Heading back to school is always an adjustment, whether we’re still actively going to school or whether we’re sending our kids. It seems like things never go completely smoothly—and I’m speaking from experience! There’s a bundle of new activities to puzzle-piece together, essential supplies and books that somehow didn’t get purchased a month ago when they were supposed to be, and, most difficult of all, there’s the mental adjustment of going from the glorious freedom of summer to the mundane day-in-day-out restrictions of school.
I’m still a student, and making up my mind to go back to school has been difficult this year. My summer has been packed with exciting and stretching experiences that gave me the opportunity to look ahead in my life and look big-picture, setting goals to pursue and looking for ways to grow in my relationship with God. It’s hard to come down from that sky-high point of view and box myself back into the rigid daily routine of classes, work, and ministry activities! It’s been very easy for me to slip into selfishness lately, focusing on myself and what I wish I was doing instead of looking for what God wants for me in my situation. Thankfully, the Lord is faithful to correct and disciple me, giving me a picture of the attitude He wants me to have and conforming my heart and mind to His image. This time His correction came from Col. 3:22-25, verses many of us are familiar with.
“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Whenever I’ve heard teaching on this passage, I’ve heard it applied to employees, and with good reason. By working a 9-5 job for someone, we put ourselves under their command, obligating ourselves to do the things they ask, which is the basic definition of the word “bondservant” used here. That’s why this passage is so important for those of us who work regular day jobs. Paul tells us to be obedient to our masters, to serve them sincerely and honestly, and to work as to the Lord, since He is the one who will ultimately reward us. Great guidelines for workers! But there’s more to it than just working a regular job.
As I read this passage, I realized that I am a bondservant in so many ways other than just my job! There’s my teachers, for starters. My teachers are basically my bosses right now because they control so much of my time—going to class, sitting in class, and doing assignments outside of class. I may not want to do these things, but I’m obligated to do what they ask in order to get what I need, much as a slave must obey his or her master in order to be cared for by them.
I’m also under obligation to my family in a lot of ways. As any woman knows, there’s a lot that goes into making a household function, no matter how large or small it may be. Meals must be cooked, dishes need washing, there’s laundry to do, toys to pick up, and kids to ferry to and from school/activities. Chores like these are not at the top of anyone’s “Fun Things to Do” list. We don’t get paid to do them, and we don’t usually enjoy them, but they must be done. Again, that’s the kind of work slaves do: unpaid, undesired, forced labor.
Whatever our role in society—mother, wife, employee, daughter, student—we all are currently and will always be at the beck and call of someone, whether it’s our employers and teachers, our husbands, parents, or our kids. The question is, once we learn this truth, how are we going to react to it?
Unfortunately, my first reaction is entirely selfish. “Wait! I don’t want to be a slave to (fill in the blank). I want to be in charge of my own time and do what I want to do!” But God desires a different attitude in me. The question He wants me to ask is “Hey, this is where God has placed me. How does He want me to glorify Him in this situation?” Now, I’m not saying we’re supposed to be doormats, allowing ourselves to become overworked and worn out by serving beyond our abilities, but in the areas in our homes and workplaces where we have responsibilities, how can we accept the position God has given us and glorify Him in it?
This is where Col. 3:22-25 comes into play. Paul advises us as bondservants to obey our earthly masters “with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” What a different perspective from my selfish, me-centered attitude! Instead of wondering how I can get out of doing those all-too-necessary things around the house, like dishes or cleaning, I should be looking to serve my family with sincerity of heart. For me, maybe that means that instead of waiting until my mom complains about the filthy bathroom before I clean it, I clean it when I notice it needs it. What does it look like for each of us to serve with sincerity of heart? We are not called to do the bare minimum; Paul is encouraging us to a service that comes from the heart and which is motivated by the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the “why” of the sincerity of heart. We might think we’re working for our bosses or our family members—after all, they’re the ones we interact with—but in reality, as Christians, we should recognize that no matter where we are and what we’re doing, we’re serving the Lord. Each day, as we go about trying to accomplish our own goals and plans, even our smallest acts are actually helping to carry out God’s larger purposes.
In the old ranching days in Colorado, there were three types of men on a ranch: there were the ordinary cowboys who rode herd on the cattle, there were the foremen who rode herd on the cowboys and gave them their orders, and there was the owner of the ranch, who ran everything and had the overall vision for how the ranch should be run to make a profit. Now, the cowboys had a lot of contact with the foremen who gave them their orders every day, but they weren’t working for the foremen. The foremen weren’t paying their wages. The cowboys truly worked for the ranch owner, the guy who employed them. This is how it is in our lives, too. We might be taking orders from somebody or doing jobs for somebody, but that person isn’t the one who’s going to ultimately pay us in real, eternal wages—God is. That means even the boring and disagreeable things I do each day, I do to please my true employer, God, because my actions are contributing to His plans. It reminds me of Matt. 6:1-6, where Jesus tells his followers not to do things merely for the sake of being praised by others. Jesus sees and cares about our hearts and our motives, and he wants us to be focused on serving Him, not trying to please people.
Often this seems impossible. My flesh is so unwilling to bow down and submit to what God wants, not just sometimes but all the time! But that problem is not outside God’s range of power. He has the power to change my heart when I ask Him, and He is faithful to not only give me the willingness to do what He asks, but the ability to do it with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We won’t get to see the big, beautiful picture that God is painting with our small acts of faithful, sincere service until we get to heaven, but no matter whether we’re being meticulously honest about clocking in and out at work, trying to respect teachers both in and out of class, cheerfully driving the kids around town, or being on time with dinner, we can know that we are participating in carrying out the bigger vision of our Creator. Whatever your role is and wherever you’re currently serving, I hope that encourages you as much as it did me!
Anna is a 20-year-old nursing student from Durango, Colorado who is currently dividing her time between her classes and clinicals and all of the fun things she likes doing. She enjoys writing and playing the mandolin, but some of her greatest pleasures are camping/hiking/being in the mountains, doing ministry activities with MasterPlan Ministries at Fort Lewis College, and interacting with people. She loves to see God working in people’s lives, and wants to make herself available as His tool, wherever she may be.