Workplace

Well, the topic today is: the workplace. So I've done some market research. I phoned around a cross-section of our congregation and asked this question: 'As a Christian, what issues does your workplace raise?' One said: 'It's the culture of the place - it's almost impossible to be consistently Christian.' Another said, 'It's translating Sunday's good intentions into the hard reality of Monday morning.' Another said, 'Well, I've actually been off work today, so it's been a nice one.' One said he loved his work. Another said he hated it. Answers that I guess find an echo in many of us. This time last year I did a sermon called 'Work' - it was an overview of what the whole Bible says about work Work - Sunday morning, 27 July 1997 (Ian Garrett). Today, we're narrowing right down to the single issue of being a Christian in the workplace. The paid workplace; and the unpaid workplace of studying, or training or home-making. I realise that by a long way, not everyone here is in the paid workplace, and I realise that some would like to be, but can't find an opportunity right now. But we're going to stick to this single issue of being a Christian in the workplace. So let me ask you that same question and give you a minute to answer it to yourself. As a Christian, what issues does your workplace (or do your workplaces) raise? The two issues that came up came up in my market research were these. The relationships in the workplace. And the culture of the workplace. In other words: who we work with; and the values they live by. And those are exactly the issues that God's word addresses. Let's pick it up at Colossians 3.16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Verse 16 is about Christians stepping out of their daily world to meet together around God's word, which is what we're doing now. But notice how verse 17 follows on:

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

And 'whatever you do' means exactly that. Being a wife or husband (verses 18-19), being a child or parent (verses 20-21), or being an employee or an employer (verses 22 onwards) - whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. In other words, whatever you do, remember he's with you, remember he's your Lord; live your life consciously in his presence, to please him. Worship is the response of our whole lives to the Lord Jesus. And, verse 16, part of that response in singing and prayer, happens here. But the bulk of our worship happens elsewhere - when we go back into the daily world of marriage and family and work. And verses 22 onwards cover two things about being a Christian in the workplace: first, THE DIFFERENCE JESUS CAN MAKE TO US IN THE WORKPLACE and secondly, THE DIFFERENCE JESUS CAN MAKE THROUGH US IN THE WORKPLACE. So firstly, THE DIFFERENCE JESUS CAN MAKE TO US IN THE WORKPLACE (3.22-4.1) And the real difference is this: who we're working for. Verse 22:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, and do it not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do [picking up on the thought of verse 17 and applying it to the workplace], work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

Well, applying it to today, for 'slaves', read 'employees', or 'students' or 'trainees'. Or even 'home-maker', although there's not a literal Master breathing down your neck, there. (I hope!) And for 'Master' read, company, department, manager, boss, supervisor, teacher, whatever it is for you. Unless of course you are the Master, in which case wait for 4.1. In practice, many of us are both slaves and masters: we relate both 'upwards' and 'downwards'. And here's the first of those two issues my market research picked out: the relationships in the workplace. Just imagine this. You have a boss or a head or whatever it is for you. And he's a great man-manager. He treats you with respect and courtesy; he's interested in your progress, he's appreciative of your work. And as for the company, or school, or whatever it is: it's well-run and staff contentment is high. And consequently you're a highly motivated worker. Well that's stretched your imagination to breaking point. Because almost always, it's not like that. Not remotely. More likely, we find ourselves poorly managed, unappreciated, often criticised but seldom thanked, often put-upon but seldom helped, often told but seldom heard. It's more usual to work for an organisation where there's disorganisation, discontentment, and disrespect for the people in charge. And that's a recipe for low motivation. For getting away with as little as possible; for saying, 'They're not going to get a penny's work more out of me than they deserve'; even for doing wrong and excusing - even justifying - ourselves because the set-up's so bad anyway - whether it's under-working hours or over-claiming expenses. It's very hard to work well for a bad Master. So be thankful that if you're a Christian, you don't. Verse 23 - the key verse:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. [And end of verse 24] It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

