The Christian in the Workplace

The Christian in the Workplace

Jonathan Edwards wrote a series of resolutions one year and one of them reads this way, “Resolve, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, but what tends to the glory of God.”

In this study we will see the work we do, Monday through Friday or Monday through Saturday, as your work week may be, tends to the glory of God and how it really is a part of our worship of God. Many times we live lives which are compartmentalized, but that is not what the Scripture commends.

Think for a moment about arriving at work tomorrow morning. Some of you will begin the day sitting behind a desk while others will begin by sitting behind a large machine. Some of you will carry a toolbox with you to work and others of you will carry a loaded gun. Some of you will drape a stethoscope over your head and others will drape a hands free telephone. Some of you will be cleaning up dirty floors and others will be cleaning up dirty diapers. Some of you will scoop ice cream and others will scoop news stories.

As you think about tomorrow, is your job “sacred” or is it “secular”? Unfortunately, Christians divide their lived into two separate compartments. There is a sacred compartment and in that compartment we worship, we fellowship with other Christians, we serve God in Christian ministry, and we give to Christian causes.

Then there a secular compartment. This compartment occupies our life in the marketplace, in PTA meetings, at little league games, in our neighborhood, at the book club in which we participate, at the Rotary, and everywhere else we live. In such a life, these two compartments do not meet. They are quite detached from one another and such a divide make schizophrenics of us all.

Furthermore, detaching our religious life from our secular life destroys our faith’s purpose, for the purpose of a living faith is to give meaning to all of life and to connect wholly and completely to God. Is your job sacred or is it secular? If you are born again, your job is sacred.

John Beckett wrote a book entitled, “Loving Monday: Succeeding In Business Without Selling Your Soul”. Before he discovered all of his life is sacred, he described his world this way, “Sundays were Sundays with the rest of the week largely detached, operating by a different set of rules. Can these two worlds, seemed so separate, ever merge?” The answer the Gospel brings to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” The Gospel is Truth, not just about religious things, but the Gospel is Truth about all things and all of life. The implications of this truth stretch into every nook and cranny of our lives.

We have seen, in the past several studies, how the Gospel impacts that corner of our family’s life. It affects our relationships at home, relationships between husbands and wives and wives and their husbands, and children toward their parents and parents toward their children. The Gospel invades these areas and does not allow walls to stand up against it.

In Colossians 3, beginning in Verse 22, we learn how the Gospel reaches into the workplace and into the marketplace. In this passage God teaches us how to break free from the sacred/secular divide and to live all of our life in view of this great reality God’s Gospel brings to us.

There are two parts to this study. The first part will be instruction regarding Christian employees and the second will be instruction regarding Christian employers or supervisors. I know some of you may be in both categories and we will spend most of this study in the first part: the commitment of a Christian employee.

We read in Verse 22, “slaves” and in Verse 1 of Chapter 4, “masters”. We find this passage is directed specifically to slaves and specifically to masters. Our main application will be to a more contemporary context. Thankfully, slavery does not legally exist in the United States today; however, a word about the Bible and slavery is important before we move on to this contemporary context.

In the Roman world and New Testament times, there were over sixty million slaves. If you lived in a large city, one out of every three people you would meet in the street would be a slave. Slavery dominated the economy and it dominated the population. In Colossae, as the church to the Gospel, we found many slaves heard the Gospel and they exalted in the message and they came to faith in Jesus Christ. We find, also, in Colossae many masters and many slave owners came to hear the Gospel and they also exalted in it and they came to faith and belief in Jesus Christ.

So, in the same church, sitting side-by-side would be these two who never had any social connection whatsoever, and furthermore we will find the Gospel communicated to each of them they were one in Christ and were united in Jesus Christ. The wall of separation had been broken down. This is a radical cultural discovery.

The Roman culture was very dehumanizing and demeaning toward slaves. The Roman statesman, Kato, would write, “Old slaves should be thrown on a dump and when a slave is ill, do not feed him anything. It is not worth your money. Take sick slaves and throw them away because they are nothing but inefficient tools.” That was the mindset of the day. Furthermore, the Roman Augustus once crucified a slave because he had accidently killed a pet quail. A man by the name of Poleo threw a slave into a pond of deadly eels because he had broken a crystal goblet. Juvenile would write of slave owner whose greatest pleasure was listening “to the sweet song of the slaves being flogged”. These were horrible, inhumane times, and yet, in such a culture the Apostle Paul would write in Colossians 3,

11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Here the Apostle Paul would write to the church comprised of both slaves and masters,

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

My friends, this is radical stuff in the time. Thankfully, because our times have changed, it does not read as radically as it would to the 1st Century audience, but it is radical stuff; putting slaves and free men and women on equal footing in Jesus Christ. Paul, in just a few sentences, upset the apple cart of social order throughout the Roman Empire.

