Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that none can say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Spirit. The point is not that our mouths cannot form these syllables unless there is some kind of divine intervention – but rather that this confession is a radical statement of our priorities. You see, in the Roman Empire, one could be made to regularly confess “Caesar is Lord,” and to fail to do so would death. Even our Lord, Jesus Christ, did not provoke Caesar. Rather, he said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto the Lord that which is the Lord’s.” The problem, of course, is that ultimately, “no man can serve two masters,” and if Jesus is Lord, Caesar cannot be.
As I have worked my way up the chain of command as a lowly software developer to the point where I am now the lead of our Network Operations Center, I am daily reminded of this dichotomy. To say “Jesus is Lord” is to model servant leadership. It is to care for the weak and lowly. It is to be meek – having the power to demand your own way, but not exercising that preogative. It is, in short, to put the welfare of others before myself, for as it has been said elsewhere, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” (Sorry, sometimes Star Trek has good theology – and you gotta give it its due!) That attitude will carry a company far – but lets face it. It will get your career moving – right out the door.
In private industry, the workplace is a cut-throat kind of place. Gone are the days when you spend your entire life working hard for one employer, who in turn will take care of you until you die. Nowadays the closest you’ll ever get to a golden watch is a radioactive time clock. In a dog-eat-dog world, the dogs are more than happy to let you call yourself a Christian (preferably not at the office, and definitely not when HR is watching!) as long as it is nothing more than a meaningless commentary on your hobbies. The other dogs may enjoy brewing beer, going to baseball games, or painting minatures. If you like to spend your Sunday mornings dressed up in uncomfortable clothes listening to some dork drone on endlessly about irrelevant matters – well, hey, different strokes for different folks. That’s the only religion that everyone agrees to!
But, when you want to start acting like a Christian is business, that’s another matter entirely. We all talk about ethics, and only a very few are actually willing to break them – but remember, if Jesus is Lord, ethics aren’t rules and boundary lines; instead, they are guiding principles. They animate what we do. In the blog What’s Best Next, Matt Perman (formerly associated with John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries) loves to show how truly Christ-Centered management practice is radically different beast, promoting the lowly and bringing out the best in people. In contrast, the workplace is far too often a battlefield where the only thing brought out is bile. If you need proof of that, you need only peruse our sister site, workplace.stackexchange.com, where you can see “par for the course” in management. When Jesus isn’t Lord, you see:
- People entitled to legal benefits are threatened with being let go if they are exercised
- Colleagues who are actively asked to cover up mistakes
- Families being shortchanged of time with their parents
- Agreements becoming null and void because of changes in leadership
On and on, it seems the regular experience of many folks is that the workplace is an exercise in the state of nature – a place that is as the phrase goes, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
Even in government, where you really can have a job for life, I’ve run into this same pattern – that Christianity is a fine hobby for the weekends, but not something you do in the office. As part of working in the intelligence arena in the U.S. government, citizens who desire a security clearance are afforded the wonderful privilege of sitting for a polygraph. You are seated in a chair, interviewed, and then the same questions will be asked as they put a blood pressure cuff around your arm and basically turn off the circulation for 10 – 20 minutes each session. It is an uncomfortable exercise in intimidation as you are forced to convince a machine that no, in fact, you haven’t done drugs (I really haven’t), don’t like to expose your private parts to little children (really, they ask that!), and generally are so patriotic that George Washington makes up corny stories and songs about you. It was in this environment that I was asked, “Do you have any concerns about this polygraph?” when I sat for the first time. I answered, “Yes. I am afraid you will ask me – ‘Is my highest loyalty to my God or to my country.’ because the truth is, my highest loyalty is to my God. When I say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ I mean it.” The polygrapher thought for a second and then answered, “Well, I don’t think there is any conflict between the two.” As I really wanted the job, I didn’t correct him – but really, if my government asked me to lie, cheat, steal – there is. There is always a conflict when you have two masters.
You see, Christianity is not a hobby that you do on weekends. “Done right,” it permeates everything we do. It means even as we attempt to move up the corporate ladder, it constrains our behavior – reminding us that we are “ambassadors for Christ.” I’ve seen the power plays that people have done to get where they are. Many of them would get me made a “persona non grata” if exposed to the daylight of public scrutiny. As a former government employee, the line between “patriotism” and godliness is not always as clear as my naive polygrapher would liked it to have been. As one who knows that he is “an alien and a stranger” and is seeking “a city whose builder and founder is God,” I know that while I can and should contribute to and love my country – ultimately, I am less vested in any given kingdom of this earth than in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Ultimately, in the workplace, that is our dilemma: we are passing through. This planet has strange customs. We are expected to “look out for number one,” and yet encouraged to poison that selfsame person at a bar (really – check the science for yourself – alcohol is a mild poison that attacks the body) in order to find a mate and draw closer to your colleagues at work. We are expected to fight even though most of us desire harmony. Competition must always be “fair” (at least in public), but we also know that “Winning’s not everything – it’s the only thing.”
This is not to say it is impossible to be an ethical businessman. Christians can and have found ways to work within the system and be successful. Some hide and compartmentalize their faith, and many of the best have found ways to succeed as Christians. The Franklin-Templeton group, for example, has been highly successful at investing, and also invests in “religous advancement” through its annual Franklin-Templeton Prize. Much has been made of Chik-Fil-A’s refusal to compromise on Sabbath work (leaving aside the question of whether that’s Saturday or Sunday). And, even some (non-US!) governments have realized that they needed training in the ethics that comes from religion. But the fact that these are the “exceptional,” “top-of-mind” examples shows how out of the norm it is. Seriously – when you think of “corporations,” which comes to mind first – Enron or Templeton?
As Christians, then, we have a fundamental question to answer. Is Christianity a hobby – something we’ll secretly practice on the weekends, or is Jesus the Lord of our Mondays as well as of our Sundays? Don’t be fooled; it isn’t an easy question. Being an overt Christian is not the “boost to your career” it may have been in our parents and grandparents’ generation, when the church was much like the local Kiwanis club. One way or another – Jesus is Lord or Jesus is a Hobby.
As a former Baptist, we were always big on “bringing all things in submission to Christ.” It’s a serious question. Admittedly, as an Episcopalian now, I see less of that talk – and sometimes it scares me. In the older prayer books, the concept was decidedly present, but it my sense is that as the church has moderated and modernized, I wonder how many of us do see our faith as our hobby.
In the workplace, the rubber hits the road. My faith is either something I do from time to time, or it is something I am. If Jesus is Lord, he is the Lord of my work and of my Sundays. If not, he’s just a hobby.
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