by Being Devoted to the Welfare of Their Employees
1 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 132.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 232). Chicago: Moody Press.
Related Topics: Christian Life