Some may protest, from reading this study’s text, “I do not understand why Paul does not push for overturning the whole system. He speaks to slaves and talks about applications for them as slaves and he speaks to masters and talks about applications for them, but why doesn’t he push for removing the institution altogether?” Time does not permit me to answer this question fully. Someday we may take an entire study to address it from the standpoint of the whole of the Bible, but for now, two thoughts may be helpful.

First, understand the Bible and the Apostle Paul will speak much more on this subject. For instance, in reading the letter to Philemon you will see more of the Gospel’s transformation of a culture and of relationships.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Paul understands the Gospel of Jesus Christ must the church’s focus, for it is the Gospel which is God’s change agent, both for the individual and for society. God gives us His Gospel as His power to transform lives and culture. Paul understands transformation will not take place through politics nor through military revolution, but it first must be grounded and founded upon the Gospel. It is the Gospel’s force which always drives us toward the transformation of the human heart and liberty through the work of God’s Spirit. The Gospel does not wait for politicians to bring freedom to the slaves. No, in Christ the Gospel offers freedom to the slave today, and that is the reason why the Apostle Paul will focus upon the Gospel and upon its implications to everyone, whatever state they may be in at the time. He knows freedom is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ so the slave does not have to wait for society to change in order to experience freedom, but the slave need only come to Christ and immediately be freed by God.

As the Gospel brings about transformation in human lives and human hearts, those human hearts begin to work in a culture and society to bring about societal and political change which will amend the wrongs and bring justice. Political change only addresses the externals and it is the Gospel which addresses the whole of man and the greatest force on earth for justice is the Gospel and we must not become distracted from the message and on to other methods, for if we do we will lose our ability to bring about life and transformation.

Historically, we have seen this work be effective in the history of England and the United States in the abolition of slavery. Without the Gospel of Jesus Christ the history of our own country would be completely different. Men such as William Wilberforce in England and John Quincy Adams in the United States underwent radical transformation as a result of the Gospel and they spoke of these things.

William Wilberforce spoke of the “Great Change” which came over him when he came to faith in Jesus Christ and as a result of this great change which took place in his inward person, as a member of Parliament, he labored decade upon decade to bring about the abolition of the slave trade and ultimately succeeded. As an aside, on February 23rd, there is a two hundred year anniversary celebration of William Wilberforce’s work and the effect to bring abolition to the slave trade in England. A movie, entitled “Amazing Grace”, describes his life and I commend it to you.

With this limited treatment of the subject with regards to the Bible and slavery we move onto the application of this text to contemporary life and men and women in the market place. By making this application we are not saying employees are modern-day slaves, but perhaps, for some of you, the parallel seems very apparent.

There are four unique characteristics of the Christian employee. First, as Christians, we resist unworthy motivations in our work, as we read,

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

Negatively, we cast aside the motivation of simply “looking good” in front of the boss, for we refuse to work hard, diligently, and conscientiously only when the supervisor or boss’s eye us upon us. That phrase is literally translated, “We refuse to work not with eye-service.” In Ephesians 6, there is a parallel passage when Paul says to the church in Ephesus,

6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.

I remember when I was on the cross country team in high school and one of the things we did, prior to getting out on a run, the coach would have us do push-ups. The coach would pace up and down the line of cross country runners barking, “Up, down, up, down,” and I remember many of my teammates, as the coach would walk past them, would be feverishly pushing up and down until he got past them, and as he got out of view they would stop, look, and wait until he turned the corner and then they would start in on the push-ups again. What a difference it makes when we know someone’s eye is upon us, especially when that someone is a person of authority who could affect us negatively or positively through rewards.

For the Christian that is not the issue. In a study of American workers, three out of four workers admitted they did not give their best effort when the boss was not around. But, for the Christian that makes no difference. We labor the same because our motivation is completely different. The Gospel liberates us and frees us from such small-mindedness in our work, and, instead, what is our motivation? The text tells us it is sincerity of heart, or literally singleness of heart.

