Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. (Colossians 3:22, KJV)
Paul warns us in this passage to make sure we serve God and not just our employers in our vocations. When a man first gets a job he usually has a great desire to impress his boss. Of course, this is good. But Paul tells us this is insufficient. What are the dangers of “eyeservice” and “menpleasing?” (By the way, the ESV version says, “people pleasers.” That is lame.) Before we note the dangers let’s be clear on what Paul is saying. He is not saying we should aim to displease our “masters according to the flesh.” All employees should seek to honor their bosses. But Paul is saying that our ultimate allegiance is to God. Paul closes this verse by focusing on singleness of heart, which means a whole-hearted devotion to God. We are to fear God. We are to obey our masters, but our hearts are to be completely devoted to our Lord. What are the dangers of man’s approval being our ultimate goal instead of God’s?
First, if we are seeking to please men alone we will be tempted to only do the right thing if our employer is watching. There are many tasks that the boss will never see or know about. There are duties that should be done even if they are done in obscurity. But if we are only seeking man’s approval these good works that no one sees will be left undone. A man seeking to please will do all the work that is necessary whether it is seen or not.
Second, we will be tempted to do the wrong thing if it pleases our employer. In today’s work environment, employers can require their employees to do things that violate our Christian faith. This could mean doctoring the books, joining in sexual harassment, overlooking criminal activity, or lying to close a big deal. A friend of mine just lost his job for refusing to lie. If our employer approves of some sinful behavior and our eyes are not on the Lord then we could compromise in order to please our boss.
Third, we will only work hard enough to please our boss. Some bosses are very demanding. Others are not. You can slouch through your day and still come out ahead in the end. You can do just enough to not get fired. For a Christian, this is unthinkable. Paul follows Colossians 3:22 by saying, “And whatever you do, do your work heartily as to the Lord and not to men.” If our goal is to please the Lord then half-hearted effort will not do. Each day we will seek to do our best. We will strive to improve at our vocations. We will see our daily labor at the office, in the field, or in the hospital as a vital part of our sanctification.
Finally, if we are aiming to please only our employer we will glorify ourselves instead of God. When we are men-pleasers we put ourselves forward. We shine a spotlight on our work so our bosses will see us and reward us. We want to be noticed by men. However, when we remember that God is the one who rewards us (Colossians 3:24) we do not glorify ourselves. We are not constantly climbing the ladder seeking recognition. If our work goes unnoticed we are fine with that. We work hard and trust that God will reward us in his time. If our employers notice our labor then we are grateful and give glory to God. If our eyes are on God, who sees all, then self-promotion takes a back seat to being righteous and doing good. This, of course, does not exclude promotions or an honest evaluation of our work. But it will keep us humble and prevent glorifying ourselves instead of God.