It’s one thing to complain about problems within church culture (see last week, “Achievement and Church Culture”), but it’s another thing to address such problems. If we need to do better at encouraging achievement in all areas of life, how can this be done in a way that makes sense within the church?
I think Colossians 3:22–24 could be the answer:
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
Slaves are addressed as part of the household code in Colossians, and Paul gives considerably more space to slavesthan any other addressee of the code. Slaves are instructed to obey their human masters in everything, not to please men, but “fearing the Lord“(3:22).
Paul encourages slaves to see their menial work as conducted under two masters: their human master and their heavenly master. They are to obey Christian slaves have a master in heaven, and this alone gives meaning to their lives. Serving Christ alone makes the work of a slave significant, purposeful, and fulfilling.the first because they are also under the second. And obedience to the second requires obedience to the first.
We moderns can only imagine the life of a Roman slave. Whatever else characterized their lives, slaves normally spent their time doing ordinary, boring, tedious tasks. This is not the kind of work that brings high job satisfaction. This is not even the kind of work that pays the bills, since there is no income involved! All the slave can do is his duty, without the promise of wages or reward.
This leads to the exhortation of 3:23: everything is to be done for the Lord. The slave is not to focus on the meaninglessness of his or her work-life. Rather, his or her work is to be done for the Lord. Christian slaves have a master in heaven, and this alone gives meaning to their lives. Serving Christ alone makes the work of a slave significant, purposeful, and fulfilling.
The final encouragement is also meaningful: slaves will receive their reward—an inheritance from the Lord (3:24). In a “workplace” without wages or reward, we can only imagine the comfort of being promised a reward from God himself. They will not go “unpaid” for their efforts in the end. They will receive an inheritance worth far more than earthly riches.
Do All Things Unto the Lord: Principles for Achievement
While it can be precarious to draw parallels between the ancient slave and the modern workplace, there are important principles here that help us address achievement and church culture.
First, whatever we do, we are to do it for the Lord. However menial our work, however meaningless our tasks, however boring and unrewarding, our activity takes on significance and purpose as service offered unto Christ.
Second, this means we are to perform our tasks enthusiastically—literally “from the soul.” We may not feel inspired by the nature of the work itself, but we can become inspired by seeing it as a way to serve Christ. Surely serving him ought to inspire our efforts. Even menial tasks are not to be treated as “good enough is good enough.” Not if we are serving Christ. If we serve him in our menial tasks, then they will be performed “from the soul.”
Third, our reward lies in the future. Some work is immediately rewarding in this world and some work isn’t. Some work seems important at the time and some work doesn’t. The fruit of some work will last forever and the fruit of some work won’t. Regardless, the Christian looks forward to an inheritance from the Lord. And Paul calls it a “reward” for work done well.
All our work has eternal significance in the end. Even work that is not directly the “work of the Lord,” in the sense of Christian ministry, is still work for the Lord. As work for the Lord, believers must engage their tasks, labor, and responsibilities from the soul. It is part of our service to Christ. Our reward lies in him, not this world, and the meaning of our work is derived from him, not from the accolades or fulfilment offered in the here and now.