“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh,
with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ,
doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:
Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord,
whether he be bond or free” (Ephesians 6:5–8).

Many of us will spend a large proportion of our time each day and week at our work places. It is not surprising therefore that the Scripture gives us many numerous clear instructions on how we are to conduct ourselves and what attitude we are to adopt at the work place. The above paragraph, by the Apostle Paul, is particularly relevant in this regard.

Paul was no doubt addressing slaves rather than the modern employees, since the word translated “servant” is the Greek doulos, which usually refers to a slave or bondman. However, in those days a large proportion of the population were slaves, and slavery then would be almost equivalent to employment in our current context. For this reason, Paul’s instructions to masters are directly applicable to employers and his instructions to slaves are directly applicable to employees.

In this article, we want to study particularly, the attitude that Christian employees,—which most of us are,—ought to adopt in the work place. For the purpose of simplicity and immediate application let me recommend four imperatives from the text.

Be Obedient

Firstly, it is important that an employee be obedient towards his employer or the superiors appointed by his employer over him. The Apostle Paul says: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh” (Eph 6:5a). For slaves, obedience is imperative. Slaves are to obey their masters whether they like it or not. Paul adds in Colossians 3:22, that they are to “obey in all things.” Employees ought similarly to obey their employers, not just on account of the analogy between the slave-master and employee-employer relationship, but also on account of the fact that the Scripture does enjoin us to be subject to any authority appointed over us by God (Rom 13:1). Of course, as a general principle, our obedience to man, must only be to the extent that we would not be disobeying God (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29). In other words, any instruction that might cause us to violate our conscience and convictions, which are bounded to the Word of God, must be disobeyed.

A secretary must not obey her manager’s instruction to tell anyone who calls that he is out meeting clients, when he is in fact in his room practising golf. She must remember that she has a master,—the Lord Jesus Christ,—who is much higher than her boss, who would certainly not want her to tell a lie. A Christian quality control engineer in an aircraft repair workshop or a medical equipment factory should not obey his supervisor’s instructions not to be so thorough with his inspection so that there be no costly bottlenecks. He must remember that by his negligence, he could become guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment.

Apart from this exception, the Christian employee must obey his superiors. He ought to obey regardless of whether he thinks his superior is being unreasonable. The Apostle Peter puts it this way: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward” (1 Pet 2:18). And naturally, we should obey not grudgingly, but wholeheartedly. We must obey as unto the Lord, as Paul puts it: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23).

What about instructions that are not against God’s Laws, but are economically unsound, or unproductive or embarrassing to the employee? In such cases, I would recommend that you should discuss the instructions with your superiors. Christian employees should not take it upon their hands to disobey anything except that which involves ethical compromises.

Be Respectful

Secondly, and going hand-in-hand with obedience is that the Christian employee must be respectful. Paul suggests this by qualifying his command to be obedient with the adverbial phrase, “with fear and trembling” (Eph 6:5b).

Now, this instruction is of course not to be taken literally, as if we should be terrified and tremble at the sight of our employers or superiors. Some new employees, who are of a timid sort, might literally do so. But this is not what Paul means. Rather, Paul is using a hyperbolic expression, by which he intimates that slaves or employees are often forgetful about their subordinate position, and so have little or no respect for their superiors. He calls us, therefore, to obey not just as a matter of duty and routine, but rather to hold our superiors in high esteem and to obey with respect from the heart.

Experience shows us that it may sometimes be difficult to be respectful to our superiors. For example, it may be difficult to be respectful when we perceive that our superiors are in fact less knowledgeable or perhaps less academically qualified than us. It may also be difficult to be respectful to someone who is unreasonable or unfair in his dealings with us.

However, we must remember that in so far as it is God who sets them in the position of authority, that our being respectful to them is a duty towards God, which is not to be negated by circumstances and personal feelings. But the temptation to be disrespectful may often be very great. May I suggest, therefore, that those of us who are inclined to be tempted in this regard, learn to cultivate respect for our superiors not only by focussing on their providential appointment, but also by looking to their age and experience. The youngest of Job’s friends, Elihu, sets us a good example as far as the outward practice of respect goes, for he refrained speaking out of respect for his older friends, saying: “I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (Job 32:6–7).

We must remember, moreover, that respecting our superiors at work, mean also that we must refrain from complaining about him behind his back. Any difficulties which you have against your superiors, should be dealt with, as far as possible, through personal consultation.

Once again, the temptation to resist complaining about our superiors may be difficult. In the office, a demanding boss often become the “common enemy” of the staff, and boss-bashing becomes an activity which binds colleagues together. Anyone who refuses to join in these destructive conversations or, worst, attempts to defend the boss, may be regarded as currying favour and ostracised by the rest of the staff. It is thus tempting to join in. Moreover, you may also be tempted to speak up if you perceive that you have also experience similar injustice from the boss. Beloved, do no succumb. Rather, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col 4:6); and rather be persecuted for Christ’s and righteousness’ sake if needs be. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12), but “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for [Christ’s] sake” (Mt 5:11).

