I have been in the professional workforce for almost 20 years in various roles such as a CAD designer, R&D engineer, project manager, and aftermarket design engineer. This is not to point out my job experiences but the time invested in my professional adult life thus far. I speak for the majority of us in that we spend more time working than we do with our family and friends. There’s a statistic that says we will spend a third of our lifetime at work equating to 90,000 hours. The reality is, for most of us, we are defined by what we do instead of who we are.
Our Identity in Christ
So, who are we? If we get this answer wrong, we will go through life always falling short of our expectation. Why is that? Because we are not defined by what we do, although what we do is a byproduct of who we are. The emphasis, again, is who are we, or should I say whose are we. Scripture is clear concerning this matter – we who are in Christ are all sons of God through faith (Gal. 3:25). Peter echoed this when he wrote, “we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). We are in Christ, and we are his possession. Just as children resemble and reflect the image of their parents, we being in Christ is our identity. So this identity does not only permeate on Sunday mornings but throughout every facet of our lives – from being alone in your bedroom to having dinner with your family; from a family birthday party to a family funeral; and from a public gathering to a department meeting at the office, our identity in Christ penetrates into all crevices of our lives.
So, how are Christians to display Christ in the workplace? The first inclination is to come up with methods as a framework to express our beliefs to our coworkers, customers, and suppliers who we work with on a daily basis. The problem with methods is as long as they are not grounded in principles, they become the means in themselves – shallow as they are.
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” - Harrington Emerson
If our first concern is principles that drive our methods, the Bible must be our starting point; our moral authority of truth (I’ll come back to this later). In Colossians, chapter 3, after Paul addressed wives to submit to their husbands, husbands to love their wives, children to obey their parents, fathers to not provoke their children, and bondservants to obey their masters, Paul then wrote, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Likewise, after Paul exhorted the Corinthians to not seek after their own good, but the good of others in 1 Corinthians 10, he wrote, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Peter also emphasized this principle after he exhorted the church in Asia Minor to prepare their minds for action, being sober-minded, do not be conformed of your former ignorance, and to be holy in all your conduct. In 1 Peter 1:17 he wrote, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Did you get that? The biblical principle is to revere God in all that we do (since all that we do is a byproduct of who we are). Hence, biblical principles are not abstract ideas but grounded in God and his character. Although these texts do not specify explicit commands, as Dr. Steve Lawson stresses, there are applications by implications to be had. So, are biblical principles our source of moral authority?
Source of Moral Authority
Moral authority can be defined as a power or right premised on principles that is immutable; a fundamental truth that does not change. Throughout the centuries and particularly in this postmodern era there are four possible sources where moral authority comes from. They are (1) reason, (2) tradition, (3) experience, and (4) revelation.
Reason. Human beings are able to reason unlike any other species in the world. Natural law theorists believe morality is derived from our human nature to work out those human laws and to act accordingly with those laws. Hence, moral authority is not a transcendent figure but intrinsic within human being.
Tradition. Religion, politics, corporations, and ethnicity and culture have served as moral authorities throughout human history. Traditional authority is the idea and practice that authority is derived from tradition and custom. This mentality is embedded into the fabric of these various realms as “we have always done it this way” morality. Hence again, moral authority is not a transcendent figure but grounded in tradition and custom.
Experience. Experience-based morality is the concept where a person values what they deemed important based on their past experiences. Symptomatically, there is an emotional aspect to this where morality is linked to how that person felt by means of experiences. Once again, moral authority is not a transcendent figure but based on our subjective experiences.
Revelation. Scripture is the revelation that is made known to many through His grace. Unlike general revelation where God has revealed himself in creation, special revelation is His Word that is God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture is our moral authority in all things that it asserts as wholly true which, again, reflects God’s character. Hence, moral authority is not something within us but an objective transcendent, holy other, that He is the standard of right and wrong.
Now, a point of emphasis; reason, tradition, and experience are not wrong in themselves, but instead, are to be understood as supplemental to Scripture. In fact, reason, tradition, and experience are byproducts of human being made in the image of God. Therefore, the emphasis is we reason in light of Scripture. We practice tradition in light of Scripture. And likewise, we understand our experiences in light of Scripture.
Orthopraxy in the Workplace
Coming back to this question again, how are Christians to display Christ in the workplace? Instead of 10 steps to follow or a flowchart displaying avenues of responses, the answer is to be obedient to the Word of God (as our moral authority). This obedience is not out of begrudgingly checking items off a list but a genuine love to act because of the love of the person. Jesus states this in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So, in love of Christ who died for our sins, we are to be salt and light to the world.
So, how does this look like on the ground level? Before we can answer this question, once again, what does Scripture say? After exhorting bondservants to obey their masters with a sincere heart, Paul wrote in Ephesians 6 to “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.” In 1 Peter 3:18, Peter wrote, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Verse 19 provides the reason why, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God.” Colossians 3:22-23 which I stated earlier emphasized this exact principle. In a nutshell in my own words the principle is this: employees, submit to the authority of your supervisors with respect for this is in reverence for God whom we serve.
Before we conclude that this is the gist of our calling as believers in Christ, we turn to Scripture again for further edification. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus himself calls us to make disciples of all nations as we go forth into the world. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:20 that we are ambassadors for Christ in which through us God makes his appeal. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Therefore, we are called out of the world to be God’s representative to the world!
In conclusion, our identity in Christ is to revere God in all that we do within the institutions and relationships of his decrees proclaimed in Scripture. In the context of the workplace, the principles are no different – we revere God as His ambassador while submitting to the relationships He has decreed. So, on the ground level we are not to mechanically function like the rest of the world but to display Christ at all times. We are not handicap by methods but free in expressing the principles of Scripture to our coworkers, suppliers, and customers we come in contact with.
Scripture is sufficient in taking theology from concepts to principles to practical applications in the various contexts that we are in. May we trust in His Word and not in our own wit and understanding. God bless!
Robert Y. Yang (BS, Purdue University) has been married to Tey for over 11 years, and has faithfully served the local church in many different capacities; elder, treasurer, and national leader. He is currently pursuing an MDiv at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and, also, is an integral part of the launch team at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Robert and Tey are passionate about missionary engagement and hope to see their lives used toward this end.