Relationships @ Workplace:
Timeless yet Timely Challenges!
Once a commander-in-chief went to war and returned with great victory. The whole nation was in jubilation and welcomed their hero with pomp and pageantry. As he marched the streets of the capital city, some of the girls in the community sang to felicitate him. They praised the commander and pictured his greatness to be ten times that of their king himself. This invited jealousy and wrath from the king and irritated him greatly. Subsequently the commander lost his position and was brought to a lower position. The king couldn’t put up with the high acceptance the commander found among his countrymen. But the commander had the grace to willingly accept the demotion and worked in the lower rank with humility. The commander in this story is David who later replaced the king himself (1 Samuel 18:6-13).
Bible characters like Daniel, the three Hebrew youth and Joseph also encountered such reprisals at workplace, but they received abundance of grace to handle their situations with humility. They exhibited their spiritually transformed personalities at the workplace and received acceptance from God. They never tried to seek after recognition from the world by making their conscience pawns in the hands of circumstances. We also find civil servants like Nehemiah putting the interest of God at the workplace high and kept their testimony bright and powerful as they stood their ground with humility and firmness.
Biblical perspective of any relationship, at workplace or elsewhere, is bound by the extent of grace enjoyed by God’s children who prove their faith through attitudes and corresponding actions. They never bother about winning earthly wars, but are keen to exhibit faith and trust in God to rule and overrule their situations for His glory. They are assured by the Bible that there will be adequate grace to resolve conflicts at the workplace and help to take conflicts above human level. It is well understood that relationships are multidimensional and as such complex and thus prone to conflicts. There are resultant ego clashes and covert or overt encounters which make situations counterproductive and make individuals disillusioned. Conflicts create undue stress in all who are directly and indirectly involved and make the work atmosphere cumbersome and cluttered. It leads to inefficiency and waste of resources. Workers lose their peace in such situations and will find it difficult to enjoy work atmosphere. But for all such puzzling scenarios, the Bible has answers to lead us to a satisfying work life.
Handling or getting subdued?
Christians are invariably both employers and employees. Christian employers are executives in managerial cadre but are also employees in a general sense. But they are viewed as employers by their subordinates because they represent the owners or management. These Christian executives are bound to please their bosses by producing best possible results with the cooperation and support of their subordinates who are invariably unbelievers. Subordinates normally expect undue considerations and favours from the boss. When they are unable to meet such expectations, workplace relations become sour. Such situations pose several practical and ethical questions which need to be addressed. Do the Christian employees have the responsibility to support, obey, pray and please the unbeliever boss? Are the demands and expectations of the Christian employees a reflection of their Biblical values? How would the Christian boss meet the challenging expectations of the subordinates who are unbelievers? How would the Christian boss handle Union tactics like strikes and work-to-rule? The Bible provides answers to such questions and demands total compliance (Ephesians 6:5-7). At the same time, these situations will have to be handled in its context with wisdom from God.
The Christian employer is admonished by the Bible to avoid favouritism, bias and particularism of all sorts and exhibit a spirit of friendliness and kindness rather than use tactics like threats, spying and resentment. Negative strategies will only invite suspicion, doubt and confrontation which would tarnish his Christian testimony at the workplace (Ephesians 6:9). We must understand that such worldly tactics come from the flesh and is often a result of physical, emotional or organizational insecurity. The Christian must guard against fleshly tactics and must try to influence the work atmosphere to make it one of mutual trust and support. Thus when the atmosphere becomes less tense, people and organizations become more productive which will lead to higher levels of performance and reduced cost. The Christian bosses and subordinates need to understand that they are called to exhibit Christ-likeness in actions and attitudes at the workplace as much as elsewhere (like home or church). It is true that heaven looks for spiritual behavior from the Christian at the workplace when the world looks for intellectual and emotional smartness. The devil is engaged in a battle for our minds so that we would fall into double life, one at workplace and a different one at religious and family circles. But this is resented by the Bible very strongly. We who are partakers of the divine nature and recipients of grace from God have no option to follow two masters at the same time, but must acknowledge Jesus Christ as our sole Master in all spheres of our lives (Matthew 6:24). So our work behavior, as in other arenas of life, gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves to determine to what extent we are controlled by the Spirit of God and how much we excel in producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-25). We are asked to examine to see whether we are in faith or not (2 Corinthians 13:5) and to make amends.
