You're Not a Slave!
Oppression in the Workplace:
The Enslaved Employee
Karen Pansler - Lam, J.D.
The first message published on Liberty Advocate (2003).
God sides with the oppressed employee and is against the oppressive employer. Business owners, supervisors, managers, superintendents, administrators and all persons with authority over others at work will answer to the Master for treating employees like slaves.
Do you work like a slave? Is your boss a slave driver? Is your employer unreasonable and demanding? Are you overworked, underpaid, and forced to work long hours? Does your supervisor scorn you? Several years ago, an employer constantly degraded and demeaned me. I was heartbroken. One evening, as I cried out to God in despair, He spoke to my heart, “Karen, I want you to quit. I will not have you mistreated.” So, I quit. Sadly, this employer professes to be a Christian.
What does the Bible teach about the oppression of workers? The first record of oppressed workers is in Exodus. After Joseph died, a new king arose over Egypt who became alarmed at the large number of Israelites. The king feared the Israelites would unite with Egypt’s enemies and fight against them to take over the land. So, the king enslaved the Israelites, set taskmasters over them, and afflicted them with heavy work. The Israelites cried out to God in distress. “Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them” (Exodus 3:9; KJV). God heard their plea for help and sent Moses to deliver them. God set the children of Israel free!
Some Christians focus solely on personal oppression caused by bondage to our own sins. They ignore social oppression caused by the yoke of bondage thrust upon us by others. However, Christ came to set us free from both personal and social oppression. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). The word bruised means oppressed.
Scriptures declare God cares about the oppressed. The word oppress or variations are used over one hundred times in the Bible:
Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God:
for I am the Lord your God.
The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
Clearly, God sides with the oppressed and is against the oppressor. Business owners, supervisors, managers, administrators, superintendents, and all persons with authority over others at work will answer to the Master for enslaving employees. Oppressors may be enjoying bright, sunny days now, but some day dark clouds will gather, and the thunder and lightning of God's wrath will be poured out on their heads. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19).
To begin with, Old Testament law commands masters not to oppress hired servants. They must be fair and generous. "Lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee" (Deuteronomy 24:14, 15). The cries of the oppressed touch the heart of God.
In the New Testament, Christ commands equality, justice, and respect in the Golden Rule. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In Matthew 22:39, Christ again declares His passion for equality, justice, and respect in the second New Testament commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Who is our neighbor? Every living soul. As you know, the first New Testament commandment is to love God with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22: 37, 38). Christ explains in verse 40 that all the Old and New Testament law is covered in these two commandments. For example, the Old Testament commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13) is now "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." In other words, if you love your neighbor, you won't kill him, right?
Paul preaches this in Romans 13:8 -10. "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Many people post the Old Testament commandments, but how many post the New Testament commandments? More important, how many people obey the New Testament commandments?
How can we love our neighbor? Isaiah 1:17 instructs us, “Learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” The call to action is to relieve the oppressed. Fortunately, compassionate reformers in the nineteenth century relieved the oppressed. The reformers believed it was wrong to oppress workers. In the early factories, about half of the workers were from six to seventeen years of age. Women were exploited because they would work for lower wages than men. Children and adults were required to work from twelve to fifteen hours a day for low wages. The machines workers used were dangerous; unsanitary conditions injured their health. Thankfully, reformers cried out against this cruel and inhuman treatment. Conditions changed for the better.
Likewise, the early American antislavery leaders believed in the Golden Rule - treat others the way you want to be treated. The abolitionists declared slaveholders as sinners. They condemned slavery as contrary to Christianity even though some Christians argued Mosaic Law condoned slavery. On the contrary, Exodus 21:16 commands that anyone who steals a man and keeps him or sells him shall be put to death.
The Old Testament also forbids sending a foreign runaway slave back to his master. "Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him" (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16). Notice that the runaway slave is not to be oppressed. And he is free to settle where he pleases. The spirit of the Law is liberty!
