The Feast Day Of St Joseph: The Gospel Of Work
Ephesians chapter 6 verses 5 through 9.
This is the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker, and I thought it would be a good time for us to focus on the issue of work and labor as God has described or portrayed it for us in the Scriptures.
The History of Saint Joseph the Workers Feast day
To foster deep devotion to Saint Joseph among Catholics, and in response to the “May Day” celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955. This feast extends the long relationship between Joseph and the cause of workers in both Catholic faith and devotion. Saint Joseph, the carpenter and foster father of Jesus, is but one example of the holiness of human labor.
Jesus, too, was a carpenter. He learned the trade from Saint Joseph and spent his early adult years working side-by-side in Joseph’s carpentry shop before leaving to pursue his ministry as preacher and healer.
So in today's Homily I want us to address this matter of work from Ephesians chapter 6.
Let me begin reading in verse 5. “Servants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ: not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,”.
We are obviously very much aware of the issues that face us in our society with regard to hard work, which has always been a part of the American ethic. We are a culture that is having difficulty with work at this particular time. We are into leisure mostly. We are into being entertained. We are being told, as young people growing up today, that somebody owes us a living, that we should make demands for what we want and what we expect. We’re producing a generation of young people who never see their parents work because even if they have two working parents, it’s outside the home. They leave in the morning, they come back at night. All they know is work makes you irritable, and work causes you not to get along too well and makes you bad parents and usually leads – very often leads, at least in half the cases, to divorce and the breakup of homes. So work is not a very popular theme.
And while the parents are busy working, in many cases to make money, the young people are being raised by a generation telling them that the most important thing to occupy your time with is leisure and entertainment. And into that kind of lazy culture comes drugs and alcohol and sex and homosexuality and every other kind of thing. We can only wonder what the next generation is going to perceive work to be and the value of work. Also with the exaltation of gambling, lottery and the propagation of the fantasy that somehow by just rolling the dice enough times you can win the big one. It’s frightening to think about the work ethic that lies ahead of us.
And in addition to that, we are very used to the conflict that exists in the world of labor. We see the struggle in the world of labor and the world of employment. We read about strikes. We read about walk-outs and threats and management fights and bankruptcies, et cetera, et cetera.
Labor has put so much pressure on management and management has put so much pressure on labor that our whole basic work force is threatened. Spiraling inflation causes people to make more and more demands.
Employees and employers are greedy; the employer wants more profit; the employees wants more wages. The government prints more money to try to accommodate everybody and the money is worth less. People spend more than they make and consequently they put themselves in serious credit-card debt, long-term debt by loans and mortgages, and that continues to drive up inflation and create all kinds of problems. And then when people don’t earn enough to pay for their debts, they demand more money. Eventually the employers cave-in under the pressure, pay more money and that raises the price of products and so the people who wanted more money to start with wind up paying more money for everything they buy. The government tries to step in and control, and in order for them to do that, they raise the taxes and so we have less money. And so the whole thing spirals, and behind it all is just this age-old sin of greed, everyone wanting more for himself. The consumer screams for lower prices, less taxation, and at the same time demands more pay. It can’t happen. We defy the simplest principles of logic.
The man who works in the automobile industry strikes for more and more money. The corporation has to pay him more. Because they want more too, they borrow from the government that doesn’t have it. So the government prints more money, raises inflation, and also puts more taxes on people. Then the corporation raises the car prices. to pay back the government and so it goes. And it all gets passed on to us.
We get more taxes, more inflated wages, more of everything we don’t want and sometimes less of what we do want. And it’s all really driven by greed, and I think a failure to understand the value and the honor of work.
In fact we could safely say that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and economic trouble is one of those kinds of evil. The sin of selfishness just escalates the problems. Greed is a controlling element; materialism is a controlling element as we know in our society. Money-hungry people drive this economy in great measure. It’s not the love of work for work’s sake. It’s not the nobility of work as it once was. It’s not the self-satisfaction of making something and seeing it made and taking pride in your product. Certainly as we continue to be a more service-oriented and less-manufacturing oriented and less manual-labor oriented society, we’re going to have a harder time seeing the actual product made with our hands and enjoying the satisfaction of work.
If we’re going to see any kind of right perspective, when it comes to work,–we have to understand what God has said about work. That’s a big, big subject and I’m not going to try to cover all in this sermon. But as we meditate on this very important portion of Scripture in Ephesians chapter 6, I want to reaffirm God’s perspective on work. God's perspective of work is not driven by greed, and it’s not driven by selfishness, and it’s not driven by self-fulfillment, and it’s not driven by a hunger for power. It’s driven by an understanding of what God has ordained. And the over-arching principle that must work in a healthy economic environment, believe it or not, is a principle of submission.