It is interesting to see Apostle Paul admonishing Christian employees and employers about workplace relationships immediately after speaking about getting filled with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:19-20). Soon after talking about workplace behavior, he goes on to warn Christians about spiritual warfare and the need to pray for spiritual energy to fight (Ephesians 6:10-18).This pattern of divine instruction is somewhat repeated when Paul wrote to Colossians as well (Chapter 3). These instructions demand total allegiance from us in our behavior at the workplace as much as in all other spheres of activity. In other words, we are to handle all challenges in our work relationships with the fullness of the Spirit and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in all dealings with our bosses and subordinates. It includes all our words and body language (1 John 4:17b). Christ likeness might invite ridicule from our coworkers. We might become failures at the work situation when we use Christian values and motives in all our relationships. But we will be rewarded with blessings by our God for following the instructions in His Word that we ought to obey all authority at the work situation (Ephesians 6:7-8).
Handling Ungodly Demands
Pressure to comply with ungodly instructions by the unbeliever boss can be highly intimidating and causes great concern. The believer’s conscience is pricked when asked to compromise on quality, service, promotion and advertisement. The believer is often used as an instrument or becomes a prey to nepotism, favouritism, corrupt practices, exaggeration, victimization and suppression of facts. If we stand for the truth and do not comply, it affects our career prospects and even our job. But complying with such practices is against our conscience and acts against the biblical principles we hold. It is a greater challenge to communicate such convictions to the authorities. It is at this juncture that our hearts ought to dwell on fruit of the Spirit. Here we must stand firm and present our convictions with respect, humility and love and guard against the tendency to engage in covert or overt warfare with the boss or the organization in such circumstances, but show true Christian character. Daniel and the three Hebrew Youth stand out as prime example in the way they handled king’s ungodly demands and politely and humbly stood their ground. They were driven by faith and trust in the Lord to look after their life and future while they stood strong in their faith. Joseph of Arimathea on the other hand did not want to take a public stand on his faith in Jesus until Jesus was crucified, thus lost the opportunity of 42 months to be with Jesus.
Submission vis-à-vis Surrender of Faith
Handling bosses who are harsh taskmasters and working under oppression requires extra grace. In authority-oriented cultures, working can be very frustrating. But plenty of joy and peace will be available for us for the asking as we employ the whole armor of God and fight the devil who tries to engage us in dirty warfare. Our motive in such circumstances should not be one of wanting to win by using dubious means, but to use God’s instruments and draw from His energy to fight through prayer (Ephesians 6:7-8). When we follow the instructions of the Word in our dealings with our bosses or subordinates, the Lord will deal with the unkind as appropriately (Colossians 3:25).
Ethical Issues @ Workplace
The Christian employee should be above reproach in complying with rules and regulations and exhibit highest standards of work ethic. He should comply with punctuality and promptness to meet deadlines. He should desist from pilferage of all kind and should not have shadow warfare with the boss. He should desist from the use of employers’ resources for personal purposes, like telephone, transport, computer and the like. We are not expected to make personal gains at the expense of the employer and make people say that we are made rich by our employer (Genesis 14:22-24).
When we are called upon to suffer under brutal and unkind employers, we have the prerogative to continue there until the Lord opens another door for us. It then is a time for us to learn patience and to live above our circumstances. These difficult job situations will be used by God to mold us to be strong and teach us to live by faith and trust God to look after us. It is then that we prove our righteousness as God’s children and live to comply with work norms even when we are resented. We must desist from negligence and cause undue delay in work. These are tactics of the flesh which we should keep away from. We should still be loyal, fair and considerate to the boss and the organization. Employers are also strongly admonished by the Word not to ill-treat employees, underpay and mistreat them because these will invite the wrath of God (James 5:4; Colossians 4:1).
We should not forget the fact that there is divine reward for genuine faithfulness and earning the trust of our employers (Ephesians 6:8). These rewards are not spelt out but will pleasantly surprise us at unexpected times and in unusual forms. But we should be motivated to serve to get God’s acceptance and intangible rewards like internal peace and maintenance of testimony. We must be diligent and faithful and leave our future with God who will not forsake us (Colossians 3:24).
A Challenge to Respond!
The Bible guarantees honour and respect for a servant who looks after the affairs of the employer diligently (Proverbs 27:18). At the same time a Christian boss is like the shepherd of his employees to nourish, strengthen and develop them to reach the highest level of potential. In our unrighteous world, the Christian must draw upon God’s power through His Word and Spirit to fight the battles of the workplace as he serves God. May we take such a challenge and handle all its ramifications through battles in prayer for strength, patience and prudence! Remember! Your work situation is God’s way to take glory through you as you build up your relationships at work to serve and to lead for eternal consequences. Your response opens the doors for newer pathways filled with divine possibilities.