What is this singleness of heart, the single focus, of the Christian worker? Is it money? Is it a paycheck? Is it advancement and promotions? Is it receiving wages? Is it receiving more power? Is it simply keeping a job? Is that our motivation to work hard; that we might maintain employment? Not at all! Verse 17 has already told us,

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We do everything to the glory of Jesus in order to enjoy God throughout all of our lives, to enjoy God in the church, and to enjoy God in the workplace; giving glory to Jesus and reflecting favorably upon our Savior who indwells us and fills us and gives us life.

Notice, as we have read these verses, the number of times Jesus is referenced in these three short verses. Verse 22 says, “We work with reverence for the Lord”. Verse 23 says, “Whatever you do, work at with all your heart, as working for the Lord”. Verse 24 says, “Since you know you will receive and inheritance from the Lord”, and, at the end we read, “it is the Lord you are serving”. In three verses, referencing the Christian in the workplace, four times Jesus’ name appears, indicating Jesus is central to all of life, particularly in our workplace. Our relationship with Him invades every part.

An executive secretary once said, “When I began to envision Jesus standing behind my boss, my work changed. I had to do my best. Even the menial task of serving coffee became a joy and my attitude changed from arrogance to respect. I know the boss might not always act like Jesus or talk like Jesus, but our motivation is singular, and that is to know Jesus is standing behind our employer and it is Him we are ultimately serving.”

How does change and motivation free us? It does so in two ways. First, we are free from wondering if our effort is noticed by our human bosses and our human employers. How frustrating it is to think our employer does not notice the extra effort and skill we bring to the workplace, but guess what, we are free because whether our human employer notices or not, the One who ultimately matters notices all of the time and we can be assured He brings the just and right reward. We are free from wondering whether human estimation is given justly.

Secondly, we are also free from petty rivalries and competitions in the workplace. We are able to work together in greater cooperation with other people because we are not so concerned about what other humans give credit and how they view us in comparison to others. We are free to be able to lift others up and we are free to be outside of the rat race as Christians who understand our Christianity affects all of our life and particularly our workplace.

Have you found such freedom, or are you still vying for the attention and praise of men? Are you still envious of others and competing with them in the workplace? Perhaps the reason why you have not experienced such freedom is because you are still in bondage to the flesh, and you have not yet been liberated by Jesus Christ from your own sin. The Gospel is available to you today. It talks of a Savior who loves you, who is the Lord of all, and when you come to Him and submit to Him, He will give you life. Have you undergone what William Wilberforce called “the great change”?

Perhaps you have undergone this, but as a Christian you are still living below your privilege. I remind you the verses which began this chapter,

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…

That is what you need to do! That is where the solution to the problem in the workplace first resides; it is setting our hearts there in the workplace on things above, and we need to

2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died…

The second characteristic of the Christian employee is: we embrace new attitudes. Two attitudes are emphasized in this passage which set Christians apart. We read in Verse 22,

22 …with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

This, of course, speaks to our integrity in the workplace. We know the Holy Spirit does not wait outside in the parking lot for us to get off of work to join us again. The Holy Spirit walks right with us, right into that workplace, and He follows us everywhere and the Holy Spirit reminds us to revere, to have reverence for the Lord, Jesus in our speech, attitudes, and our actions.

We cannot say, and we must not say, “Everyone else laughs at those off-color jokes and I will also.” In the workplace we cannot say and we must not say, “Everyone else talks with course words, so I will also.” In the workplace we cannot say and we must not say, “Everyone else bends the truth to customers, so I will also.” As Christians, we cannot say and we must not say, “Everyone else gossips and maligns to get ahead, so I will also.” No, Christians, we have a new attitude and a changed motivation and that is to revere Jesus. We must always ask ourselves this question, “Am I revering Jesus?”

I beseech you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy, and acceptable before God. This is your spiritual act of worship to God. Do not be conformed to this world, to the way the world thinks with regard to your employment and to the workplace. Do not be conformed to be squeezed in the way which separates you from the reverence of Jesus, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, a mind renewed and set upon saying, “I will revere Jesus, whether it is in the schoolroom or in the office or out in the construction site. Wherever it may be, I will revere Jesus.”

