Ministry of Subservience
Tim Temple


Our text is Colossians, chapter 3, beginning with verse 22 and going through the first verse of chapter 4:

Colossians 3

22Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God;
23And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
25But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

Colossians 4

1Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

We will stop our reading there with the first verse of chapter 4. Those who are in business for themselves say over and over again that one of the biggest problems they face in the business life is finding dependable employees. How much better and how much easier their business would be if they could just find those who would be the right kind of employees.

Many times we hear of men or women who have risen to the very top of their profession simply because they worked diligently and faithfully and were willing to go the extra mile. They were willing to try to sense what their employer wanted and did not wait to be told specifically. They are sometimes referred to as self-starters. By the same token, though, we often hear of employers who are unfair and inconsiderate and are almost impossible to work for. And we know of businesses that have failed or that have had very difficult times because they haven't been able to attract and hold the right kind of employees.

The interesting thing is, and the reason that I am mentioning all this is, that the Word of God speaks to these very issues. That shows us the practicality of the Scriptures, but it shows, particularly in the context of Colossians at which we have been looking these weeks, that the Christian life extends to every area of life. Christianity is not just a matter of what we do in church on Sunday, as you should well know by this time. Our Christian life extends to every aspect of life, every avenue of life.

Employer/employee Relationships

The third chapter of Colossians is dealing with the various reactions that we should have to the knowledge of Christ. The first two chapters gave us great detail of Christ and Who He is, and gave us the knowledge of Christ, as we have been referring to it. These chapters are talking about the way we should respond and react to this knowledge. You will remember that chapter 3 we have divided into three parts. First, in verses 1-4, it speaks of the reaction that should take place in our attitudes. Then in verse 5-17, it speaks of the reactions that we should be having in our actions to the knowledge of Christ. And in verse 18 through the first verse of chapter 4, which we have been talking about for several weeks now, it speaks of the reactions that should take place in our associations. These associations, as we have been seeing, are primarily in the area of the family; but in dealing with the associations of slaves and masters, which was part of the first century family, Paul wrote down some very important principles and guidelines which today can be applied to employer/employee relationships.

Very few of us live in families where we have as a part of our family an employee. Occasionally that is the case in our society, but it was the rule, it was the norm, in that first century society to which Paul wrote. And so we are thinking about these things, not so much primarily from the standpoint of the family as from the standpoint of the employer/employee relationship. We might think in terms of the military command, even though it is not technically an employer/employee relationship, and the importance of the right kind of attitude to those who are in authority over us, those kinds of things that most of us face in every area of life.

We're thinking today about the ministry of subservience. Actually these principles extend beyond the employer/employee relationship, even to any kind of relationship that you have with another person. Even if you may not be an employer or employee, there are principles here that will be important principles in living in any kind of a relationship with another person, and all of us are in contact with other people. All of us are in relationships with others.

The Extent of Subordinate Relationships

The extent of this principle is demonstrated in the last verse that we read together. If you will notice again Colossians, chapter 4, verse 1:

Colossians 4

1Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

The last phrase of the verse is the one that we need to particularly notice, “knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” Every one of us is in a servant relationship. Every one of us is in a subordinate relationship; no matter if you are the president of a corporation, no matter if you are the absolute head of your home, no matter what your status in life may be in terms of being high in the rankings, even you are the servant of God. So these responsibilities and these principles apply to every one of us. Whether we are the lowest employee on the totem pole of our firm, or whether we are the absolute top of the line of authority in whatever situation we may be, all of us have a Master in heaven, so the principles apply to everyone.

This verse also emphasizes the spiritual nature of these responsibilities and the fact that we are not just talking about good employer/employee relationships, but we are talking also about the fact that subordination to authority is a scriptural and a spiritual principle. It is part of God's plan for the human race. Every believer is a servant. So the ministry of servitude is a very important thing to know about.

As we look at these verses today, I want us to think about them from three standpoints. First, we want to think about the “Method of Subservience,” as it is described for us in verse 22; then the “Motive in Subservience,” in verse 23; then “Memories in Subservience,” in verse 24 and 25 and touched on in verse 1 of chapter 4.