Furthermore, the book of Leviticus teaches that if a Hebrew became poor, he could sell himself to another Hebrew as a hired servant, but not as a slave. “For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God” (Leviticus 25:42, 43). Notice God warns the master not to oppress the hired servant. Moreover, at the end of every six years, the year of the jubilee, the servant was given liberty.
Now if a Hebrew sold himself to a foreigner, a relative could redeem him. In other words, a relative could buy the servant’s freedom. Similarly, Christ the Redeemer, your heavenly Father, paid the price and set you free from the yoke of bondage! That is why you may not be enslaved to another man. “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23). Because of Christ you are free, not a slave!
Later, during the time of the early church, there were a large number of slaves in the Roman Empire. Slave rebellions occurred often. Many of the Christian converts were servants, and the majority of servants were slaves. Paul instructs slave converts if they cannot be set free, to continue as slaves (1 Corinthians 7:20-23). In other words, do not run away and do not rebel. However, Paul says if you can get freedom – take it! In addition, he urges slaves to remain free.
Moreover, Paul instructs masters to treat servants with justice and equality. In a letter to the Colossians, Paul pleads, “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1). Why didn’t Paul tell masters to set slaves free? In God’s wisdom, first, the condition of slaves was to be improved, followed by the decline and defeat of slavery.
However, some Christians believe it’s their duty to suffer cruelty based on 1 Peter 2:18, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.” Employers often humiliate workers so they will lose all self-respect and cringe in abject servitude. Unfortunately, stripped of human dignity, the oppressed often become depressed. Respect your employer; however, you don’t have to cringe before him because you’re not a slave! Christ has set you free! He has set you free to look for a job where you will be treated with respect, equality, and justice. Flee oppression!
Fleeing oppression is Biblical. David fled from Jerusalem when chased by Absalom (2 Samuel 15:13, 14). Furthermore, Christ urged His disciples to flee persecution (Matthew 10:23). If they didn’t flee oppressors, they were killed. Today, health problems caused by the stress of an oppressive employer may kill you. And if the health problems don’t kill you, poor physical or mental health will make you miserable.
The Biblical work relationship is built on mutual service and mutual respect. Ideally, the employer brings out the best in the employee; the employee brings out the best in the employer. The employer buys the services of man. He does not buy the man, and shall not treat him as his property to abuse or destroy. Neither shall the employer talk down to an employee in a cross, tyrannical, demeaning, or arrogant manner. Furthermore, the employer shall not make the employee’s life bitter by underpay. Neither shall the employer burden the employee with unreasonable workloads that overtires his physical or intellectual strength, ruins his health, and shortens his life.
The ideal employer raises the employee’s spirit through guidance, appreciation of work well done, and respect. In sum, the employer serves and values the employee by fair pay, fair working conditions, and respect.
On the other hand, the employee serves and values the employer by honoring fair demands, doing his best work, and mutual respect. The employer respects the employee; the employee respects the employer. The worker shall not steal time or goods from the employer. The worker shall not waste time in gossip, slander, idleness, and other ways of cheating the employer out of work. In other words, the ideal worker puts in an honest day’s work.
Oppression in the workplace is a spiritual battle to enlighten the hearts and minds of employers to treat employees fairly. How can we stop the oppression of employees?
First, set an example. We should examine our hearts and actions. We are to be the light of the world. Oppressive employers walk in spiritual darkness. If you have authority over others at work, don’t oppress workers.
Next, if you’re oppressed at work, pray about finding a new job. Remember Christ and Paul often urged Christians to flee persecution. Believe me, experience teaches that hardhearted, tyrannical oppressors may not have a change of heart. Furthermore, allowing oppressors to demean and degrade you only encourages their wicked conduct.
What if you can’t find a just employer? Pray about starting your own business. There is a need for employers that will treat employees according to the Golden Rule.
Last, share this message with your friends, your family, your church members, and especially your pastor. Be bold! Speak out for equality, justice, and respect for employees. Spread the good news that God wants to deliver oppressed workers.