Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Christian at Work

In this lesson, we move from the arena of the Christian's general life to the way in which the Bible instructs us to deal with society.  How ought the Christian to live before the world?  This will broaden into a large number of arenas in which the Bible commands us to live rightly.  However, for these first two lessons, we will follow a trajectory that have directed our thoughts in the previous two lessons.

We have been following the direction of Paul's mind in the second half of his letter to the Ephesians.  We have tracked his instructions through marriage and then the family.  Now we will follow him in discussing the relationship between employer and employee.  How the Christian views his work and how God directs in the choice of occupation, we have already examined in a previous lesson.  In this part, we will consider how the Christian ought to conduct himself at work.  Where previously, we thought about a theology of work, here we go to work.

Paul follows the same procedure in each arena.  He begins with the party to submit/obey and then instructs the leader.  He follows this order with regard to work as well.
"Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." (Ephesians 6:5-8)
Here, the historic master/servant model has its closest analog to the boss/worker relationship.  Though not a perfect comparison, the example is close enough for these instructions to be applied consistently and accurately.

Paul begins with a familiar instruction that we have seen before.  He reminds servants that the general rule of submission to superiors applies to their bosses as well.  Here, Paul again uses the idea of obedience "as unto Christ."  Christ is our model and foundation for obedience.  As Christ obeyed for us, so ought we to obey.  Our obedience is not for our boss's benefit.  It is our duty, not to our boss, but to Christ.  While the boss is our authority in a physical sense, Christ is our ultimate authority.  For this reason, Paul describes our obedience in such extreme terms. ("with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart" 6:5)  We fear and tremble not at the possibility of punishment from either our boss or Christ, but for the possibility that we would disappoint our Lord and Savior.  Our singleness of heart means that we have no ulterior motive in our obedience, no attempt at duplicity with our obedience.  Instead, we obey to glorify Jesus, to honor our boss, to reveal the excellence of Christ within.

This kind of obedience has a quality that transcends the obedience of other people.  "Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." (6:6)  We obey even when no one is looking.  We work just as hard when the boss is not present.  We are not working ultimately for our employer.  We work for Jesus, who always sees.  We serve Him and His will with a single heart.

Paul also speaks to the mind of our work. "With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men." (6:7)  Working for Jesus means that we serve with a benevolent mind, and good heart.  We do not serve grudgingly.  We do not serve thinking ill of our boss.  We serve seeking the good of all in our company.

Paul finally gives us a promise of reward for obedience. "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." (6:8)  Ultimately, our salary is only part of our compensation for obedience service.  Again, Paul reminds us that our ultimate boss is not our employer, but Christ, that Christ is not only our authority but also the ruler of our employer as well.

One area of obedience that Christians ought to exercise conspicuous attention regards the employer's property.  Theft from one's employer is a constant loss for a business.  This is especially true in retail, where employees resort to theft, but it also occurs in other industries where embezzlement occurs and company property is appropriated for personal use.  Many companies understand the need of employees to conduct personal business at the office and make allowances for this.  Taking advantage of this is not theft.  Theft occurs when a person uses company time or property without the approval of the employer.  Christians ought to have sensitive consciences about this issue, not only for the purpose of obedience to the employer, but for the greater demands of the Eighth Commandment. "Thou shalt not steal." (Ex.20:15)

As with all these commands to obey, our obedience has its limits.  All authority is capable of misuse.  Sin justifies some acceptance of Lord Acton's axiom about power.  "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  We cannot accept the axiom as stated, attributing the corruption to power.  Rather, we acknowledge that men with power remain men and sinners.  They face the temptation to use that power for sin rather than good.

In the context of the workplace, two major areas challenge the Christian with his obedience to God and man.  The first requires an application of the Ninth Commandment. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." (Ex.20:16)  As we have examined elsewhere, the Lord requires His people to follow His example of being people of the truth.  Honesty forms a fundamental part of our identity.  We cannot countenance lying as part of our work.

It will not be a big lie that makes a scoundrel of us.  C.S. Lewis was right when he said the following.
To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”  And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. ("The Inner Ring", Weight of Glory p. 115-116)  
Our employer may ask us to misrepresent a minor thing.  Even the best of bosses may ask us to massage the truth.  It is best to resolve before, the moment of temptation, that we will not compromise our integrity, our identity as those who stand for the truth.

Another area where we face the confrontation between our duty to God and that to our employer is in the observance of the Lord's Day.  "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." (Ex. 20:8-11)  We addressed the topic of the Lord's Day in another place.  Here, we simply remember that this issue must be a matter of conscience to us.  The Lord's Day is special.  It is not like every other day of the week.  It matters to us.  We cannot treat it in a cavalier fashion.  Our employers ought to know how important the Lord's Day is to us.

Speaking of employers, this commandment gives us to opportunity to shift to God's instruction to bosses.  The Christian boss has an obligation to his workers.  As we moved from Ephesians to Exodus, we will move in the opposite direction.  In the Fourth Commandment, the order involves how one conducts his house and workers.  "In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant." (Ex.20:10)  The head of the household is commanded to give the Sabbath day as a day of rest to his employees.  The example of Chik-fil-a proves a prime example of obedience to this commandment.  The world may scoff at this company's practice in this area, but the believer cannot.  It is what the Christian employer ought to do.

For a manager in a company that requires operation on the Lord's Day, the task of obedience is more problematic.  Nevertheless, the believing manager still must ensure to the best of his ability that provision is made for maximizing the observance of the Lord's Day.

Coming back to Ephesians, we find that Paul has some words for Christian employers as well. "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him." (Ephesians 6:9)  The "same things" probably refers to the mindset that Paul has used in instructing the servants.  The master is to see his governance as unto Christ, as following Christ's example.  They are to govern their servants as Christ governs them.

This requires the employer/manager to resist the tendency to govern by threats.  Threatening comes natural to us to change behavior or promote productivity.  There is a place for threatening, but a limited role.  Our example is Jesus.  Christ rules predominantly through love and blessing, so ought the master.  The master rules knowing that he serves the same Lord as his servants.  He is answerable to the same authority as the servant.

Here is the heart of living Christian in an unchristian world.  The rest of the world in the workplace acts according to their own law, serving themselves.  The Christian boss and worker serves Christ.  Only as seeing ourselves as serving God, may we truly live Christian in an unbelieving world.

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