Thoughts on Labor Day

Since today is Labor day I thought that I would discuss a little about what the Bible has to say about the relationship between employers and employees.  This is an area that the Bible says a great deal about but yet is rarely mentioned or discussed in the church.  Part of the reason for this is that the Bible was written in a very different economic environment that what we enjoy here in America.  The idea of fee enterprise and captialism was still along way off when the books of the Bible were written.  Instead they were written during a time when slavery was common and considered normal.  This does not mean that the Bible endorses the institution of slavery but simply that it was written in a time when slavery was a dominate institution. It also should be noted that among the OT Jews slavery was more akin to indentured servanthood than the forced slavery practiced in Europe and the United States.

A careful study of the Bible will reveal that both OT and NT writers were very careful to show that both masters and slaves had certain responsibilities towards each other.  In Exodus 21, for instance, Moses established the maximum length for indentured servanthood (six years) and sets out guidelines to protect young female servants from being sexually assaulted or neglected. These guidelines were markedly different from the practices of the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel.  Later in the book of Philemon, Paul lays the theological foundation for the end of slavery by arguing that in Christ a new relationship has been brought about by the Gospel.  Rather than relating to each other only on economic terms Philemon and the run-away slave Onesimus were to relate towards each other as brothers in Christ. In the letter to the Ephesians Paul wrote,

 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant  or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.  (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Notice specifically that Paul here addresses both Bondservants and Masters.  In our day, we can think of this in terms of employees and employers — each party has specific obligations that they owe to the other party.  As I think about what the Bible has to say about the relationship between employees and employers it seems to me that there are are few guiding principles:

  1. Employees owe their employers a fair days work – My dad taught me that if you are being paid for an hours worth of work, you should do an hours worth of work.  In other words, we need to diligently carry out the job we’ve been hired to do. Christian employees are under and even stricter rule because in the passage that I quoted above, Paul says that we are to work as if we are working for God and not to man.
  2. Employers should treat their employees with respect– This seems to make economic sense to me because people who like their boss will work harder for him than people who don’t but also is an obligation.  When you have been given the responsibility of managing people and determining their economic condition, you have a responsibility for treating them fairly — that means a fair wage, fair benefits, safe work environment and a genuine respect for what they do.
  3. Both Employers and Employees Should Treat Each Other with Respect If you are an employee of a company the above passage says that you are to obey your boss with a sincere heart.  Vice Versa if you are the boss this passage tells you to stop threatening the people who work for you.  When I was a teenager and in my early twenties I worked for a guy named Ed Lewis.  Ed owned a small grocery store and he was one of the best bosses that I’ve ever known.  He treated me fair and treated me with respect.  In return, I would have done anything to help him out.  Whatever he asked me to do I would do with all my strength and ability because Ed treated me with respect.

As Christians we must reflect Christ in every aspect of our lives.  This means more than just going to church on Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday night.  We are to live for Christ and reflect His character on the job as well as in the pew.  Why should people believe what we say about the gospel if they don’t see it reflected in the way we conduct ourselves in the workplace?

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