I was studying the scriptures this morning and came across this passage concerning treating those who work for us.
“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” Colossians 4:1 (ESV)
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he addresses the family in the third chapter and gives instructions on how to treat one another. His instruction spills to the fourth chapter and he adds the workers in that family as people to be considered. Many people cut off the verse from chapter 4 verse 1 from the rest of the text concerning the family. I don’t blame you. The dividers of the text made this easy to do. However we must remember that Paul’s letter had no verse and chapter divisions. His instruction concerning bondservants is in relation to the instructions for the family. And his instruction is clear: If anyone works for you, treat them fairly and justly because you too have a Master in Heaven. I think of the common Kenyan household and I ask myself if we treat our house helps with this scripture in mind? This applies to Christian households just like the Colossian church.
DO YOU PAY FAIRLY
Is the service your help giving you every month compensated with a fair wage? Do you pay her on time (what she deserves and worked for)? Or do you pay her late but get upset when your prayers are delayed (what you don’t deserve and did not work for)? Do you delay to pay her wage but spend that same wage on a night out with friends on her payday?
DO YOU TREAT HER AS A HUMAN BEING?
When our help came to live with us, she was surprised that she was eating the same food that we were eating. In her previous home, she was not to touch the family food but was to prepare her own. The family bought her own packet of ugali and separated it from the family groceries. She was further surprised when we asked her to sit with us during dinner. In places she had worked before, she was never to be seen in the presence of her bosses. Your help is made in the image of God. Humane treatment for the follower of Christ must be a normal thing in the house of a believer.
DO YOU GIVE HER FAIR REST?
The command for rest features in the Ten Commandments. Do you allow her to take leave? Some house-helps fear going for leave because they know it will be deducted from their pay. This is wrong. Do you allow her time to see her family? We normally give our help the weekend off. Some people think we are crazy to do so. But we know that when she is healthy and rested, we are happy.
DO YOU EXTEND GRACE?
When our help broke her first glass tumbler, she said she would pay for it. We told her it was okay since we knew it was an accident. When I told this story to my friend, Ishmael, he told me that many households in Nairobi would deduct the cost of the broken glass from the salary (which is not even a fair wage). Does your house-help receive grace from you? Some bosses even abuse their house-helps when they make honest mistakes. They deny them food. They verbally insult them. Sometimes they even physically strike them. Can the house-help who works for the believer feel a difference? Because if she does, she will work better. I always think: if I treat my house-help with hostility, should I get surprised that she does the same to my child?
DO YOU GIVE TO HER NEEDS?
Do you consider their needs beyond their due salary? When our house help came, we realised she did not have a good phone and she did not have a Bible. We bought her a new phone and later gave her a smart phone. We then purchased a Bible she could use for her own study. We often ask our help about her family at home. We find out if we have anything to give to her family that they desperately need. This came about when we discovered that her family was needy. So before we give to charity, we prioritize her as a member of the household. When we have an overflow of financial resources, we consider her and her family. Recently, she was able to connect electricity for her mother in the village from the help we gave her. Proverbs 19:17 “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.” (NIV)
DO YOU PROTECT HER?
Once, our daughter bit our house-help. One principle that my wife and I adopted is to not leave the responsibility God has assigned to us to our help. It is our role to raise and discipline the child. When she did that, we took it up with our daughter. We had to use the rod with her to teach her not to disrespect the help. And also we did it to remove the folly bound up in her heart (Proverbs 22:15). Do your children treat your help badly, knowing you will not discipline them and protect your help? Does your help feel safe in the house? Not just from other people but also from yourself. Owners who abuse their helps emotionally, sexually, physically, verbally and any kind of way are storing up wrath for themselves from their heavenly master.
People say to us that we got lucky and got a good house-help. The narrative in our country seems to imply that there are two kinds of helps- from Satan and from God. I do believe that some house-helps can be diabolical and deserve to be punished by the law. One of our friends found out that his house-help was a New Age witch. But we often run with the bad stories and try to justify our unjust treatment. But not all are. The bad stories just scream from the rooftops. Many house-helps if treated well will become the good house-helps we need, especially when you stick to the instructions of scripture and treat them with the same grace that Christ extends to you. This instruction is hard to receive for some people because when they acquire a help, they are focused only on pursuing their employer rights and not their employer responsibilities. So even though the word of God is clear, there are always so many buts. But Ernest…what if I do all that and the help treats me badly? But Ernest…what if? What if? I will say this. Choose your help prayerfully. Turi and I asked the LORD to give us a good help. We knew that she was a sinner just like we are so we did our background checks. There is nothing wrong with this. Our primary concern was her walk with God and work ethic. When these two were intact, we knew that the ball was now in our court. We had to treat her fairly and justly as the scriptures state. We also knew that if she has any hardness of heart, our demonstration of love would melt that hardness. We knew we would have to train her. And if she returned evil for our kindness, we knew that our Master in heaven had seen and that he would vindicate us. As the English say, charity begins at home.