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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am Svc, 2009-06-14

Text: Ephesians 4:28

Those of us who are in the working world will often face situations where ethical decisions have to be made. For instance, as you travel with a colleague on a business trip, she tells you that she has brought along some expensive clothes she does not intend to use on the trip. When you ask her why she has done this, she says, 'Well, in this way I can get them all dry-cleaned at the hotel and have it covered as a business expense. Aren't I smart?' What should you do?

Here is another situation: Your boss has just told you that he plans to retire from the company in 2 years' time and that he wants you to prepare to take over his post. But unknown to him, your personal plans are to leave the company for further studies in 2 years' time, and to use the 2 years' salary from your job to pay for your studies. If you were to tell your boss what your plans are, you may find yourself out of a job very soon. So should you tell your boss now, or should you wait until the 2 years are almost up before you tell him?

Consider one more situation: Your team leader is assigned an important project to handle. She asks you to handle it for her. You put your heart and soul into it and you do an excellent job. However when her boss is very pleased with the results of the project, your team leader takes all the credit for it and uses this to score points with him. What should you do? 

In all these situations, it is extremely tempting to do what everyone else would do. After all, as many people would say, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do, if you know what's good for you.' There are things going on in the workplace everyday that are questionable and not entirely above board, but the common thinking is 'since everyone knows about it and everbody's doing it, then it must be OK.' Taking sick leave when they are not sick, taking advantage of other employees, asking a trusted colleague to clock in or clock out for them - these are all part and parcel of workplace culture. And when you are in it, it can be very hard to be different from the rest - you may find yourself marginalised and making more enemies than friends in the workplace. 

And so you wonder 'How can I be an effective Christian in my workplace? - the place where I spend 40-50 hours a week, the place where I can have the greatest impact on the outside world for Christ? How should I deal with all the difficult ethical situations that come regularly in my working life?' Any meaningful discussion on the subject of Christian work ethics must begin with God's Word. And one verse that encapsulates what the Bible says on this is Ephesians 4:28 'Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.'

From this verse and other related passages of Scripture I would like to suggest that we can derive at least 4 biblical principles to guide us in our working life. The first principle is to have-

I. The Right Perspective of Work

This comes from the context of Ephesians 4:28. The verse is actually part of a passage which brings out the dramatic change which our faith in Christ should produce in our thinking and conduct. Let us read vv.17-23 'This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.'

The change of perspective is found in vv.17 and 23. According to v.17 before we knew Christ and learned from Him we used to walk in the vanity of our mind. Sin had messed up our values and made us desire things that are utterly empty and meaningless. But according to v.23, now that we know Christ and have learned from Him, our minds should be renewed. Our perspective of all things must change to see their real worth. Our lives should then be fully conformed to this new perspective of all things. For instance, verse 25 deals with how we ought to regard truth and lies. Verse 26 deals with how we ought to deal with negative feelings toward our fellow man. All these things will change as we are renewed in the spirit of our mind. Verse 28 then deals with how we should regard work under this new sanctified perspective.

Work should not be regarded as a necessary evil. That is how the world regards work - It is a necessary evil. It is something that everyone has to do in order to get enough money for play. In the eyes of the world, work is undesirable and stressful, while play is desirable and restful. Work is useful only as far as it enables man to play and indulge all his lusts and worldly desires in leisure and fun-filled activity. Therefore, what would really be the best outcome is for man to be able to play without having to work at all. This worldly perspective of work has fostered a sinful desire to avoid work wherever possible. Today, more and more people want to do less and less work for more and more pay. Any short cut or loophole to get wealth and success quickly without having to work is highly sought after - e.g. betting, gambling, ponzi schemes, speculating in foreign exchange, naked short selling and stealing.

But to us who have been renewed in the spirit of our mind, work is not a necessary evil. The right perspective of work is that it is a gift from God. Work should be seen as something good and useful to us. It gives us the opportunity to learn how to be responsible people of integrity. Through work, we can also develop initiative, creativity and social skills that will make us more useful to God and to our fellow man.