Be Wholehearted

The third attitude that we must adopt concerning our work and superiors at work is that of Christian sincerity. Christian sincerity has to do with being honest and true or wholehearted towards another person or task for the sake of Christ. Paul puts it as being “in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph 6:5c–6). Elsewhere, he says: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23). This verse ought to be memorised by every Christian employee. But each of the phrases that Paul uses in Ephesians 6 is graphically instructive and we would do well to study them.

He tells us first, that we must have “singleness of… heart.” That is, we must not be double hearted: such as having an ulterior design in our being hardworking. Some employees may work only for the sake of promotion and increment, but the Christian must work with desire to do well out of not only a sense of duty, but a desire to bear a good testimony.

He is to do so, secondly, “as unto Christ.” This is emphasised repeatedly in the phrases “doing the will of God” and “as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph 6:7). That is, he must serve as if he is serving Christ who appointed his superiors to the position of authority by His providence. Moreover, Christians are willing bond-slaves of Christ who ought to do all things for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). This thought ought to motivate every Christian to be the best employee: willing, uncomplaining, and putting his best effort according to his ability (cf. Eccl 9:10).

Thirdly, the Christian worker must serve “not with eyeservice.” In other words, he should not put on a show. Such may be the case if we do our work with a smile outwardly, but in the back of our mind, we are cursing and complaining. Eyeservice moreover extends to the result of our work. A janitor who succumbs to eyeservice will probably not sweep under the cupboards, and may in fact, conveniently sweep the dust in the room under the cupboard. Similarly a software programmer guilty of eyeservice may write codes that run without bugs, but are impossible to maintain because they are neither structured nor properly documented.

Fourthly, we must not be “menpleasers.” We should rather be God pleasers (cf. Gal 1:10). A menpleaser may, for example, make every attempt to be at work slightly earlier than his boss and leave slightly later, so that he appears to be very hard-working. Similarly, a menpleaser may work very hard when the boss is in town, but take very long tea-breaks and lunch-breaks when the boss is out of town.

As Christians, we must not do anything merely to please men who cannot see our hearts. We must please Christ who knows our every thought. A roofer in the States once told me that it is an unspoken rule among roofers that they do not do a perfect job when they fit the roof or repair a leak. The reason is that if they do so, roofers will soon be out of jobs. I would submit to you that the Christian roofer ought to serve Christ, and therefore must not intentionally do a poor job, whatever the reasoning may be.

Be Loyal

Finally, the Christian employee must also be loyal to his employer and the company he works in. Paul suggests this attitude when he says: “With good willdoing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph 6:7, emphasis mine).

A Christian worker must not be only concerned with his own welfare and benefits, and so serve with a selfish motive. He must serve to please God. But at the same time, it would be hypocritical if he serves without being concerned for his superiors, his employers and the company he is working in. Having a good will and therefore loyalty towards our employers is a virtue that Christian workers should cultivate.

The implications of having good will toward our employers are multifold.

In the first place, it means that we should only think of changing jobs if we have very valid reasons such as if the job is affecting our Christian walk or our family life.

In the second place, it means that we should be thinking of how best to contribute to the well-being and profitability of the company. Consider the young man who recently brought much business to a printing firm on the verge of closure by setting up an email order system. A Christian ought to be encouraged to so something like that instead of bailing out when the company is not doing too well.

Thirdly, it means not divulging,—unintentionally or covertly,—the secrets of the company which may give the competitors an edge over her. For this cause, it is often inappropriate for a Christian employee to switch loyalty to the chief competitor of his present company. When a man does so, he would be regarded by the world as a traitor. The Christian man must live with a conscience void of offence before God and man (Acts 24:16), and he ought to be blameless and have a good report of them which are outside the church too (cf. 1 Tim 3:7).

Fourthly, it means not stealing time from the employer. Christian workers often unwittingly steal time from their employers, not only by late-coming and leaving work earlier, but by using working hours to talk about non-work related issues. One may argue, for example, that it is alright to preach the Gospel to our colleagues during office hours since all things belong unto Christ. But we must remember that unless we are employed on flexible work hours schemes in which we can make up for lost time later, or on a results, rather than time scheme, that we would be in fact stealing time and breaking the Eighth Commandment. Christians must learn to make use of lunch times, and after office hours to witness rather than during office hours.


Christian workers ought to be most highly sought after by employers because of a work ethics that is unparalleled by the world. The obedient Christian serves not for selfish reasons, but for the sake of glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). The Christian, who chooses to please God, will automatically become a testimony to the world for the difference will be obvious. May the Lord grant us that we will be witnesses for Christ not only by our words but also by our work attitudes as we stand out as Christian workers.

JJ Lim