Colossians 3:23 (ESV) … “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men...”
Hearing these words without explanation, one could easily say, “Paul, whose side are you on?” Think of how these words must have sounded to the exploited servant! “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything.” Of course, the apostle was not encouraging submission to immoral or hurtful commands, and yet “everything” is so encompassing. Slaves were very often asked to do unpleasant things. This was a tough command, especially when linked with the next phrase: “not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor.” The Greek is literally, “eye service,” work that is only done when the boss is looking. We all know what that is like. In gym class, when the coach is watching there are perfect pushups. But when he looks away… Eye service results in half-done jobs. The room is swept, but the dirt is brushed under the carpet. Work breaks extend until the boss returns.
This is not the way it is supposed to be. Rather, our service is to be “with sincerity of heart,” “with all your heart.” This high call makes no distinction between pleasant or unpleasant tasks, dull or challenging, menial or interesting. It simply states that everything must be done energetically, from the heart, whether the boss is present or not. I have known some who have gotten themselves in trouble with fellow-workers because, in respect to this principle, they worked hard and were honest about their hours. Some hard-working Christians have even lost their jobs due to the lies said about them by their peers. Yet, we must obey the Lord.
If this high call stood alone, it would be supremely impossible. But it is accompanied by an enabling rationale: it is for the Lord. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (vv. 23, 24, emphasis mine).
It is this reality which inspires the great work of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Taking Matthew 25 seriously, she believes that when she and her Sisters of Charity are cleansing sores and touching the ill for Christ, they are doing it to Christ. The most menial tasks—washing floors, scrubbing pots and pans—are for the Lord. Mother Teresa believes and does the truth!
However, Mother Theresa’s example must not promote an over-romanticizing of this truth. Most of us in our daily work are not dressing the sores of lepers or tending the dying. Some of us work “nothing” jobs. Some shuffle meaningless mounds of paper. Some dig holes and fill them up. Some can see nothing noble in the tasks they perform. They are nevertheless serving God as they work. This truth transformed the lot of the Christian slave in the ancient world. His “nothing” tasks were actually noble when done for Christ. Because of this, Christian slaves invariably brought higher prices in the slave market.
At the end of verse 22, the apostle adds that our work is to be done in “reverence for the Lord.” The pagan slave served his master because he was bound by fear; the Christian slave served his master better because he feared God. Working hard at our tasks from the heart brings glory to God.