Take This Job and Love It!
Part 4: Living Christianly in the Marketplace
Poor Andy. He’s working in a pretty tough environment!
“It’s a jungle out there!” Have you heard that? When God created the first man, He put him in a garden and told him to tend it. Then Adam sinned, and now we don’t work in a garden; we work in a jungle! How do you live Christianly in the jungle; how do you live and work like a Christian in a fiercely competitive, and often unethical environment?
Today, we’re talking about living Christianly in the marketplace.
This is part four in our series on work, “Take this job and love it.” I’ve been saying that your work matters to God; work is sacred; work is worship. God cares about what you do Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, as much as what you do on Sunday mornings.
ILL: I grew up in church hearing many sermons on the importance of coming to church (Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together…”), but no sermons on work! That reflects the common misconception in churches that God is concerned about the “spiritual” and not about the “secular”.
That isn’t true! We spend much more time at work than at church; and God cares deeply about that time and what we do and how we do it.
We have talked about a Biblical theology of work; we’ve seen that work is worship when we do it wholeheartedly for the Lord. I’ve said that you ought to be able to go to work tomorrow for the same reasons you came to church today: to worship and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have talked about finding your calling. God created you with a unique blend of gifts, abilities, passions and personality; you will be effective and fulfilled when you work in the areas of your motivated abilities, doing what God designed and called you to do. Finding your calling is a process; don’t be discouraged if you’re not there yet!
We have talked about priorities, about the struggle to juggle work, family, self and God.
And next week, we will talk about managing stress. Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Today, we’re going to talk about how to live like Christians on our jobs.
I believe that Christians ought to be the best employers, the best employees, the best people to work for and work with. Today, I want to look at four issues that must be addressed if we are to live distinctively Christian lives in the marketplace. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” Here’s how:
1. The character issue: live with integrity.
The 1987 movie “Wall Street” is about Bud Fox, a young stockbroker (Charlie Sheen) who was willing to do anything to get to the top, including trading on illegal insider information. Michael Douglas plays Gordon Gekko, a ruthless and greedy corporate raider who takes the young broker under his wing and explains (in the most famous line in the movie) that “greed is good.” Fast-forward 23 years to this weekend; the sequel is out: “Wall Street—Money Never Sleeps”. Gordon Gekko is back, this time in 2008 just before the bubble bursts that sends us into the worst economic recession in since the Great Depression.
There is a character crisis in the American workplace. When greed is good, the bottom line becomes god, and ethics go out the window; you do whatever you have to do to show a profit, to make a sale, to claw your way up the corporate ladder. Lie, cheat, steal if you have to do, but do whatever it takes to win.
ILL: It’s a lot like a street fight. When I was growing up, there was a clear pecking order in my school based on fighting ability. You moved up and down the ladder depending on who you beat up, or who beat you up. When you got into a fight, there weren’t any rules; you just did what you had to do to win.
That same ethic, the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, dominates the American workplace. Many of you face difficult ethical decisions on your job every week, decisions relating to hiring practices, pricing, advertising, pollution control, financial management, and the lies individuals feel they are forced to tell. Christians need to live with ethical distinction in these and other areas. To live Christianly in this jungle environment means that you live with personal integrity. The Bible has lots to say about integrity in the workplace. Consider these verses:
Deuteronomy 25:15 16 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.
Proverbs 11:1 The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.
The Lord detests anyone who deals dishonestly; He hates dishonesty. That is pretty plain!
Luke 16:10 Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
Can God trust you? With little or much? We fool ourselves when we limit dishonesty to the big sins: we haven’t cheated on our taxes or our spouses, we haven’t stolen from our company or lied to a prospect. But God is looking at the little stuff too.
ILL: In a 1997 survey, 48% of American workers admitted to taking unethical or illegal actions. USA Today (4/14/97) listed the five most common types of unethical/illegal behavior that workers say they have engaged in because of pressure:
Cut corners on quality control
Covered up incidents
Abused or lied about sick days
Lied to or deceived customers
Put inappropriate pressure on others.
ILL: A couple months ago, I bought an air compressor from Sears. It was on sale online for $89; it was $139 in the store, but they agreed to match the online price. So I paid the $139 with my credit card, and then they had to do a separate transaction and refund $50 on my card. A few days later, before I had even opened the box, Laina found an air compressor for $35, so I took the first one, still unopened, back to Sears. But I had lost my receipts. In their computers, they found the first receipt for #139, so they credited me $139. I explained that I had gotten the compressor for $50 off, and there should be another receipt. They couldn’t find it. “Merry Christmas,” they told me, “you’re $50 richer.” I offered to write a check or give them cash. They couldn’t do it. What would you do? There wasn’t much I could do; I’m $50 richer!
