This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Biblical Principles In the Workplace - A Study on Ephesians 6:5-9

This article is actually a chapter of a book I am finishing up which consists of a series of Bible studies on the Book of Ephesians.  The original context of the passage under discussion was dealing with slaves and masters, but in this case I have appropriated it to the modern workplace.  I hope this will help you and encourage you in your daily lives.

 Now that we have dealt with the family relationship, the focus of the study now will be on an area that is significant to many of us because it takes up a significant portion of our daily lives - our jobs. 
Work is vital to live.  Everything this day and age costs something, and in order to acquire the currency that the cost entails, we have to invest our own resources to generate that income.  That is the fundamental principle as to why we are able to bring home our paychecks every week; the money represented by that rectangular piece of paper represents what we have invested out abilities and strengths into in order to assure the acquisition of basic provisions for our survival.  Work of course is not a pleasant subject - to be honest, it's the last thing I personally want to think about after doing it all day long, especially if it is a job in which you feel doesn't really showcase your talents and abilities God gave you, and at times it doesn't pay what it should either.  My own work history, honestly, has not been ideal - in order to support my family and pay my bills, I've had to take some rather - pardon me for saying it - crappy jobs that either paid inadequately or the work environment was such that at times I could not stomach it.  Frankly, there have been times I have actually dreaded the day dawning, especially at times when we were without our own transportation and had to rely on the city bus.  Many who have been in that situation can understand what it is to arise at 5:30 AM just to be at work by 9:00 AM.  With the sour national economy in recent years, many of us have also found ourselves on occasion being herded by groups into conference rooms, where after everyone is seated we are all handed these yellow envelopes and told we are being let go because of a fiscal downturn.  In working many years in the secular field as a mortgage professional, I have been there a few times on both counts.   Back in November 2003, for example, I worked for one of the largest banks in the country when the real estate market took one of the worst downturns it had experienced in years.  On that particular autumn day, about 100 of us were called by the two VP's of Operations into a conference room, handed those big yellow envelopes - which to be fair did contain very generous severance packages for the time, which was a blessing - and then told the company could not afford to keep us anymore, and thus we were being let go.  Corporate America, a behemoth entity that operates on what could be called a Darwinist "survival of the fittest" form of economics (also called greed) has depersonalized many workplaces in the past 50 or so years to the degree that both the average employees and management often merely "go through the motions" on a daily basis just to do what is minimally necessary to keep their jobs.  In 1999. a movie producer/writer by the name of Mike Judge created a cult classic film called Office Space which vividly portrayed that conundrum, and Judge made a fortune off that film due to the fact it touched a nerve with people - many of us who have seen it multiple times saw ourselves in it, and unlike much of the Hollywood fluff you see today, Office Space was a brutally realistic movie.  If Judge were a Christian (and I pray maybe he does find Christ one day) he would actually be a prime candidate for a gift of prophecy to be honest.  The main accomplishment of this cult-classic movie was that it gave a voice to the frustrations many of us - myself included - feel at times; it's as if we are wasting our lives away without really achieving much of significance.  Add to that then our consumer-driven society - 90% of America is in debt to some degree, this forcing a lot of talented people who could do greater things into a corporate prison, languishing behind the dull, grey, carpeted walls of tight cubicles.  Thing is though, for what??  To get that big screen TV that they probably charged to the yazoo on a credit card which has a credit limit significantly higher than the annual salary the corporation gives them?  Honestly, much of this is a complicated bi-product of the so-called "Industrial Revolution" which occurred in the early 19th century, which in turn led to the rise of an elite group that many writers called the "Robber Barons" (Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and others like them).  The worldview of this new system was incompatible with the Judeo-Christian ethos, and instead had more in common with social Darwinism (many of these "Barons" were, interestingly, committed evolutionists), and that mentality set in motion a great upheaval to the order of things as they had been for centuries.  However, the word of God, in particular this passage we will be discussing in Ephesians, does actually address this very issue.  In the context of the day - St. Paul wrote this at the height of the classical Roman Imperial period - the verses in this pericope were addressed primarily to masters and their servants, but they are by all means applicable to 21st-century America as well.   All we need to do is replace the words "slave" and "master" with "employee" and "employer," and there you go!  Therefore, focusing on Ephesians 6:5-9, we are going to deal with this important issue, due to its connotations for today's society.

