Friday, December 31, 2010

Jesus and the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-3:1-6; Luke 6:1-11; Luke 13:10-17; Luke 14:1-6

As the holiday season ends, perhaps it's a good time to talk about rest. One of the consistent themes in the Bible, beginning with
Genesis 2, is the importance of Sabbath, of a time to stop working and honor God. One of the 10 Commandments set aside one day a week for the Israelites to rest from their work and focus on God. As God talked about the holidays and festivals the Israelites were to observe, He emphasized that those holidays were to be days where the people stopped their work and honored Him.

In Matthew 12, Jesus indicates that the Sabbath is more complicated than just not working. Jesus says that He is "Lord of the Sabbath" as He heals and provides for others.

I think this indicates that, yes rest is important. But it's not just about rest from work for the sake of resting. It's rest from work for the purpose of honoring God in contemplative worship as well as honoring God by helping others. You might think about the greatest commandments as applied to a day off--love God and love others with this day. Part of the Sabbath for the Israelites was to trust that God would provide on the day before the Sabbath what was needed on the Sabbath (so work on the Sabbath was lack of trust). Looking at Jesus' actions, part of the Sabbath is taking time to spend helping others, again, trusting that God will provide. Those seem like good things to do, even today.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Comparing Paychecks, Expectations, and Contentment

Matthew 20:1-16

I think this is a really interesting story. A landowner hires day laborers to work his vineyard. At the end of the day, he pays everyone the same, regardless of how long they actually worked. I've heard commentators talk about how this refers to those who become Christians at the end of their lives receiving salvation just as much as those who are Christians from childhood. Jesus makes a statement about humility at the end (the first shall be last). But for the purposes of this blog, I'm interested in what the story says about work. Yes, that isn't the focus, the work is just a metaphor. But I don't think Jesus would have used that metaphor if it included false comparisons.

First, see how the landowner paid the workers what was due when it was due. I think that's an important lesson about paying your workers what you owe them.

Second, perhaps more importantly, look at the attitude of the "early workers." These were the people that were hired first, perhaps because they were dilligent in being ready to be hired, perhaps because they looked like the best workers. They worked very hard all day. So naturally, when they saw workers who had not worked as long getting paid for a full day, the early workers thought they'd be getting more. They were very disgruntled to receive the same pay. But wasn't that what they'd agreed to? I think there are times when we agree to something, only to discover that we could have gotten more. Then, we try to pressure the other party to up the ante. This is a problem of comparing ourselves to others and a problem of contentment. We aren't content with what we are given under the original agreement, so we try to get more. Paul says that "godliness with contentment is great gain." Be careful of trying to get everything you can, just because you think you deserve more. Sometimes, it's better just to be content with what you have.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Greatest Commandments at Work

Matthew 22: 37-39; Mark 12: 26-31

How would you respond if someone asked you what was the most important law in the United States? You might respond with don't murder, which is a pretty serious crime. You might mention our ability to vote or freedom of speech or something from the Bill of Rights. If the person asked you in April, some people might joke that the most important law was to pay your taxes on time. What about your workplace? What the most important policy where you work? Perhaps it's something about being on time. Or maybe it's your company's sexual harassment policy, since a harassment lawsuit is a major cost to an organization (not to mention that harassment demeans and devalues others).

It's hard to drill down to just one or two things that are THE most important things because, usually, laws and policies are written in such a way that they're all important. They guide our behavior, tell us what's acceptable and what's unacceptable.

Jesus faced a situation very similar to the hypothetical one that I gave you. An "expert in the law" was impressed with the way Jesus answered the traps of the Pharisees, so this expert asked Him, "which is the greatest commandment?" The Bible doesn't record any hesitation on Jesus' part--Love God with all that you are. Then Jesus gives the expert more than he asked by explaining the second greatest commandment--Love others just as much as you love yourself. The expert in the law wasn't just asking which of the 10 commandments was the most important. The Jewish leaders had laid out over 600 laws and regulations based on everything God had said to Moses and a few that they thought consistent with those teachings. But look at what Jesus says about why these two are the greatest of those 600--"All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Everything is summed up in this--Love God, Love Others.

I mentioned a few posts ago that the Golden Rule was useful because it was something easy to remember. This may even be easier: Love God, Love Others.

So how do you apply those things at work? First, you have to make sure that everything you do honors God. Are you living for Him at work? Or do you check your faith at the door on Sunday and live for yourself Monday through Friday? If you picture God sitting next to you at work all day, would He be proud of your actions or disappointed? Are you living distinctly for Him? Second, (and related to honoring God), are you showing mercy and love to those around you? Do you give people the benefit of the doubt if something doesn't go the way you'd like it to? Do people know you as the type to give second chances? Do you forgive others? Do you turn the other cheek when someone offends you?

If these are the greatest commandments, then it stands to reason that we need to think very carefully about how to apply them in our workplaces. Everything else depends on these.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Addendum on Mercy

James 2:13

A few weeks ago, I posted about the value of mercy in the workplace and the danger of judgmentalism. I read this passage this morning, and I felt like it needed to be added to those ideas. As James talks about churches showing partiality to the rich, he also talks about the tendency to see some sins as more serious as others. In verse 11, he says that if you condemn adultery but then murder someone, you are just as guilty as the adulterer. He concludes this section by emphasizing mercy and saying that "mercy triumphs over judgment." Think about that in your workplace. I think that there is an important line between mercy and high standards, but knowing exactly where that line is not an exact science. Based on this passage in James, as you're looking at others' work, be sure to err on the side of mercy rather than on the side of judging them for poor work. As a Christian, it's better to be accused of being too merciful than it is to be accused of being a tyranical perfectionist. Remember, you've been forgiven. He showed mercy to you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Den of Robbers

Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-22

How would you describe your workplace? Some people have used metaphors like "when you work here, you're like family." Maybe your workplace isn't quite that warm. But look at how Jesus describes the temple in these passages. After ransacking the place, Jesus accuses the merchants of "making My Father's House a Den of Robbers." These businesses fulfilled an important need. People would come from far away places to worship at Jerusalem. They needed to buy an animal to sacrifice, so merchants were there selling such animals. And if you needed to exchange your currency to buy in this market, there were kiosks of the day ready to help you with that as well. The problem was that these people were not really interested in helping people worship God. Rather than any altruistic motives, they let laws of supply and, in particular, demand determine costs. These people didn't know the city that well, they didn't have the means to seek out other places to buy these things. So merchants were charging top dollar and getting rich off of the people's desire to worship God.

So think about where you work. Could Jesus make the same accusation against you? Does your workplace profit from the desperation of others? I think one plausible interpretation of these passages is a critique of supply and demand economics that privilege profit motives over the needs of people. You may not be able to control the economics of your industry, but what about how your department or specific responsibilities function? Are you putting profit and performance above people?