The Method of Subservience

First, let's think together about the method of subservience. It's interesting to notice that the highest compliment that Jesus is ever recorded as having spoken in terms of saying something to a person was, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Jesus and the writer of the Scripture said complimentary things about people, but in terms of Jesus having said something to someone, this seems to be the best compliment that He ever paid. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The Scriptures are full of that same kind of information, that God honors faithfulness, that God holds in high esteem those who are willing to serve faithfully. Therefore, it should be very important for us to notice the method of subservience as it is described for us in verse 22. Notice again in Colossians, chapter 3, verse 22:

Colossians 3

22Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God;

In this verse we find the method of subservience described from both a negative and positive standpoint. Notice the negative standpoint first. The negative description is found in the phrase, “not with eye-service, as men-pleasers.” Isn't that a unique and interesting term? I like some of these unique terms in the Scripture. I wish we could work them into our conversation, for it would make our conversation a little bit more catchy, particularly in the thoughts of those who don't know anything about the Bible. When is the last time you referred to someone as being a man-pleaser or doing eye-service? What do we mean by those terms anyway?

This unique term, eye-service , is a translation of the Greek word ophthalmodoulia . It is a combination of two Greek words. One word I'm sure you'll recognize is the word from which we get our English words that refer to the eye, optometry and ophthalmology . It's the Greek word ophthalmos , which refers to the eye, but combined with the Greek word ophthalmos is the Greek word for slave , which is doulos . So we have ophthalmodoulia , “a servant who is bound by the eye.”

What does that mean? In its common usage in the Greek, it's only used in this particular place in Scripture; but in other places that it is used in the daily Greek language, it seems to indicate a servant who does his work only to be seen, a servant who is motivated by what is going to be seen. He is the kind of servant who cleans on the surface, but who doesn't bother with the things that are not going to be seen or the things that are rarely seen. He's the kind of person of whom Jesus referred to the Pharisees as being “whited sepulchres”—beautiful on the outside, but on the inside, full of dead men's bones. That is the idea. It is the idea of a sort of a hypocritical service, a service that simply waits on being seen, the service that is designed around what will be noticed and what will be thought of. So the Scripture is telling us that as we serve our master, whatever that master may be—employer or officer above us in rank or wife to husband or children to father and mother—whatever our place in life is, as we serve those who are over us, it should never be simply those things that will be seen.

This early in our thoughts you will recognize what a tremendous problem we face as Christians, because if we are honest with ourselves, won't we have to admit that at least some of what we do is done largely because of what will be thought about it? Some of what we do is done primarily for the benefit of those who will see it. In our work, in our employment, how much of what we do is done while the boss is looking or in case the boss comes by? How much of what we do is done so that it will be noticed? What is our motivation in service? Even though it cuts right across the grain of much activity that takes place today, the Scripture says, “Do not serve with eye-service, as men-pleasers.” Do not let your motivation be simply to please those who may see it. We want to please those who may see it, and we will come to that in a moment, but our motivation must not be simply that which will be seen. Our method should not be to simply clean the surface and those things that will be seen.

Undivided Loyalty

The positive standpoint of the method of subservience is shown in the phrase, “but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” Notice the last line of the verse, “in singleness of heart, serving God.” What is singleness of heart anyway? To save a little time in discussion, let me say that the phrase singleness of heart , is a translation of words that could be translated “undivided loyalty.” If you think about it, you will realize that could be the meaning of singleness of heart , a heart that is not in two places, loyalties that are not divided—in other words, serving with one motive in mind, one area of loyalty, undivided loyalty.

The person who is working only to be seen, you see, has at least two loyalties, maybe more, but at least two loyalties, at least two purposes in mind. First is to be seen and recognized for what he is doing, and I do mean first . That is his primary motive—so that others will see it, and particularly so others will say something about it, give him some recognition. That is his first loyalty. His second loyalty, and only secondarily, is to get the job done. Of course, since that is the secondary motive, sometimes that part doesn't get accomplished. A person who is single-hearted, a person who has singleness of heart, is a person whose purpose—as we are going to see in a moment—is to serve the Lord. When that is the motive, everything else falls into place.

Interestingly enough, there are a couple of Old Testament passages that illustrate this point very well, I think. Turn to Isaiah, chapter 6, and we want to notice together, verses 11-13. Let me give you a little bit of background about this passage. In Isaiah, chapter 6, a very familiar passage to many of us, you remember that God had been giving Isaiah instructions for the ministry that Isaiah was to fulfill. It was going to be the unpleasant ministry of preaching doom for Israel and misery for Israel. So Isaiah asks a very natural question, as God has been informing him about his ministry. Isaiah asks a question that you and I would probably ask, too, in verse 11:

Isaiah 6

11Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
12And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
13But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return…

God didn't say to Isaiah to keep on until everybody had been converted. He had said in the verses before this, “I want you to go out and preach that judgment is coming if people don't turn back to me. If people don't return to God, there is nothing they can hope for but destruction. That is the message you are to preach, Isaiah.” Isaiah said, “Lord, how long?” We would anticipate that God would say, “Isaiah, until you have converted everyone, until you are able to go into a city and have a city-wide crusade at the local football stadium (or whatever kind of stadium they would have had in that day) filled to the brim and you are recognized in all the papers and your name is a household word all over the country.”