Although some religious authorities have tried to reduce the Bible to merely a "religious book," (notably Melkite Archbishop Cyril Bustros, liberal Roman Catholic writer and Paulist priest Robert Rivers in his book From Maintenance to Mission, and Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren, as well as liberal Protestant theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas and Jurgen Moltmann) with no relevance to any other discipline, the fact of the matter is the Bible is a book that imparts wisdom to all areas of life - it addresses science, history, politics, medicine, and yes, even economics!  Rev. John Broome, the Assemblies of God minister who officiated Barb's and my wedding some 21 years ago as of this writing, once said in one of his sermons that for the Christian, every issue we face in life is a theological issue, and he was absolutely correct!  Being the Bible is God's revelation to us, it addresses all of these issues too in some way - the focus of the Bible is the legacy of the salvation and redemption of mankind, and part of that has to do with the complexies of human nature as well as God's created order of things in this world.  The Bible is the most perfect instruction book which deals with keeping God at the center of all areas of our lives, whether it be family, work, the worshipping community, etc.   And, while some would say that the Bible is not primarily a history book, or an economics text, etc. - and they are correct - what it does address in relation to those issues is 100% reliable, and it was inspired by God himself.  Therefore, if people would really open themselves up to the possibilities, the Bible could really govern a nation (not the book itself obviously, but the truth within it as applied and appropriated by leadership that believes and trusts in those truths).  The fundamental problem, however, is that sinful man rebels against God's ways, although God's ways are meant to be for our own benefit.  And, like all other areas of life, Biblical principles and truths can be applied in our workplaces as well.

The passage under discussion addresses both Christian employees and Christian employers, an in doing so it does something significant.  Essentially, here are the two fundamental lessons it teaches us:

1.  Employees need to respect and obey their employers, as God ordained the employer to be where he is and blessed the employee with the job to earn income to provide for his or her family's needs.

2.  Employers - meaning here specifically Christian employers - need to realize that their employees who may also be Christians are also their brethren, and should be treated with the dignity and respect due them.  The true leader is a servant to those he or she leads.

That being said, the godly way a Christian business should be run is this - the dignity of each man or woman being created in God's image plays a vital part in how both the employer and employee treat one another.  A solid Christ-centered atmosphere in the workplace does have results - the employees will exhibit a deep loyalty to their employer who treats them with said dignity, and the end result of that is the quality of the work or service will be superior.  There are even some non-Christian employers who understand this principle without even knowing where they got the understanding from in many cases.   A prime example of this was a title company I used to work for some years back, a small company owned and operated by a brilliant real estate attorney.  To be honest, it was one of the best gigs I have personally had the privelege of working, and it was due to the attorney's work ethic - he once said a happy employee is a productive employee.  Therefore, this attorney (who unfortunately passed away a few years back from terminal cancer) treated his employees (even temporary and contract people!) like royalty - for a period of time, as an example, the company even bought everyone in the office lunch everyday, and they paid salaries that were generous and far superior to the average salary of the geographic area.  The end result was that this small office developed a close-knit support grid among the employees, and many of us are still good friends today as we worked well with each other.  And, whereas in many companies people scatter when lunchtime rolls around, we would joyfully work through our lunch breaks without even an issue, and overtime when necessary was something we had no problem with either.  In short, due to the generous attitude and respect of this employer for his employees, the goals of the employer became the goals of the employees, and a strong cohesion resulted that is a rare find in many offices today.  As an extra measure, the office managers were always there for the staff too, and without hesitation help was extended to an employee who was going through a rough time at home or something.  Although many of the people I worked with in this title office were by no means what you'd call committed Christians (a couple were, but not many) they still stand out as a stellar example of the Scriptural principles we will be discussing, which is why I spent some detail sharing this.

The Apostle Paul, in verses 5-7, first addresses employees, and these are five primary things he stressed that should be hallmarks of a Christian worker:

1.  Obedience to the employer is a must, for he is paying for their services, and the employees owe him a quality service for the investment he is making.

2. It is important, as the Apostle writes, to be obedient "with fear and trembling."  Now, this in no way implies that we should be in fear of our employers, but we need to afford them a healthy respect that says "my job depends on how well I serve this company."  Remember, in this day and age, no one is indispensable in Corporate America, and no job is completely secure, even a corporate executives.  This would also fall under the Biblical principle of responsible stewardship.

