How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?

Don’t Be a Slacker [Ephesians 6: 5-9]

The Challenges of Being an Employee – or Boss

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A “slacker” is a negative term to denote someone who doesn’t work to expectations or doesn’t do the work s/he was hired to do. It may be an exclusively American term, but I am convinced that your native language (that is, the language with which you grew up) has an equivalent term. There are some good examples in the American comics. For one, Beetle Bailey is a soldier who is always looking for opportunities to take a nap or to shirk his assigned tasks. Another example is Dagwood Bumstead from the comic strip “Blondie.” He is an office manager for a large company, but he’s often at the water cooler, napping at his desk, playing games on his office computer, or just not completing contracts properly. Finally, there is a character named Wally in the office setting in “Dilbert.” He works very hard at not working. He has yet to start a project even as he walks around or attends meeting – always with a cup of coffee in his hand.

What kind of employee are you? Or, what kind of boss are you?

The apostle Paul spoke of employees in Ephesians 6, only he called them “slaves.” Well, that is what they were during the times of the Roman Empire when Paul was writing 2,000 years ago.

5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”  [Ephesians 6: 5-8.  NIV]

The United States and some other countries have a poor history around enslaving human beings to work on a farm, plantation, in manufacturing, or just being in the service of the owner. The owner of the slave had supreme authority over the person who was a slave as the slave was just property – like a car or a piece of land today. Slavery was a fact of the culture at that time. This passage does not in any way condone the practice of slavery. Paul had to put aside the slave issue to address his readers of faith who were slaves as well as slave overseers or slave owners. He had to seemingly accept the current cultural practices in order to get a strong message across to the Christian slaves and Christian overseers. He knew his one letter addressed to a small, persecuted religious group wouldn’t change anything in the overall culture. It wasn’t the time to address the huge issue of slavery. Instead, the apostle Paul addressed how a slave or owner/overseer should act as a Christian believer in order to not cast a negative light on the Christian movement.

While we don’t officially have slaves today (and I’m not counting the evil sex trafficking or underpaid workers), the equivalent is a person who is employed. Paul’s message is really rather simple and is still valid today. Workers are called upon to serve in their jobs as though they are working for Christ and not just the owner/employer. 

Beware of taking this passage too literally. Should you as an employee do what the boss or employer says regardless of what they want you to do? Not at all. What if a boss asked you to do something illegal? What if the boss told you to put the wrong numbers down on a report to make the report look better? Or approached you for sexual favors? Or do something illegal?

No, this passage has more to do with our attitudes as we work. Verse six says, “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” This reminds me of a saying by my fourth-grade teacher as she left the room of thirty students for a few minutes: “You are what you are when you’re not being watched.” The passage calls on those who are Christ-believers to give a good day’s work to the employer and not be a “slacker.” It means not playing games on the computer at work, or not taking more than your allotted time for your break if you have a break. It means not spending a lot of time on personal business on your cell phone as well as not watching the championship game for American football or soccer or rugby or basketball or baseball during the times you are expected to work. That’s all it means. Give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay – and do so with a good attitude as you are representing Christ in the workplace. Don’t be a slacker.

The admonition to the “masters” or bosses has a different tact:

“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”  [Ephesians 6: 9. NIV]

Simply put, the bosses who are also Christ-believers are to treat their employees with respect and honor as though they as bosses were serving Christ. This means that you as a boss shouldn’t threaten your employees or fire them without good reason. It also means not making the employees do the kind of work that you don’t like just because you don’t want to do it yourself. I’ve spent twenty years of my work life as an administrator of some kind, both as a pastor and in social work administration. I made it a practice to not ask anyone to do anything I was not willing to do myself just because it was unpleasant. I saw my role in administration as part of a team tasked with accomplishing goals and outcomes. I was the administrator (or “the boss”), but it was only a role as part of the team in which others had roles that were just as important.

Let us go forth as employees and bosses who would do honor to the name and character of Jesus Christ as we do our work.

I’m back! It has been a busy summer, so now it is time to settle down and keep up with my blogsite. I hope this finds you well. – John M –

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