It's tough because I think the temple merchants would probably have done very well in 21st century America. Certainly, they would have been in step with the Enrons of 2001 or the Countrywides of 2007. I think "Den of Robbers" is a completely accurate title for some of the upper eschelons of those companies (although the majority of people working for both companies were not involved in either scandal). But the actions that made those companies personify greed were not decisions that were made overnight. The actions of a large number of individuals over a long period of time created the conditions for infamy. Your actions, no matter what your position or status, your actions matter. How can you privilege people over profit in your job? And then, how can you lead others to do the same?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Give to Caesar...

Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26
cf Matthew 17:24-27

It's one of the two things in life that people say will always be a certainty. Taxes. Nobody likes them, and that has probably been true since the beginning of organized government. But for just that long, the people governed have had to foot the cost for the coordination, protection, and services of their government. Like any people, the Jews of Jesus' time hated paying taxes. But they had more reason to hate it than you or I because they weren't supporting their own government--they were supporting an occupying, conquering government. You may resent supporting a government dominated by a political party with which you disagree. The Jews were in that position to the ultimate extreme. So naturally, with the exception of a couple of groups such as Herodians and tax collectors, almost every Jew had a uniform opinion about taxes--they're terrible. However, you couldn't openly disparage Roman taxes. Remember, this wasn't a democracy. They had no Bill of Rights or Freedom of Speech. So the Jews hated Roman taxes, but they kept quiet about it in public out of fear.

Which of course makes this the perfect trap for Jesus. Ask him about taxes. If He says, "no, don't pay taxes," the people will still love him, but He'll be Public Enemy Number 1 with the Romans. End of problem for the Pharisees. If He says, "yes, you should pay taxes," the Romans won't pay Him any mind, but the people might run Him out of town for seeming to support Rome. Yes, it must have seemed like the Pharisees finally had Him. So, the question was asked, and the people leaned in to hear Jesus' answer.

But wait a minute. Jesus asks, "who's picture is on this coin?" "Well, it's Caesar." "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's." The Jewish leaders walked away, stumped, because he had evaded their trap.

Part of the genius in Jesus' response was recognizing that it wasn't an either/or question. But for us today, it demonstrates that we have a type of dual citizenship with responsibilities in both areas. In a spiritual sense, we're foreigners here, and citizens in God's kingdom. Thus, we owe God (everything). But in a different sense, we have obligations materially on Earth as well. We are obligated to pay taxes, for instance, and to be fair in that and in all other business transactions. Jesus' point about taxes keeps us for thinking that we are too removed from the materiality of this world (though that is different from materialism, which Jesus cautions against). We cannot escape being part of the material transactions here, and we need to think about how Jesus would approach those. In this case, that means knowing what our obligations are and not evading them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tax Collectors and Roman Soldiers

Luke 3:11-14

The context of this passage starts at the beginning of chapter 3. John is teaching and people are coming out to hear what he has to say. His message is one of repentance, that people need to change their ways. When they ask him to be more specific, he says, share what you have with those in need. Then two groups of people ask what they can do in terms of repentance. This is where I wanted to focus this blog post. Both groups were notorious for cheating people. Tax collectors collected money for the Romans, which alone would have made them hated. But there weren't any IRS manuals or Turbo Tax programs in that day. Instead, people had to "trust" the tax collectors that they were being charged the correct tax. And of course, being entrepreneurs, the tax collectors found that they could say whatever they wanted to in terms of how much tax was required. So they would collect the Roman tax as well as more than a little extra on the side, which they were allowed to keep for themselves. Soldiers were also hated because they represented Rome, an occupying force. But in addition to that, soldiers could require someone to "help out" with various tasks and the person was required to comply. So if they didn't want to carry their equipment, they would "recruit" someone else to do it for them. Now they were limited in that the person was only required to carry something one mile. But still, would you want to walk a mile doing someone else's work only to then have to walk a mile back to your house? Soldiers were also known to extort money from people in exchange for protection or sometimes just for not harassing them. So tax collectors and Roman soldiers were among the most despised people in all of Judea.

These are the people that Luke reports came to John, wanting to repent. You can imagine the shock and possibly a little sarcasm from the others that came to hear John. "Yeah, right, like the Messiah will ever have a place for those people. He's coming to overthrow your kind." But John basically said, "just treat people fairly." Don't charge more than people owe. Be satisfied with what you have. Don't extort money. In other words, be fair.

We generally have laws that are supposed to protect us from some of these things. But people constantly find loopholes, trying to get ahead at the expense of someone else. Luke, using John's words, is calling us to be fair in our business transactions. Just because you can make a buck at someone else's expense doesn't mean that you should do it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Deny Yourself and Follow Me

Matthew 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-24

This is another one of those passages that really makes a good "theme" verse for what this blog is all about. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." What does that really mean in the 21st century? What does it mean at work? It's not language we're really used to in every day conversations. Obviously, this verse applies to every part of our lives. But since this blog is about Christianity in the workplace, let me share some of what I think this verse means regarding work.

I think, first and foremost, it means that we need to resist our human nature toward ambition at any cost. I don't think that's a univeral trait because I've seen people who are not overly driven by ambition, but I think it is a common trait. We want to succeed. We want to be the best. And being the best means that others around us are not the best. Sometimes, our winning means they have to lose. But that's ok, because we have to be the best. There is a sense that any sacrifice is ok if it means that we advance, that we are recognized as "the best" or "among the best" at whatever it is that we do. And so relationships, family, integrity, it all may fall prey to the drive to achieve.

As I've posted before, God wants us to be good at what we do, to use our talents to His glory. We need to do quality work. But we're not supposed to be working to achieve our own glory. We're to do quality work because we're working for God's glory, not our own. So that's really the first part of today's passage--deny yourself, which might mean "deny your drive to accomplish your own glory" at work.

Then second, pick up your cross and follow Christ. Being Chrisitan at work makes you different, makes you stand out from the crowd. Your talk is different. You don't lie or gossip. You respect authority, even when the boss is not looking. Those things may make you the subject of ridicule from your coworkers, who laugh at you for being soft and not cut-throat enough. You may miss out on promotions because you turn the other cheek instead of going for the kill. That's why following Christ means picking up a cross.

It's not the easy road. And contrary to some popular wisdom, it won't win you fortunes and fame. So why do it? First, because look at how much you've been loved. That's enough right there. But if you need more motivation, Jesus gives it two verses later: "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" Does your success in your job, at the expense of so many other things, get you anything in the long run? I'm talking about the really long run here. At the end of everything, you won't be taking anything that you've earned with you. It won't matter how many deals you've closed, how much overtime you've logged, or how many people you had to climb over to claw your way to the top. It won't matter whether you had the corner office on the top floor or whether you worked as a clerk in the mail room. The only thing that will matter is Jesus.