So, who does the Christian teacher work for? The head? No. Who does the Christian lawyer work for? The firm? No. Who does the Christian home-maker work for? The family? Not in the first place, no. Verse 23: we're working 'for the Lord, not for men.' Verse 24: 'It is the Lord Christ you are serving.' Not the Lord Proctor & Gamble, or the Lord NHS or the Lord A-level or degree, or even the Lord Vicar. We obviously do have 'earthly masters' and obligations. But verse 23 is the key to being a Christian in the workplace: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Jesus can make all the difference to us in our workplace if we're saying to ourselves, 'I work for the Lord Jesus.' That won't change the manager who treats you like a doormat; or the unappreciative teenage offspring who treats you as a launderette cum cashpoint cum taxi service; or the teacher or course that's a let-down. But it'll change us. 'I work for the Lord Jesus.' That attitude will change us in the area of integrity. It's very easy to be two-faced towards our Masters. We put on a superficial burst of enthusiasm or helpfulness when they're around, and then slack to half pace when they're not. But Paul says to two-facedness, then and now, verse 22:

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

'I work for the Lord Jesus.' That attitude will also change us in the area of contentment. In Paul's day, the son of a household would inherit the family business with all the profits. The slaves of a household were paid nothing, and inherited nothing. They spent themselves making someone else rich; being a small cog in someone else's big machine. And understandably, they felt discontented. And we too can feel discontented. In the paid workplace because we think they pay little and take lots. Or because they pay lots but take almost the whole pound of flesh - time, energy, life - we have. In home-making because it's not only unpaid but often unappreciated, even unnoticed. And Paul says to discontentment, then and now, verse 23-24:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since, you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

In other words, think of heaven to come. Think of your inheritance in eternity. Our work in this fallen world may well be unrewarding. If I've understood the book of Ecclesiastes, that is the rule, not the exception. But heaven isn't that far over the horizon for any of us who are Christians. And in eternity, all our discontentment will melt away. 'I work for the Lord Jesus.' That's the attitude that can make all the difference to us in our workplace. It doesn't change the workplace. It changes us in the workplace. So that even in the hard workplace, the Christian can say, 'I work for Jesus. I live for Jesus, even here.' Whereas the non-Christian is often saying, 'I work for the money. And I live for the weekend.' But what kind of a way to live is that? A couple of 'buts' before we move on. 49. 'But what if my Master wants me to do something that's morally wrong? Verse 22 ('Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything') is all very well until the company wants me to lie for them.' Or whatever the ethical issue is for you. Well, we work under earthly masters (verse 22) but ultimately for our heavenly one (4.1). And verse 17, if I can't do whatever it is 'in the name of the Lord Jesus' - ie, in his presence and to please him - then I shouldn't do it. And I may have to say something. I may have to refuse something. I may have to distance myself from a policy or a decision. I may have to forfeit promotion. I may have to resign. A Christian friend, James, worked for a while in a London merchant bank. He told me how addictive the money and the lifestyle it bought was to those around him. And how one of his seniors had said, 'James, I don't think I could resign now even if I knew I ought to.' Well, God help us. Because we're not above that, are we? And let's remember that Scripture is full of examples of people of God (eg Joseph, Daniel) who took stands and were either protected where they took the stand, or looked after when it lost them their current position. I think often we know what we ought to do; what we need is to pray for courage and faith in the Lord who works all outcomes for our good. Here's the other 'but'. 'But what if my Master wants me to do more and more and more?' Does verse 22 mean I give more and more and more? Well, verse 18 onwards shows that the Lord means us to have a balance of commitments in life. And the order here is significant, working out from husband or wife to children, to work. Those are the Bible's circles of priority commitments in life. And if our Masters make demands that threaten those priorities, then godliness calls us to try to resist those demands. I think of a very able teacher and mother I know who recently turned down a headship of department because she knew children and church would suffer. And where we have room for maneouvre like that we should use it. And those of us who still have career choices to make: think hard. Don't just think of the job or the financial rewards. Think: how much time and energy will this job leave me for the ministries of marriage, of family, of evangelism and church? Onto 4.1:

