Wholehearted Service
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Wholehearted Service

Ephesians 6:5–9  (ID: 3297)

The Gospel breaks down barriers that separate individuals in the world. When Paul instructed redeemed masters, for example, he reminded them that as brothers and sisters in Christ, they stood equal with their bondservants before God. Alistair Begg teaches that the same holds true for Christian employers and employees today. Regardless of job status, they ultimately serve and answer to an impartial God. Rather than bully those under their supervision, Christian employers should extend grace to their employees without qualification, transforming threats into encouragement.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ephesians, Volume 9

Life Together Ephesians 5:21–6:9 Series ID: 14909

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn to the passage we were in this morning. As promised, I said we would come back to this. We left it hanging. And Ephesians and chapter 6, beginning at verse 5. If you have it open there, once you’re there, let’s just actually read the essentially parallel few verses in Paul’s letter to Colossae, which you’ll find in Colossians chapter 3. Colossians 3, in this little section here in Colossians, Paul is doing essentially what he’s done in Ephesus. It’s not surprising when people have a second try at their sermons or their songs, and Paul has another run at the same material: wives to husbands, children and parents, and then from verse 22:

“[Slaves,] obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”[1]

And you could probably just keep a finger there, so that as we move back in between them, I will make reference to both passages as we go.

So, a brief prayer together:

Father, thank you that of all the places we might be tonight, you’ve gathered us here. It’s a peculiar joy at the end of this day to lift our voices in praise to you, the living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For without you, we would be living on Dead End Street. Without you we would still be dead in our trespasses and sins. We would still be following the ways of a world that is lost without you. And what a wonder it is that your grace came and shone into our hearts—for some of us when we were small, and for others along the way; some rescued out of chaos, and others of us saved from that potential chaos. And every day and all day, it is your saving and keeping power that guards and guides and sustains us. And so that when we turn to the Bible, we want not simply to receive instruction that we can understand and practical ideas that we can apply, but we do earnestly want to meet with you, the living God. We want to have a life-changing encounter with you. And to this end we seek you as we turn to the Bible now. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, as you can tell from the reference before you, we are looking now again, for the third time, at Paul’s instruction that he gives to slaves and to their masters. And we have said on each occasion that the particulars of this instruction here, directed to the believers in the Colossae valley, has particular elements to it—most obviously, the real distinction between the reality of a slavery that held these individuals in bondage and our circumstances tonight, which, I think I can safely say, knows nothing of that kind of enslavement.

And so, we want to make sure that we understand that he wrote this to Ephesus; he didn’t write it to twenty-first century Cleveland. However, when we understand the historical context in which the Scriptures are set, then we may safely and rightly apply the principles that are contained in the Bible to our circumstances. And so it is that we seek to apply them in our everyday life and in the marketplace, particularly of public relations and employment and the role of those who act in terms of the labor force and those who would be in the position of guiding that labor force.

We are not enslaved, but we do sell ourselves into a measure of bondage when we accept a contract and when we sign up for employment. I was talking with somebody the other day about a job for whom one of their family members had applied and, I think, received. And I was asking about how it works, and I was informed that there are three twelve-hour shifts, and those three twelve-hour shifts are then indication of a full-time contract. It’s quite remarkable that thirty-six hours can be full-time, but nevertheless, there it is. And so that individual, in signing up, has essentially sold thirty-six hours of their lives to their employer, and the employer has a responsibility to frame what those hours will mean, and the employee has a responsibility to live their Christian life within that context.

Now, it is in light of that that we were considering Paul’s very clear directive. And he makes his statements in a way that would be hard for us to misunderstand. It is observable that he spends more time addressing slaves than he does addressing masters. Now, this may actually be because of the social makeup of the church to which he’s writing. What I mean by that is that there were probably far more people in the congregation for whom the designation “slaves” fitted than that of “masters.” That would be, I think, in accord with his address to the Corinthians when he says to them, “Consider your calling, brethren: not many of you were mighty, not many of you were powerful.”[2] In other words, he says, “Most of you have come from fairly ordinary circumstances. Most of you,” if you like, in common parlance, “would be part of the everyday workforce.”

It also is in keeping with what you discover when Peter writes in a similar way in his letter and in 1 Peter 2. You can check that. And in that, as he gives directives along similar lines, he never, ever addresses the masters. He only gives instruction for the servants and directs them as to how they might live as the servants of God—the possibility being that those who are on the receiving end of his letter are not in the ruling class or in the position of masters of slaves at all.

