Arie den Hartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
This is the exhortation addressed by the inspired apostle Paul to servants in Colossians 3:23. This exhortation is part of a list of such commands and practical injunctions which Paul addresses to the saints of God. Paul is speaking to those who have been risen with Christ and those whom he exhorts, therefore, to seek the things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and not the things of this earth. Paul is speaking therefore to Christian servants, or rather, Christian slaves. Servants of the world would never follow such a command. It is spiritually impossible for them. The man of the world does all things for himself and for the glory and praise of men. The Christian is principally and spiritually different. That difference is the fruit of the mighty and wonderful operation of the Spirit of God in him. It is striking that Paul addresses slaves in this manner. In the days of the apostle, many members of the church were slaves. Much of the business and many of the farms of that day were in the hands of rich and powerful lords who owned a great number of slaves. Slaves were the possessions of their masters. They were often bought and sold on the market place. The life of a slave was not easy. Many masters were hard and cruel, and drove their slaves with threatenings and with the whip. Often the work which the slave had to do was hard. It was grueling drudgery. The slave could not, as employees today, change jobs and employers if he found his situation miserable and unjust. He simply had to continue in the situation in which he was in the providence of the Lord. Never does the word of God exhort such a slave to form a union together with his fellow slaves and rise up in rebellion against their master. Such an exhortation is not found in any of the Scriptures. Rather these slaves were to do all things heartily as unto the Lord. Many of the common people of God were in this situation. Therefore almost all the letters of the apostles contain similar exhortations.
If we keep the above background in mind, we can see how forceful Paul’s exhortation is. Paul is addressing the common laborer. He is speaking concerning the manner in which the common laborer must conduct himself in his daily occupation. It is legitimate, however, also to apply this exhortation to the whole of our life here on earth as Christians. Paul says; “WHATSOEVER YE DO, do it heartily as to the Lord.” That is all-comprehensive. Nothing may be excluded from this exhortation.
Implied in the above exhortation is the truth that Jesus is Lord over all. As the Son of God, He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings. He is sovereign over all. He created all things and He rules over all things. The earth and all that it contains belongs to Him. He has redeemed us through His sacrifice on the cross. Therefore we are not our own. We belong to Him. He is our Lord. All that we are and all that we have belongs to Him; our homes, our families, all our earthly possessions. It is by His providence that we have our daily occupation. The Lord has commanded us to serve Him. He is our holy and righteous Lord. Therefore we must serve Him with fear and trembling.
Whatsoever we do we must serve Him. Our great ambition and purpose in life must be to do His will and to bring glory unto His name. All else must be subservient to this. We must be willing even to suffer loss and to endure persecution for this purpose. As children of God, our joy and delight must be in serving the Lord. We love God because He first loved us, and shed His love abroad in our hearts. We seek His favor and blessing as the highest good. With great fear we earnestly seek by all means to avoid doing those things which displease Him and bring dishonor to His holy name.
Therefore we are called to do all things heartily unto the Lord. There may be no division in our life. In all things there must be singleness of purpose. We may not divide our life into sacred and secular. We may not seek to serve the Lord with fear on the Lord’s Day and in His house, while through the rest of the week we live for ourselves and seek the things of this world. There may be no such unholy inconsistency and hypocrisy in our life. There is within us because of our sinful nature a great tendency to divide our life. Especially hard it is to do our daily occupation unto the Lord. Yet this is according to this exhortation our calling. We must remember the Lord and His commandments as we go about our daily occupation. We must often think of Him and of His great salvation. We must live in the consciousness of the fact that the Lord is watching over us. He sees all that we do. Never for a moment can we escape His all-seeing eye and all knowing care and judgment over us. Again and again we must be reminded of the Lord. Therefore the Lord in His good and wise providence has given to us the Lord’s Day at the beginning of each week. We need the special day which is consecrated unto Him in order that we might be reminded that all our days and all our life must be consecrated unto Him. It is good practice for the Christian, therefore, also to begin and end each day with a period of prayer and the study of God’s word. He does that in order to help him to remember that all his day and all the activities that belong to it must be done unto the Lord. It is not good enough for us merely to have a brief time of worship at the beginning of the day, and then go on for the rest of the day without ever again thinking of the Lord. The Lord must be in our consciousness, and guide our every step throughout the day. His word must judge and determine our every work, and how we do it.
We must do all things HEARTILY as unto the Lord. There must be in all our life a singleness of purpose and desire, a zeal and devotion to the Lord. Again this must be evident in our daily occupation. This must be the great purpose of the farmer ploughing in the field and milking his cows. This must be the purposeof the laborer in the factory, and the business man in the office and on the road. This must be the purpose of the mother in the home, as she does the daily chores of the housework and caring for the children. This must be the great purpose of the student in school in all of his studies.
There is something wonderful about this. The idea of heartily includes also joyfulness. The slave in Paul’s day could do his work joyfully even though it was hard drudgery, even though he had to listen to the threatenings of his ungodly master, and often bear the cruel and unjust abuse that was laid upon him. So today some of our work is in itself hard. Some of it is drudgery all by itself. It taxes all of our energies so that we become weary. Often we as Christians must in our daily occupation suffer the injustice of wicked men. Sometimes we have to suffer great loss because of our desire to abide by the principles of the Word of God. In it all the joy of our life is that we belong to the Lord. He has redeemed us. The purpose of our life is that we serve Him. There is no greater joy and purpose for our life. Man’s life without God, in all of his striving, is utter vanity. It profits him nothing at all in the end. He labors in the sweat of his face all the days of his life, only to return to the dust of the ground. And after this life, the ungodly man will stand before the judgment seat of God and be judged for all the things he has done. But for the Christian all this has been changed by the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Having been delivered from both the condemnation and slavery of sin we can now begin to serve the Lord.
What a great calling! How far short we fall of it every day of our life. Daily we need to confess our great sin and shortcoming. Daily we need to pray for grace to change and to turn again unto the Lord. Never may we imagine that we have already attained. Constantly the Lord Himself has to turn us away from the vanity of this world and from our own sinful self-centeredness. Each day we need to begin with the earnest prayer: “Lord help me to do all things heartily unto thee.”
By His grace we begin in all our life to live unto Him. Living unto the Lord, we suffer persecution and hatred from the world. Often our work is hard. We have to toil day and night to make enough money to feed our families, support the church, and pay Christian school tuition. But the Christian who does all things heartily unto the Lord looks unto the reward of His grace. Our daily occupation here on earth does not have its final goal and purpose in this life. We look for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the hope of the new heavens and earth. It is in this hope also that we can and do all things heartily unto the Lord.