(This article was published before in Una Sancta 6 March 2021)
Labour relations are a big topic in our time. But as God’s people we must know that already 3,500 years ago God made provisions for labour relations among His people.
In the Old Testament God gave instructions to His people how the workers among them should be treated. God called his people to maintain high standards in labour relationships.
In Leviticus 25 God gave laws to His people concerning slavery. If someone among the Israelites was poor and had to sell himself into slavery to an Israelite, they were not allowed to treat him like a slave. He was to be to them like a hired servant and a sojourner and was free to go again in the year of Jubilee. God had freed His people from the slavery in Egypt and therefore they were not allowed to enslave each other again. They were God’s people.
The Israelites could take slaves from the surrounding peoples but not from their own.
In Leviticus 19:13 God gave provisions regarding the payment of the wages of those who were hired. Also in that Israel was told to be fair.
If Israel abided by the standards for labour relationships that they had received from God, then Israel would be an ‘enlightened’ nation. They would stand out among the surrounding peoples. And that was the purpose of God’s commands, as we already saw two weeks ago, from Deuteronomy 4:6: that the surrounding nations would recognize that this is a wise rule.
In the New Testament we see again that God’s rules for labour relationships are surpassing what is customary in the world. In Ephesians 6:5-9, Paul wrote about the relationship between masters and bondservants. Bondservants should excel in serving their masters, as bondservants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. And the masters in turn were called to do the same thing to their servants, not threatening them, but knowing that their own Master also is in heaven.
Paul makes it clear that the position of master and that of slave is only relative. We are all servants of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Master. When we work, whether we are slave or free, we work for our Lord Who is in heaven and there is no partiality with Him.
James in chapter 2, admonishes his readers that they should not hold a rich person in higher esteem than a poor one. For God there is no favouritism and therefore in His church there should be no favouritism either. For God it is not important whether you are rich or poor. It is important that He chose you to use you in His service. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us. Rich and poor, we all need Jesus Christ. Rich and poor, those who are saved by Christ now have a task in God’s service. And whatever we have, it is given to us by God. We are all citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
With all the differences that there are between those who lived in the days of Paul and us, this remains the same: we all are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We all have our task in God’s kingdom, our cultural mandate, to develop His creation, to subdue the earth. We are all created in the image of God!
Then there is no enmity between those who have and those who have not. Then there is no class struggle between rich and poor, between employers and employees.
We are different from the world, also in the way we look at this society and the labour relations.
In the world in which we live so much goes wrong and went wrong in the past, also in labour relations. That caused the rise of the labour unions. That was a reaction to a situation that was not good. But it was not the reaction which God teaches us. The philosophy of the unions is that there is a constant class struggle. The rich oppress the poor, therefore the poor should organize and fight the rich. Employees should unionise to become powerful over against the employers and get as much as possible for themselves, because together we stand strong. The unions answered evil with evil. That is not what God teaches us.
We are to be different: we know that there is a better way: we serve Christ. Also when we obey our earthly masters, or employers. And as employers, we are different. We love our employees. Especially if they are brothers and sisters in the Lord, because then we work together for the same Master. But even if not, then we will show in the way we treat our employees, or as employees how we treat our employer, that we are Christians and that we know that there is a better way than the way of this world.
Well, that is the theory. And we know exactly how it should be. But it is a different question whether we are acting according to it.
How do we treat each other within the communion of saints? And that is about labour relationships between Free Reformed employers and employees, but also in other relationships? How do we treat people in leadership positions? And people in leadership positions, how do we treat those over whom we are appointed as leaders? Do we treat them with respect?
Sometimes it seems as if the idea lives among us that, since we are all part of the communion of saints, we are allowed a larger amount of rudeness and insensitivity than would be acceptable in the world. Things we would never get away with if it were outside the Free Reformed circles.
That is the opposite of what God teaches us. Among His people there should be a higher standard of dealing with each other. These standards should surpass those in the world.
If disagreements arise in labour relations, we go out of our way to solve those disagreements in a way in which we esteem the other more excellent than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). And in the rare cases where inadvertently government institutions or the Fair Work Commission get involved, then we are not afraid because we know that we treated the other in such a way that those institutions will find no fault or at least can say that we did what we could to solve the problems. We are not afraid for the scrutiny of the world, because we are convinced that they will come to the same conclusion as mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:6, that surely these people are wise and understanding. Can we say that about ourselves and about our institutions?
We cannot get away with telling the other that if they think they suffered injustice, they should not go to the government, invoking 1 Corinthians 6. We should make sure that they do not have a reason to go to the government because we treat them fairly, even if they may have done things wrong. And if they nevertheless do decide to bring their case before the government, then we can be confident that the government will acknowledge the wisdom which we received from God, also for our labour relations, and which surpass the standards of the world. If we cannot be confident about that, then we have done something wrong and we should make amends. If we do act unjustly, then God has ordained the governments to maintain justice. Also Christians submit to the governments in these kind of situations.
God’s commands are very clear. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
As Christians, we can be critical of the labour movement and reject the membership of many labour unions. But that does not give us the right to lower our standards. When we are critical, let it be because we have higher standards than they do. Because we are all labourers of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ with Whom there is no partiality. “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” and “If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” (James 2:5, 8-9, NKJV).
Then we will let the light of God’s Word shine on labour relations and be an example to the world. Then we can be confident while going about our daily labour, whether it is our daily work or any other task in God’s kingdom.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NKJV)