By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Ephesians 5.21, 6.5-9; I Peter 2.18-21
We have spent the last three weeks looking at the idea of subordination, identifying God’s expectations for spiritual, domestic and societal heirarchy. Today’s lesson brings us to an examination of what I have termed vocational subordination. Our lesson will be primarily from Ephesians 6.5-9 and I Peter 2.18-21.
While these passages refer directly to what we have come to rightly call the deplorable human institution of slavery, these passages contain very specific concepts that we need to apply to our vocational relationships.
As we have been discussing, American culture has a tremendously difficult time, firstly, admitting that hierarchical relationships exist; secondly, there is even more difficulty because we have to bring ourselves to operate within the hierarchical structure. While there are some who may accept and demand that hierarchy function as a part of the military, it seems that anything outside of that institution seems to be up for grabs, where formal structure and hierarchy are debated then negated and supported by a popular mantra of, “who can tell me what to do?”
However, simply by needing to survive, most people learn to live within boundaries. Generally this is done out of necessity and not out of willingness. For example, within the workforce we learn to work around project deadlines and sales quotas, but when it comes to arriving at the worksite on time, foregoing personal Internet activity, and other lax attitudes, we often shrug it off by thinking something like, “as long as a do my work and get it done on time, who can tell me what to do it?” Our society has come to believe that personal character has nothing to do with job performance. While this is not true, our study is not about job performance, but about God’s expectations within the workforce.
Granted, it is not easy for us to care for, or like unfair, hard-nosed, belligerent, arrogant bosses. The difficulty comes when we are expected to live righteously in such a hierarchy. This lesson is designed only to identify God’s expectations of both the superior and the subordinate within the vocational hierarchy.
Management – The Superior
Consider that you have the option of working for either Boss A or Boss B, which would you prefer to have:
Boss A – a boss who is wrapped up in themselves and the authority of their position, proclaiming “take that hill”, “do as I say”, and “Rule No. 1 – I don’t make mistakes. Rule No. 2 – if I ever do, see rule No. 1.”
Boss B – a boss that serves others, and while possessing authority as the boss, they are fair, they do not just give orders, but join the ranks in the task at hand, and are willing to admit their failures.
Which boss did you choose? If your answer was Boss B, then you have chosen a boss, (an employer, a superior) who either knowingly or unknowingly practices God’s ideal for leaders.
Let us begin by looking at Ephesians 6.9. Here, Paul is telling the masters (for us, management whether it be bosses or employers) to have the same qualities as their employees found in the previous four verses. Some of those character traits are found in verses 6 and 7.
Ephesians 6.6, Paul is telling the management not to be pretentious. For example, management should not act with kindness and gentleness only for selfish career advancement. Another way of thinking of it is that managers are not to be what the KJV translates in I Peter 2.18 as froward (meaning – crooked, hostile, rude tempered, unfair, and unfriendly) toward their subordinates.
Ephesians 6.7, Paul is telling the management that they should be a help those they manage. Again, this should not be from pretentiousness, but genuineness. One aspect of being helpful is being prompt in paying employee wages (Leviticus 19.13, Jeremiah 22.13). Another aspect of being helpful is that management is not to make the employee feel oppressed (Deuteronomy 24.14-15).
With Ephesians 6.9, Paul includes an additional thought stating that management is not to make threats (in context this seems to be unwarranted intimidation) toward their employees. Simply stated, this causes undue stress for employees and I Peter 2.19 states that in no way should management cause grief to employees.
The truth is: leadership begins at the top, not the bottom. Like snowcapped mountains, quality leadership has beneficial affects. The snow melts and provides nourishment, for the life on the mountain and the life down river. Knowing this management has a tremendous influence on their employees’ behavior. Undoubtedly, there will always be an employee who will not fall inline, but reality is that surly management encourages insubordinate employees. The challenge becomes: will management have a positive influence and create a work environment worth working in?
While our society permits vocational transition and relocation, poor managerial leadership makes for an extremely difficult situation for subordinates. Truly, quality leadership empowers the individual, the division and the corporation for total success. In cannot be underestimated, this principle applies in all areas that we are studying spiritual, domestic, societal, vocational, and congregational.
Employees – The Subordinate
Let us now look at the second part of the vocational equation – the employee. From Titus 2.9-10, we can learn several things that God expects of those who live in a subordinate position. Those who are subordinate should follow instructions, and ensure that management is pleased. From this passage, we also see that subordinates should not backtalk or steal, but demonstrate the quality of being trustworthy.
When we look at I Peter 2.18, we can see many characteristics of a godly subordinate. A godly employee knows he is an employee and does not try to take over the role of management. Additionally, a godly employee respects and fears the power that management has – as in the power to relieve the employee of employment. But the biggest challenge to any godly employee is remaining godly when management is ungodly.
However, the reason that a godly servant serves ungodly management is because God sees it as graceful. The KJV translation of I Peter 2.19 is interesting. This verse contains a Greek word that the KJV translates as grace 130 times, but in this instance translates it as thankworthy. While the NKJV uses the word commendable, it is the ESV that best captures and conveys the Greek thought by using the phrase a gracious thing. This phrase really helps show the biblical principle for having “grace under fire”. The child of God should be one who is a Christian and behaves like a Christian no matter the circumstance. If the ideology of the commitment to “grace under fire” is not enough, Peter supports the situation by citing Jesus as the embodiment that very principle (I Peter 2.21-25).
Being a subordinate is never easy, even when management seems kind and fair. Even management has a subordinate relationship to someone else, whether it is to regional managers, the board of directors, or to stockholders. The challenge is to remain graceful, faithful, and trustworthy in all situations.
While the work environment has been corrupted in many ways, this does not give us license as Christians to behave as the world around us. This lesson was limited in scope because we examined only what God expects us to do, not what to do when things are broken. But, as Christians, we are to have a higher code of ethics as management and as employees. We are to have higher ethics regarding compliance, property rights, personal interaction and personal boundaries. One might ask why? The answer is simple but profound as is expressed by Paul in Ephesians 6.6-7, “…doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men” [emp rah].