A couple weeks later, I found the receipts. Now what would you do? I took the receipt back and returned the extra $50. Here’s why: my character is worth more than $50! So is yours.
If you can’t be trusted with a little, how can God trust you with much? In a world ruled by expediency and profit, we are to be ruled by God and His truth.
ILL: The great Babe Ruth was once called out on strikes by umpire Babe Pinelli. Ruth protested the called third strike by using a populist argument; he argued from raw numbers to moral weight. “There’s 40,000 people here who know that last one was a ball, tomato head.” Pinelli replied with measured stateliness: “Maybe so, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”
Sometimes we Christians are also pressed by the weight of popular pressure, but we know that in the end, only one opinion counts. Morals aren’t decided by the majority, but by God.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy; sometimes the choices are obvious and clear-cut; other times they are complicated and difficult. One of the things that Dr. Laura Nash discovered as she interviewed Christian CEO’s for her book, Believers in Business, is that most of them had a network of Christian friends in business with whom they prayed regularly. They often helped each other with these difficult decisions. Do you have a network of Christian friends who can pray with you and help you sort out the tough issues? I would encourage you to find several other people in positions similar to yours and form a Life Group for prayer and accountability.
A good rule of thumb is: Never do anything that you wouldn’t be proud to tell your children; never do anything that you wouldn’t want God to see. If it’s questionable, don’t do it.
2 Corinthians 8:21 For we are taking pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.
Paul wrote that about the way he and his friends were handling the offerings of the churches. In other words, when it came to business, he wanted to be clean in God’s eyes, but also in men’s; above board, a straight arrow, beyond reproach. That ought to be our goal; if it’s questionable, don’t do it.
ILL: People are watching what you do. A pastor rode the bus home from work one day. He got on, paid his fare, and fell into his seat, thankful for a quiet moment. He looked at the change the driver had given him, and realized it was too much. At the next stop, he went up to the driver and explained that he had been given too much change. The driver smiled, and said, “I know pastor. I was in church yesterday and heard your sermon on honesty, and I just wanted to see if you live what you preach!”
People are watching you. If you claim to be a Christian, they expect you to live with integrity; they expect you to live with a different set of values. The character issue: live with integrity. Be a straight arrow. Represent Jesus well!
2. The performance issue: do your best.
A second issue that you must address if you hope to live Christianly in the marketplace is the performance issue. You must do your best!
We’ve been saying that work is worship, that our work should be done to serve the Lord.
Colossians 3:23-24 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.
Whatever you do, do your best, because you are doing it for the Lord. Whatever you do. Remember this was written to slaves, who were often required to do the most menial tasks. They were to do them with all their hearts for the Lord. Do your best, because you are doing it for Jesus, whatever you do.
ILL: When I graduated from college, I was involved in a youth ministry that demanded most of my time, but paid nothing. It was very difficult to find a job where I could work a few hours each afternoon. I was praying one day, and an idea popped into my mind. I am convinced God brought it to my mind; I would have never thought of it on my own. I jumped on my bike and rode to Campus Shoe Shop, near my college, where a friend of mine had once worked. I mentioned my friend’s name, and when it got an enthusiastic response, I asked if they had any openings. They looked at each other with astonishment, and then said, “Our help quite yesterday, and we were saying last night that we wished we could find a nice young man from the Bible College.” I was hired on the spot; I put on an apron, and went to work for Vic and Pearl at the Campus Shoe Shop, finishing shoes—that’s a fancy way of saying that I shined shoes. It was perfect: I worked a few hours each afternoon, leaving me free for my morning and evening work with students, and I was still working with soles!
I was determined to work hard and do my best for the Lord and my employer. Vic paid me by the hour. I worked hard to master the skills of shoe repair, and soon became quite proficient and fast. The faster I got, the more he paid me. I worked there for 15 months before I went on staff at a church. In that time, Vic gave me 5 raises; I never asked for one.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. What do you do? I doubt that it is more mundane that polishing shoes! Whatever you do, you can do it for the Lord! It matters to Him. Do your best.
God has always expected the best from us. In Malachi 1:6-14, God takes Israel to task for offering blemished sacrifices. He had always insisted that when you come to worship, you offer your best. But the Israelites were going out to flock, and finding some scrawny, blind, crippled or diseased animal that wouldn’t bring anything at market, and saying, “There, this will do for God.” But the Lord was insulted by these blemished sacrifices. “Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” the Lord asked. He finishes by saying
“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king”, says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”
Too many of us do less than our best at work; we are offering God blemished sacrifices. To live Christianly in the marketplace, you must do your work for the Lord with all your heart; you must do your best!