Now, that is conjecture, of course. It is not a main thing and it is not a plain thing, but I can give it to you for your consideration.

What is really main and plain is that the gospel is absolutely revolutionary. It is revolutionary. In reading from Colossians chapter 3—if you have your finger in there as I suggested you might—you will notice that in verse 11 you have a similar statement to what you have in Galatians chapter 3. Paul has pointed out to these folks, in the same way as he does in Galatians, that “there is [no] Greek … Jew, circumcised … uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ is everything. He’s absolutely everything. And so, when a man or a woman becomes a new creation, then not only does that radically alter one’s relationship with the living God—but creates it, actually, in Christ—but it also means that in that new creation, we are brought into a society where barriers that separate us from one another in the events of everyday life, those barriers are then abolished in Jesus. That’s what the Bible says.

Now, it’s very, very important that we understand that—that this happens in the Lord Jesus Christ. So it alters relationships at a fundamental level. In other words, the gospel does what the world endeavors to do and cannot do, and that is create union of heart and mind amongst those who by dint of their background, their culture, their race, their aptitude, their giftedness, or their status are, within the framework of society, almost inevitably separated from one another. Where are you going to get the slave owner and the slave sitting side by side? Not at the local coffee shop, not in the bazaar, not in the gatherings for social engagement, but only in the church. And that is exactly what has happened here to these believers in the churches to whom Paul writes.

Now, what we need to realize is that it immediately, then, sets up a question, and an inevitable question, which is: Well, if that is the case, and if those essential barriers are broken down in the gospel, how does that then work in the ongoing circumstances of where one is in bondage as a slave and the other is actually a master? And the answer to that is as follows: first of all, regeneration does not remove the slave-master distinction, in the same way that regeneration does not alter contracts. If you owed $10,000 to the bank on a Friday afternoon, and you went to an evangelistic crusade on the Saturday, and you became a Christian on that Saturday evening, on the Sunday when you showed up at church, you still owed $10,000 to the bank. Regeneration did not alter your contract. In the same way that if you were married and you became a Christian, it didn’t alter your relationship with your spouse. It changed your relationship with the Father, and it brought a dimension to your relationship with your wife, but it did not actually change it. Because those relationships of slave and master are earthly relationships, as Paul says, or, as it translates it in the King James Version, they are relationships “according to the flesh.”[3]

So, think about it. The Christian master and the Christian slave, in the context of everyday work, live with a very clear line of demarcation. The boss is the boss. The employee is the employee. They may treat each other respectively and respectably, but in actual fact, they are distinguished from one another. But within the framework of the church, when you move from Monday through Saturday into Sunday and everyone comes into the fellowship of God’s people and unites to sing God’s praise and vows to seek his forgiveness and so on—in that context, it may transpire that the slave is actually a leader in the church. The slave may actually be an elder in the church, because the slave is a man of spiritual maturity. So you have this very interesting juxtaposition whereby the slave who Monday through Friday is saying, “Yes, sir, yes, sir,” on Sunday is giving thanks to God for the elements in the celebration of Communion, and the slave owner or his master is under, in every real sense, the jurisdiction of that slave, who exercises authority as one set apart to it, as one who watches over the souls of men and women, including the soul of his boss.

Now, when you think about that and it strikes you as a little strange, you realize why it is—because most churches are not prepared to even consider this as a possibility—that most who serve as elders end up moving, if you like, just one little slide over from the office of significance that they find themselves in during the week into now another office of significance in the church. So, the people who run the business are usually looked to as to be the ones who run the church. Well, why? Running a business is not necessarily akin to spiritual maturity. So the distinctions that exist within the workforce are changed—not radically removed, but are changed—within the context of the church. In the workplace, the fact that the slave owner and the employee may be brothers, must not, says Paul very clearly here, become an opportunity and occasion for either one of them to take advantage of the circumstances. So that the slave must not then say, “Well, my boss is my brother in Jesus; therefore, I can slack off,” but rather, “Because he is my brother in Jesus, it ought to be an opportunity to display an even more exemplary faithfulness.”

You see, because what Paul is saying here, when you look at the passage carefully, is that in a sense, the slave is no longer really serving men but is serving Christ. So that is why he makes it so perfectly clear there in verse 6: “Not by … way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ,” or as those who “are serving the Lord”—Colossians 3—and not serving men.

When we work in service to Christ, not man, our work is transformed and our witness is enhanced.