He calls to you: "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me." What do you say to Him?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31

Here it is, the end all, be all rule for many of us. "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Perhaps the second most memorized verse behind John 3:16. It's not Jesus' greatest commandment, which He lists later, but it's certainly in step with the second of those commandments.

As you read through this blog, there's a lot to keep up with. Perhaps this is one way to sum it all up. When you are working, treat others the way that you would want them to treat you. Regardless of status or position, how would you want that other person to treat you? Then do that.

There are almost countless variations on this timeless principle. There are the worldly alternatives such as "he who has the gold rules." There are versions from other religions such as "don't treat anyone worse than you would want to be treated." But Jesus' teaching is one of considering the other person, even if he/she doesn't consider you and even if he/she doesn't deserve to be considered. It's not focused on a minimum threshold as a standard. It says treat people as good as you would like to experience yourself.

Ask yourself: "would my actions at work change if I fully put this principle into practice?" What would that look like? Would it change the way you talk to your supervisor? Your coworkers? Your clients/customers? Would you treat your subordinates differently? Would you act differently toward the custodians you pass on your way in the building? What about how you interact with a secretary or administrative support person? Use this weekend to plan what you can do differently on Monday. How will the Golden Rule affect your workplace through you?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Matthew 7:1-5

It's easy to think about being judgemental as someone else's problem (of course then, you run the danger of judging them for it!). But stop and think about it for a moment. Do you look at your coworkers with disdain for messing up a project? Do you think some of your supervisor's ideas are just ridiculous--if only they'd hired someone competent to do his/her job? Those questions get to the heart of at least one side of judgementalism in the workplace. It's easy to smirk at the inferiority of others. If only they'd come up to your level. That's passing judgement on them. There's at least three problems with that. First, it's unloving, and we're commanded to love others. Second, it may make you less likeable in the workplace. You might say, "they don't have to like me as long as they respect me." But that's not entirely true. Workplace relationships are one of the key parts of job satisfaction, and being friendly in the workplace can go a long way in helping you succeed.

But Jesus mentions a third reason when he warns against being judgmental. "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." To the degree that you look down at others' mistakes, you will be judged on your own mistakes. There's a couple of ways that happens. First, theologically, God judges us all. This is very similar to Jesus' teaching on forgiving others because you are forgiven, which I blogged about in terms of God's grace and the unmerciful servant. That's really the thing with the unmerciful servant, wasn't it? That he was judgmental toward a fellow servant when he'd been forgiven by the Master. Now for you. You've been forgiven a debt that you could never repay. How then can you judge someone else? It doesn't matter what context, whether a church or a business. We're called to accept people for who they are without judging them. That doesn't mean that you have to accept substandard work from others. But it does mean that you need to see them as worthy individuals just the way that they are.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't Worry

Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34

There's a lot to worry about. The economy is terrible, despite rumors from experts that it's improving. Business is tight, and personal expenses are ever-increasing. It's a lot. Not to mention health and family concerns. Have you felt weighed down? Has not getting a promotion or raise been worrying you? What about dealing with that new boss or that irritating customer? Matthew 6 has some encouraging words, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" If God takes care of birds and flowers, will He not take care of you? That doesn't mean everything is going to be just like you want it, but it does mean that He is there, loving you.

Verse 27 has a more practical thought: "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Does worrying really make life better? Does it make the problems go away? Or, instead, does it make your life more miserable?

But this idea of trusting God and not worrying comes with an important caveat. Look at the context before and after the passage (in both Matthew and Luke). Before Jesus says don't worry, He explains that we cannot serve both God and greed--we have to choose. After encouraging us not to worry, Jesus says instead of worrying to seek first God's kingdom. Before and after telling us not to worry, Jesus tells us that we have to be seeking God first. That's the key to not worrying. If we are seeking God, whether at work or home or anywhere else, then we can not worry about everything else.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Can People Trust Your Word?

Matthew 5:33-37

Can people trust what you say? Are you generally trustworthy? I've blogged several times about honesty. Jesus makes a point in these verses that James also discusses. Perhaps you know people that, when they really want you to believe them, they throw lots of extra things in just to emphasize their honesty. "I swear on my mother's grave..." "By God..." Or the childhood favorite, "cross my heart." Jesus says that these things should be unnecessary. You should be speaking in such a way that when you say "yes," you don't have to say anything else. Of course, that only works if you are honest. If you're constantly telling half-truths and deceptions (even if they are completely lies), then you'll have to work harder to get people to believe you. But if you are known as someone who isn't afraid to tell the truth every time, people will realize that your "yes" really means yes and your "no" really means no. If that's not the case right now, it may take time to get there, but it will happen. But you have to work at honesty.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Have Heard It Said...

Matthew 5:21-26

As part of the Beautitudes, Jesus discusses a number of ideas about general living. In verse 21 and following, Jesus addresses the idea that murder is unacceptable. True, He says, but hating someone is just as bad. Jesus comes down pretty hard on people just for being angry and for calling someone a fool. He says that resolving a conflict is more important than even worship.

"If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."

Then Jesus has more instructions for conflicts: settle before things get serious. Paul says something very similar about taking care of anger. It doesn't always matter who's "right." You may find yourself on the wrong side, even if you think you're right.

Now think about your workplace. Have you had any conflicts recently? Remember, it doesn't matter whether you were right or not. Settle it quickly, even if it means you don't get what you think you deserve. Are you angry with someone at work? Don't dwell on it, and be careful about what you call the other person. It's not that it's necessarily wrong to be miffed at someone else. But what do you do next? Do you dwell on it, imagine getting back at the person, sabotage his or her work, and be generally disagreeable? Or do you talk to him or her, forgive (even if the other person doesn't apologize), and give the situation to God?

Monday, November 29, 2010


In thinking about the themes of mercy, love, and thankfulness from last week, and forgiveness in the workplace, which I anticipate writing about in the near future, I think that perhaps something very important to remember is that we do these things, we try to honor God in our workplace because of His Grace to us. Even when your subordinates screw up, your coworkers back-stab you, and your supervisors treat you worse than you deserve, remember that they are also sinners in need of a Savior, that they are also imperfect. The parable of the unmerciful servant is convicting. We have been forgiven a debt that can never be repaid, no matter how well our job pays us. That's a powerful perspective to have. We have mercy on others and show love, even to our enemies at work because God has shown such an immense love to us.

