Friday, July 30, 2010

Devote Yourself to Doing What is Good

Titus 3:14

I used the words of the verse as the title of this post because there's no better way to say it. Whether in the job you choose or the tasks you spend your time completing while at that job, devote yourself to doing what is good. Why? The rest of the verse provides the reasion--"[to] provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” Whether within or outside of the workplace, spend your time doing good to provide for your needs and to provide purpose for your life.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Be Subject to Your Boss

Titus 2:9-10

Again, this passage is about the master-slave relationship, but it is still applicable to workplaces in our culture. Paul says that Titus should "teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them." Isn't that interesting. We, as employees, should act as subjects of our supervisors in everything. Paul talked with Timothy about some of the negative manifestations of office politics like gossip and quarrels, but here, Paul says to teach some of the positive ways that employees can engage in office politics--try to do what is helpful to your supervisor and talk respectfully to him or her. That's not brown-nosing or any other idiom you want to use for it. It's just building good relationships. It's not being a yes-man or yes-woman. Disagreement may be the most helpful thing you can do in some circumstances, though you can still disagree respectfully. Our society teaches us that being "subject" to anyone means that we are inferior. I don't think that is how Paul is seeing it. Paul is saying that this person has authority over you by virtue of a position. You responsibility is to show yourself trustworthy and to demonstrate Christ. You can do both in respectful submission to a supervisor.

In the next chapter, Paul talks about submission to government authorities, but those lessons might also be applicable at work. Be obedient. Don't slander your supervisor. Be peaceable. Be considerate and act with humility. All of these paint a picture, not of the rebel looking out for Number One, but for someone who understands the hierarchy of his/her workplace, who respects it, and who is more concerned about reflecting the attitude of Christ than making sure that his/her ego is inflated. Rather than seeing your boss as a threat, consider treating him or her as someone to whom you should submit. Then look for ways to help him/her with work, to "try to please." It will likely take some time, but you may be amazed at the way God moves in your workplace.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quarrels and Gossip

2 Timothy 2:14-16 , 23-24

This passage is also not specfically about work, but I think it's certainly related. There are three keys to living in these verses, each of which applies to workplaces. First, try to avoid quarrels. I think this specifically relates to arguments over smaller issues. Second, work in such a way as to not be ashamed. Make sure that, if your actions were public knowledge, you would not be ashamed for people to know what you're doing. Third, avoid godless chatter. You might think about that as gossip.

One thing occurs to me as I read this passage. All three things relate to some of the negative aspects of office politics. Quarrels/coalitions, backroom deals, and slander seem to be tools of the office politics. Something to remember as you relate to those around you. There are positive aspects to office politics as well--building good relationships, acting credibly, helping others. These are better ways to handle the informal side of work.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love of Money

1 Timothy 6:6-10

This passage does not relate to work specifically, but it is so related to work issues that I could not pass by it without comment. Paul says "godliness with contentment is great gain." I think contentment is one of the rarest treasures. Look at verse 8--"If we have food and clothing, we are content with that." Verse 10 does not say that money is the root of all evil. It's the love of money, the relentless pursuit of more. Be careful about ambition. If properly focused, it can be a great thing. But if ambition is connected to greed, you are moving further and further from contentment.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Respect your Boss

1 Timothy 6:1-2

Paul is specifically referring to relationships in the passages before and after this one, and the specific relationship in verses 1 and 2 is that of slave and master. However, I think the things that he says are completely consistent with the way that employees should relate to their supervisors. Substituting "supervisor" for "master," this means that we should respect our superivsors. Doing so reduces the chance that someone will say bad things about Christianity because of your actions. Think about that. If you treat your supervisors poorly and are disrespectful, people might say, "well, Jones is a Christian and look how he treats the boss." God's name is not honored. There's no qualification in the passage, no "treat your boss with respect if he/she deserves it." Regardless of how your supervisor acts, we are to show respect.

