“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord whom you serve" (Colossians 3:23-24).
The way that this passage is broken down is very interesting to me. In these verses, Paul says you are to work for the Lord because you know you will receive the inheritance from Him and no one else. But then he also has to add on at the end a reminder: “It is the Lord whom you serve.” I mean, if we are told in the first sentence, shouldn’t we already understand that, and isn’t it kind of redundant at that point? The answer should be yes to all those questions, but often times it’s not. We forget whom it is we serve and why, even though we know it is He who gives us eternal life. This is why Paul writes the first two sections of this verse: to give us the reasoning to never forget whom it is we serve.
Paul calls us in the first section to work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men in everything we do. When I read this, a couple of different verses come to mind. The first verse is Matthew 6:24:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
In both instances we are shown the dilemma of attempting to work for this world and for God, proving that it is just not possible to do both. God is not of this world; He does not see things as men do (Luke 16:15), declaring that things highly esteemed among men are detestable in the sight of God. You cannot work for this world and the Lord, for they have completely separate desires.
The other interesting part of this is the heart concept. Sure, other versions than NASB have other translations, but Paul says to do your work heartily--meaning that you do it passionately, fully, and to the best of your abilities. This brings to mind Proverbs 4:23 for me: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” This verse tells us that what is in our heart is what we in turn will become. What our passions are will be what our life will reflect, bringing us back around to the concept of what we desire should be of the Lord. If we desire the Lord in our heart, then our life and work will reflect that. This is something that other translations miss for me; I know it’s a little nitpicky, but it makes it easier for me to understand.
After this, Paul says that you work for the Lord KNOWING that He will give you the reward of the inheritance. My favorite verse to describe this is John 16:33:
“These things I have spoken to you, so that you may have peace. For in the world there is tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
As people who serve the Lord, we know full well what awaits us because Jesus was our sacrifice. He overcame sin and death, giving us the courage and strength to face our tribulations knowing what he will give us after. We are able to know that our reward awaits us because of our faith, as described in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assertion of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Even though we may not have seen Jesus die and be resurrected, we hope (expect with confidence) for salvation and have unyielding beliefs that Jesus was our sacrifice.
This brings us yet again to the most fascinating section of this verse, where Paul reminds us whom we actually serve. It makes me think that he is calling us just as Moses called the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:5-9 saying,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your might. These words which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand they shall be frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
It makes me think that Paul is telling us that it’s not just something we do; it is something we are, it is something we know, it is something we love, and something we declare to everyone, just like Joshua did in Joshua 24:15. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”