Whatever – May 3, 2020
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.
Get a Life!
I don’t care what you say!
These are typically the meanings we think of when we hear someone respond with “Whatever!” As a matter of fact, according to the Marist Poll the word “whatever” was voted the “most annoying word of the year” in 2019.1 And it “has been the reigning champion for more than a decade.”2 We don’t like to hear someone say “whatever.” Yet, in Colossians 3:23, this is the word that begins our passage. “Whatever your task…”
The book of Colossians was actually a letter written to the church at Colossae. This particular church was facing a dispute over whether or not Christ’s death and resurrection had actually freed the believers from the powers of the world and had given them proper access to God. The writer of the letter, Paul, wanted the believers to know that they had already received a full new life during their baptism. He also wanted those receiving the letter to understand that there was no requirement to be a Christian other than Christ living in them.
Part of this letter addressed the Household Codes of the time. These codes were established to help society function smoothly. They addressed things like the role of husbands and wives as well as slaves and slave owners. For instance, the husband was the head of the household and the wife was beneath him or called to be subservient to him. In the same way, slaves were considered to be below their masters. In Paul’s letter to Colossae, he discusses how this is to work in light of Christ and the church.
The verses we just read, verses 23 and 24, are actually written to the slaves that are part of the church. As we know, slavery was a norm during this time. Often, the slaves attended church along with the slave owners. Under the world’s standards, slaves fell subject to their masters, but under the church’s standards, there was no slave nor free. So, Paul wants to remind the slaves that regardless of what task they are called to do by their earthly masters, that they should do it in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord.
Paul is also calling for the recipients of the letter to show endurance and steadfastness because they know that they have an eternal reward waiting for them. “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, since you know you will receive the inheritance for your reward” (v. 23-24).
While all slaves were not treated the same by their owners, these verses were used to let ALL the slaves know that they were to always strive to do their best in whatever they were doing. Slaves that were treated well, needed to take heed that doing well for their earthly masters was beneficial, but ultimately their work should serve the Lord Christ.
Slaves who were not fortunate enough to have caring earthly masters, needed a reason beyond fear to do their best. Paul is encouraging them by reminding them that they serve a higher power than the men and women that strutted around shouting orders. Even the poorly treated slaves needed to be diligent in serving their masters as they were ultimately serving their Lord Christ who had given them the promise of a heavenly reward.
All of us need to hear this message as well. Some of us are blessed to have the most caring, encouraging, and supportive supervisors there have ever been. It’s easy to work hard and do our best when we have good working conditions, but even in these situations, we need the gentle reminder that we shouldn’t only work hard to serve our earthly masters, but should really give our all to the task at hand for our heavenly master.
Then there are those who have horrible bosses. You know, those of us who could sing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” as our theme song…“barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’. They just use your mind and they never give you credit…..Want to move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me, I swear sometimes that man is out to get me!”3 Well, Paul is saying that even in these circumstances, we have to put ourselves into it and do our best because we are not only serving our earthly boss, we are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
From the time of creation until now and until Christ returns, humans – beginning with Adam and Eve – have been given work to do and will continue to be given work to do. Sometimes the work is enjoyable and sometimes the work seems like work. It’s our focus and determination that makes the difference. If we can remember that all we do is being done for Christ, then it might make our jobs a bit easier. If we can remember to keep our focus on Christ, and not our immediate supervisors, our jobs might just be a bit less boring and burdensome.
Yet, while Paul is addressing these verses toward the slaves and their work environments, making it easy to connect it with our work situations, there is more we can get from this passage than just that.
“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it” (v. 23). These words cover way more than just our work lives. This should be our motto for everything we do in life.
Let’s look at what it means to “put yourselves into it.” This means to give everything you’ve got into accomplishing the task at hand. Give your all. Don’t hold back. This isn’t the Hokey Pokey where you only put in an arm or a leg and slowly build up to putting your whole self in. No. You put your whole self in from the beginning. Whatever the task, you give it your all.
Unfortunately, this year we won’t get to experience the summer Olympics. Thanks to the coronavirus we will have to wait until next year. But we have seen enough Olympic games to know what happens. During each event we witness people giving their all and holding nothing back. Volleyball players diving right and left in order to save the ball from hitting the ground. Swimmers pushing their bodies to the limits breaking record after record. Runners left gasping for air as they attempt to do interviews after their races. Gymnasts contorting their bodies into unthinkable poses as they attempt to defy gravity on beams, bars, and trampolines. They leave nothing on the floors, fields, courts, pools, or tracks. They put themselves into it completely.