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

That's a word for any of us who have people working under us, who delegate to others, who teach, who train, who manage. We've seen the temptations for slaves - to be two-faced and discontented. What are the temptations for Masters? Well, that you don't care for those under you as people. Although you were once where they now are, the temptation is to mistreat them exactly as you were mistreated when you were there. The temptation is to regard those under you as mere workhorses, delegation targets whose sole purpose in life is to get work off your desk. Never mind whether their load is reasonable or equitably spread; never mind their working conditions. They're there to serve you and your plans. You're the important person around here, now. Has Satan whispered that in your ear recently? But look at 4.1. Jesus is the important person round here, in fact round everywhere. 'Masters you also have a Master in heaven.' It doesn't matter whether you're the managing director, the senior partner, the professor or what. You're not a law unto yourself. You're not unaccountable up there at the top. You're not free to be inconsiderate or inconsistent or arbitrary. 'Masters you too have a Master in heaven.' And therefore you are to provide your slaves with what is right and fair. Well, that's the first thing: the difference Jesus can make to us in our workplace. Then secondly, and briefly,THE DIFFERENCE JESUS CAN MAKE THROUGH US IN THE WORKPLACE. The first issue my market research picked out was: the relationships in the workplace. The second was the culture of the workplace. Apart from one, all my interviewees spoke of the crude humour, the innuendo, the gossip, the back-biting, and the issues of alcohol and sex which transfer pretty much unchanged from the student bar to the office social. In a sense, that's nothing specific to the workplace. That's the world around us, by and large. But the place where most of us meet it for the longest, most undiluted time, is the workplace. And the culture can get to you as a Christian, especially if you're the only one. 'It seems almost impossible to be consistently Christian,' said one of us. But God's aim for us is something more than mere survival. Our time in the workplace is opportunity for the salvation of others. So we're not just to say, 'I work for the Lord Jesus.' But, 'I work for the Lord Jesus, with a view to the salvation of others.' 4.5: Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. But how do we do that? In fact, how do we do any of what this passage has already said to us - doing it all in the name of the Lord Jesus? How can we be so conscious of him when we're at work that we begin to live like this? Well, 4.2:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

It's prayer that keeps us conscious of the Lord and stops us going hours or a day or days as practical atheists. I think it was John Calvin who once said, 'I seldom pray for long, but I seldom go long without praying.' And I guess verse 2 asks us the question: do we pray about the working day ahead? About the people we'll deal with? About the temptations we'll face? And above all for the Lord to open up opportunities to say something for him? (see 4.3-4) And I guess it asks us: do we pray during the working day? Some Christians get together with another Christian in their workplace and pray in the lunch-hour. One friend who works down on the quay-side told me he escapes to the cathedral for his lunch-hour, to pray before he goes back into what he finds a very corrosive working atmosphere. It helps him recover his identity again: 'I'm a Christian. I work for the Lord Jesus.' We need to think about this. If we're going to live and speak for the Lord, we've got to stay conscious of him throughout the day. And that consciousness of his presence and his help will only come through praying - before and during the working day. Time's up. Just two things from verse 6: our conversation is to be distinctive in two ways. What we say is to be 'always full of grace'. In other words, distinctly loving. Grace is the treatment we've received from the Lord: kindness and forgiveness when we deserve condemnation. And the way we talk is to give that sort of treatment to others. And in an atmosphere of criticism or back-biting or verbal warfare, that is powerfully distinctive. Saying the kind thing or the peace-making thing or the forgiving thing makes people ask themselves questions. And the other thing: what we say is to be always seasoned with salt. In other words, distinctively godly. Salt is the image Jesus used for godliness that stands out against the moral decay around (Matthew 5.13). So, for example, one teacher mentioned how a publisher had sent her school an extra book with some sample copies they'd ordered. And while her colleagues were happy just to keep it, she said she thought they ought to contact the publisher and ask. And that's salty. That rubs truthfulness into the wound of a culture whose values are decaying. And that, too, is powerfully distinctive, and it makes people ask themselves questions. And God-willing, they may one day ask us and give us - end of verse 6 - the chance to answer: to say we're like that because we live and work for the Lord Jesus. Well, that's the workplace according to Colossians: The difference Jesus can make to us in the workplace: 'I work for the Lord Jesus.' And, The difference Jesus can make through us in the workplace. 'I work for the Lord Jesus, with a view to the salvation of others.' Let me read 3.17 again before we head off for the bulk of this week's worship:

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

Back to top