Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 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. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:18 – 4:1)
Over the years, I have written frequently on Colossians 3:23 (Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters). In a way, this verse guides nearly everything I write on, calling all of us to lean into the work God has given us to do with all our hearts so that we would all do our most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. But today, I want to view this verse in its larger context to see what additional application we might glean.
As you can see from today’s passage, Colossians 3:23 is set in the middle of Paul’s instructions to Christian households. When read in its entirety, one thing stands out to me in this passage more than anything else: the spirit of mutual submission that we are called to in every aspect of our lives.
Wives are called to submit to their husbands. Husbands are called to love their wives and (as Paul adds in Ephesians 5) to “give himself up for her.”
Children are commanded to obey their parents. And fathers are called to serve their children through their words.
And, of course, “slaves” (what most theologians translate to “employees” or “workers” today), are commanded to submit to their employers, while employers are called to serve their employees by “providing…what is right and fair.”
Each time the seemingly powerless party is called to submit, the traditionally powerful is commanded to do largely the same.
It’s interesting that, for both employees and employers, Paul’s instruction is the same: Reimagine your work as if you are working for the Lord. If you are an employee, you are not primarily working for your employer: “It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (3:24). If you are an employer, you are not primarily working for shareholders, customers, or even for yourself. You are working for your “Master in heaven” (4:1).
Hierarchies at work are often necessary for efficiency and order. But whatever your position, view your work in light of this passage as a servant primarily to God, leading you to be a servant to those who work for you and those you work for. And let that picture of work make us more ambitious to do our most exceptional work, because it is for God’s glory and the good of others.