I have another purpose for writing about grace. One might look at the last 80+ posts and see them very much as a list of things to do or not do in the workplace. "If I do these things and avoid doing these things, I will honor God in my work." So you try to live by those lists and everything is going well for the first few days until Joe comes in late and you yell at him for messing up your day. Or your coworker Sally tries to double cross you, so you let her have it. "Uh oh, I blew it. I'm not living by the lists." I want to really emphasize this--the ideas about which I'm blogging are in no way lists of do's and don't's. While the Bible is full of commands and admonitions, that's not the "way" to God. Instead, the ideas that I've written in terms of honoring God at work are things to do because God has forgiven you for not being perfect. He knows that you're going to mess up. That's why He sent Jesus to begin with.

I don't want anyone to read this blog as a Pharisaical law of how to act at work. Instead, think of these as ideas about how to honor God because of His wonderful grace.

Friday, November 26, 2010


This holiday season, be sure to be thankful for the blessing that God has given. If you have a job, be sure to include that in your thanksgiving--many people do not. Spend time rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks whatever your circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love Your Enemies...What About Your Coworkers?

Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-35

The Bible is replete with the idea of love. John 4 says that describes the very nature of God as being love ("God is love"). In the two passages listed above, Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies. That doesn't seem right. Jesus, are you sure you got that right? Didn't you mean love your friends? It's pretty counter intuitive to love your enemies. And I don't think that Jesus is talking about loving them with the motivation that Paul mentions in Romans 12:20 of "heaping coals onto their heads." If that's the only motivation that gets you to show kindness to a rival, I suppose that's better than nothing. But I think, given the context of each passage, I think Jesus means to show genuine regard for your enemies. Watch out for them. Treat them, not with hostility, but with kindness. You've probably experienced a coworker or two that, while you might not use the term "enemy," they certainly weren't on the same side as you. We prefer "rival" or "competitor" in a business setting. How can you love your rivals? If a coworker is competing with you for the same promotion, how can you love him or her? Jesus says that everyone loves those who help them and are likely to love back. But Jesus demonstrated love for us, before we loved him (Romans 5: 6-8).

Perhaps one way to show love is to smile. Genuinely, not the kind of smile that says "I'm really angry on the inside." Perhaps a genuine compliment to your rival or about your rival to someone else. Maybe making sure he or she has equal access to information or to face-time with your boss. I don't think that loving your enemy means that you automatically cede the promotion to him or her. But perhaps making sure that you are judged on merits, not on any unfair advantage that tilts your way. And then, whether you get the promotion or not, be sure to be gracious in winning or in losing.

Another way to show love is forgiveness if someone wrongs you. I'll have a post in the not too distance future that focuses specifically on forgiveness. Forgiving others who cheat you, lie to you, or in any other way wrong you is a central part of turning the other cheek. Loving your enemies means not seeking revenge.

What are some other ways you can love your rivals? And what would the outcome be if you did that? I know it's tempting to say that they'd take advantage of you, and that may be very true in the short term. But what would happen long term? For the most part, Jesus never won over most of His rivals, but look at what happened because He loved them anyway.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blessed are the Merciful

Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:22-35
cf Matthew 5:38-42; Luke 6:29

For the next few posts, I would like to look at the idea of mercy in the workplace. Today, I'm giving an overview and looking at supervisors and mercy. Wednesday, it will be the idea of forgiveness, particularly in terms of relating to coworkers and others at work. Friday, we'll stop and think about thankfulness. Finally, Monday, we'll talk about why do this at all, what is our motivation for thinking about mercy when those around us often don't.

Mercy is not a popular concept in what is generally thought of as a "dog-eat-dog" world where you have to "look out for number one" to "get ahead" in the "rat race." Those metaphors are much more widely accepted than "be merciful."

What does it even mean to be merciful? Does it mean that your supervisor can treat you like dirt and get away with it? Should coworkers be able to backstab you and know that you won't do anything? Does it mean to let employees slack off?

For me, one of the easist things to remember is to "turn the other cheek," which is found in Matthew 5:39 and in Luke 6:29. That really speaks to the first two situations presented above. Yes, your supervisor can treat you like dirt, and you should still respect, obey, and pray for your supervisor. Yes, your coworkers can backstab you and not expect retaliation. I don't think that means that you have to constantly put yourself in position to be backstabbed, but if it happens, you need to turn the other cheek. I'll continue this line of thought on Wednesday.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to show mercy in a workplace is in relating to your subordinates. Think about the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:22-35. The servant was forgiven a debt that he could never repay. Even if the servant worked all of his life, he could never repay his debt, so the Master forgave it. No questions asked. Balance equals zero. What did this servant do? He went out and found another servant that owed almost nothing, assaulted and threatened him, and demanded money "or else!" Naturally, the Master was dismayed and threw the unmerciful servant in jail until he could pay his debt (which basically equated to a lifetime sentence). So think about your situation. God, the Master, has forgiven you a debt of sin that you could never repay. No matter how hard you worked and how much your job paid, you would never be able to repay the debt, so God said, "no problem, I got this one." What's your move? Are you the unmerciful servant, ready to pounce on someone that crosses you? Remember that, however they wrong you, it cannot compare to the sin that you've been forgiven! Hold your subordinates to a high standard. But remember to supervisor them with an ample supply of mercy for you have been shown incredible mercy yourself (which will be the subject of Friday's post).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Be Different

Matthew 5:11-16

After describing a series of countercultural behaviors and calling those who practice such behaviors "blessed," Jesus saves the strangest for last. Blessed are you when others insult you. What? Blessed are you when others falsely say bad things about you. Are you kidding? Seriously, are you saying that it's a good thing when others treat me poorly? Yes, that's exactly what Jesus is saying if people are treating you poorly because you are living for Him. You see, when you live your life as a reflection of Jesus, whether at work or in any other context, people will notice. And it's not always going to be the kind of attention you're going to want. Living like Jesus is going to make you different, and most people don't like people that are different. People may make you an outcast. People may leave you out. In a sense, it's the child's game of kickball, and you may get picked last. If that happens because you've treated others poorly or for reasons other than Jesus, this passage doesn't apply to you. But as long as you are persecuted because of Jesus, you can take heart--people did the same thing to prophets (and to Jesus' disciples after this passage was written). Jesus tells us that Christians will have troubles in this world (John 16:33). But He also tells us that we can make it through those insults, persecutions, and slander because He has overcome the world.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Matthew 5:9

I’ve blogged about people who fan the fires of conflict in their workplaces by
interfering or by gossiping. But what about those people who are able to diffuse tense feelings and defensiveness in others and bring peace? You’ve probably seen that type of person. He or she is much rarer than the gossip or the defensive person. The peacemaker is one who shows people the big picture. This person refuses to worry about earthly struggles, but knows that being with Jesus is everything. That doesn’t mean the peacemaker is an absent-minded worker. On the contrary, he or she knows that work is for God’s glory. They are optimistically content because they know that God is in control. And other people see those qualities. We admire people who can resolve conflict. It’s not that people never disagree—it’s that those conflicts don’t boil over into wars between people in the office.