Now, what happens in that—and this is the significance of it—is that when this is really engaged, then two things are true: number one, the employee’s work is transformed, and number two, the employee’s witness is enhanced. Work transformed and witness enhanced. Because the testimony of the employee in circumstances that may often be very, very undesirable, socially unacceptable, nothing that they would want to do—when, in that context, they then display the faithfulness that is represented in their acknowledgement that they are serving the Lord Jesus ultimately, then the gospel is commended. And not only those who look on but those who are part and parcel with that individual will have occasion to say, “Why is it that this lady, this fellow, is as diligent, is as responsive, is as kind, is as punctual, is as engaged as they are? Why wouldn’t they just be doing as little as they possibly could? After all, look at the circumstances in which they find themselves.”

A Different Incentive and Motivation

Well, what is it? First of all—and I’ll just point out a couple of things to you—first of all, the Christian slave—and if I say, “slave,” in your head you could say, “employee”; if I say, “employee,” you can in your head say, “slave”—now, the Christian slave has a different incentive and a different motivation. All right? As we saw this morning, our earthly masters we approach with fear and trembling, not because they tyrannize us but because we’re fearful of slighting the cause of Jesus; we approach them with a sincerity of heart, as we would Christ. And then in verse 6: but our incentive and our motivation is not on the basis of eye-service.

Now, that may mean the kind of eye-service that looks out to see if the boss is coming, and if they’re not coming, then we can do as little as possible, or the kind of eye-gaze that is the eye-gaze of looking to see how we can attract favor by the boss—how we can put on a little bit of a display, how we can develop the fine art of giving an appearance of obedience, of giving an appearance of diligence when in actual fact the reality is not the case. In other words, it’s just a con trick. It is not the kind of heartfelt engagement that is called for.

Now, as I had mentioned in passing this morning, I recognize that in the framework that is mine in which to serve, I don’t have the opportunity that many of you do—that most of you do—along with my colleagues. I mean, we serve together, we have relationships with one another, and so on. But in actual fact, I would imagine that it’s pretty tough out there. And I think it must be tough in a workplace when the kind of behavior that Paul says is not to be part and parcel of the Christian employee—i.e., the kind of behavior that is eye-service, that is either currying favor, that the individual in the factory or in the workplace is constantly trying to put herself in the position where she’s seen in the best light, where she manages to make it obvious to those to whom she reports that she really is a quite remarkable person and so on—it’s gotta be pretty difficult dealing with that kind of thing. When that kind of behavior, which Paul says should not mark the Christian employee—when that kind of behavior is not only practiced, but then it is apparently rewarded. And when you find yourself coming up for your annual review, and the person that you know is a complete rascal and a con artist is now advancing in the company, and you, who are trying to do what you’re doing by Christian principles and not operating on the basis of eye-service but on the basis of a heartfelt commitment to Jesus, you find yourself left on the side. What do we do then? Well, you go and you get the CD of Christopher Ash on Psalm 37, and you work your way back through it: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers. … Trust in the Lord, and do good.”[4]

Now, again, as we think in terms of slavery, as I said to you this morning, many of the songs that have come out of slavery and those who have experienced the deprivation have often sung in a way that is pointed away from the circumstances because they are so bad. And as I’ve told you many times, Mahalia Jackson is one of my favorites, and when she sings, you know,

Why should I feel discouraged?
[And] why should the shadows come?
[And] why should my heart [seem] lonely
And long for heaven and home…

Why should I? Because after all, the circumstances are such that they are overwhelming.

When Jesus is my [captain]?
My constant friend is he:
[And] his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know he watches me.[5]

You see, the gospel really does make a difference.

Is it really a quite sad thing for many of us that when we think in terms of the gospel, we think in such an atomized kind of way: “The gospel is this, and this is what it means, and this is how you know it, and this is what you do with it.” But in actual fact, the gospel is so vast and so huge, isn’t it? That we have been saved from sin’s penalty, as they taught us in Sunday school; that we are being saved from sin’s power; that one day we will be saved from sin’s presence.