3. Sincerity in our work is paramount.  We need to be able to sincerely do the best job we can, and be honest in our strengths and weaknesses.  A good employer respects that level of integrity.  Many professing Christians fall short of this, and we could even take a lesson from non-Christians at times - for one, the Jains, who are bound by a code of honesty in their religion and to be honest I would trust a Jain with my personal financial portfolio anyday! - although this does not give sanction for equating other religions with our faith - we serve the one true God, which is why even more we should exemplify that in our relations with society as a whole, in particular the workplace, where many of us do spend a significant portion of our time.

4.  We don't do things with "eye service" (meaning trying to "look good") or try to be manpleasers (in modern vernacular, rumpkissers).  An astutely observant supervisor can easily detect these false pretenses when an employee is trying to "kiss up," and it is not flattery, but actually insults the boss.  In that case, flattery will truly get you nowhere. (v.6)

5. Perfection is not so much the goal, nor should it be realistically expected, but especially as Christians in the workplace we do our best.  That is pleasing to both God and the boss, and will in time have its own rewards. (v. 8)

6.  Our jobs are a ministry - a nonbelieving employer can be reached by the witness of a diligent employee who knows the Lord.  The result then is that good service brings God's favor. (vv. 7-8)
Now, I need to stress here that even in the most adverse conditions - you may be underpaid, overworked, and just in a nasty job - a Christian can do this.  There are many times I personally have had to "suck it up" and do the job I was paid to do despite how much I personally detested my boss or workplace, or how inadequately I was paid.  If in that position, let me say to you there's no harm in looking for something better if it escalates into a serious issue, but as you do so don't burn your proverbial bridges - any hostile behavior due to frustration could come back to haunt you later, and I too have made that mistake, so know what I am saying.  The bottom line to all this, however, is about living up to personal responsibilities - remember, we all have bills to pay and many of us do have our families to consider.

Now that we've talked about employees and their expectations, let us now turn to employers.  In the past 100 years or so, the business world has changed drastically.  In the late 1800's and early 1900's, most businesses were largely of what is called the "mom-and-pop" variety, which meant they were usually small, family-owned and operated, with maybe a few trusted hired community people to help out.  Many unrelated employees worked for these businesses for years, in many cases becoming close friends to the family who owned the business.  The result of that was quality goods and services, as quality was prioritized over quantity of production.  These family-run businesses often depended on the revenue of the businesses for their livelihoods, and the business ethic which made such enterprises click was largely foundated on Judeo-Christian principles, which didn't allow for the greed and obsession with wealth many large corporations today are characterized by.  However, with the "Industrial Revolution" of the late 1700's, and the rise of a greedy elite class of "Robber Barons" in the ensuing years, a radical change transpired.  Base human greed and selfishness came into the picture, and with the popularity of a new mindset which had its genesis in an 1879 book by naturalist Charles Darwin entitled Origin of the Species, the attitude of self-gratification became a new religion, and as a result the Judeo-Christian ethic of the small local businesses became passe.  Rather, the new goal became the acquisition of wealth at any cost rather than the provision of needed services.  Quantity, therefore, began to usurp quality, and it only took less than a century for this new selfishness to permeate the American business establishment.  Now, many years later, the days of the "mom-and-pop" establishment are practically over (those businesses, many now called "cottage industries," are still out there, but Corporate America, with bankrolled politicians in its back pocket, is slowly rubbing these out), and many good "mom-and-pops" have been swallowed up by larger, richer corporations who promised the public the mantric "more for less" (more supply at cheaper prices - also inferior quality as a side effect - to meet a greater demand).  However, in that process, we have lost something precious - the close community that existed betwen small business owners and their employees has been replaced by a corporate elite hidden away in the "ivory tower" seclusion of skyscraper penthouses, pontificating from their opulent thrones monotonous policies and procedures to a grossly underpaid working caste who go about their duties robotically on a daily basis, many losing valuable time with their families.  This has produced dire results on society as a whole - high divorce rates, substance abuse, an increase in suicides, etc.  (not to mention mountains of hopelessly-entangling consumer debt).  Average workers are viewed often by the management as numbers and statistics, and these corporations spend millions of dollars on "motivational seminars" and other nonsense to supposedly make workers more of a "team."  I have in our back storage room here at the house a box of books I have received from companies I have worked for talking about "right attitudes," "address to impress," and so forth, but is all that really necessary??  Now even churches are playing these games, and the tragic result of that is that the truth of the Gospel is either being diluted or outright suppressed in order to make room for the "effective programs."  This stuff personally sickens me, because as I have found out, they are mere fads that a company uses to brainwash its employees into submission, but often things like this backfire.  For instance, a few years ago, companies were big into all this ""life coaching" stuff, and the large bank I worked for at the time even had me take a course on that.  However, I learned something - the coaching class, rather than being a tool for increased production, became a weapon that wise employees like myself utilized to call management on the carpet and to accountability, and of course, management hated that and as a result such programs fell by the wayside, and thousands of dollars got flushed down the crapper.  Here's a thought - instead of investing in those fads, why doesn't the company start treating their employees like human beings instead of machines, and maybe - just maybe!! - if the employees felt like management respected them, production and quality of work could be improved and that money which would have been wasted on stupid seminars and such could be disseminated as raises and bonuses for the employees!  I am really not against these things like "life coaching" either, believe it or not - some of these things can be appropriated with Biblical principles, and they can be quite helpful.  However, corporations often use such things as a manipulation tool to bleed their workers dry.  Christian employers thankfully don't have to resort to that.  In Ephesians 6:9, God inspired the Apostle, St. Paul, to pen some very effective and basic principles that, if taken seriously, will revolutionize a workplace.  Here are some of those admonitions in this passage that provide Christian businesses with principles to follow:

1. Do Not Threaten!! Just as employees are dispensable, the employer is advised that the door swings both ways.  An employee always working under intimidating threats of losing their job, "being written up," etc., will be too cowed to do a good service. Threatening and aggression always makes things worse.

2. Don't Show Partiality!! A boss who gives into "kissing up" and flattery is not a genuine leader.  And, that type of favoritism creates a very hostile work environment.  That is a lesson that Corporate America really needs to get beaten into it.  In my experience of interviewing for jobs, I have picked up some things, and here they are:

a. A lot of employers do not actually read resumes, and as a result good people are often looked over for jobs they are more than capable of doing well.
b.  There seems to be an unwritten code as to who gets jobs these days, as I have found out the hard way.  Basically, there are three requirements with most (although there are exceptions) corporations that have absolutely nothing to do with one's skills or experience, and here they are:

  • i.    What you look like
  • ii.   Who you know
  • iii. How well you kiss up and flatter

3.  Respect Your Employees!!  A boss over a department in a large company, or a corporate executive for that matter, needs to realize that the people populating that vast monolithic, monotonous sea of cubicles outside their office door are people - many are highly intelligent, sufficiently skilled individuals who work hard, but also have limitations.  The boss often demands respect, but fails to understand that the law of reciprocity comes into play; a boss has to respect to receive respect!  A Christian manager or executive is held to even a higher standard than that, for his or her employees who are fellow Christians are their brothers and sisters in Christ, and that involves a whole other set of Biblical principles which come into play.

4. Lead By Being A Servant!!  The best leaders are those who serve the best interests of those they lead.  A boss is on the payroll of his or her company, bu that does not dismiss their responbilities to those whom they are charged with leading.  Often, the boss is an employee's only source of justice, and the boss does a tremendous service by voicing the workers' concerns to the management.  If more supervisors in certain industries would have thought like that in the first place, then labor unions would never have been necessary (Unions often do more harm than good anyway, so the world would do better without them).  Ultimately though, the best boss is a godly boss, for a boss who knows the Lord has the example of Christ to draw from.  E. Truett Cathy, the head of the Chik-Fil-A restaurant chain, is an excellent example of godly corporate leadership.  Also, my former boss, the late John Ritter of Royal Title and Escrow in Miami, FL, was as well although I am not totally sure of his religious commitments. 

To summarize, we have talked about various levels of relationship over the past few studies - the family, the Church, and here the workplace.  Ultimately, good relationships in all areas of our lives form a bulwark against the attacks of the enemy, and in essence those relationships are the fortresses of our spiritual battles.  They provide the reinforcement and support we need to overcome those attacks.  That being said, we will in the final chapter of these studies talk about the spiritual war we face every day of our lives, and as we do so, you will hopefully see how these relationships come into play as important standards against the onslaught of the enemy.