What kind of influence are you? Are you a peacemaker or are you one who fans the fire? I would like to say that I’m a peacemaker, and sometimes that’s true. Other times, I am guilty of gossiping about a feud or of egging someone on in getting revenge. But I’m working on it. I’m working on being a peacemaker because I want a child of God.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fishers of People

Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:2-11
cf Matthew 9:9-12; Luke 19:1-10

The next month or so will focus on the Gospels. As much as possible, I’ve tried to group stories from multiple places together. Let’s explore what Jesus Himself said about work while He was on earth doing His Father’s work.

What would you think if someone came to you, told you to leave your job, and gave you a vague idea of what you would be doing with your time without any details of pay, benefits, or long-terms security? That’s exactly what happened to Peter, Andrew, and the other apostles. Jesus said, “follow me.” And they left their nets and followed him. I’ve talked with a number of people who have gone through a mid-life career change, some by choice, most from necessity. But none of them have described anything quite like that. We don’t have any evidence that the apostles suspected Jesus was the Messiah yet. He must have been quite charismatic to attract their attention like that. We know that at least some of them still fell back on those old jobs from time to time (John 21). Later, after the Holy Spirit showed them what was going on, I wonder if they ever reminisced about that life change.

Take a minute to think about your career. Obviously, if you have trouble working and serving God, maybe you should think about a change (think about Matthew and Zacchaeus). But fishing wasn’t an “evil” job. Jesus just knew they could do more. Where is God calling you to more? How can you, with your “good” job, glorify God even more? What vocational commitments is He asking of you?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wisdom and Tact

Daniel 2:14-16

This is Part Two of Daniel's tips on disagreeing with your boss. To set the scene for you, Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream and wants someone to interpret it. But he knows that if he tells the dream to his advisors, they'll make up an interpretation that they think he wants to hear (sounds like those subordinates that
always tell you what you want to hear). So he tells his advisors to tell him what he dreamed as well as the interpretation. Naturally, they thought this request was unfair, but when they couldn't do it, Nebuchadnezzar was ready to kill everyone in the court, including Daniel. When the executioner came to Daniel, "Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact." The executioner explains the problem, Daniel asks for a little time, and eventually he explains the dream.

You know, if an executioner came to your office door, I can think of a lot of potential reactions, but very few of them have anything to do with "wisdom and tact." Yet that's sometimes exactly what's required. When your boss is being irrational, don't get defensive--respond with wisdom and tact. When an undeserving coworker gets a promotion, don't hostile--respond with wisdom and tact. Wisdom is knowing what to say, when to say it, and especially what not to say. It's avoiding defensiveness and personal attacks. It's not being hasty. Tact is all about how you say something, your tone of voice and body language. Can you be respectful even when others aren't? Notice that Daniel responded before he had received any assurance of a stay in the execution. That is, he used wisdom and tact, regardless of the outcome. In today's workplaces, there are lots of king's executioners, and they come in many different forms. The next time you see one, try to resist the urge to scream and flea the "city." Try to resist the urge to fight back. Instead, try to respond with wisdom and tact.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Disagree with Your Boss

Daniel 1:8-14

Grumbing and complaining get a bad rap as people think about how to live as Christians. But there's a difference between the grumbling that angered God as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and complaints/suggestions that are designed to improve your workplace or help you to do your work more effectively. Most of us have experienced those times in our work where we could do our job more efficiently or more satisfyingly if it wasn't for this particular policy. Or maybe you've had the experience of dealing with a boss that was unaware of some habit or practice that he or she did that was really holding the organization back. In those moments, you have a choice: Disagree or remain silent. And if you disagree, you have another choice regarding how you disagree. Do you say something to your supervisor or vent to your coworkers? Do you present a solution to the problem or make sarcastic comments?

I've posted before about the importance of honest disagreement in organizations, and I've encouraged supervisors to listen to employees' dissent. Daniel gives more details in terms of how to do so. Daniel and his friends have been taken from Judah and brought to Babylon, to the king's court. They are told to eat rich foods so that they will appear healthy, but Daniel doesn't want "to defile himself." So look what he said to his overseer. First, Daniel 1:8 says that he "asked for permission." That means that he was probably pretty humble as he disagreed with the supervisor. Second, he was dissenting from the right motives, in this case, faithfulness to God. It wasn't to get ahead. That's important. Third, he recognized his supervisor's goals and sought to match his own goals with those of his supervisor's. That's too important to overlook. The overseer explains what he needs to accomplish in verse 10. Then, in verses 11-14, Daniel explains how both he and the overseer can get what they want.

That's three keys to dissenting in the workplace. First, be humble. That automatically rules out sarcasm and threats. Remember to respect your supervisor. Second, dissent from the right motives, which generally will exclude selfishness. That doesn't mean that you can't pursue personal benefits. Maybe it just limits you to not pursuing personal benefits at the expense of others. Third, recognize the organization's goals and your supervisor's goals and try to frame your dissent in such a way that it accomplishes what you want and what he/she wants.

Dissent can help an organization to grow. Don't be afraid to disagree. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do so. Friday's post will continue to explore what Daniel says about healthy dissent.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Little" Actions Matter a Lot

Isaiah 58:3
cf Malachi 3:5

In Isaiah 58, God is telling His people why He's mad at them, even though they seem to be fasting all the time. Hey, that's a good thing, right? But God says that their fasting isn't affecting the rest of their actions. They're still fighting with each other. And important for our study, they're exploiting their workers, even though they claim to be serving God. This is another one of those passages that says to me that exploiting workers is a bad thing. Just because you CAN make an employee do something doesn't mean that you SHOULD make him or her do it. As a supervisor, your actions matter. And just because you are honoring God in one aspect of your life (such as Sunday morning) does not relieve you from the responsibility of honoring God in other aspects (such as Monday). God cares how you treat your subordinates. That doesn't mean that you can expect high standards. But there's a line between high standards with discipline and exploitation.

Do you know where that line is? If not, think about treating subordinates with respect and dignity. Think about whether you would want a supervisor to treat you that way (but remember not to romanticize the things you went through to get to where you are--"in my day, we had to walk up hill to and from work, and thanked our employer for the chance to work for free all day.")

