Christians are representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world (2 Corinthians 4:5; 5:20). People watch our lives to see how we conduct ourselves. For this reason, the apostle Paul tells us, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23, NKJV).
The context of this statement fits within Paul’s teaching about holy living in household relationships (Colossians 3:18—4:1). In this passage, Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives, parents and children, and servants and masters regarding how to carry out their mutual responsibilities and interactions. Leading up to this, Paul states, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17, NLT).
Paul gives extra attention to the dealings between servants and masters, which in today’s culture directly correlates to the relationship between employees and employers. We can properly apply this teaching to the workplace by inserting the word employees for servants/slaves, and the word employers for masters. For example, “[Employees], obey your earthly [employers] in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites. [Employers], be just and fair to your [employees]. Remember that you also have a Master—in heaven” (Colossians 3:22—4:1, NLT).
In the original language, the words for “do it heartily” (NKJV) or “work heartily” (ESV) mean “to carry out or perform an action with enthusiasm, or with all your heart.” Other Bible versions translate the phrase as “work at it with enthusiasm” (NET) or “work at it with all your heart” (NIV). Not only are unbelievers watching us at work to see if we will set a good example, but our heavenly Father and Master Jesus are watching us, too. God weighs our heart attitudes (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 21:2; Psalm 44:21) and considers our outward deeds (Psalm 139:1–4; Proverbs 5:21; Matthew 6:4; Jeremiah 17:10).
Jesus Christ set the standard of servanthood ministry for His followers (Matthew 20:28; Philippians 2:7). He, the Master, washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1–20). Whether we must serve good earthly managers or terrible ones, Christian servants owe complete obedience to our Lord and Master. In everything we do, it is Him we serve, and our work should be done for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The apostle Peter affirms, “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11, NLT).
Followers of Jesus Christ are called to serve people—no matter who they are—willingly and sincerely as though we are serving the Lord. Paul writes, “Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way” (Titus 2:9–10, NLT). How we live affects our testimony. When we set a good example at work, doing our work heartily as unto the Lord, we make the gospel message we preach more appealing to unbelievers.
As Christian workers, we ought to be the best employees on the job for the glory of God. We can pray for help in letting our thoughts, words, and actions please the Lord at all times (Psalm 19:14). We can do what we’re told without arguing so that we are not a burden to our bosses. We can obey them, as Paul instructed, “with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart” (Ephesians 6:5–6, NLT). If we follow these principles, we will receive our reward from the Lord, even if our earthly supervisors fail to recognize our hard work and diligence (Ephesians 6:8; Job 34:10–11; Matthew 25:23; Proverbs 10:16).