I. The Priniciple of Submission
If you go back in the context of Ephesians 5, you go all the way back to where this whole discussion began, you will find yourself in verse 21. It says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” – or in reverence for God. At the foundation of all good relationships, whether they are marriage relationships or whether they’re parent-child relationships or whether they are labor relationships, behind, underneath, providing the foundation of all good relationships is this understanding of mutual submission in the fear of God, that we have a responsibility, borrowing words from Philippians 2, to look not on our own things but the things of others, and to consider others better than ourselves. That’s what makes marriage work. Verse 22 of Ephesians chapter 5, down to the end of the chapter deals with how a wife submits to her husband and how a husband submits to the meeting the needs of his wife. Chapter 6 verses 1 through 4 discuss how children submit to their parents and how parents submit to their children by not exasperating them but by submitting to the spiritual discipline and instruction of the Lord that will nurture them in the faith and bring them to the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. All of us if we’re going to have right relationships, in every environment, must grasp the great truth of submission.
We must grasp the great truth of Philippians 2, and that is “that we are to look not on our own things but the things of others, considering others better than ourselves, even as Christ did who though He was equal with God thought it not something to grasp but gave it up and submitted Himself, took upon Him the form of a servant, was humbled and in the likeness of man became obedient unto death for the sake of sinners who were far less worthy than Himself.”
A husband should submit himself and all of his strength and all of his capacities and all that he has to offer for the meeting of the needs of his wife, both physical and spiritual. Children should submit themselves to the care of their parents, and parents should submit themselves to the process of rearing their children and giving their children what is best and what is going to lead them to the knowledge of God in Christ.
The same thing is true in the realm of work. It is an area where submission must take place. Slaves or – if you will, verse 5 – employees and then in verse 9 masters or employers, must also submit to what is best for the other. The worker submits to the one who is over him. The one who is over him exercises a kind of submission in that he seeks the very best for his employee.
Let’s look at the submission of the servants – the submission of the employees, verses 5 to 8.
“Slaves” – or employees – “be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in the sincerity in your heart, as to Christ, not by way of eye-service as men pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this you will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”
Here’s the pattern for all employees. It’s right here, from Christian slaves in Paul’s time to Christian employees today. And by the way, Jesus never tried to abolish slavery and Paul never tried to abolish it either. They did endeavor to deal with its abuses, and right here they’re doing that. You see, the focus is on man’s relationship to God and that’s what Christ was concerned about and that’s what Paul was concerned about. The Bible never attempts to make some lasting sociopolitical effect. It just wants to work with men’s hearts. God wants to change the heart and all injustices disappear. Where you have Spirit-filled people, right relationships can be generated.
So they taught that whatever the present structure might be, here’s how you are to act. A solution to all of our labor problems is love coming from both sides and we as Christians need to demonstrate that. There were probably six million slaves, at least, in the Roman Empire and yet nowhere in the New Testament is slavery ever attacked. In fact, slavery is borrowed as an apt analogy of Christians’ relationship to God. And Paul happily calls himself a servant of God, a slave of Jesus Christ. We are called slaves of God as well. So rather than overturn that, Paul makes it the analogy by which we can identify our own service.
So the first thing is they’re called to right behavior and to obedience. Same word, by the way, exact same word as in verse 1 where it says, “Children are to obey their parents.” Same word. If you’re employed by someone, you’re to obey them. Spirit-filled Christians will. And that’s a good thermometer on your spiritual temperature. It’s a present tense active verse, “Keep on obeying.” Now some of you might say, “Well, you don’t understand my employer. He’s not fair; he’s unjust, and I refuse to obey. And we have a right to protest and we have a right to strike,” and so forth and so forth. Listen to 1 Peter 2:18 just a minute,“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect” – listen to this – “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” Even to those who are abusive, even to those who are unreasonable, you are to submit yourselves.
That goes on from verses 18-19, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if when you sin and are harshly treated you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it, you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose.”
The principle never changes. This is what holds society together. Society cannot survive rebellion and anarchy and protest. It tears society apart. Be subject no matter what kind of employer you have. It is our witness. It is our role to hold things together, even though we are abused and we commit ourselves to our faithful Creator, even as Christ who was so mistreated, and Peter uses Him as the example in that chapter.
The Christian employee must demonstrate to the world that Christ has not made him a disgruntle rebel but diligent in his work. He has a new imperative and a new inspiration for honest, faithful work no matter how he’s treated. If unjustly punished, bear it meekly, patiently with complete forgiveness, and wait for the Lord to bless or give you a new environment.
Listen to Titus 2:9, “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not stealing, but showing all good faith” – that means being a faithful employee – “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” How are you going to convince an unconverted boss that God is a saving God who transforms lives, if you’re not a submissive employee? That’s the issue. It’s an evangelistic purpose. So the first thing is right behavior.