Is that what God said? No! In fact, it was just the opposite. God said, “Isaiah, I want you to keep on and keep on and keep on, and they are not going to listen to you. Some of them aren't going to hear what you say.” In fact, in verse 13, he says that only one tenth of Isaiah's hearers would respond. “Most of them are going to go right on about the things you're warning, and the very doom that you are preaching is going to fall upon them, but in the group, in the nation, among your hearers, there will be a tenth.” God always has His remnant. You see, God said, “Isaiah, all I want you to do is be faithful. All I want you to do is follow My instructions, and don't expect success, Isaiah, because I have My people who will respond; and if you faithfully preach the message so that a tenth can respond to My Word, you will be successful.”

You see, with God, faithfulness is success. God never anywhere in the Word asks us for numerical success. One of the biggest hurdles that ministers, pastors, and Christian workers have to cross is that hurdle of human recognition. It is so easy to assume that that's what God is asking for. There is nothing in the Scriptures that indicate that. All that God asks is faithfulness. The same thing is true of you as an employee, whether you ever stand in the pulpit or not. All God is asking for is faithfulness.

Advancement Comes From God

There is another passage that illustrates this. Let's turn now to Psalm 75 and notice a verse that it would be well for you to memorize. There are a couple of verses that go together that are key verses to keep in mind as we serve the Lord. Psalm 75, verses 6-7:

Psalms 75

6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.
7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

Promotion cometh not from the east or the west or the south. Promotion comes not from those who are our critics and those who are responsible for us from a human standpoint. Promotion comes not from those who are observing us. Promotion comes from the Lord. “God is the Judge. He putteth down one and setteth up another.” Someone may say, “But I'll never be recognized if I'm not on the alert, if I'm not careful. I've got to do something to get their attention, to let them know that I am on the job. I've got to do something to make sure the people know what a good worker I am.” Is that what God says? You see, eye-service as men-pleasers is a waste of time, isn't it? Because it is God who gives promotion. It's not the man, the human being that you are trying to please. It's not that one for whom you're doing the eye-service that brings the promotion anyway. God is the One Who gives promotions and Who brings advancement. It's in God's hand. Wouldn't it be better to devote ourselves to serving the One from whom promotions really come? Wouldn't it be better to set our hearts on pleasing Him? Of course it would.

The Motive In Subservience

These verses touch on and are very similar to the second thing we want to think about as we go back to Colossians, chapter 3. Let's notice now the motive in subservience, as it is brought out in verse 23. We've been thinking about the method of subservience, and the method is not to set our hearts to please men; the method is rather to recognize that God has different standards of success than men usually do and to set our hearts to please the Lord. That is very similar to what we find, very closely related to the motive of subservience, as it is brought out in verse 23. Notice:

Colossians 3

23And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

Let me ask you the question: Who are you trying to please in life? You know, that is a very basic question that every Christian needs to sit down at some point and come to grips with. Who are you trying to please in life? Are you trying to please your husband? Are you trying to please your wife? I mean ultimately, primarily, the person that really motivates you—is it your employer, your teacher, your major professor? Is it the dean of your school? Who is it? Analyze that. It is a question that only you can answer, and it is a question that only you need to answer.

The Word of God brings out again and again and again–and here is one of many Scriptures that tell us—that it is the Lord Jesus Christ that must be pleased. That's the focus of our attention. Even though we don't have time to develop this idea, let me just mention in passing that if we are successful in pleasing the Lord Jesus Christ, then these others we may realize that we are trying to please will very easily fall into place. If you are trying to please your husband, then set your goals higher than that. Set your goals to please the Lord. If you can please the Lord, your husband will be pleased, because if you please the Lord, you are going to be obedient to the Scripture which tells you what kind of wife you ought to be. And your husband will be deliriously happy, if you are anything like what the Scripture says you ought to be.