That doesn't mean automatic agreement. I've blogged before about the value of dissent. But dissent can be respectful as well. Think about tone of voice, the words you use, where you speak to your supervisor (calling him/her out in public versus speaking privately).

The next verse is important as well. Be especially respectful of Christian supervisors. Don't let the values that you share be an excuse for not treating them well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Work as a Means to Provide for Your Family

1 Timothy 5:8

If nothing else, your work is a means to provide food, clothing, and shelter for your family. Paul compares someone who neglects to provide for family to an unbeliever. Pretty strong words. Again, I don't think this admonition is directed at those who have been laid off and are looking for work or at those who cannot work because of illness or injury. I believe Paul's words are for those who can work but choose not to do so.

There is further warning in verse 13. Though not specifically about work, Paul says that idleness leads to gossip and being a "busybody." Get to work--don't make others suffer because you choose to sit at home.

Pray for Your Leaders

1 Timothy 2:1-4

Pay particular attention to verse 2 in this passage. First, it says pray for political leaders such as kings. But then notice, "and all those in authority." That includes your boss at work. How long has it been since you prayed for your boss? Look at the types of prayers to be made in verse 1. Have you made a request on behalf of your boss (other than "please get rid of my boss")? Have you thanked God for his/her leadership? Do you pray for his/her salvation? Why is this important? Two reasons. First, "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives." If your relationship with your boss is a stormy relationship at best, consider praying for him or her. Not just prayers asking for a new boss, but prayers on your boss's behalf. The second reason to pray for your boss is in verse 4. Because God wants everyone "to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." Pray for your boss. See the change God can make in your workplace.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don't Stir Up Trouble

1 Timothy 1:4-5

This is not about workplaces specifically. In fact, Paul is talking to Timothy about those who cause problems in churches based on obscure details that create controversies. However, I think the lesson could easily be extrapolated to workplaces. Be careful about taking small points of disagreement and turning them into large quarrels. Remember Paul's instruction to live a quiet life? Part of that seems to be being generally agreeable. I don't think that means that you refuse to take a stand on important issues. But I think there is a different between standing for what is right and arguing about smaller details. Know the difference between the big things and the small stuff.

By the way, one sure way to start quarrels in workplaces or any other context is through gossip. 1 Timothy 4:7 tells us not to gossip. That applies at work just as much as other parts of our lives.

Work or Eat

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12

One of the Thessalonians' struggles was the temptation to stop work and do nothing while waiting for Jesus to come back. Paul warns against this, instructing them to stay away from idleness. The high point of the passage is verse 10: "If someone will not work, that person shall not eat." The application seems clear: work.

One reason to work is so that you are not a burden to others. Paul echoes his first letter to the Thessalonians almost verbatim as he describes his example of working in verse 8 "so that we would not be a burden to you." Of course, Paul is not talking about those who are unable to work, either because of lack of ability or lack of jobs available. Paul seems to refer to those who choose not to work, the "busybodies" in verse 11. Quite simply, if you are able, you should be trying to work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

In my own career, I have to admit to the temptation to want the headline accomplishments, the temptation to want everyone in my field to know my name, to respect me, to look up to me. I think it's very natural to want to be known as the best at what we do. And along with that, I think there may be a natural tendency to admire those who are in the limelight, particularly those with similar vocations to our own. But listen to what Paul says about ambition: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands…so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” How many times have you made it your ambition to lead a quiet life, a life out of the spotlight? How many times have you striven to mind your own business? Does this praise manual labor above white collar jobs where you're less likely to "work with your hands?" I don't have an answer for that last question, particularly in our age when more and more jobs are not working with your hands. But I think the point may be in the "so" at the end. "So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." Lead a quiet life and mind your own business so that nonchristians will respect you. Take care of your own job and work with your hands so that you won't be a burden on anyone. Again, I think this is stressing the importance of work above idleness. I think the take away is to work in such a way that others respect you. Not the showy respect that comes with fame, but the respect that comes when coworkers see you doing what you're supposed to be doing, day in and day out.