When God made man, He did not make man to play, but to work. The first man was placed in the Garden of Eden not to frolic and laze around under its shady trees. Genesis 2:15 tells us that 'the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.' Therefore gardening was the very first occupation that man was employed in. This work was done as part of the mandate he received from God in Genesis 1:28 to subdue the whole earth and rule over all its creatures. 

Having the right perspective of work will change your attitude to it. When you know that God has ordained work for man, you will see that God is your real employer and paymaster. You no longer do your work well only when your human boss is looking. You work well even when he is not looking, because the all-seeing God is always looking, and you want to please Him. This is what God's Word says in Colossians 3:22-24 'Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.'

Do you carry out your workplace responsibilities heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men? Be sure that you do. Make every effort to maintain a spirit of joy in your work and to be a cheerful worker. Don't drag your feet or do your work grudgingly. Don't gripe about your pay and work conditions. Take pride in doing your best for the Lord in every task you are assigned to do at work. And be sure to give all the credit to Him after doing it.

Some may then ask the question 'What if the work I do requires me to do things that are clearly unethical - like misleading people with false information, or helping people to sin against God or to satisfy their lusts? How can I please God with such work?' This brings us to the next guiding principle for our working life: Ensure that you are in

II. The Right Profession of Work

Ephesians 4:28 begins, 'Let him that stole steal no more' This clearly implies that any job that requires stealing in any form must be abandoned because it is unethical and it displeases God. For instance, if a person who works for a syndicate involved in smuggling dutiable goods becomes a Christian, he must resign at once and seek for a new job. The same thing applies to any job that encourages sin, whether it is stealing or any other kind of sin. And even if that job happens to be legitimate in the eyes of the world a Christian should not choose it.

In this present economic recession, when jobs are so scarce, it may be difficult to turn down a job offer when you are unemployed. But if the only job offers you receive require you to be involved in sins like abortion, gambling, prostitution or deceptive advertising, can you take such a job? And what if it comes with a very attractive remuneration package? You must reject it and trust God to provide another one for you. 

Two years ago a member of our Filipina service who works as a nurse in a local hospital was posted to a department that handles abortions. She objected to the posting because she knew that having any part in the killing of unborn babies would displease God. At first she was told that she may be sacked if she rejects the posting. But later on the hospital administration decided that she was too valuable to be removed, and so she was posted to another department and was able to keep her job. The Lord will honour those who honour Him (1 Samuel 2:30).

We have seen that having the right profession is a must, but this by itself does not guarantee that one's working life will be pleasing to God. Temptations abound even in jobs that do not require an employee to do anything sinful. For instance, there are forms of stealing that some would regard merely as their right to enjoy the company's fringe benefits. One example is the use of expense accounts. Expense accounts allow employees to fund business trips, to purchase necessary office equipment or to impress potential clients over dinner. But even the most responsible employees have probably taken at least a bit of liberty with their expense accounts, for instance, taking a taxi when they could have walked a few blocks to the hotel, or ordering expensive food for themselves. 

The expense account is actually a privilege, not a right. You must use it with care to retain your employer's trust. Do not treat it as an ATM machine to finance exotic vacations for yourself, dinners at 5-star restaurants and other personal expenses under the guise of 'business expenses.' When such abuse of company funds comes into public view, the consequences will be devastating. You may have heard in the news over the past few weeks how the British Prime Minister has come under intense pressure to resign mainly because of the scandalous abuse of expense accounts by lawmakers under his administration.

In the 1940s an American named Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox became one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He won 6 American League batting titles. But when Williams was 40 years old, and his career was drawing towards a close, he suffered a pinched nerve in his neck. He would later say: 'The thing was so bad that I could hardly turn my head to look at the pitcher.' For the first time in his career his performance declined. That year he made only 10 home runs. And yet, he was the highest salaried player in sports that year, making $125,000. 

The following year the Red Sox sent him the same contract. Williams sent it back with a note telling them that he wouldn�t sign it until they gave him a 25% pay-cut. Since the Red Sox had always treated him fairly, Williams could not with good conscience accept an offer he did not deserve. So he cut his ownksalary by $31,250! 

