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.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sinful Nature and Fruit of the Spirit in the Workplace

Galatians 5:19-26

Galatians 5:19-21 is a long list of "acts of the sinful nature," those things that come naturally to a lot of people. A number of those things seem particularly common in workplaces--hatred, discord, jealousy, selfish ambitions, envy. I have certainly known people that hated their boss or coworkers and that spread discord as a response to that hatred. I think our selfish ambitions may prompt jealousy or envy as others enjoy success.

But Paul calls Christians to be different from that. In fact, if Christians are living in step with God's Spirit, a very different list is evident in their lives--love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. What do those look like in the workplace? Maybe it means loving your boss, regardless of whether he or she is deserving of that love. Maybe it means having patience with coworkers. Perhaps God's Spirit living in you at work means that you are kind and gentle with subordinates. What ideas come to your mind as you think about the fruit of God's Spirit in your workplace?

One important thing with these lists--they aren't a list of don't's followed by a list of do's. Both lists are the result of being or not being in step with God's Spirit. I wonder how many times we try to be connected to God's Spirit on Sunday, but then live closer to the sinful nature during the week. Part of being a 24/7 Christian is connecting to God's Spirit constantly, not just once a week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Serve One Another In Love

Galatians 5:13-15

The context of this passage is more about church conflicts than work conflicts, but I think the principle is applicable in both settings. Paul warns the Galatian Christians that "if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." What an apt picture of some workplace conflicts. They may start small, with each person noticing annoyances in the other or with each person afraid that his or her turf is being challenged. That's the biting. Soon, it may move to devouring as each plots and protects, unwilling to surrender anything that might give the other an upper hand or a sense of victory. That's not how God sees conflict. Serve one another in love. Love your neighbor as yourself. How would your behavior at work change if you were trying to serve your coworker in love or trying to love your subordinate as yourself?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Winning Approval

Galatians 1:10

Whose approval do you want? That's the question Paul asks. Are you trying to please other people? Be careful. Paul warns that if you are, you are not a servant of Christ. When you are working, work for God's glory. In your actions, be focused on what pleases Him, not what pleases your supervisor. There are times when what pleases God also pleases your supervisor or coworkers, but always remember that your real boss is God.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Do Not Love the World

1 John 2: 15-17

I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be the best at what you do. Colossians 3:23 says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." One thing I take from that passage is that I need to be striving for excellence at work. However, there's a difference between striving for excellence because I'm working for the Lord and blind ambition. I'll be honest, sometimes I'm not sure where that line is in my own work. When is it ok to want to be the best at what I do? But one thing I'm sure about--there is a point at which striving to be the best crosses over into worldy ambition. A big part of the difference might be motivation--are you working for recognition from others, for prestige and pride? Again, this is something that, for me (and many others, I'm sure), is a struggle. As you work hard at your job, is there envy or selfishness? I've already blogged about how those are
markers of worldly ambition. Are your plans and accomplishments in line with God's plan as far as you can tell? 1 John 2 illustrates just one of the reasons why worldly ambition is dangerous--this world and everything in it is temporary. If you are striving for the prestige of the world and for the accomplishments that the world honors, you are working for something that passes away all too quickly. So as you are working hard, ask yourself what the prize is. Why are you working so hard? And then ask, is that the right prize?

One of my favorite examples of Godly ambition is Joseph. Think about the responsibilities he had in Potiphar's house. Think about how hard he probably worked in prison. And then think about how his job duties in both positions probably paled in comparison to his tasks and second-in-command for all of Egypt. Yet as he worked, you never get the sense that he's blinded by selfishness or vanity. He gets promoted right and left, but through it all, he seems to work for God's glory.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Love One Another

1 Peter 4:8
cf John 4:7 ff, John 13:34-35, Matthew 22:39, and many others

One of the central themes of the Bible is that we need to love the people around us. Jesus argued that loving our neighbor (by which he meant everyone we are in contact with) was one of the greatest commandments, and that all of the Old Testament law and prophets were pointing to loving God and loving other people. Jesus told the Apostles that people would know they followed Him because of their love. John tells us that God is love and that we show our love for God by loving others. Peter tells us to love each other deeply.

So the question stands, how do you love your coworker? How do you love your boss? How do you love those people that report to you? It's a bigger question than one post for sure, but it's a question that you need to ask yourself.