Part of not exploiting workers is paying them a fair price for the work they do, rather than trying to get every drop of labor out of them while paying them as little as possible. Some might say that's just business. But your life is not just business. Malachi 3:5 says that God will testify against you if you are not paying workers what you owe them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

These are interesting contrasts in Ecclesiastes. Last time, I blogged about how employees should not complain about their boss or even have overly negative thoughts about him or her because of how things get back to people. Today's passage is the other side of Wednesday's admonition to not speak poorly of your supervisor. If you're a supervisor, don't think badly of employees that speak poorly of you. Why not? Look at verse 22: "for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others." You weren't always a supervisor. Be very careful before you get defensive and lash out at your subordinate. Did you ever complain about a supervisor? Did you ever vent to someone else, thinking that your supervisor would never find out? It doesn't matter whether it was years ago or only yesterday. Don't punish (even in small ways) a subordinate for doing something that you yourself did. Even if your supervisor was not so generous. Instead, use the opportunity to think about your performance as a supervisor. Sure, sometimes employees complain and they're just complaining. But a lot of times, those complaints have more grounds that you might think at first. So if you happen to hear about an employee who is venting to someone about you, don't get defensive. Chuckle a bit to yourself as you remember your own times of doing that. Then think about what truth there might be in the employee's frustration. You'll be a better supervisor, your employee may appreciate any changes (and will certainly not appreciate any defensiveness on your part), and your whole workplace may be better as a result of your restraint.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Will the Little Birdy Hear?

Ecclesiastes 10:20

Ecclesiastes 10 closes on an interesting note, with wisdom that almost sounds like it belongs in a storybook or cartoon. The Teacher describes a person, in his or her bedroom, complaining about the king. A bird in that room goes and relays your complaint to the king. Sounds funny, right? But here's the thing--the point is that you never know when something that you say will get back to someone that you didn't intend. Now think about that in the workplace. "Do not revile your [boss], even in your thoughts." Let's face it. There are some terrible bosses out there. You may have one. Even if you do, be very careful about how you think about him or her. When you dwell on how much you hate your boss, those thoughts are probably going to leak out, no matter how much you try to hide it. People are going to find out. And when they do, either because your tone and behaviors betray you or because you vent to someone, you never know when those thoughts will get back to your boss. Instead, better to pray for your boss. Better to support him or her. Obey. Respect. Even if they are against you, be subject to them. Above all, don't "revile" them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Thoughts on Flattery

Proverbs 26:24-26, 28:23

Let's be clear. When the Bible uses the word "flattery," it's not referring to giving genuine compliments. That is a practice that's almost always a great idea. No,
flattery in the Bible is telling people what they want to hear, usually when you don't believe what you say. "Yes, boss, that's a great idea." "I don't know what management was thinking, you really deserved that promotion." "Will do, whatever you say." Those thoughts could be sincere acknowledgements of a boss or coworker. But on the other hand, they could also be insincere attempts to win attention or influence others. It's that second classification that the Bible warns against. Look at verses 24 and 25: "A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart." Another way to read "disguises himself with his lips" might be "thinks he (or she) can talk his way out of anything." Again, there's the deceit factor. These are not genuine compliments that are being dished out. Verse 28 says that a flattering mouth works ruin. Pretty harsh.

Be sure of this. If you think you can work your way up the ladder and avoid disappointments by telling people what you think they want to hear, watch out! Verse 27 says that it's probably going to come back to haunt you, and verse 26 states that your (mis)deeds will be publicly exposed. People will eventually catch on, and all the talking in the world may not make things right. Perhaps worst of all, people will begin to not trust you, and that trust may be very hard to win back.

Proverbs 28:23 has a fitting final word on all of this. False flattery may help you advance or help you to influence others. But at the end of the day, "he who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue." That is to say, that people want others around them that they can trust. In the workplace, competent managers are those who don't surround themselves with yes-people, those who tell them what they want to hear. Competent managers surround themselves with people who look at things objectively and speak the truth (with
tact), even when it means disagreeing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

You Can't Take It With You.

Ecclesiastes 1:3; 2:18-26; 4:4-8; 5:18

"What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?" The teacher is disappointed to not find purpose in any of the work that he completes. In chapter 2, he laments that he has to leave everything to his descendants, but he doesn't know whether they will be wise or foolish. Toiling days, restless nights, but you still can't take it with you.

In chapter 4, the Teacher suggests that work and achievements come from our envying of others. He describes the woe of one who works, who sacrifices tranquility and contentment, but cannot find satisfaction.

He sums up this idea of the meaning of work in chapter 5: "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot." I have to admit that these are not the most hopeful passages in the Bible nor are they the easiest to make sense of. Part of the issue is why are you working. Are you working because you enjoy what you do? Are you working to provide for your family? Or are you working to accumulate? In the first two instances, I think the Bible is clear that this is a good think. "It is good and proper for a man to ...find satisfaction in his toilsome labor." As a professor, I tell people that I get paid to do what I enjoy doing. That's a good thing, according to Ecclesiastes. Are you working to provide for family? That's a good thing, too, according to
other places in the Bible as well as this passage. The teacher's condemnation of the man working in chapter 4 was that he had no family--he was alone and working to accumulate. That's the danger, working to accumulate stuff that you cannot enjoy. It's not that the stuff accumulated is bad (5:19-20). It's the attitude and endless hours spent doing something other than honoring God.

Think about why you are working. Is it to provide food and shelter/clothing for your family? Or is it to pay off the house or car that you couldn't really afford but had to have? Think about your priorities and then consider what you really gain from your "toil under the sun."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Conflict with Coworkers

Proverbs 26:17-20

These verses have to do with general principles regarding conflict, but I think they are as applicable within a workplace as they are in any other context. Verse 17 says, "Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own." Pretty powerful imagery. Have you ever seen two people upset with each other and wanted to help? It's only natural to want to make peace if two people around you are in conflict. But be careful. You may be seen as taking sides, or your friend may turn on you specifically for not taking sides. Anything you say can be misinterpreted. Be very careful.

The next two verses have to do with sarcasm or practical jokes. "Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!" People that know me really well will tell you that I love to kid around. Many people consider a good sense of humor a must for dealing with people. But be careful how you use humor. Sometimes people don't get the joke, particularly when they are the target. Playing a trick on someone or making a coworker believe something that isn't true and saying, "Gotcha!" can backfire.

Finally, verse 20 (as well as verse 22) warns about the danger of gossip. How much worse are conflicts when people start talking about them?! Whereas two coworkers might otherwise let a conflict between them die out, when the rest of the office is talking about it, the conflict grows bigger and bigger. People take sides and tell each person that he or she is justified in being upset. Misinformation is rampant as rumors get back to each side. Pretty soon, the positions are locked and the chances of managing the conflict while preserving relationships dwindle. The metaphor of this proverb is apt: the fire of office conflict might die out, but gossip rekindles hurts, indignation, and anger to keep it going.