Warn Those who are Idle

1 Thessalonians 5:14

As a follow-up to that last post about the importance of work, Paul instructs the Thessalonians to “warn those who are idle.” Again, this seemed to be a common problem for them, and Paul is stressing the importance of work. I don' t think that this is a critique of legitimate vacation time, of time to rest from work. I think it refers who are always on vacation. Perhaps an interesting question would be to consider those who have retired from a career. What kind of work can you be doing? When my dad retired, he said he never knew there were so many jobs to do and not get paid for. But certainly there are those who retire and consider themselves done with work and service for others. This might be a call to action for those people. Don't be idle. Even if you are no longer pursuing a career, the Bible never mentions (in my knowledge) a time when you are excused from work in general, particularly in the sense of service for other people.

Not to be a Burden

1 Thessalonians 2:9

It seems one of the things that the Thessalonian church struggled with was working. They knew that Jesus' second coming would be soon, so they stopped working to be ready. Paul is not focusing specifically on work in 2:9 as much as he is describing how he approached his ministry there. Nevertheless, part of that approach was to set an example of working: “Surely you remember…our toil and hardship. We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel.” Some people interpret this to mean that church leaders and ministers shouldn't be paid. Others consider this passage particularly relevant for church plants and missionary teams, that the evangelists with those efforts should have a job that supports their work, rather than depending on a church as a sole means of support. This is one of those passages that I'm still working on in terms of meaning and application. But one thing stands out: Paul and his team worked. They weren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty (in this case making tents, Acts 18:3). So at least one application out of this passage might be the importance of work. That's not to say anything about those who want to be employed but cannot find work, about those who's work is around the home, or about those who are full-time students. I think the application is for those who do none of those. Work! Don't be a burden.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Listen to Those Who Disagree With You

Job 31:13-15

In Job 31, Job is defending himself to his friends, saying he didn't do anything to deserve all of his suffering. He lists several sins that he didn't commit. Look at verses 13 and 14. "If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account?"Based on the context, Job seems to consider a failure to listen to the grievances of his servants as a sin. He explains why in verse 15: "Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?" Job says that he is not any better than his servants so why should he reject their complaints.

I've already blogged about the importance of employees disagreeing with supervisors at times. This is the other side of that: supervisors have a responsibility to listen to their employees' complaints. It can seem threatening for someone to disagree with us, but a higher position does not make you any better than someone with a lower position. They have just as much right to express themselves as you do, and in an organization, they should have just as much opportunity to pursue their goals as you do. Did not He who made you make them as well?

From this passage, listen to your employees' grievances.


1 Samuel 25

1 Samuel 25 describes the story of Nabal, who was "mean and surly in his dealings." Nadal was unnecessarily rude to David's men, and David prepares to attack him. In that culture, David's request for help wasn't an unusual request, particularly given the fact that David's men had protected Nabal's sheep. Only the quick thinking tact and grace of his wife Abigail saved Nabal. In workplaces, tact goes a long way. I think as the pace of work speeds up, it gets harder and harder to treat people with tact and grace. But that only makes those who use tact stand apart even more. Treat people well. Things didn't go well for Nabal in the story, but Abigail became a queen.

