by Simon Bibby
On Sunday, I believe in God, family, and McDonald’s. And in the office the next day, that order is reversed.
This quote is taken from an interview in the New York Times with Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s very often the operative principle of many Christians working in ‘secular’ workplaces today.
How would the Apostle Paul respond?
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17)
Paul isn’t a dualist. For him, the world isn’t divided into a ‘public’ space where we go to work, do our shopping, and cast our ballots, and a ‘private’ space where we go to church, raise our families, and play sports. Jesus Christ is Lord of the whole creation; every inch of it belongs to him. He cares about what happens in the boardroom just as much as in the bedroom.
Accordingly, Paul sees the whole world as a sphere of service for every Christian. Much like ours, the Greco-Roman society of Paul’s day had a strong tendency to split the world into the sacred and secular. Sacred tasks were those of contemplation and reflection. Secular or profane tasks had to do with physical work (such as farming) and menial household tasks. But Paul’s words in Colossians show that the gospel sweeps away any such distinction: he affirms that all work has significance in God’s sight. We’re called to serve our Master in a way that honours him — whatever the circumstances he’s placed us in.
Some Christians are paid missionaries, pastors, and the like. Others are in ‘non-religious’ roles, like factory-work, banking, child-raising, and so on. Regardless of the context of our work, we’re all called in Christ to work “as for him”. In Colossians and elsewhere, Paul addresses this instruction specifically to slaves, so it’s clear that no work is too menial or insignificant to be beyond the reach of service for Christ.
There are at least three important implications of this perspective. First, we must recognize that what we do in our work is just as significant as how we do it. If we’re serving Christ, then our work should reflect the love of God. When asked how they serve God in their work, many Christians focus on the relational or moral aspects of their day-to-day lives — being honest, caring, and diligent. These are essential virtues that we must cultivate. But rarely will Christians talk about how their work is a kind of love: about how an accountant brings order to creation, how a radiographer does good to their patients, or how a forklift driver is a blessing to the wider community. Paul exhorts us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This includes much of the unbiblical thinking that pervades our workplaces. We need Christians in business, science, and the arts who think Biblically about their professions or trades, and who act in ways that cause life to flourish rather than to disintegrate. This brings benefits to our society, and it also promotes the gospel to those outside the faith.
Second, if we know that we’re working as for the Lord, it’ll reshape how we view success in our careers. We must remember that in all our activities, the most important thing is that we’re in relationship with the Lord of history: he loves us and has given himself up for us (Galatians 2:20). We’re justified by faith in Jesus Christ, not by any success we achieve in the eyes of the world. This gives some perspective to our performance in the workplace. Without question, it’s good when our skills and experience grow and when we’re good at our job: we’ll be all the better at serving others. But we shouldn’t pursue workplace excellence in order to fuel our pride, nor at the expense of other responsibilities God has given us — as friends, children, spouses, parents, citizens, and colleagues, for example. And when we fail, we shouldn’t be crushed or seek to shift the blame. The adulation, envy, or disrespect of co-workers is shortlived; Jesus’, “Well done, good and faithful servant” lasts forever. We need to remind one another of this truth.
And so third, Christians need to help one another be faithful in their paid work, just as in every arena of life. We need to learn to see the significance of our work in the light of the gospel. We’d hope that churches devote some of their formal teaching time to helping Christians join the dots between Jesus and their workplaces. And since it can be difficult to work “as for the Lord” in our highly secularized society, Christians need to find practical ways of encouraging one another to do this. A simple start would be to talk about it: younger believers might speak with older believers in their industry; workers might be interviewed and prayed for in Sunday gatherings.
Anchored in this view of our working lives, we won’t stray into Ray Kroc’s mistake of believing first in work, then family, then God. When we enter the workplace on a Monday, we’ll be marked as people who are different, precisely because God is held front and centre in all that we do. Christians disciplined by this vision will more likely change the world than let the world change them.
Simon Bibby belongs to Midland Providence Church, is married with four kids and a granddaughter, and works as an Industrial Relations consultant.