I think these are interesting thoughts about coworker conflicts, particularly applicable in today's workplaces where dealing with people is a must.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Honest Scales

Proverbs 11:1; 16:11; 20:10, 23
cf Amos 8:4-6; Micah 6:11

Another prominent theme in Proverbs is that of unfair scales. In an economy before digital scales where merchants would carry measuring cups and weights/scales for doing business, one way to “get ahead” was to have one set of measures for buying goods that perhaps were slightly over-sized (so you got more than you paid for) and another set for selling goods that were undersized (so you sold less than they paid for). This was
condemned in Leviticus, but apparently the practice was common enough to still be an issue by the time Proverbs is compiled. Proverbs 11:1 states that God “abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.” Proverbs 16 praises the business person who exercises honesty in business practices saying, “honest scales and balances are from the Lord.” In chapter 20, we learn that God “detests” unfair weights and scales.

And it seems that the Israelites didn’t listen particularly well to these proverbs. One of the complaints against both the people of Israel before they were conquered was that they were using dishonest scales. Amos says that God will not forget dishonest business practices, particularly when they disadvantage the poor and needy. Micah says that a person with unfair scales would not be acquitted.

So what about you? Are you honest in your business transactions? Are you looking for accounting tricks so that you come out ahead of others? When you deal with customers or clients, are you using the same yardstick with them that you would expect from your distributors? Whatever it is, take time today to consider the equivalent to unfair scales in your own industry. How can you ensure that your transactions are fair? If you feel confident there, then consider your transactions with the government. Are you trying to find a reason that those golf clubs really are a medical deduction? Are you honest about the money you made last year? You wouldn’t want a client being dishonest about the money they owe you, so reconsider your honesty with the money you owe the government.

God calls us to honesty in all of our transactions. As people of God, we need to be “above reproach” in this matter. We need to set examples for others in terms of fairness.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Gentle Answer

Proverbs 15:1

This is a “general living” proverb instead of being workplace specific, but I think it applies to work very neatly. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Whether you are correcting someone, giving advice, or just venting about how you think things should be, a gentle tone and a little bit of tact go a long way. When someone says something offensive to you, instead of responding in kind, consider a gentle answer. When a subordinate (or coworker or supervisor) screws up, consider responding with a gentle answer. In any situation where you are heating up, try to take a second to cool down and respond to the people in that situation with a gentle answer. That can go a long way toward soothing relationships than reacting defensively, which tends to “stir up anger.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mere Talk

Proverbs 14:23

Have you ever known those people who talk about work, but never seem to do any? Those people who always have the next great idea but never do anything to make that idea happen? Those people who never can get ahead and they spend all their time telling you about it (instead of working)? Listen to Proverbs 14:23—“all hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” One interpretation of the book of Proverbs is that it contains truisms, things that are generally, but not universally true. That might be a good way to look at this verse. There are people who work very hard, but cannot say they’ve made a profit yet. But I think the general principle of the verse stands: talking about what you’re going to do without taking action is never going to get you there. You’ve got to work.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5, 26; 18:9; 19:15; 20:4; 21:25; 24:30-34; 26:13-16

Laziness is one of the most common themes in the book of Proverbs. Consider these thoughts:

"Lazy hands make someone poor" (10:4).

"As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him" (10:26, an indictment against the lazy worker).

"One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys" (18:9).

And my favorite, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" (6:6).

Perhaps you know someone who just never seems to want to work. Someone who always seems to be scheming how to get out of working. These proverbs don't condemn vacations and relaxation. But the point is that there comes a time when you have to get to work. This is just a handful of the verses that talk about and condemn laziness. Use a concordance and find more. Then get to work. If you're tempted to slack off this week, go outside and watch the ants.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't Withhold Good

Prov. 3:27-30

This set of proverbs is not specifically about work, but I think it's very applicable. Don't withhold good from those who deserve it when it's within your power to act. In other words, if you can help someone, do it. All work can be isolating from time to time, especially in workplaces that foster competition and pit coworker against coworker. That can create the temptation that you can ignore the needs of others while working on your tasks. This proverb counters that to some extent. If it's within your power to help someone, do it.

Don't say to your neighbor, "Come back tomorrow and I'll give it to you then," when you now have it with you. I kind of see this as a "pay what you owe" to people proverb as well as fulfilling other commitments. God saw this as important even as He gave the Law to the Israelites in the desert. Just like you should not withhold good from others, you shouldn't try to get out of paying what they have worked for.

Finally, don't plan to harm a neighbor who trusts you and has done you know harm. In business, people sometimes feel the need to get ahead of someone else and will preemptively strike them so that the other person doesn't have time to anticipate the attack. This proverb is saying, don't do that. If people are working and at peace with you, don't plot to backstab them.

Interesting thoughts for daily life in general, but particularly insightful as one applies them to work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere?

Psalm 12:2-4

David is pretty harsh when it comes to people who flatter others. "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more...Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, "We will triumph with our tongues." Ouch. The passage considers the flatterer to be ungodly, and David asks God to cut off the tongues of flatterers. David isn't condemning those who compliment others. In fact, genuinely complimenting your boss can go a long way. David also isn't talking about
using tact when it comes to your conversations with others. The reference here is to the person who "bends" the truth to win favor with another. Perhaps your boss completes a project that you could have done better but you tell your boss that it's the greatest thing you've ever seen. Or maybe you're competing for a promotion but you tell your coworker that he/she deserves it more, even when you don't think that's true. Compliments are an important part of interaction, whether in the workplace or in other parts of life. But if you're going to compliment someone, be sure that your compliment is true.

David is also talking specifically about those people who pridefully think they can talk their way out of trouble and into gain. So one issue is making sure your compliments are honest, but the second issue is that you are not relying on what you say for career success. As a communication studies professor, I am all about the importance of talk at work. In many ways, it's the coin of the realm. But relying too heavily on your communication ability, thinking you can communicate so well that you can achieve success for yourself, means that you are not relying on God and giving him credit for your accomplishments.

Be careful with flattering. Compliment. Be tactful. But be honest, and remember that you serve God alone.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Possible Theme Verse

Colossians 3:17

This verse is one of those that might serve as a great theme for this blog in general. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord. I think that verse really captures a lot of why I want to explore these ideas. Whatever your profession, work at it as if you're working for Christ. The idea is repeated a few verses later after Paul has talked about husband/wife relationships and master/slave relationships. Do everything as if working for God.

If you are new to this blog, here's a post that explains a little bit about the order (or lack of) in terms of going through the Bible as well as three types of passages that seem to be relevant to being Christian at work.

