“And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.” (Genesis 38:3)
Good thing the Lord was with him. We’re talking about Joseph, by the by. Firstborn son to Rachel and son number eleven for Jacob, his story is one of the more potent as far as archetypal stories go. The particular theme of “working for the man” or even the broader, universal theme of working in general—working as unto the Lord.
And before I go any further, I would like to pull apart the phrase “As unto the Lord.” I use it. And it was the phrase given to me by my dad, so to speak, when referring to any type of activity in this world. Be it chores, errands, service, vocation, etc. We should be doing those things “as unto the Lord” as he used to say. But moving forward, a number of years ago, the phrase began to ring hollow. I thought it through but it had ceased to make sense. Neither semantically nor syntactically. The reason for this, I assumed—as I had long since apprehended the meaning without thinking about the words—was that one cannot see the Lord with their eyeballs. And many have a hard time envisioning Jesus as their boss or supervisor, let alone the individual behind the counter or bringing the food or on the other end of the call. I struggled with it. As unto the Lord, as unto the Lord, as unto the Lord. What does this mean? And while I may have been struggling with it from an idiomatic, linguistic, mental perspective, I still apprehended its validity. So I searched for it in the Bible. It appears in Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 22: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”
And that’s the only place you’ll see those four words appear together in the New Testament, at least in the King James Version. The idea is expressed, however, in the aforementioned context later on in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:6-7)
The will of God from the heart. I like that. It’s almost as if by serving others, one is doing the will of the Lord. One of the things about Christianity, looking on from without, is that this idea of indentured servitude seems to come up on many occasions unchecked. In other words, it’s outmoded and unnecessary to talk about such things in this day and age of eminent independence. Just know when you read it, however, that the tenor of the times dictated that Paul address it when he wrote to Christians. Know also that Jesus says as much when He says in Matthew’s Gospel (20:27) “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Just because Joseph was sold into slavery (“for twenty pieces of silver” 37:28) to the Ishmeelites doesn’t mean that God wasn’t directing things, causing them to work for Joseph’s good. He was.
Notice what was spoken of Joseph in Genesis, "the Lord was with him". It even says that Potiphar saw this. His master saw that the Lord was with him. God was directing Joseph’s plight, working all things together for his good, as it were, but what if it was because Joseph was making the effort to please someone higher? Not only was the Lord with Joseph from the outset (as he is with you), but God caused Joseph to succeed in what he did because he sought to please the Lord. Look at what it says at the end of the chapter:
“The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.” (Genesis 38:23)
God loved Joseph. So much so that Joseph’s work didn’t require that anyone check in on him or check up on him. The entirety of his story being tossed back and forth among the halls of Egypt transpires between the two passages, by the way. And he comes out on top; the Lord still with him.
I don’t know where you are or what you’re facing. Perhaps you’re working for someone who doesn’t get you or doesn’t like you. I’m sorry if that’s the case; I can relate. May I suggest reading the story of Joseph in Genesis chapters 37 and 39? It might help with an understanding of work-for-the-Lord-as-its-own-reward. I don’t know when the phrase “as unto the Lord” began to glow for me with a light and an understanding that didn’t feel borrowed or hollow. I do know that it happened after some time spent ruminating on it and studying it out. Throughout the Bible, the Lord implies that we are living and walking before Him in all we do whether we realize it or not. In closing, Paul again:
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)