By Terry MacCabe
A friend who works in a government office recently told me about an experience he had at work. A few months after arriving at his office a woman had launched harassment charges against several male coworkers.
My friend was transferred shortly thereafter, but a few months later received a phone call from the woman who had made the complaints. She explained that she noticed that after work my friend would occasionally visit another male coworker in his cubical and she would often hear them laughing. He acknowledged that they generally chatted and sometimes played a video game on the coworker’s computer. Unsatisfied with this explanation she asked him, “When you were laughing, were you ever laughing at me?”
Stories like these remind us that the workplace can be a dangerous place. We should keep this in mind every time we enter the doors of our workspace. Much is at stake when we’re at work: our income (it can be lost), our reputation (it can be ruined), our marriage (it can be destroyed). In a sense, we face these risks every time time we go to work.
Because there is so much at stake each time we go to work, the believer should be seeking God’s guidance and protection especially while at work. Let’s consider what the Scriptures tell us about getting along with others and draw connections to the workplace.
The Bible provides clear guidelines for getting along with others in the church. At the same time, the church is a microcosm of individual personalities, attitudes, and perspectives—much like the workplace. Thus, much of what is said about getting along with others in the church is directly transferrable to the workplace.
Romans 12:18 reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Sometimes the best advice is the simplest, and it doesn’t get much simpler than this: Just get along with people.
To be fair, this isn’t as easy for some as it is for others. Some people are naturally agreeable and find it easy to get along with others. They know the right thing to say in most situations and naturally find others easy to get along with. Then there are the rest of us! Some of us, perhaps most of us, find getting along with others takes work. It requires patience and endurance and is often a trial. People can be abrasive, irritating, and offensive.
The first part of Paul’s directive qualifies the instruction: “If it is possible.” There are going to be people at most workplaces who are impossible to get along with. Accept that and deal with it. When we encounter such people, we should seek to help them change their irritating behavior as a favor to them, in order to help them keep their jobs and get along with others. But also remember that Paul instructed his readers to warn a divisive person two times and then avoid him altogether (Titus 3:10). Some people may always be difficult to get along with at work. That’s the sad reality.
The Bible is filled with examples of people who made poor decisions when they let their anger get out of control. Thus James’s counsel is especially important to those who work with others: “Everyone should be . . . slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19, NIV, 1984).
Few of us can think of a time when something of great positive significance was accomplished by becoming angry. Our anger typically destroys relationships and causes long-term strife. You can hope that people will forget or excuse your anger, but they probably won’t. What’s more, they’ll likely replay it in their mind again and again, eventually remembering it as even worse than it was.
Angry outbursts can really hurt you in the long run. Bosses will remember it when promotions come up or when picking a team leader. Coworkers will remember it when filling out year-end evaluation forms.
Respecting Those Above and Below You
In any workplace with multiple employees you’ll find superiors and subordinates, managers and minions, the bosses and the bossed; that’s just the way it is. A workplace that didn’t have a hierarchical structure wouldn’t function properly. Sadly, many workplaces with a hierarchical structure still don’t function properly. Let’s consider Paul’s counsel from 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” This applies not only to those who are on your level in the workplace, but also to those above and below you on the
If you’re among the privileged few who find themselves in charge of others at work (a boss or manager), remember the words of Colossians 4:1: “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” Never forget that in the great scheme of things you’re also a subordinate. You have a position of authority because God has granted it to you.
Consider how you would like to be treated if you were in the shoes of those under your charge. Remember that they don’t fully understand or appreciate the pressures you face. You’ve been given responsibilities—and the accompanying pressures—because others who have watched you believed you had the strength of character to stand up under those pressures. Most of all, remember that you are the example, not the exception.
If you’re among the many who work under a boss or manager, remember Colossians 3:22: “Obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” This too reminds us that we serve a greater authority, a bigger boss than the person who signs our paycheck.
God has put you where you are for a purpose, and it may simply be to please him with your work. Even Jesus submitted to unpleasant, sometimes unbearable situations.
Finally, let’s consider what may be the most important aspect of workplace perils: interpersonal relations with persons of the opposite gender.
Shortly after I got married, an older minister loaned a book to me titled, Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It (Moody, 2000), by Jerry Jenkins. The book has since been retitled Hedges (Crossway Books, 2005) and has become a classic. The thesis of the book is that marriage is fragile and needs to be protected. In order to give our marriages the protection they need, we must build hedges that keep others at a healthy distance. The book may be summed up in the following quote: “If you are never alone with an unrelated female you have eliminated the possibility that anything inappropriate will take place.”
That sounds extreme, and if you’re going to follow this advice in most workplaces, it probably isn’t going to be easy. We live in a world that denies differences between men and women. If that were true we should be able to spend countless hours with a coworker of the opposite gender and not develop an emotional attachment. The reality is very different, and most of us are smart enough to figure that out.
Preparing for Trouble
If you’re a believer, you live in a culture that is generally hostile toward people of faith. If you stand up for Jesus, you will stand out like a sore thumb. Sometimes your mere presence will offend and irritate people. You won’t have to say a word. I don’t know why we’d expect anything different; Jesus said the world hated him and would hate those who follow him. Paul considered it an honor to suffer for Jesus.
Finally, we need to remember that we serve the Lord in all we do. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Living for Jesus in the workplace is a challenge and can bring undesired trouble. Even so we are called to serve the Lord in all times and places. Let’s do our utmost to reflect him and serve him with our whole hearts.
Terry MacCabe is a freelance writer in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
Following Christ: Working the 9-to-5
Working With An Attitude
(Standard Publishing, 2009)
Item D1036 (available as a download)
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