This blog explores what it means to be Christian at work, when "church friends" aren't around and God may not be the first thing that naturally comes to mind. But just because you may not work in a building with a steeple on top doesn't mean that God is any less concerned with you and with how you are acting. In fact, I would say you have an even better opportunity to stand out as a servant of Christ at work, where no one expects you to act different, than you do on Sunday mornings, where people around you are also acting Christ-like. How can you do your job "in the name of the Lord Jesus?" How will the "words" and "deeds" of your work reflect Christ this week? As you begin the week today, think about how you can use the week to serve God, not just at a building during Sunday worship, but every day no matter where you are and who is around you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Attitude, New Self, Created to be like God, Pt. 3

Ephesians 4:25-32

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

How many conversations at work would be different if we followed that admonition? Only say what is helpful and benefits others. Wow, I think about everything I've said this week, and I have to admit that I have said things at work that probably didn't build others up. My big one is sarcasm. What about you? Any gossiping or grumbling under your breath? What about your humor? I put sarcasm as something that's not particularly helpful to others, but a lot of humor might also fall under "coarse joking" that Paul discusses in Ephesians 5:4. The idea of limiting speech to only what is wholesome, helpful for building up, and beneficial seems an awful lot like a vow of silence to some, I would guess. That's part of the "new self" to which Paul is calling the Ephesians (and us by extension). We are called to be different, and how we talk is certainly one way to show how unique God's people are in workplaces where unwholesome talk may be the norm. It's tough to change all at once, but make the effort and let God's grace and His Spirit work in you.

Paul returns to the idea of getting rid of hate and ungodly anger and replacing it with kindness in verses 31 and 32. Then, 5:1 serves as an endpost to this list of holy living thoughts. Think about talk. Deal with anger. Be honest. Because by doing these things, you are imitating Christ. And you choose to imitate him because you are a dearly loved child. I think that perspective is always important. These things aren't items on a holiness checklist--we imitate Christ at work because we're God's children and want to serve Him as Lord of our lives.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Attitude, New Self, Created to be like God, Pt. 2

Ephesians 4:25-32

After encouraging the Ephesians to be honest and to deal with anger, Paul then says that they must not steal. Instead, they must do something useful with their hands. In other words, they need to work to support themselves. The first implication is to not steal from your workplace. Both the Old and New Testaments are replete with instructions on not taking what is not yours. This includes the types of embezzlement that ends up on the news. But it also means don't steal office supplies, those little things that no one will miss. It also means time, either by misreporting your work time or by using work time for non-work tasks. Paul is saying don't steal, and I think it's important to consider all the "little" ways that we can steal at work, in addition to the "big" ones.

Second, this is a reinforcement of the importance of work. Paul doesn't just say don't steal. He tells the Ephesian Christians to replace stealing with work. Working is to occupy their time and provide for their needs so that they don't need to steal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

New Attitude, New Self, Created to be like God, Part 1

Ephesians 4:25-32

This passage has a great deal to say about holy living, so much so that I'm going to break it up over a few posts. The passage starts with "therefore," and a preacher friend of mine used to say that whenever you see "therefore," you have to look at what came "before." In verses 22-24, Paul says, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." With the idea of a new attitude and a new self, both of which were created to be like God, Paul describes several ways in which the new self is different from the old self. These are general living verses, but several are very applicable to workplaces as well.

Paul begins by encouraging the Ephesians to be truthful (see also Col. 3:8-14). I can't think of very many things that will erode your relationships faster at work (or anywhere else) than dishonesty. We're not necessarily talking about Enron-sized dishonesty (although that's included, too). I know when I'm just about caught up on everything and someone asks me if I have a minute to do a particular task, it's very tempting to say, "no, I'm just swamped right now." Or what about being behind on a project, but when the boss asks how it's going, saying, "fine, almost finished with it." There are any number of times when we may have the opportunity to tell a "white lie." But in this passage and in Colossians, Paul reminds us that we are called to be different from people around us.

Paul also calls us to be careful with our anger. Many people have heard the phrase "don't let the sun go down on your anger." This doesn't mean that you can't take a short time to cool off before dealing with a problem. What Paul is saying is don't let things fester. When someone really makes me mad, my natural inclination is to stew. Sure I may be nice to the person's face, but inside, I'm thinking about how I'm going to get back at them or I'm imagining bad things happening to them. So what happens after that? Are things better? Typically not. In fact, what usually happens is I'm tenser, more upset, but they are usually oblivious to my distress. I lose out on sleep and peace because I'm dwelling on what they did and what I'd like to see happen to them rather than spending time thinking about better things. If you're angry (for the right reasons), be angry. But don't dwell on it. Say something, don't say something, but either way, move on.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Ephesians 6:5-9
cf Colossians 3:22-4:1

After encouraging slaves to obey, Paul next turns to how masters should behave toward slaves. I think this relates to being a good supervisor. Ephesians 6:9 says that masters should treat slaves with respect and not threaten them. I don't think this means sacrificing standards, but I do think that it indicates that supervisors should not exalt their power over subordinates. Look at the next part of verse 9--the same God is over both supervisors and employees, and being a supervisor does not make you better in God's eyes. Colossians 4:1 says that masters should treat slaves rightly and fairly. I think, because of their greater power in organizations, supervisors have an even greater obligation than employees do to treat others with respect. You may have the ability to have people do what you want and to impose sanctions while withholding privileges. But I think that God calls you to be very careful doing so, making sure that you aren't exercising authority just because the organizational chart says you can. Remember, the Egyptians were condemned because they were "ruthless in imposing tasks." Maybe a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you're willing to do whatever it is that you're asking your subordinates to do.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Ephesians 6:5-9
cf Colossians 3:22-4:1

I've said before that, although not every Bible scholar might agree, I think that the master-slave relationship described in the Bible is very analogous to Supervisor-Employee relationships today. I've already noted several passages that reference relating to supervisors, and many of those refer to masters and slaves. Two of the more prominent passages regarding how masters and slaves should treat each other are found in Ephesians and Colossians.

In both passages, Paul begins by exhorting slaves to obey their masters. Applying this to our situations, I believe this passage means that we as employees need to obey our supervisors. The next part of both passages is important--Not just when those supervisors are looking! Even when our supervisor has no way of knowing whether or not we are following his/her directive, we need to respect and obey. Another way to approach that is that we are to obey our supervisors, whether or not doing so will win their favor. Colossians 3 adds that we should obey with sincerity of heart. I take that to mean that following a supervisor is not about brown-nosing, making sure that everyone knows you're obeying. It's about day-in and day-out working with the knowledge that you're not in charge. And being ok about that. Both passages say that the reason you should do this is that, really, you're working for God. I think that's true in two ways. First, when you obey God's word, you show Him respect. So in that sense, obeying a supervisor is obeying God. But second, by being different from human nature, which says only obey when it will get you ahead, by being different from that, you demonstrate that you subscribe to a different standard. Some people won't appreciate that and may even laugh it off. But you never know when your differentness is planting a seed. It's within the context of obeying your master that we see, "whatever you do, work at it with all your heart." I think this means that you should not half-heartedly obey, but fully engage with what your supervisor has you do.