If you are trying to please your employer, then put your goal on pleasing the Lord, and your employer will be thoroughly satisfied with your work. Our goal should be, our motive should be, to please the Lord.

Faithfulness In God's Service

Paul brings this out very succinctly in another passage that I would like for us to turn to, I Corinthians, chapter 4. We want to notice the first 4 verses, and then later we will come back and notice verse 5. Notice:

I Corinthians 4

1Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.
4For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

You see, these verses bring out that our motive in life should be to be faithful to whatever God has given us to do. We are stewards of the grace of God. God has given each one of us the grace to accomplish a certain thing or certain things in this life, and our purpose is to be servants of that grace of God, to be a slave to God. Our motive in life should be to be faithful to whatever God has given us to do, and the result of such an attitude is a lack of worry and concern over what men think because, you see, what Paul is saying in these verses is, “It's none of their business anyway.” Paul says, “With me it is a very small thing whether you judge me. It is a small thing. I am concerned that I don't cause someone else to stumble. I am concerned that I not cause you to become bitter. It is a small thing, but it is a very small thing, because you are not my judge. God is my judge. And as long as I am pleasing Him, as long as I'm not causing someone else to stumble, then I really am not worried what other men think.”

The normal reaction to that kind of information is, “Well, that is just too risky. I'd rather just handle things myself and make sure that people notice the good job that I'm doing, because I'll just get run over if I don't look out for myself.” Whether we want to admit it or not, that is the way that many of us think when we come across Scriptures like this, to let serving the Lord be our motive, to let faithfulness to God be our motive in life. But God anticipated that reaction, and so He wrote a couple of things that we need to keep in our memory as we live in subservience.

Remember the Inheritance

Let's go back to Colossians, chapter 3, and notice in verses 24 and 25 the memory that we need to have in subservience.

Colossians 3

24Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
25But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

First, notice the word knowing that begins verse 24. The word knowing is a word in the Greek which means “remember,” in a certain sense. And we could accurately translate that word remember “that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance.” So, notice in these verses, two things to keep in memory pointed out in these verses. He says, “Remember that the real rewards are not in this life, in the first place. The real rewards are a future inheritance.” Do you see that in verse 24? “Remember that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward.”? And what's the reward? The inheritance. Inheritance is a word that Paul uses and Peter uses in several places in the New Testament to refer to all that we have in eternity future, the inheritance of a relationship with God throughout eternity, our inheritance in Jesus Christ. That is the reward. Isn't it a silly thing, isn't it a shallow thing, to set our eyes on rewards that fall short of the real scale of time? So many Christians get bound up in temporal values. We get the idea that pleasing this man, pleasing this system, is what it is all about. Paul says, “Remember, our purpose is not to please this man who is going to perish. His life is but a vapor. Our purpose is not to satisfy this system that is just a temporary passing thing anyway. Our reward is the inheritance. That's what our goal should be. That's where our sights should be set. That's what our perspective should be. Remember ye shall receive an inheritance.”

Recognize the Judge

I said a moment ago that we would notice verse 5, of I Corinthians, chapter 4. So let's go back there, and notice verse 5 again. Remember that in those first four verses, Paul said, “I'm God's servant, and therefore it really doesn't matter what men think, as long as I'm not causing them to stumble. It matters a little, but it matters very little.” So he draws a conclusion based on that in verse 5, of I Corinthians, chapter 4:

I Corinthians 4

5Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

When we were studying this passage in I Corinthians a few weeks ago, we saw that a more proper translation of this verse would be: “And then shall every man have the appropriate praise from God.”

He is saying, “God is the judge, and God is the one who is going to reward appropriately. If a man has done good or if a man has done poorly, God is going to reward him appropriately.” In fact, it may be the appropriate praise for some is no praise at all. But God is in charge of that, and we need to be very careful how we judge someone else. Be very careful how you judge someone else, because God's judgment is based on the counsels of the heart. You see that in verse 5, God will make manifest the counsels of the heart, and then shall every man have the appropriate praise of God.

By the same token, don't worry when someone else does judge you. We need to be careful about others, but by the same token remember that when someone else is passing judgment on your ministry or on your life style or on your service, won't he be embarrassed someday? He is not the judge, and his opinion is completely beside the point. God is the judge. He is the one Who is really going to reward appropriately.