ILL: Oscar Hammerstein once wrote, “I saw a picture of the Statue of Liberty taken from a helicopter and it showed the top of the statue’s head. I was amazed at the detail there. The sculptor had done a painstaking job with the lady’s coiffure, and yet he must have been pretty sure that the only eyes that would ever see this detail would be the uncritical eyes of sea gulls. He could not have dreamt that any man would ever fly over this head. He was artist enough, however to finish off this part of the statue with as much care as he had devoted to her face and her arms and the torch and everything that people can see as they sail up the bay.
Do your best. Even if no one else ever sees it, we know that God sees and He knows whether we have done our best, or cut corners. Because we do it for His eyes, we do our best.
3. The relational issue: treat others well.
The third issue you must address if you hope to live Christianly in the marketplace is the relational issue. You must treat others well.
Have you ever known an honest, hard-working individual who was difficult or impossible to get along with? Do you have any of those where you work? To live Christianly in the marketplace, you must treat others well. Don’t be a butthead!
One thing that everyone expects from Christians is that they treat others well. After all, they all know the Golden Rule: Matthew 7:12 Do to others what you would have them do to you. They know that is what Jesus taught, and what we believe, so they expect us to treat them well.
So how do you want to be treated?
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Many businesses fail because they don’t know how to treat people. The management doesn’t know how to treat its employees, who in turn don’t know how to treat customers, so no one gets treated well, and no one is happy.
ILL: One wise business consultant tells every company president that he should treat each of his employees the way he wants them to treat the customers.
Christians treat people well. We believe that the great commandment is to love God and love people. Loving people is more important than making a profit. I realize that a business has to make a profit or it will cease to exist. But we cannot make profits our single and highest priority or we will use people rather than love them.
ILL: John Beckett is president of R. W. Beckett Corporation, the largest manufacturer of residential oil burners in the world. He is also a Christian. One of the company’s three guiding values is “profound respect for the individual.” Beckett says,
“I think the important thing is to view people the way God does. I must place a high value on each person and never look down on another. We want our work and work relationships to be dignified, challenging, rewarding and enjoyable. We make the well-being and continuous individual growth of our employees high priorities.”
How does that translate into reality? At R. W. Beckett, because they recognize the importance of bonding in the first weeks of life, new mothers are given 26 weeks of partially paid maternity leave, and then the opportunity to work part time, job share or work at home for up to three years after the birth of their child. The company helps pay for adoptions, and provides paid time off if parents have to travel to pick up adopted children. The company provides education to help employees advance their skills and move up the ladder. If you fail in one area, they re-slot you in another to help you find your niche. How many of you would like to work there?
Treat people well.
Live with integrity, do your best, treat people well…these are all essential to living Christianly in the marketplace.
4. The witness issue: be the good news so you can share the good news!
The final issue is the witness issue; you are God’s representative on your job; Represent Him well!
I have placed this last for a reason. Unless you are living with integrity, doing your best, and treating people well, you won’t have much to say to those you work with about Christ, or you may say it and they won’t hear it. You have got to be the good news so that you can share the good news. Anytime your life contradicts your words, people will believe your life and not your words. That is why Jesus told his disciples in
Acts 1:8 You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
God is more concerned that you be a witness than that you do witnessing. He wants your life to be a walking advertisement of His power and grace. He wants you to be the good news so that you can share the good news. And He knows that we can’t be that on our own power, so He gives us the Holy Spirit, His presence in our lives, so that we can be a witness, be the good news, be that walking advertisement for Jesus Christ.
When you live with integrity, and do your best, and treat others well, you will have lots of opportunity to share the good news of Christ with others. Your life will be the good news, and others will be drawn to you to hear the good news. But people where you work aren’t likely to listen to your words about Christ if you aren’t honest in your business dealings, if you are lazy and slack in your work, if you treat others carelessly or with contempt.
Here is some of the best advice I can give you about the ministry issue: love people till they ask you why!
ILL: When I started working at Vic and Pearl’s, they knew I was a Christian, and a preacher; I’m sure they expected me to preach to them. In fact, they made nervous jokes about it the first few weeks! I laughed along with them, but I didn’t preach; not a word about my faith. But I worked hard, did my best, was honest and treated them well, and after a few weeks, they began to ask me questions about my relationship with Jesus and my ministry. We had many hours of wonderful and candid conversations about the Lord, which they started by asking me questions. Love them till they ask you why!
People are hungry to know about God, to know God. And they aren’t afraid to talk about it if they feel like you’re the genuine article. But people are tired of being conned, and lied to, and they are fed up with inauthentic religious answers. They want the real thing. That is why you have to be the good news before you can share the good news.
Live with integrity: it’s God’s opinion that counts.
Do your best: work is worship, so don’t offer a blemished lamb.
Treat others well: treat them the way you want to be treated.
When you do that, you’ll be good news, and you’ll be able to share the good news!