And so how is the gospel then manifest in the workplace that is represented in the community of Parkside Church? Well, what Paul says is, “The way you’re really going to make a stab for the gospel is by the incentive towards which you operate and the motivation of your heart.” Now, take exhibit one: a pagan slave. Here’s a pagan slave. Here’s a pagan employee. And he or she obeys in everything, is fastidious, out of just fear of their earthly boss or out of a ingratiating desire to be regarded as better than they are. That’s employee number one. Employee number two, the Christian employee, now is obeying in everything, but for an entirely different reason. Because the Christian employee is a servant of Christ. And that is the emphasis that runs like a thread all the way through both the Ephesian passage and the Colossian passage: “not by … way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”

Wholehearted Service with a Good Will

That’s the second thing to notice: that the Christian employee renders wholehearted service with a good will. Wholehearted service with a good will. Again, if you look in the Colossians passage, I think that’s where “with a good will” comes. I’m looking for it myself, but… “Whatever you do, work heartily … for the Lord and not for men.”[6] And then, I think “with a good will” is up here. Yeah, “doing the will of God … rendering service with a good will”—just read the text, Alistair—“rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.”[7] What does this mean? Well, I think it means this. It means this in part: that the most humdrum job—the most humdrum routine job, whatever it is, whatever you can think of or whatever it is you do—becomes a vocation when it is looked on as being God’s will.

If we are tempted to view our everyday activities as somehow or another a necessary adjunct to getting on with life—either the life of relaxation and entertainment or the subcategory life of worship and involvement—then we’re setting ourselves up for a really, really miserable journey all the way to retirement or death. Because that means that we’re spending the vast amount of our time engaged in something that we really don’t want to do, but we just do it.

Paul says, “If you really understand what it means to be the servant of Christ,” he says, “even though your circumstances may be devastating, even though they may be regarded as routine and irrelevant, nevertheless, the most willing service is provided by those who are most focused on pleasing Jesus.” I guarantee it. The most willing service is provided by those who are most interested in pleasing Jesus. You can’t please your earthly boss, no matter how hard you try. And if that becomes the end product and the end design, then it sets us up for real disappointment—whatever it is.

What do you do? Are you in conveyancing? Even the word scares me: conveyancing. Writing up land contracts. Wooo, you know, there’s a job. You know, I don’t mean to dismiss it in any way, but it seems really tough.

I got a summer job one time in a building society; that’s like a mortgage company. And my father had set it up for me, felt it would be good for me. I came home from college. I got in the car. I drove into Leeds. He had worked very hard with this man who oversaw this operation, and I went up onto whatever third or fourth floor it was, and then I went and met the man, and the man introduced me to a boy who was a young man who was a full-time employee there, and he said, you know, “Kevin’ll look after you.” And I said, “Okay, fine.” So I sat down at his desk, and then Kevin explained that what happened in the day; he said, “You see, there’s desks all around here, and we start over here, and we take the files out of here, and then once we do something with them, then we put them over there. And then after they have them over there, they put them over there. And then, later on, they put them over there, over there, over there, over there, and then we put them back in here.”

“Oh,” I said, “okay.” I made it to lunchtime. And at lunchtime, before I went out on my break, I said to the fellow, I said, “Kevin, this is not personal in any way at all, but—I will be back this afternoon, but I will never be back again. Because I can’t do this. I cannot spend two and a half months of my life moving files around this room. And I’m sure you’re very good at it and everything.”

And I won’t bore you with any further details, but I knew that if I get in the car with my father and tell him I quit after he worked so hard to get me the job, that will not do well. So therefore, during the lunch break I need to go get myself another job. And so, in the lunch break I got myself another job. So then I tell my father, “Do you want the good news or the bad news? And the bad news is, I quit. The good news is, I got a better job.”

But I understand that. And I thought about, “Golly, what that must be like! Writing contracts, moving files, fixing plumbing, washing windows, planting flowers, mending broken bones, feeding guests, saying, ‘I’ll be your server today.’” Most of our lives are just routine. They’re fairly ordinary. I mean, even cardiac surgeons, it gets routine. So what are we gonna do? Unless we realize what Paul is saying here: that the Christian employee renders wholehearted service to Christ with a good will.

Working for a Future Reward

Every good work is the fruit of God’s grace.

And the third thing that he points out is that the Christian slave works in the awareness that even though we may be exploited—either real or an imagined exploitation—even though we may be exploited now, we will be rewarded then: “knowing,” verse 8, “that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or … free.” Every good work is the fruit of God’s grace. That’s what he says in Ephesians 2, isn’t it? That there are good works foreordained for you to do.[8] That work is the fruit of God’s grace. And the reward is the reward of grace. And the thing that is so striking is the fact that the master and the slave will stand before God, if you like, at the very same level of things. The master may have spent a lot of time in exotic places, and the slave may have ended up doing very little, and his routine work seemed to be so menial and mundane and almost irrelevant, and now here they find themselves on the other side of eternity, and they both stand side by side—2 Corinthians 5—in order that they might receive what is due them for the works done when in the body.[9]

There’s no partiality with God. He doesn’t have a special section for the employers. He doesn’t have a canteen for those who have done exceptionally well and another canteen for the people that don’t seem to be doing well at all. He doesn’t do it now, and he won’t do it then. And the incentive is there, both for the employee and for the employer, because the master and the slave will stand together.