We don't begin to have the time to turn there, but let me mention a reference for you to look at when you do have the time—Matthew, chapter 25, verses 13-30. This is a parable that Jesus told concerning the servants who were given a little bit of silver and were told to invest it while the master was gone. When the master returned, the men who had been faithful to the task were rewarded with the master's commendation: “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I'll make you ruler over many things.”

Again, God was not asking for success. One man didn't make nearly as much money as the other man did—percentage-wise he did, but dollar-wise he didn't. God is not asking you to do what He may ask someone else to do. God may not put you in a position of responsibility or position of financial success that he puts someone else, but all that He is asking you to do is to be faithful to what He has given you to do. You will receive that same “Well done good and faithful servant,” even if you do only accomplish half from a human standpoint of what someone else may have accomplished. You see, our motivation needs to be to please the Lord. The method needs to be not to look at men's reactions, and we need to remember God is the judge.

God's Evaluation of Our Service

One other thing to keep in memory is pointed out in Colossians, chapter 3, verse 25. The prevalent philosophy of our world today, most of us are fully aware, is to look out for number one. Take care of yourself because nobody else is going to do it for you. If a person is going to make serving the Lord his life goal, as we have been talking about in these verses, there is a very good chance, a very real chance, that he is going to be wronged somewhere along the way. Notice Colossians, chapter 3, verse 25:

Colossians 3

25But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

Some read that verse as a threat, and they say, “You need to be very careful because if you don't serve the Lord faithfully enough, you're going to get it.” But that really is not the sense of the verse at all. What Paul is saying is, “Remember. Here is another thing to keep in memory. As you serve the Lord, you're going to be mistreated sooner or later and maybe again and again.” Somebody is going to overlook your faithful service. Someone is going to overlook what you've done. If you're not serving men, but serving the Lord, if part of your effort is not spent on drawing attention to yourself, then probably you're not going to be noticed like you would like to be from a human standpoint. And somebody is going to mistreat you, and you're not going to get the recommendation that you would like to have. You're going to be wronged, but the thing to keep in mind is, God keeps track of who is in the wrong, even if the one who wrongs you is a very important person, even if he is the president of the corporation. There is no respect of persons with God, and he that has done wrong will receive for the wrong that he has done.

It is so difficult to go through life and to not be understood properly. Very few of us, I think, are valued like we think we ought to be valued. Very few of us have the importance in the minds of other people that we think we ought to have, do we? You might think everybody else felt that way, but most of us in this room today probably feel that way. Other people don't realize how hard we are working. Other people don't realize how faithfully we're serving, and we are wronged from time to time. And sometime it is a genuine wrong. Will you remember that God keeps track of that? God knows that, and God is going to take care of that at the time of the reward of the inheritance, specifically the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Remember that our perspective is the reward of the inheritance. It's not what human recognition we may get on this earth. We're serving the Lord. We're looking for the Lord's assessment of our work, not some intermediate assessment that may come in the meantime from human beings.

One final verse that you should be familiar with that stresses this same kind of thing. What do you do in a situation when you are wronged? What do you do in a situation where you have really been misunderstood? You've been a faithful servant, and you've tried not to call attention to yourself because you only want the Lord's attention, but in spite of that, you're wronged. You're misjudged, and mistreated. Turn to I Peter, chapter 2, verse 23, and let's notice how Jesus handled that kind of situation. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter has said that we should have Christ as our example:

I Peter 2

23Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

You see, even the Lord Jesus Christ got into problems with other people. But as the record shows, He never resorted to force to settle those problems, though He could have, and He could have done it in a most impressive way. Rather, He simply turned it over to the Father. He committed Himself to Him that judeth righteously. God always knows who is in the right. And when you have been wronged, the Scripture is saying, don't make a vendetta out of that. Don't set out to right that wrong. Certainly don't take things into your own hands. Commit that to the Lord. He knows how right you are and how wrong the other person is. He knows how to judge rightly, and that is the instruction of the Scripture. Have Jesus Christ as your example, who committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.


In conclusion: Jesus once told His disciples, “He that would be the greatest among you, let him be the servant of all.” I wonder, as we think about the ministry of servitude, who is your master? I mean, who are you really trying to please? Where is your goal really set?

These are very appropriate words with which to summarize our thoughts. “He that would be the greatest among you, let him be the servant of all.” How much do you think about the needs of the other person, your employees, your family, your children, your wife, those who are below you in the chain of command? How often do you think about their needs or are you constantly on the lookout for yourself? How much do you think about those who are above you and really serving them and meeting their needs, or are you working with eye-service, as men-pleasers?

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