Feel Free to Disagree

2 Samuel 12:1-12
cf 2 Sam 12:27-28; 14:1-20; 16:9; 18:3, 12, 19-23; 19:5-7, 24:3

One of the things that I really appreciate about David is that he surrounded himself with people who weren't afraid to disagree with him, to express dissent with his decisions. 2 Samuel 12:1-12 is the relatively famous example of Nathan confronting David about his sin with Bathsheba. Later in the chapter, Joab tells David to stop staying at home and come out to battle with the army (verses 27-28). Chapter 14 describes Joab's unique dissent regarding David's treatment of Absalom. The census, Joab's mourning Absalom, the list goes on and on. What do these stories say about work? I think sometimes we think that being Christian means that we can never disagree with anyone, and perhaps especially our supervisors. These stories demonstrate that dissenting at work, disagreeing with those in charge, is sometimes necessary. If there's a situation at work that you think needs to change, there's nothing wrong with speaking up about it. You may even have an obligation to do so if the problem is an ethical one. Be sure to use tact and humility though.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

David Spares Saul...Twice

! Samuel 24:6

David had been pursued by Saul though David had done nothing wrong. Sound familiar? There are times in all of our lives when we are punished and persecuted for things that we didn't do. But notice David's response. Similar to Joseph, David had Saul's fate in his hands. His men urged him to kill Saul, to end this relentless pursuit. It would have been easy to do. David had the sword in his hand. But he said, "The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, or lift my hand against him." Almost exactly the same situation happened two chapters later. And in 2 Samuel 1 and 4, David punishes those who would "help" him take revenge. David refused to take matters into his own hands. He trusted God enough to know that God will take care of this situation.

Can you trust God that much? When that coworker that has been at you slips up, can you resist "going for their throat" and let God take care of you? When you finally have the upper hand on that supervisor that seems to have it in for you, can you act with grace? It really is a matter of trusting God rather than taking matters into your own hands. Do you trust God enough to let him sort things out for you?

Remembering God

Leviticus 23

There are a number of holidays mentioned throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy during which the Israelites were not supposed to work. I've already written about the idea of Sabbath rest, and I think these holidays echo those thoughts. The point is that God's people need to trust His provision enough to take time off, and that worshiping God is worth setting aside time. Holidays were created so that the people wouldn't forget what God had done, whether that was for their atonement (which celebrated spiritual freedom), their harvest (which celebrated material provision), and the Passover (which celebrated their political independence from Egypt, accomplished solely by God). I think this applies to our workplaces in the need to stop and remember what God has done for us. He provides for our spiritual forgiveness, our material needs, and a host of other things. Dedication to your job is not a bad quality. Just don't forget to stop and worship God, thanking Him for providing.

Fair Weights and Measures

Leviticus 19:35-36

God specifically wants His people to be honest in their business dealings. These passages (and there are others throughout the Bible) indicate that God wanted to Israelites to use the same standards in their selling that they do in their buying. To put it in context, the practice of the day was, if you wanted to buy a pound of something, you would take a set of weights out of your bag and measure out what you're scales said was one pound. But then, if you wanted to sell that product, you would have a different set of weights. When your buyer came, you would use this second set of weights that would give the buyer slightly less than one pound. The result is profit for you at the expense of either the buyer or the supplier (depending on which weight was false). God says His people are to have one set of weights--that is, they are to deal honestly in all business transactions.

Our society today have many types of "dishonest weights"--everything from Enron-style accounting and risky derivatives to questionable tax deductions. The business transactions in which we engage during the week are under God's eye just as much as our worship assemblies on Sunday. He expects us to glorify Him through honesty.

Pay People What You Owe Them

Leviticus 19:13
cf Deut. 24:14-15

In a list of ordinances for how the Israelites should live, God includes this instruction: "Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight." Later, God refers to such behavior as taking "advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy." It didn't matter whether the hired man in this case was a fellow Israelite or a foreigner--God's people were not to withhold the wages that were due to the worker. This falls under the idea of being a good supervisor and treating workers fairly. I think an appropriate application might be to pay workers a fair wage. Thinking more broadly, this could also refer to giving credit or praise to those who are due them in a timely manner.