Interestingly, what Paul does there by way of encouragement, in the Colossians passage he turns it the other way around. In the Ephesian passage he says, encouragingly, “You will receive the reward.” And in the Colossians passage he says, “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”[10] Judgment on disobedience, if you like, is as certain as reward for faithfulness.

It’s quite daunting, this thought, isn’t it? Because salvation is always according to grace, and judgment is always according to works. And although the believer will not be judged in relationship to our standing before God in Christ, the believer—we as believers—will be reckoned with in relationship to the deeds done in our body throughout our life. That’s 2 Corinthians 5: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive that which is due to us for the deeds done while in the body.”[11] How that all works, without in any way compromising the reality of God’s grace, the security of the believer and so on, we may leave entirely in the custody of God. But we ought not to consider the possibility that we can sidestep it—whether we are a boss or whether we’re an employee.

A Word for the Masters

Now, just a final word for the masters. And he only gives just a brief word, doesn’t he? There: “Masters, do the same to them.” Calvin says, “Perform your reciprocal duty.”[12] “Perform your reciprocal duty.” What does that mean? Well, I think it means at least this: that, in Christ, the employee is asking, “Does my boss get the work from me that he has the right to expect? Do I do a fair day’s work? Or am I a pencil-pusher? Am I a clock-watcher? Am I an eye-pleaser? Am I constantly trying to get out of as much as I possibly can or ingratiate myself at the other end of the spectrum?” That’s the question that the employee is to be asking: “Is my boss receiving from me the labor that is due him or her as a result of my commitment to them, and particularly as a result of my professed commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ?”

Reciprocally, the master then needs to inquire, “Does my employee receive the benefit from me that they have the right to enjoy?” And this, of course, in relationships in the workplace, raises all kinds of questions that we could talk about at length. But when you think about the nature of life at the turn of the century, from the nineteenth into the twentieth century, in Britain, it’s impossible to consider those circumstances without recognizing the absolute license that bosses were taking over their employees: how poorly they were cared for, how children were used as chattels and virtually as slaves, how women were subjugated in jobs that had no niceness to them at all, and all just went along fine. And so, somebody has to put up their hand and say, “Who’s going to represent the cause of the employee?” And so you have the development of necessary unions. And now, the necessary union is because the boss won’t ask this question and get it right. If he asks the question, “Am I providing the benefit that my employees have the right to enjoy?” and the answer is no, then unless the boss changes something, somebody is going to have to make a change.

And those of you who have lived your whole life over here may be intrigued to know that the Labour Party in Britain—the Socialist Party in Britain—was begun by a Christian man called Keir Hardie. It wasn’t begun by a social liberal who was an atheist. It was begun by a Christian man who said, “It is not right for employers to take advantage of the employees in this way.” Why? Because of what the Bible says.

To serve Christ as an employee is to ask, “Does my boss receive what I have promised him under Christ?” and the master to ask, “Does the one under my care receive the benefit that they have the right to enjoy?” And instead of that, “Am I engaging in threatening behavior?” This is bullying, if you like, in contemporary terminology: “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your bullying. Display grace without qualification, because you have a Master with whom there is no partiality.”

And in one of his masterful little sentences, Sinclair says, “Grace transforms threats into [encouragement].”[13] “Grace transforms threats into [encouragement].” Colossians: “Treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven, and that’s the way he treats you.”[14]

Well, a comment or two by way of conclusion. Let me say to you again that what we have here in the Bible and what we read here in terms of this instruction is clearly for the redeemed. It is clearly for those who are in Christ. The attempts of our world to achieve these same objectives are myriad, continual, and progressive throughout every generation. And even a superficial knowledge of history reveals the fact that although we as human beings have had a very, very, very, very, very long time to figure this out, we haven’t done it. It took ages for slavery to be abolished, but slavery is not abolished. Significant parts of our world are enslaved tonight. Despite all of the conversations at the highest levels of politics, the trafficking of people, of women, and of children is an epidemic throughout our world. Why is this? Well, you see, if you don’t have a Bible, you don’t know what to say, because you’re going to say, “Well, we just need a little longer to get it fixed.” Well, how long do you actually need?