Paul is telling us that we have to have the same level of commitment and determination as we see in these athletes regardless of what our task may be. And why should we? For the same reason these athletes do. We do it so we can reap our reward. They get gold medals and we get streets of gold.
Now let’s take a closer look at “whatever.” How many of us have used the phrase – “what will be will be?” Well, for those who didn’t know, that is another definition for the word “whatever” – what will be will be. If we substitute this phrase into our text, Paul would be saying, “What will be will be so put yourselves into it because what you are doing is done for the Lord and not for the humans around you, since it is the Lord who grants us our eternal inheritance; you serve the Lord Christ.” No matter what we are facing, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we have to roll with it.
I want to point out that Paul does not say, if you are treated unfairly, then scream, cry, and throw a fit about it. Paul does not say, if those around you are mean, ugly, hateful, or hurtful, then you get a free pass and don’t have to complete what you are called to do. Paul is saying, that when we are treated the worst, we still have to be our best. (And do not take this out of context to say that Paul is giving a free ticket for those in authority to treat those beneath them on the proverbial ladder poorly. He addresses slave owners in other portions of his writings, but these verses are for those who are subordinates to others.) Having given that disclaimer, I say again, when we are treated the worst, we still have to be our best. I also want to point out that Paul does not say that if we receive the best treatment possible, we can slack off or do mediocre work. Paul is saying, no matter how we are treated…no matter where we find ourselves…we are to give our best.
One of the individuals in the Bible that demonstrated the “whatever” attitude to an extreme was Esther. Esther, whose real name was Hadassah, truly had to roll with what came her way. Hadassah was a Jew living in Susa which at the time was under the rule of King Xerxes. For reasons we are not going into this morning, Xerxes found himself in need of a new queen, so he ordered all the available beautiful ladies to be brought to him. Hadassah was one of those ladies.
Due to the persecution of the Jews by the government, Hadassah told the officials that her name was Esther in order to hide her true identity as a Jew. In time, Esther was chosen to be the Queen. While on the throne, her Uncle Mordecai contacted her and told her that the entire Jewish population was going to wiped out at the hands of one of the government officials. Mordecai encouraged Esther to go before the King in order to plead for the lives of the Jews.
That seems easy enough, right? The Queen should be able to ask the King for anything at any time, but that isn’t how it worked. In order to go before the King, the King would have to summon the person, even the Queen. If the person was not summoned and went before the King, the person could be put to death. After some contemplation, Esther agreed to go before Xerxes.
In Esther 4, verse 16, Esther says, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Talk about a “whatever” moment! Esther had rolled with the “what will be will be” from the beginning of the story…from being taken from her home, to changing her name, to becoming Queen, to standing up for the Jews…Esther faced each task, putting herself into it, for the Lord. And when she knew she could lose her life for her actions, her response was, “And if I perish, I perish.” It’s as if she said, “I’ll go before the King, and what will be will be.” “I’ll go before the King, and whatever.”
It was out of Esther’s obedience to her Lord, out of her respect for God, and out of her love for her Heavenly Father that Esther could have a “whatever” attitude. She knew that her actions, even the ones that could have negative consequences, were serving the Lord. Her motivation came from her fear of Yahweh and his promise that the Jewish people were his chosen people.
Our actions should represent a “whatever” attitude because of our obedience to our Lord, our respect for God, and our love for our Heavenly Father. Our actions should serve our Lord. Our motivation should come out of our admiration for Christ and his promise of eternal life. We should be able to live out Colossians 3:17 which says, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
So when we have those days that are the best we’ve ever experienced and we don’t understand how things turned out so great, we need respond with “whatever” and give the praise to God for it knowing the he orchestrated it for us. In the trying times or the days we feel like we just can’t go on or don’t know how we will ever get ahead, we need to respond with “whatever.” This doesn’t mean we don’t care what happens. It means that we know that God has our back and we will get through it because we know the one that holds our future. And when it’s all said in done, we will be able to claim our reward thanks to the One who put himself into it and gave everything he had for us.
- WIVB.com. “Most annoying word in 2019: ‘whatever.’” https://www.wivb.com/news/national/most-annoying-word-in-2019-whatever/.
- Google.com. “9 to 5.” https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=9+to+5+lyrics.