Using Our God-Given Talents

Exodus 35:10 ff

There's something else that's remarkable about the description in Exodus as God gives instructions regarding how the Israelites are to build his Tabernacle. Not only did God give talents to the people to do the work well, they used those talents for His glory. Exodus 36:2 describes the people as eager to get to work. Exodus 35:25 says that the women who were gifted seamstresses were sewing for the project. As I think about Christianity in the workplace, what I think about is using our God-given talents for his glory. Whatever your talent is, how can you use it in such a way as to glorify Him? And I don't think that has to mean only in a church or on Sundays. Those are included, of course, but I think we can be glorifying God with our talents in a variety of contexts (which of course is the point of this blog).

God-Given Talents

Exodus 28:3
cf Ex. 31:1-11; 35:30-35; 36:1ff

As you look at the people around you, you probably see a lot of different skills. As I write this, the NBA finals were not that long ago, and the World Cup just ended. Those athletes have incredible skills to get to the top of their respective sports. I listened to a fantastic speaker today, someone who seemed gifted in speaking in front of a large group. Yesterday, I listened to the radio and heard several remarkable singers, accompanied by elite players of various instruments. You may not fall into any of those categories, but we all have special talents, special gifts from God. That's important to recognize--our talents are given to us by God. In Exodus 28, God is directing Moses regarding priestly clothes. He describes that He has given the skilled artists a "spirit of wisdom." In chapter 31, God describes more explicitly that He has "filled [Bezalel] with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts."

So two lessons here. First, God has given you your talents. Don't fail to acknowledge him. As you accomplish great things in your workplace, never fail to recognize that those accomplishments are from God, wholly and completely from Him. Your victories are really His victories. Second, there will always be those who are talented differently than we are. Our temptation may be to look at them with envy, but doing that is basically criticizing God's choice of talents for our lives.

Treating Employees Fairly

Exodus 21:2-6

As God is laying out the law for the Israelites, one of the things He commands is that His people are supposed to treat slaves fairly. Slaves were to be set free after 7 years. If they were married when they entered service, they were to leave with their family. The exact requirements don't translate into our society, but I think the application is that, if you supervisor others, treat them fairly. Perhaps the opportunity for freedom might be analogous to the opportunity for subordinates' advancement. At any rate, I think the idea of treating subordinates fairly is certainly an important take-away, even if the specifics are different.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Exodus 18:13-27
cf: Numbers 11:16-30

Sometimes, I want things done my way. I admit it, I'm a control freak at times. The danger that I have to watch out for is that of becoming a micromanager. You know those people--the ones that have to do everything themselves. Or even worse, the ones that ask/tell you to do something but then describe exactly how you are to do it. Sometimes, supervisors are micromanagers because they feel like they are the only ones competent to do what needs to be done. Other times, supervisors are micromanagers because they don't know any other way. I think that was the case for Moses as he led the Israelites out of Egypt. In Exodus 18, Moses and the Israelites meet up with Jethro and the rest of Moses' family. Jethro is excited about all that God has done for His people. But as he watches Moses lead the people, Jethro is less than thrilled with Moses' leadership style. Beginning in verse 14, Jethro says, "Why do you alone sit as judge...what you are doing is not good." Jethro encourages Moses to delegate smaller matter to a hierarchy of sub-judges and only take the critical issues on himself. As you are supervising others, consider such a model. Train people in what they need to know, and then delegate authority to them. It will decrease your own workload. Additionally, research tends to indicate that it will make your organization better as well.

Moses learned the lesson well. Numbers 11:16 describes Moses delegating to 70 elders.


Exodus 16:5, 22-30
cf: Ex. 20:8-11, 23:12, 31:12-17, 34:21, 35:2-3; Lev. 19:3, 19:30, 23:3; Deut. 5:12-15

In the Ten Commandments, God includes a time to stop working for worship. There are something like 600 commands in the first five books of the Bible, but the Sabbath made the "Top Ten." I have already posted about the idea that God might have created us with a need for rest. Some of us take a 5-day work week for granted, but the idea of a day of not working was very counter cultural at the time. It probably made Israel stand out, given that most other nations would work every day. But notice that the Sabbath was not just a day off. There was nothing in the command about going to the lake or getting caught up on yard work. This was to be a time of worship (a "Sabbath to the Lord," 20:10).