If this is not a passion, you must look into your heart and ask, “Have I been made anew?” because this is the passion which characterizes every, truly born again believer in Jesus. We cannot get away from it.

Revering Jesus also gives us courage to say, “No,” to an employer who asks us to do something unethical. We must not compartmentalize our lives into “sacred” and “secular” for the Gospel brings about an new attitude.

I enjoyed watching the recent Super Bowl through the first quarter. There were two news stories in that game. It was the first time two African American coached against each other and it was the first time any Africa American coached a Super Bowl. But, there was a greater story >em>Sports Illustrated picked up on and that was the faith of these two coaches. Lovie Smith would tell the media during the Super Bowl press conference, “God is the center of my life. My faith controls all I do. I hope I do not have to spend my time telling my players I am a Christian. I hope they see it in my life everyday.” Lovey Smith is a man who is saying, “I cannot compartmentalize ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’. I cannot say, ‘This is my religious life and this is my work life.’ This affects everything I do.”

Tony Dungy, in speaking of Lovie Smith, said, “He does the things the right way. There is no profanity and no intimidation. He is helping his guys the best he can and that is the way I try to do it. I believe it is great we are able to show the world, not only two African American coaches can do it, but Christian coaches can do it in a way we can still win.”
I must tell you, Christian coaches do not always win, and Christian employees do not always win. Sometimes we will suffer for our attitude in this world and that is okay. We are free from such fear.

The second attitude we hold onto, which is new, is a whole-hearted effort, which we read in Verse 23,

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…

This means we are to pursue excellence in our work because no task is menial and empty when it is done for our Lord. Many cannot go to work with a whole heart because their job, as they perceive it, is frustrating, boring, meaningless, and tedious, but not the Christian. As a Christian we can go and grab onto that day of work with a whole heart because we are serving the Lord that day. If it is done for the Master it is done with great meaning and great purpose.

Someone will say, “You do not know my job, though. You do not know how boring and tedious my job is.” I want you to consider who this text is written to. It is written to slaves in the 1st Century, and God is telling slaves, “You can go about the work of slavery with a whole heart and with your heart entirely engaged. Sure, when you are cleaning up the floors or shoveling out the stables, whatever it is, you can do it with a whole heart because God infuses meaning into your work.”

Some mark time toward retirement like prisoners mark time off of their sentence. Why is that? It is because somewhere along the line they have lost the whole heart and they have disconnected their work life from their religious life. When we do that any work becomes tedious.

The third characteristic, which I believe is the most profound, is we as Christians enjoin work and worship together. Paul said, in Verse 23,

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord… 24 It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Because work in done unto Jesus work possesses a nobility and a sacred nature. Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays, not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps, but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

Here is where we often miss this: we believe being Christian in the work place only means we live a life of integrity. It does mean that, but it does not only mean that. Or, it only means we might be able to witness or put a little cross on a shoe and that gives our work a nobility and a sacredness, but no, it is the work itself which is sacred and that is what we must embrace in order to have this whole-life change.

William Wilberforce was confused on this issue early in his life after coming to Christ. He went to his pastor, a man by the name of John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, and Wilberforce said, “Pastor Newton, I am thinking I need to get out of parliament and political life. It is frustrating. It is demeaning. It is like a mud sty in there. Maybe I should do the work of a pastor. God has given me eloquence.” John Newton told him, “William, perhaps it was for such a time as this God placed you in parliament. There is a slave trade going on and God will use Christian men to rise up in parliament to speak against this great evil.” William Wilberforce, for decades upon decades, worked in parliament, in a sacred work and a sacred duty.

How exactly does your work become a part of worship and how is it a service to God? Again, it is not by your being ethical or a Christian witness, but your work itself is a part of God’s working in this world. How is that? Imagine for a moment a friend becomes very ill. What do you ask God to do for him or for her? Do you not call upon Heaven and say, “God, heal this friend of mine.” Is that not what you do?

