New Living Translation
23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
What does Colossians 3:23 mean?
This verse continues Paul’s instructions to Christian “bondservants,” or slaves. The concept he presents, however, is phrased in a very general way. The principle applies to all believers, for all those we work for: serve as if serving God Himself. According to the next verse, this is for a good reason. Our ultimate rewards are with God, not the human beings we serve for only a short time.
Paul echoes his teaching from verse 17, that Christian conduct should extend to all aspects of life, not just a small set of rules. As it pertains to servants, this might include cleaning dishes or serving dignitaries. “Whatever” includes any and all contexts. Christians of all kinds are to work “heartily,” from the Greek phrase ek psyches, meaning “from the soul.” This implies the ideas of enthusiasm and passion. Demonstrating a good work attitude makes a tremendous difference in one’s personal life and in our influence on others.
Paul’s words remind us that, regardless of our station in life, God is the one ultimately judging all we do, so all of our service is really for Him. From the most mistreated slave to the highest-paid leader, every person is called to work for God’s honor. We do not work “for men” or simply earthly goals, but to glorify our heavenly Father and Master. Living for the Lord’s honor is relevant in one’s personal life, immediate family, and work contexts.
Paul will conclude this line of thought in Colossians 4:1, where he reminds those who rule over slaves that they, too, have a master: a Master in heaven. For this reason, those who control bondservants should remember that God’s judgment is impartial: evil will be punished, no matter who does it (Colossians 3:25).
Colossians 3:18—4:1 gives specific instructions from Paul for those living in Christian homes. This passage includes directions for husbands, wives, children, and servants. Paul makes a point of reminding believers not to merely ”get by” with the bare minimum of what we are obligated to do. Rather, we should serve knowing that Christ is our ultimate judge. Paul also places ”masters” under the same obligation to kindness and fairness as slaves and servants: both are equal in the eyes of Christ.
In this chapter, Paul gives clear instructions to Christians about living out faith in Christ. Since believers have been saved by Christ, they should not participate in the sins which trap unbelievers. Sexual immorality, jealousy, slander, and revenge are not to be part of the Christian’s life. Instead, believers ought to demonstrate compassion, humility, patience, and forgiveness. Above all, followers of Christ should show love. Paul also gives specific instructions for those living in Christian homes, including husbands, wives, children, and servants.
Having set out all the many advantages of being in Christ in the first two chapters of Colossians, and laying before us the glories of God’s grace, and the heavenly privileges, of which we are all beneficiaries, Paul turns his attention to practical application in the final two chapters of his epistle.
At first, he deals with the responsibilities, duties and mutual respect of wives and husbands towards each other, parents with their children, masters and their servants and we are encouraged to act circumspectly, and to work willingly and enthusiastically – and to do all that we do with our whole heart and in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord – as though we were working for the Lord Himself, rather than for people.
Our actions should reflect purity of attitudes and not be carried our grudgingly or simply due to necessity or need. There should be no inner murmurings or resentments, but rather our work should flow from an inner being that delights to be of service – and seeks to undertake all that we do enthusiastically and with blessed goodwill, as though we were doing it all for the Lord Jesus Himself.
From this moment forward, whatever we do, whether in word or deed, let us undertake to do it with a pure heart and seek to do it as unto the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through Him.
So what does it mean to do our work “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17)? How do we do our work wholeheartedly, “as done for the Lord and not for your masters” (Col. 3:23)? To do our work in the name of the Lord Jesus carries at least two ideas:
• We recognize that we represent Jesus in the workplace. If we are Christ-followers, how we treat others and how diligently and faithfully we do our work reflects on our Lord. How well do our actions fit with who he is?
• Working in “Jesus’ name” also implies that we live recognizing that he is our master, our boss, the one to whom we are ultimately accountable. This leads into Paul’s reminder that we work for the Lord and not for human masters. Yes, we most likely have horizontal accountability on the job, but the diligence we bring to our work comes from our recognition that, in the end, God is our judge.
When Paul writes, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17), we can understand this verse in two ways: a shallow way and a deeper way. The shallow way is to incorporate some Christian signs and gestures into our workplace, like a Bible verse posted on our cubicle or a Christian bumper sticker on our truck. Gestures like this can be meaningful, but in and of themselves they do not constitute a Christ-centered work-life. A deeper way to understand Paul’s challenge is to pray specifically for the work we are in the midst of doing: “God, please show me how to respect both the plaintiff and the defendant in the language I use in this brief.”
An even deeper way would be to begin the day by imagining what our daily goals would be if God were the owner of our workplace. With this understanding of Paul’s injunction, we would do all the day’s work in pursuit of goals that honor God. The apostle’s point is that in God’s kingdom, our work and prayer are integrated activities. We tend to see them as two separate activities that need to be balanced. But they are two aspects of the same activity—namely, working to accomplish what God wants accomplished in fellowship with other people and with God.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive your inheritance as your reward.”
— Colossians 3.23-24 ESV
Paul is encouraging the church to work towards excellence in all they do. This would include things most people would categorize as “normal” or “average” and Paul is telling them to work at them as if God told them, “hey, clean your room today and bless your roommate”. For me that elevates the importance of my “everyday”.
So often we get caught up with the happenings of our “spiritual lives” ex; time with God, prayer, church, small group etc. that we fail to see that God wants to move and be with us just as much in our “everyday” as he does in a worship service. This verse puts the average things in perspective and even says we will be rewarded by God for doing those things well. This must mean then that they are important; that the way we love our friends, the way we honor our commitments, the way we finish tasks with integrity will be rewarded by God.
So if God cares about the small things, and here we see He does, then we get to invite God into so much more than just our times that are allocated to him specifically. This revolutionizes living for us. This means we can honor him with school, with our roommates, that he can be glorified and honored in all of it. That by doing our best with what we have been given, we are honoring God and ushering in his kingdom. However, I know that with our culture this verse can quickly become another way we don’t measure up, another test we have to pass, another way to get caught up in perfectionism and legalism. But God doesn’t want you caught up in religion. He wants you caught up in relationship with Him. So where does that leave us? We need to learn to live in the tension between honoring God with our best and striving for his love and acceptance, which we’ve already been freely given. I think his heart here is to challenge us to come out of auto pilot, see that our everyday matters, and invite him to help us do it really well.
Invite God into your everyday, pray:
“Father, thank you that your spirit works in me to accomplish good works. I ask that you would help me do the things set before me with excellence and character. God I want to go ahead and invite you into every part of my life. I ask that you would renew my mind and would tear down any limits I’ve set up around where you are allowed. You are allowed into every part of who I am and every part of my day. Life is better with you in it. So please come and encounter me today, help me see the purpose in the “small- everyday” things. I love you so much, come and encounter me today. Amen”