So in Exodus 16, God is providing manna and quail for the Israelites in the desert. He tells them that He will provide for them in such a way that they can have a time of rest. And He tells them that they will have to trust him. Every other day, if they gather too much food, it spoils. But they have to trust on the 6th day that it won't spoil because they have to gather two days' worth then.

So what is the application for us today? That is a matter of some debate. There are those in church circles who say that Christians take a Sabbath and not work once a week. On the far opposite end, there are some who say that, because "keep the Sabbath holy" was never repeated in the New Testament, Christians can ignore that commandment. I don't have the answer for that debate, but I welcome comments.

But perhaps there's a bigger picture. Perhaps, a better way to look at this concerns how we use our time (whether we are working or not). There is considerable evidence that taking time off can be beneficial, mentally and physically. That is, your body was never designed to work every waking hour. Perhaps Sabbath was instituted with that in mind. One preacher told me that he was amazed that people could get excited about extra innings in a three hour baseball game or overtime at the end of a three to four hour football game, but if the sermon went five minutes over, everyone was squirming in their seats. Perhaps the call from Sabbath passages is to set aside large portions of time for worship and then rigorously protect that time.

As I blogged earlier, I believe that part of Sabbath is that work time is finite. Even those who are not on 8-5 schedules or shift work need to recognize the finiteness of work in order to allow time for the infiniteness of worship.

Ruthless Supervisors

Exodus 1:11, 13-14

The beginning of Exodus describes the Egyptians as "ruthless in imposing tasks." The implication is that this behavior was evil. I think this has a carryover into work today. Supervision is part of business. But how you supervise is important. Are you "ruthless in imposing tasks" on your employees? Are your promotion policies set up in such as way as to be "ruthless in imposing tasks?" This doesn't mean that you shouldn't hold employees to a high standard. However, I believe that this does mean that supervisors have a responsibility to consider the needs of their employees as they delegate tasks and measure performance.

Success Isn't a Bad Thing

Genesis 47: 14, 20

Joseph made Pharaoh a lot of money. Verse 14 says that Joseph collected all of the money in the lands of Canaan and Egypt. Later, he collected all of the livestock. In verse 20, he gets all of the land except that belonging to priests. That's a lot of wealth that Joseph brings to Pharaoh. I wrote a few posts ago that trusting God doesn't necessarily bring success, and that's true. But, success is not a bad thing when God does grant it. Joseph is fair in this wealth accumulation, giving the people a fair price for the food he sells. I thought it important to point out that success is not inherently bad.

Revenge is a Dish Best Served...Never

Genesis 45

Later in Joseph's work in Egypt, he has the opportunity that some people only dream of. Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, holds the power of life and death over the very ones who mistreated him. How many times have you wished to be in a position to get back at those who made life harder for you? Perhaps someone takes credit for your work, backstabs you in front of the boss, or gets the promotion that should have been yours. Just let them wait till you're the one with the power, right? That's exactly where Joseph was, but his response to that power was completely counter to what we might expect in a dog-eat-dog world. He refused to take revenge in his business dealings (or personal dealings with them). That's described in chapter 45 and then again in chapter 50 (where his brothers assumed that he'd waited for revenge until after their father had died).

This is not exactly a work-related lesson, but I think the application for work is clear. There's a fair amount of research on revenge and retaliation in the workplace. Looking at Joseph, we see someone modeling God's grace. Instead of revenge, Joseph ensures that his family is treated like royalty.

How to Get Promoted at Work

Genesis 39

In many ways, Joseph provides a great example of a model employee. In his youth, he may have had some trouble with humility (Gen. 37:8, his brothers interpreted his dream descriptions as bragging). But after being sold into slavery, he worked his way up in Potiphar's house, so that 39:4 says, "Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned." We don't know the hierarchy of Potiphar's slaves, but it's safe to say that this responsibility was quite a promotion.

