I’ve been both delighted and challenged by this insightful series, “Faith at Work” by our guest blogger, Tim Lee (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). Let’s welcome Tim as he shares part three of this four-part WholeLifeWorship series. – DL
So far, I shared about how faith can be EXPRESSED at work and how it can ENHANCE our work. This week, I will discuss faith as ETHICS at work (with one final way to think about faith at work to come!)
You may ask, what is ethics? Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is a college course on philosophy or, if you watch Netflix like me, Chidi from The Good Place, who is always wrestling with and often paralyzed by trying to choose the most ethical decision. To boil it down, ethics is how we live and act. As Christians, our ethics are how we act and live out the Gospel, God’s plan of redemption. If I were to reduce it even more to single words, ethics reflect our character, integrity, and conviction.
One example of this comes from the film Jerry Maguire. After seeing first-hand that his talent agency values profits over people and their health, Jerry is overcome with conviction and realizes that something needs to change. His conviction leads him to write and distribute a manifesto to the entire company. While his co-workers applaud his words, the powers-that-be fire him. He then leaves to start his own business where he can treat his clients with the dignity and care they deserve. (“Who’s coming with me?”)
While I certainly do not want anyone who reads this to lose their jobs like Jerry, I do hope that we can reflect on our God-given convictions and if our places of work and the work we do align closely toward our godly ethics.
The truth of the matter is this: We are called to live with character, integrity, and conviction at our places of work. Sometimes it can be easy to become a different person at work than who we are in the rest of our lives (at our homes, at church, during our leisure time) because we need to be “professional,” we need to fulfil our work obligations, or simply put, because stuff just needs to get done. However, in Colossians 3:23-24, Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” This has been a convicting passage when reflecting on the places where I’ve worked, both in Christian and secular settings. I obey God at work just as I would at home or at church.
Here I want to provide three ethical perspectives on our faith can shape our work:
Personal: A personal Christian work ethic is the code that we as our individual selves live and work by. As an example, the 10 Commandments provides us with a code of ethics. One simple Christian work ethic could be this: Thou shalt not do bad things. Thou shalt not lie, nor cheat, nor steal. Thou shalt not be a bad person and break the law. Thou shalt not cut corners. Especially at work.
If we are to be people of integrity, truth, and diligence, our actions should reflect our character and the character of Christ to those around us. I believe it is important to set firm boundaries of what NOT to do at work. While it is equally important to not be legalistic and not like Pharisees (judging others by our personal code), I have found that little compromises over time can lead to large digression from where our ethics and convictions started. Our actions should always be above board because we answer to our supervisor (our earthly authority) as well as to God (our heavenly authority). Some questions that could be helpful in guiding us toward a godly work ethic are these: 1) If my supervisor knew about this, would she/he be okay with it? 2) Above all, would God approve of this?
Corporate/Communal: With personal ethics having been addressed, perhaps a list of “thou shalt not’s,” while important in establishing good boundaries, may not necessarily be life-giving or redemptive in and of themselves. However, ethics can expand beyond the individual to the communal/corporate work environment. While many employee handbooks and HR Departments would express that their organizations are fair and equitable (by legal standards) environments, this may not necessarily be the case in the unspoken work culture. In the news, we read about stories of toxic work environments, that we are often shocked and surprised that such behavior was tolerated. But in the words of Edmund Burke, “the only things necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”
I would hope that no one reading this is working in a toxic environment where “issues” (but let’s be honest, it’s sin) such as prejudice, favoritism, corruption, misogyny, etc. are acceptable at work. But truthfully, we live in a broken world with broken people, and it is not surprising that some of us may be in broken systems and environments when we work.
I believe there are a number of ethical responses Christians can take. When asked to “cook the books,” one of my accountant friends realized that she needed to leave her company. Another friend who noticed during the lunch hour, co-workers would gossip and disparage their spouses, she would try to change the tone of the conversation with “well, my husband isn’t perfect, but I really appreciate how he is attentive to our kids.” You may not have the authority or role to bring change to your organization, but you do have influence in the spaces where you work.
For Christians who have senior/managerial level of authority in their workplace, it could be important to think about these questions: Do people feel valued? Are people being heard and treated equally/equitably? Does the work environment help them to be better people or work better? If not, what may be some ways to voice/lead change that is needed in the culture?
Global: Lastly, when we look beyond how we behave as individuals or how our work environment functions, it is important to think about the global impact of our work and workplaces. This may look like how an organization stewards its resources, or its effect on the environment, or giving back to the local or global community. It is always important to be able to look outside of ourselves, and this rings true for us as individuals as well as groups and organizations.
Back when I was working at USC, I really liked the Good Neighbor program that was set up by former USC President Steve Sample. He has a man of deep faith and he used his role to start the Good Neighbor program to have students and staff volunteer in the neighborhood, provide grants to local organizations, and build bridges between the local and university community.I contributed what I could to the Good Neighbor program.
I also did what I could where I worked. Though I worked in a tiny office of three employees during my time there and was the lowest man on the totem pole, I became the Green Ambassador for our office (yes, that was an official program too!). Being I was the office manager, I did what I could in alignment of my Christian values of creation care/environmental stewardship by purchasing recycled paper, replacing the bulbs with energy efficient ones, and generally reducing the office’s carbon footprint.
No work role is too big nor small to have a kingdom impact. Our ethics, whether personal or global, is a reflection of who we are as people of God and his plan for redemption in this world.
How does God want to shape your ethics at work?
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