Would we have done the same thing? Please remember that as Christians we should not take more than what is fair for us to receive for our work. In fact fairness is really the main issue in work ethics, and this is what we shall see now as we look at the next guiding principle for our working life, which is to apply

III. The Right Practices at Work

Let us look at the latter part of Ephesians 4:28 which says, 'but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good' According to this, if a person wants his material needs to be met then he should labour for it with his own hands. And the payment he receives should be according to the amount of work he puts in. This is fair and square. And conversely, if a person is being paid to work, then let him ensure that he does all the work he i3 paid to do. 

Therefore godly work ethics demands two things from us: Firstly, we must not shortchange the ones who work for us. This means that as employers we cannot delay or withhold all or part of the payment our employees ought to receive from us. It also means we cannot make them do more work than what we are paying them to do. James 5:4 tells us that God Himself hears the cries of workers who are not paid for the work they have done, and He will deal with those who have exploited them.

Secondly, godly work ethics demands that we must not shortchange the ones we work for. This means that as employees we should fulfil our own job responsibilities faithfully. We should not make others do what we are supposed to do. It also means that we should not come to work late, or leave the workplace earlier than we should, or make use of our working hours to settle our own personal matters. 

Being fair to everyone is only one aspect of right practices at work. Another aspect is being honest and accountable. We should not use any underhand methods and shortcuts to get our work done. Some practices are clearly illegal and will not be acceptable at all in the workplace (e.g. falsifying records). But there are also some questionable practices that are widely tolerated in the workplace. For instance, some would curry favour with the boss to get preferential treatment from him. Others would seek to gain control over their co-workers or subordinates through blackmail, through biased confidential reporting or through deliberately withholding help and privileges. 

If there is a certain practice widely tolerated in your workplace, this does not mean you can use it. Please look again at Ephesians 4:28 and you will notice that it says, 'working with his hands the thing which is good.' The word 'good' here refers to moral goodness (as opposed to stealing mentioned at the beginning of the verse). Whatever you do in your workplace must therefore be morally good. And as a Christian worker you are held accountable by God to moral standards that are higher than that of the world. More is expected of you than of others.

If you ever need to decide whether or not to adopt a certain practice which is going on in your office, you can apply 3 simple questions. Firstly, will it give those who do it an unfair advantage over others? Secondly, will it put those who do it in a bad light if it ever becomes known publicly? Thirdly, will God be displeased with those who do it? If you have to answer 'Yes' to any of these 3 questions then you should not do it. 

This may not be easy, because very often, doing what is good and right in the work place comes with a price. For doing what is right you may lose out in the end to those who have absolutely no qualms about violating moral standards. For doing what is right you may be grievously maligned and threatened. For doing what is right you may be bypassed for the next promotion exercise and even be earmarked for the next retrenchment exercise. 

But even though you may end up losing much for doing what is right, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have done what God wants you to do, and not what the world would have you to do. I had mentioned earlier on that the world regards work as a means to GET money to indulge in leisure and fun activities. It does not matter then how that work is done - whether you use fair means or foul. Anything goes, as long as it gets the money into your pocket. 

IV. The Right Purpose for Work

If this is your approach to work, please listen to this: Your purpose for working should not be getting but giving. This is the fourth and final guiding principle for our working life. It is found in the last part of Ephesians 4:28 'that he may have to give to him that needeth.' The Christian life is all about learning to love yourself less and less, and learning to love God and others more and more. And love always seeks to give. Love finds its greatest joy in giving, not in getting. 

God has given you your ability to work, as well as the opportunities for you to work, so that you in turn can give to others. Through your work you can be a blessing to your loved ones by providing a comfortable home for them to live in. Through your work you can be a blessing to your friends, when you share your abundance with them and buy gifts for them to cheer them and encourage them. Through your work you can be be a blessing to the needy - especially to those who are unable to work and earn their own living. It is no wonder that our Lord Jesus said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35)

With that we conclude this message on godly work ethics. We have seen that godly work ethics begins with having the right perspective of work - that work is good because God has ordained work for man. We have seen that we must choose the right profession of work - one that does not make a living by compromising moral principles. We have seen that we need to adopt the right practices that promote fairness, honesty and accountability in our work. And lastly, we have seen that the right purpose for work is not to get money for ourselves, but to be able to give out of love and thus bring blessings to others.

May the Lord help all of us to faithfully apply these guiding principles in our working life.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25