When your coworker is annoying or even backstabbing you, how do you love him/her? When your boss ignores your accomplishments but picks on you for every little mistake, how do you love him/her? When your subordinates need more direction than you think they should or aren't performing up to your standards, how do you love them? If your tendency is to think that there's a quick answer, you should probably wrestle with the question more. First, start by praying for those people. I've already mentioned praying for your supervisor. But also, pray for those coworkers who must annoy or frustrate you. Pray for yourself as you relate to others.

But that's just the first step. In later posts, I'll revisit the question, but even as we examine other passages and practical ways to love others in the workplace, this is something that all of us need to spend some time with. How can you show Christ's love to the people around you?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Catching Up With Where We've Been

I started this blog over the summer and haven't really promoted it because I wanted a chance to start developing content and ideas before I shared those ideas. However, I'm starting to mention it to more and more people, so I wanted to revisit some of the reasons for writing. I think all too often, we think of our "Christian" identity and our "work" identity as separate. This blog is an attempt to bring together all that the Bible says regarding work in one place. To that end, I am reading through the Bible and blogging about passages that seem particularly applicable to workplaces (although I'm not necessarily going through the Bible in order). These passages seem to be generally one of three types: a) Scriptures that explicitly mention work and business transactions such as Leviticus 19:35-36, b) Scriptures that discuss relationships between masters and slaves such as 1 Timothy 6:1-2, and c) Scriptures that deal generally with Christian living but seem very relavant to workplaces. I admit that some may question the connection between master-slave and work supervisor-employee, but I find most of the admonitions to masters and slaves to be very consistent with what I would expect Paul to say to employers and workers. I also admit that some my question or add to the passages that I reference under "general living," and I certainly welcome those conversations as they relate to workplaces. More than anything, I hope this blog will start dialogues, between you and me, between you and others, and between all of us and God regarding how we can be more Christ-like at work.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Philemon and Onesimus

Philemon 8-21

I've written several times recently about the importance of submitting to authority at work. I don't want to be one dimensional, and there are certainly other important points as well. So this will be my last post on the subject for a while. Philemon provides an opportunity to review some ideas about relating to supervisors as well as nuance those ideas a little more.

The book of Philemon is an interesting letter that addresses the issue of how a Christian slaveowner should treat a Christian slave, particularly when that slave has wronged his owner according to the laws of the day. By law, Onesimus could be killed or tortured for escaping (and possibly stealing from Philemon, see v. 18). But as an escapee, Onesimus had become a Christian. Paul appeals to Philemon that he not treat Onesimus harshly but "as a very dear brother."

I see two very important applications here regarding how supervisors and subordinates should treat each other. First, Paul tells Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to accept him back as a brother. We don't know for certain whether Paul is arguing for his emancipation, but at the very least, Paul is suggesting that Philemon not punish Onesimus for running away. He is advocating for forgiveness. The application to supervisors is that, when employees have messed up in some ways, forgive them. Even when those mistakes cost you money, use mercy as you deal with your subordinates. Especially when those subordinates are Christians. If you cannot treat Christians with love and mercy, how can you model Christ to others? This doesn't mean getting rid of performance standards, but it does mean recognizing the humanity in others and recognizing that we all need forgiveness from time to time.

Second, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. That's important to note. You can probably imagine the conversation between Paul and Onesimus as they were discussing this. "You want me to go WHERE?? But you know what he's going to do when he sees me!" Nevertheless, Paul knew that Onesimus had to come clean. I see this as indicating that subordinates need to fulfill their obligations, even those obligations that aren't pleasant. If you accept the connection between slave masters and supervisors, Paul talked in other letters about
respecting your boss and being subject to your supervisors. Onesimus returned to Philemon before he knew what his fate would be, and we need to fulfill our duties at work, regardless of how our supervisor treats us. Remember, Peter says to obey your supervisor, regardless of whether he or she deserves that respect (Peter says to obey harsh supervisors as well as considerate supervisors). Don't miss the fact that Paul promises to restore everything to Philemon. Paul says, "if he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me...I will pay it back." Don't think that being a Christian with a Christian supervisor allows you to slack off on doing what you are supposed to do. If anything, work harder so that others can see Christ in how you treat your boss. Work so that, as the Hebrew writer says, you are not a burden to your supervisor.