After being falsely accused and convicted, Joseph is thrown in jail. Yet again, 39:22 says, "the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there." Again, a lot of responsibility for a slave-turned-inmate.

How did Joseph attain these promotions? Two things stand out. First, the chapter says several times "God was with Joseph." These promotions and responsibilities came from God. Second, Joseph was obedient and honest, even when that honesty was not convenient. As we think about promotions and accomplishments in our own jobs, there are several lessons for us. First, remember that achievements come from God, not on our own. Potiphar, the warden, and later Pharaoh trusted Joseph because they saw that God was with him.

Second, just because God was with him didn't mean that everything was smooth sailing. Remember his Egyptian employment started because his own brothers sold him into slavery. Remember that his reward for ethical behavior in Potiphar's house was prison. Remember that he helped out the cup bearer but was forgotten. Contrary to a prosperity gospel, just because you are a Christian and do the right things doesn't mean that everything works out perfectly every time. At least once for Joseph, doing the right thing hurt him.

Joseph trusted God. God gave him accomplishments and recognitions but allowed hardships at other times. But Joseph still trusted God.

Cheaters Never Prosper?

Genesis 30:27 ff

The context is in Genesis 29 as Jacob agrees to work seven years for Laban in exchange for his daughter, Rachel. Laban deals dishonestly with Jacob and gives him Leah instead. So Jacob marries Rachel also in exchange for an additional seven years of work. Interesting wages to say the least. But Laban, recognizing a good thing when he sees it, doesn't want Jacob to leave. That's the first thing to take away--are you a worker that people don't want to see leave, or are you a worker that people can't wait to get rid of? If you have never asked yourself that question, take a minute to do so right now. When you leave where you are currently working, will people be sorry to see you go?

The next part is not particularly easy to interpret. Jacob agrees. As his wages, he wants all of the sheep that have spots or stripes. Laban agrees for two reasons. First, the solid white sheep are better. Second, he plans to hide those that already have spots anyway. Once again, he tries to cheat Jacob.

But where it gets difficult is that Jacob is not exactly on the up and up either. Jacob messes with the watering hole, trying to get the healthiest sheep to breed in such a way as to have lambs with stripes and spots. Geneticists will tell you his trick was worthless--it was God that actually blessed Jacob. But let's take Jacob's intentions at face value. Just as Laban was cheating Jacob, Jacob was trying to manipulate the situation against Laban. What I find interesting is that God blesses Jacob in spite of his scheming. Why does God bless Jacob over Laban when both were cheating? The answer may lie in Jacob being of Abraham's line or of God being God and choosing who He wants to bless. I don't think it's a justification for cheating, but I do think it is an intriguing case.

Just to emphasize that it's not an excuse to cheat, Jacob's plan backfires in a sense at the beginning of chapter 31. Laban's sons are none too happy with Jacob stealing their father's wealth. As Laban tracks Jacob down, there seems to be the hint of anger until God warns Laban about crossing with Jacob.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Fair Price

Genesis 23

In Genesis 23, Abraham negotiates for a field in which he can bury Sarah, and we can see several important principles for business transactions here. First, the transaction was public and therefore, transparent. Abraham wasn't trying to hide anything from the Hittites or from the person who owned the field. Second, Abraham offered a fair price. He wasn't trying to cheat or swindle the other party. Third, he didn't want to be indebted to another person. He wanted to buy the property rather than receive it as a gift, presumably because he did not want to owe anything to Ephron (the seller). Consider your business transactions. Are they transparent? Would you be ashamed if they were? Are they fair? Do any of your transactions put you in debt to another? I don't think this passage is saying that Abraham's way of doing business is the only way to conduct yourself. Perhaps it's better to think of these as best practices of sorts.