You see, the seeds of disruption and the seeds of decay emerge again fresh like dandelions every jolly spring, springing up when you thought they were gone for good. I say it with great respect to the dandelions; please don’t write to me. But the fact is that all of the attempts of the world remain, because we live in a fallen world. We live in a fallen world. It’s where we began this morning, “What’s the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”[15] We don’t want to glorify God. We don’t believe in God. We don’t care about God. We care about ourselves.

And Paul says, “Well, let me tell you how that works. Behind a facade of wisdom they became fools who had exchanged the glory of an immortal God for things that creep and crawl and fly. And as a result of that, God gave them over.”[16] He gave them over to it. He said, “You want to live in that way? Let me show you what happens to you.” What happens to you is clear: idolatry; immorality; absolute, rampant chaos. It’s not a very, very nice picture, is it? But what do we know?

Tyranny will not cease until Christ returns. Wars will not cease till Christ returns.

You see, a Christian, of all people, is a realist. Tyranny will not cease until Christ returns. Wars will not cease till Christ returns. Jesus, in responding to people, says, “You will always have the poor with you.”[17] Why did he say that? Because you will! It wasn’t a disregard for the poor. He dealt with the issue. He deals with the issue. But he recognizes that oppression and exploitation and human bondage in one form or another will continue in our fallen world. And the answer—and the only answer—is the gospel. Is the gospel!

What’s the answer to the Me Too movement? It’s the gospel! I mean, we just read this stuff about what you’re supposed to have. You’re supposed to have one wife or one husband, and then you live with them all the time, and you don’t do bad things with anybody else. Can you imagine if we just did that? You see, but we can’t do it. We need the gospel to do it.

How do you deal with the chaos within the parental structure of our nation—the absolute manifold disobedience that is rampant in so many sectors of our society? Every idea, every scheme, every plan, every notion shed abroad, disseminated in scholarly magazines with all the best intentions, bows before the gospel. The boy or the girl needs a new heart. They need Jesus.

How do you deal with racism? The gospel! The gospel! You can bus people all around America as much as you like, and you can change them on the outside as much as you try, but the only way that it is transformed is by the power of the gospel.

And that’s what makes this so amazing to me—and with this I will finish. Think about this. Consider Paul’s approach to the issue. He says, “Now, I’ve spoken to you about husbands and wives, I’m talking to you now about parents and children, and now we’ve moved on to slaves and to masters.” He doesn’t call a big antislavery convention. He doesn’t gather together a group of people to create an announcement or a declaration or whatever else there is. No, he writes a letter. He writes a letter to a rather obscure and unimpressive church—a house church, really—in the Colossae valley. Writes a letter—a really short letter—to a slave owner. And in that letter to the slave owner, he describes why it is that he must take back his slave: because his slave, who remains his slave, has become his brother. And long after all of the great declarations have been forgotten, this little letter continues to be read. And the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God brings about change in obscure churches, in backwater provinces of America, in the rural parts of Scotland, in the heart of mainland China. Because the gospel and the Word of God is the weaponry that has been placed in the hands of the church.

What an immense privilege it is to have this opportunity at this point in history. I say to you again, now: tomorrow is a great moment. Another time for you to go back, and for us to go back, and to prove again that Jesus is our Lord and King.

Father, I thank you that, even as we try and work our way through this material, that you are sovereign over all—that you are the God who arrested Saul of Tarsus on that Damascus Road, and that you are the God who raises up in peculiar places and at different times those whom you have purposed to use for your glory. What a thrill it’s going to be to meet Onesimus! What a joy to talk to Philemon! And to sit and to say to one another, “Isn’t it amazing? The grace of God—amazing! What a Savior we have in Christ.”

Hear our prayers, Lord, and make us all you want for us to be. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] Colossians 3:22–4:1 (ESV).

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:26 (paraphrased).

[3] Colossians 3:22; Ephesians 6:5 (KJV).

[4] Psalm 37:1, 3 (ESV).

[5] Civilla D. Martin, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (1905).

[6] Colossians 3:23 (ESV).

[7] Ephesians 6:6–7 (ESV).

[8] See Ephesians 2:10.

[9] See 2 Corinthians 5:10.

[10] Colossians 3:25 (ESV).

[11] 2 Corinthians 5:10 (paraphrased).

[12] John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, trans. T. H. L. Parker, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 214.

[13] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 170.

[14] Colossians 4:1 (paraphrased).

[15] The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1. Paraphrased.

[16] Romans 1:22–24 (paraphrased).

[17] Mark 14:7 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.