Two powerful lessons in this short little book. These aren't the only places the Bible talks about masters and slaves, or if you will, supervisors and employees. But this letter presents a fascinating look into supervisor-subordinate relationships, especially between Christians.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Be Ready to Give An Answer for Your Faith

1 Peter 3:15-16

This is a tough one to talk about. When I started this blog, I started with the idea that Christianity in the workplace had to be about more than just proselytizing. I think when many people think about any religion in the workplace, negative stereotypes of "Bible-bangers" come to mind, people who distract from the process of "work" in order to convince coworkers to become Christians. And I think Christianity in the workplace is much more than that.

However, it has to include that as well. 1 Peter 3 says to be ready to give an answer for your faith. The Greek word there includes the same connotations that accompany a company's defense in the face of a PR attack. You are giving a defense of why you believe what you believe. I don't think that means cramming it down coworkers' throats. But it does mean that, if someone asks you what you believe, you are ready to share. I remember talking with a coworker from another faith one time. He shared a great deal about his religion, and then asked what Christians believe about a particular subject. I knew what I'd been taught. I knew what I thought the Bible said about that subject. But I admit that I really stammered when it came to explaining it. I took a very politically correct stand rather than explaining what I believed. And that coworker, a new convert to a non-Christian faith, continued to mover further away from Christ. We never know when those opportunities will come, so Peter tells us to be always ready.

But there's another aspect to this idea of a defense of our faith. Peter explains that this should never be a shouting match. Our answers should be filled with "gentleness and respect." Very rarely will shouting persuade anyone. As you talk with others, even when they are not respectful, respond with tact.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


1 Peter 3:8-9, 13

This passage is referring primarily to husbands and wives. Live in harmony with each other. Who will harm you for doing good? However, I think both thoughts can be applied to workplaces. As much as you can, live in harmony with others. Why? Because you're less likely to have others wanting to harm you. That doesn't mean that coworkers, supervisors, or subordinates may not occasionally resent you for something. But if you are seeking harmony with others, your time at work will be much more peaceful than if you are consistently involved in conflict. When someone crosses you and you're tempted to pursue the conflict, consider, "is this really something I need to do." It may be. But take a moment to think about the costs of disharmony before you act.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

At least for the American readers of this blog, today is Labor Day, the day when we have a holiday to remember "the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country" according to the US Department of Labor. As I was thinking about today, I thought it would be a good time to reconsider the importance of working. The Bible has strict warnings against idleness and laziness. This doesn't apply to those who cannot work because of a disability or who have lost a job and haven't been able to get a new one. But if you can work, the Bible is pretty explicit that you should work.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Submit to Others at Work

1 Peter 2:13-20

This is a tough passage, no doubt about it. "Submit ... to every authority instituted among humanity" (emphasis mine). Think about that in terms of workplaces. God is calling you to submit to your supervisors. Now I know what some of you may be thinking. "But my boss doesn't deserve to be the boss in the first place." Look at verse 18: "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." If you consider the master-slave relationship to be analogous to the employer-employee relationship of our society, then the application is very clear. It doesn't matter whether or not they deserve your respect and obedience. Unless they ask you to do something that is illegal, unethical, and/or immoral, you need to obey. Look at verse 20: "how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?" In other words, if you disobey your supervisor and get punished (demotion, reprimand, fired), you deserve what you got. This doesn't mean that you can't
disagree with your supervisor. But at the end of the day, if your dissenting voice isn't heard and accepted, you need to do things your supervisor's way. And hard as it may be, you need to pray for him or her.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obey Your Leaders

Hebrews 13:17

This passage is referring to church members respecting the authority of church leaders, but based on
other passages, I think the same principle could be applied to respecting the authority of workplace bosses as well. Work for your supervisors in such a way that "their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." Think about that. What good is it to you to not obey your supervisor? Now I'm not talking about those times when your supervisor asks you to do something illegal, unethical, or immoral. Acts 5:29 says "we must obey God rather than men." But when your supervisor asks you to do something that is not inherently wrong, you should do it. It doesn't help you if your supervisor feels "burdened" because you're not doing what he or she wants. In fact, it may hurt you in the long run (and possibly in the short run). God wants you to be a peace with people at work, and one easy way to do that is by obeying your supervisor.