Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23, ESV).
I’m currently living and working in a culture where work strongly identifies a person. Even a housewife is a meaningful (and most noble!) work title. Western Christianity has long established a distinction between vocation and ministry. Tozer’s quote speaks to the heart of the matter though: our motivation defines whether our work is sacred or secular. Paul writes very differently about work in Colossians. Let’s dig in.
Colossians Chapter 3
Throughout Colossians Chapter 3, Paul is giving wonderful instruction about how we are to live in Christ. I don’t want to miss what he says because it greatly effects how we read our theme verse. Paul tells us to put on the new self which will change:
To put on the new self, we have to ‘put to death what is sinful’. Paul provides a detailed list of sinful acts and attitudes that must be thrown away when we start to walk in Christ’s new life for us. What Paul is explaining is that our old practices must end. We do, however, gain new knowledge and that knowledge transforms our very image into a closer likeness of our creator (v. 10). We put on new practices and begin to act differently towards each other. Love guides our interactions with others, peace stills our restless hearts, and Christ’s words empower us to share our praise with the world (v. 14-16). It is through this new self that we conduct all our work.
Paul transitions to instructions for the family which seems like a deviation from his focus on Godly transformation and work. Really though, Paul is explaining how no matter what your role is—wife, husband, father, children, slave—living out Christ’s transforming power in your soul will help you be a person that brings glory to him.
From Your God-breathed Soul
Part of verse 23 is often translated as ‘work heartily’, but the Greek wording is a little bit more specific. The literal translation looks more like ‘out of your soul’; the term ‘soul’ coming from psyche or psuche. Do you know what psyche also means in scripture? It’s the same term used to describe God’s breath to create the soul. Strong’s says, “The soul is the direct aftermath of God breathing (blowing) His gift of life into a person, making them an ensouled being.” Think about this: in Genesis, after God breathed life into the man, what did he do? He gave Adam work!
Put the Pieces Together
Paul writes if we were raised with Christ, we put on a new self, and our God-breathed soul works for the Lord, not men. We can also expect an inheritance, not because of the work that we did, but because our very nature was changed so that we could do God’s work and bring him glory.
Beloved, let this revelation redefine our understanding of and approach to work; let it solidify our sincerity of heart to rely on the transforming power of God’s very breath to do the work of our hands. Working for the Lord heartily means our work is sacred no matter what task we perform. The task means nothing, but when God’s transforming power is revealed, our work becomes holy. Let’s labor in holiness.
Aubra Bulin, Ed.D. is originally from Dallas, Texas but now serves in Okayama, Japan as a professor at a national university. She and her husband are marketplace missionaries seeking to encourage Japanese Christians and pastors to build up the Japanese church. When not working, Aubra likes to travel, try new foods, and see beautiful sights.
Studying the Bible for love and with integrity.
Educator - Advocate - Writer
"In the darkness of night, I wait expectantly for understanding and knowledge for your people."