The word of the day is “work.” In our reading of Colossians 3:17-4, St. Paul echoes the Table of Duties that Household Duties that he already conveyed to the Ephesians (5:22-6:9). It is a shorter list, that omits the comparison of the marriage of husband and wife to the relationship of Christ and His Church. It also excludes the duty of masters.
Paul gives two instructions that all the faithful should follow whatever their station in life. He begins his directives, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (vs. 17). Then at the end of his guidelines, he says, “Whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not to men (vs. 23).
The Change of the Nature of Work
These admonitions change the nature of work. Expelled from the Garden, Adam had to till the ground that the Almighty had cursed. Thus he had to earn his bread by sweat and toil (Genesis 3:17). Furthermore, the Preacher asked, “What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). And the Psalmist described life as “strength, labor and sorrow (Ps. 90:10).
But now in Christ, even the lowliest work has a special character and dignity. Whatever we do, it no longer must be done by our own agency and strength. We can do it in the “name of the Lord Jesus,” that is, in His authority and power (Strong’s #3686, 179). Therefore, we can give thanks to God the Father through Him, for what we do is identified with Him.
Moreover, our labor (Strong’s #2038, 102) now has purpose. It can be dedicated to the Lord for the accomplishment of His will. And when work is committed to him, we can do whatever it is “heartily.” That is, more precisely, we can perform it “ with all our “soul” (ek psyches) Strong’s #5590, 275).
Finally, our work is no more “in vain.” When it is done in the Name of Christ and dedicated to Him, it will be rewarded (vs. 24). The Lord will repay us in terms of our “inheritance,” for it serves Him (vs. 24).
Yes, work may still be hard, tedious, exhausting, unappreciated, and not fairly compensated. But whatever it is, and whatever we do, we can have the satisfaction of committing our labor as well as our whole lives to Christ.
St. Bail the Great sums up the faithful attitude to work: “Thus we acquire a recollected spirit — when in every action we beg God the success of our labors and satisfy our debt of gratitude to Him who gave us the power to do the work, and when, as has been said, we keep before our minds the aim of pleasing Him.” (“The Long Rule” 37) (Quoted in Devine).
Devine, Ann. “The Early Church Fathers on Work “, accessed Nov. 16, 2021. https://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~zablocki/earlfath.html.