How to be a Christian Employee

Note: An edited version of this article ran in the July 27 edition of the Amarillo Sunday Globe-News. This is the whole column as originally written:

In this column last month, I tried to combine my legal expertise and my faith as I tackled the difficult topic of how to be a Christian employer. Click here for the column on being a Christian employer.

The most logical follow-up to last month’s column, which was written for owners and managers, seems to be to write about how to be an employee if you are a Christian. I want to explore practically and Biblically how a Christian employee should behave and if that is any different from the rest of the working world.

Most of us are in an employee role either to a boss or to our clients. The Bible has a lot to say about how we should play that servant role.

Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free.

Ephesians 6:5-8 (Message).

To me, this Bible passage and others implore us to acknowledge that God has already set aside for us all the benefits and bonuses we will ever need. Once we understand that, it should be easier for us to stop worrying about receiving our rights and our rewards on the job.

Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians makes it clear that employees are to obey their bosses. Does this mean only when you agree with his or her directives? How about when your boss is unappreciative, unpleasant or unfair?

Peter wrote, “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” 1 Peter 2:18-19 (NIV).

I don’t believe that this means that you have to endure a bullying boss, discrimination or other abuses forever. Talk to a manager or other person in authority and explain your situation. If that doesn’t resolve your complaint, use the company’s grievance system. Through it all, ask God in prayer to open new doors for you, ones that lead to opportunities that are immeasurably better than you could ever ask for or imagine.

But until that happens, your difficult career situation may be one of those trials that James instructs you to weather so that your faith will grow.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1: 2-4 (Message)

When you have to weather hardship at work, your coworkers should be able to see what distinguishes you as a Christian from the rest of the world. This may be the most effective evangelism you ever do.

You may be tempted to bad-mouth the boss and gripe to your coworkers about the injustice of your situation, but whiners don’t win souls for the kingdom. Instead, Christians are instructed to tame our tongues and let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only that which is helpful for building others up.

Your coworkers will marvel if, despite a difficult boss or work situation, you continue to work “heartily” and with a smile as Ephesians 6 suggests. To me, this requires an employee to give 100% of his effort while at work.

The whole-hearted employee can be counted on to show up on time, every time, to stay late if necessary, to pitch in to help with the menial tasks, to learn new skills that will improve his performance, and to show care and concern for all of his coworkers, including a disagreeable boss.

How is it possible to be this upbeat and gracious when you feel you are being mistreated at work? I think it takes great humility and the acknowledgment that we have been given grace—the forgiveness of our immorality, our mistakes and our malice.

Shouldn’t we then have a desire to repay that grace by being kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God forgave us? If so, I think we have to find forgiveness for the belittling boss or the caustic coworker.

Just because we are called to forgive, does that mean that an employee can’t sue a company that violates the employee’s civil rights, that withholds pay that was earned or that causes the employ an injury?

I think a Christian employee has to carefully consider a couple of things before making the decision to bring an employment suit:

  • Who are you going to sue? It seems to me that 1 Cor. 6 clearly says that Christians are not to sue other Christians. Disputes between Christians can be better resolved face to face, through the church or through Christian mediation services like Peacemaker Ministries. While suing nonbelievers is not specifically prohibited, I think you would want to prayerfully contemplate all the other admonitions about leaving judgment to God and turning the other cheek before deciding to sue. Also, think seriously about what the intense emotional and physical stress of the discovery process and the trial will do to your spiritual relationship as well as to your personal relationships.
  • Why are you doing this? In my experience as a trial lawyer, civil lawsuits always come down to money. Injustice will not cease because of your suit. Only God can accomplish justice. So is your receipt of a check (which will never be very big in the conservative Panhandle of Texas) really going to heal your wounds or glorify God? As a Christian, you have the responsibility of examining your motives to detect any desire to gain a selfish advantage or to seek vengeance, rather than to protect others from similar abuse. Here’s a way to test yourself: are you willing to give to your church or charity 100% of the net amount of the money you receive from your lawsuit?

You may decide that pursuing America’s favorite solution, litigation, is not right for your relationship with God or your witness to others. If that is the case, don’t despair. God has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11.

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