II. A Right Perspective.
Right perspective is bound up in the phrase ‘according to the flesh.’ This is nothing more than a human temporal relationship. Understand that. The right behavior is submission. The right perspective is it’s simply a fleshly relationship. He has authority over you only in that area, not in the spiritual realm. In the spiritual realm you’re one in Christ. When it comes to spiritual issues, if there’s a sin in your boss’s life, you can confront that sin spiritually. If there’s an opportunity to disciple your boss because he’s not as spiritually mature as you are, you need to take that opportunity and engage yourself in that. You need to pray for his spiritual strength. You need to provide resources and material to him. You need to encourage him in his spiritual life.
III. A Right Attitude.
You have to bring to this the right attitude. And what is it? It’s a very interesting statement, verse 5, “Fear and trembling.” Now you say, what am I supposed to be, living in terror of my boss? No, it’s really not fear and trembling of him. It’s fear and trembling of God. Sort of behind Him. You should show respect to your boss. You should show an amount of regard for your boss and all those who are over you. But behind that is God who has ordained these relationships. We’re not calling here for cowering servility in abject terror, but a healthy respect and a healthy reverence for the fact that God has ordained this kind of structure and this kind of order in human life. And you should have a healthy fear of offending the employer who has been given the place of leadership in your life in the work place and been given that place by God.
IV. The Right Commitment
The right behavior, the right perspective, the right attitude, the right commitment. In Ephesians 6:5 we read: “with fear and trembling” and then it continues, “In the simplicity, the sincerity of your heart” That means that you’re not doing this hypocritically. I’ll tell you, the only way you can really be a good employee, a really great employee is when it’s from the heart. Honest, upright, undivided, conscientious, genuine loyalty and commitment to do your very best. That’s what God asks for. And as I quoted from Titus 2:10, it is that you may adorn the doctrine of God and demonstrate that He’s a saving God because of what He’s done in your life. “Make it your ambition,” 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, “to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders.”
V. The Right Motive
The right motive is very clear in verse 5, “As to God.” You know, that shows me that there is no distinction between your Christian life and your work life. There isn’t any such thing. There’s nothing in your life that’s secular. You don’t have a spiritual life and a secular life. You just have your life. And everything you do, whether you’re working on an assembly line or whether you’re working as a secretary or whether you’re doing some manual task or whether you’re doing construction or whether you’re teaching school or whether you oversee employees here and there and underneath the head of your company, whatever it is you’re doing is all done unto God. It’s all sacred. Your whole life is a sacred act of worship – your whole life.
“Whatever you do,” 1 Corinthians 10:31, “do it all to the glory of God.” Your job is your service to Jesus Christ, it is an opportunity for you to express your love to Jesus Christ. You are to work and offer your service to an earthly employer as if you were serving Jesus Christ. Every Christian is in full-time Christian service to Jesus Christ, working to God’s glory that others may be brought to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And if you have a Christian who is discontent with his job, who is a poor worker, lazy, not diligent, seeks to get out of every task, not willing to volunteer for the extra things, it is a dishonor to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you something. You are a servant of Jesus Christ. You are in full-time ministry all the time, ministering to the glory of Christ whatever you do.
VI The Right Diligence
Then Paul adds in verse 6, “Not by way of eye-service as men pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” And it’s back to that singularity of heart. The right behavior, the right perspective, the right attitude, the right commitment, the right motive, and the right diligence. You do it not by way of eye-service. In other words, putting on a show while the boss is watching or when it’s time for somebody to come and evaluate you or the month that’s just before pay increases. Don’t just do the minimum and get by. Don’t be marginal. Don’t be watching to see who’s looking. Don’t just try to look good on the surface. Listen to Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” Much more important than whether you get a raise or not is whether the Lord rewards you. “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
And then verse 7 adds, “With good will render service” – or with literally a ready mind – “as to the Lord and not to men.”
Saint Joseph is held up as a model of such work ethics. Pius XII emphasized this when he said, “The spirit flows to you and to all men from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work.”
Prayers to St. Joseph For Workers
Joseph, by the work of your hands
and the sweat of your brow,
you supported Jesus and Mary,
and had the Son of God as your fellow worker.
Teach me to work as you did,
with patience and perseverance, for God and
for those whom God has given me to support.
Teach me to see in my fellow workers
the Christ who desires to be in them,
that I may always be charitable and forbearing
Grant me to look upon work
with the eyes of faith,
so that I shall recognize in it
my share in God’s own creative activity
and in Christ’s work of our redemption,
and so take pride in it.
When it is pleasant and productive,
remind me to give thanks to God for it.
And when it is burdensome,
teach me to offer it to God,
in reparation for my sins
and the sins of the world.