Let me ask you, how is God going to do that? God could reach down from Heaven, in a dynamic miracle, and say, “Be healed!” and such a one would be healed. God does that on occasion, but you know more often how God does that? He uses what we might call “normal means”. He uses His people, and some who are not His people, to come along side that one to bring about assistance. God answers prayers and does His work of healing by intervening through doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and physical therapists. God also uses business people, accountants, and managers so the hospital could survive. Also, in that hospital, He uses janitors to keep floors free from infection and He uses laundry workers to make sure the sheets are clean so your friend can be healed. He uses computer technicians and secretaries. He uses truck drivers to deliver medicines. He uses construction workers to build that hospital and engineers to design it. I imagine Caterpillar equipment is used to build many hospitals throughout this world.

How is God going to answer your prayer to heal your friend? Is it not by going to work and doing your work as a service to Him so He can accomplish His purposes in this world?

It is easy to think about the medical field, but what about some other examples? Let me give you one more: do we not pray for peace in the streets of Peoria? We hear of crime wave upon crime wave and do we not ask for social order? Yes, we do. God could directly intervene and say, “All evil doers, you are dead and gone”, but how often might God bring social order? Most often He uses what we call “normal means”; policemen, legislators, councilmen, judges, lawyers, clerks, teachers in schools, security system engineers and operators, and again, Caterpillar tractors to build jails, prisons, and poor houses.

How did God bring social order and how is that not a sacred work if you are being used by God in such a way? God gives us all a way to play in His administration upon this earth. We could go on and on for this is true of restaurant workers, ice cream scoopers, mail carriers, coaches, accountants, street sweepers, baby sitters, clothing designers, and movie producers. Let me ask you again, is your work sacred or is it secular?

We should evaluate our work and we should think deeply, “How is my work connected to God’s purposes so I can have a transformation when I go to work I am serving God?” It is true some work does not serve God and does not revere Christ. If you are in such an industry, and some are obvious, such as abortion clinics, strip clubs, or other such places of ill repute. These places run contrary to God’s Kingdom and if you are a Christian I urge not to compartmentalize your life and say, “This is okay because this is my life over here.” Your privilege is greater than that. It is to bring all of your life together under one Head.

The last characteristic of the Christian employee is we work with eternity in view, as we read in Verses 24 and 25,

24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

God is always faithful and He is always generous. God always notices. He sees our work and the little things and He always rewards us. He gives us so much than any employer ever could in this life and certainly in the life which is to come. I urge you, do not let bitterness into your heart because others in the work place are recognized and rewarded while you are being passed by, but rather know you have an eternity with God and God will make all of the wrongs right and He is abundantly generous in His care.

There are three commitments of a Christian employer or supervisor talked about in Chapter 4, Verse 1. These are huge because I know many of you are supervisors as well as employees, so both apply. Some of you are owners of businesses and I urge you to dwell upon this verse. It is rather general, but as you dwell upon it and ask the Lord to talk you in reference to it, I believe those generalities will become very specific.

1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

The commitment of the Christian employer or supervisor is, first, we care for the welfare of our employees. We learn their names. We know them. We care about their families. We care they receive a fair wage. We care about their progress in their life and we care about their happiness, education, and illnesses.

Secondly, we avoid abusing our own power. We are not reckless with our authority. We do not rebuke with harshness. We are not cruel in our words, actions, or attitudes, but the Christian employer and the Christian supervisor is a man or a woman of great grace who always applies the “Golden Rule”, asking, “How would I like to be treated,” and that is how we treat others.

Finally, we recognize our essential equality with employees. We know one day we will all stand before God in Heaven and all these earthly distinctions will be stripped away and new distinctions will be given. Perhaps we will be given a place under the supervision of those we supervised on earth. We know that very well may be true and in fact that undoubtedly will be true for many of us.

We live with an understanding of the essential equality of ourselves with every one else around us, so, I will ask one more time: is your work sacred or is it secular? The beginning place of having a work place which is sacred is to have a heart which is sacred; a heart set apart; a heart sanctified unto the Lord. You cannot sanctify your own heart, but rather you need God’s grace in order to bring about a cleanliness and in order to bring about a sacred center so your very life becomes a temple unto the Lord. Is that a desire of your heart?

God in His grace and in His rich mercy has provided for you, through Jesus Christ, an opportunity for your life to be a temple unto God and for all of your life to connect to Him, but you must come to Jesus Christ, repent of your sin, and believe in a Savior whom God has provided for you. Have you come to Jesus and called out to Him as Savior? I urge you, do not live a life which is fragmented and separated from God, but come to Jesus and call out upon Him. He will be kind to you and He will bring life where there is nothing.