Work is foundational to God’s design for creation. From the very beginning, work was part of God’s design and work was good: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, ESV). Work is still good, but our fallen state as sinful human beings has led to a lot of resentment towards work. Work is often viewed as a necessary evil, and negative personal experiences in the workforce can contribute to these perceptions.
But even in a fallen world, work is meant to be a significant, good, and valuable part of our lives. In For the Least of These, Glenn Sunshine writes, “Work is simultaneously an aspect of man’s creation in the image of God and the normal means God gives us to provide for our needs and for the needs of others.” He adds that work both provides humans with dignity and promotes “the health and well-being of the community.” Dignity and well-being in our communities are necessary components of a healthy society, which testifies to the necessary value work provides to our communities.
If work is this important for the success of our communities, then it is equally important to identify the characteristics of healthy work environments. The only way work will assist in the success of our communities is if our work environments are also successful.
Work by the Spirit
One of the beautiful truths of serving God is we never work alone—God is always with us. Specifically, the Holy Spirit is given to us as followers of Christ, and as the Spirit leads us, he will produce fruit in our lives.
Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). We can apply this verse to the subject of work by stating, “If we work by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Imagine the impact in our workplaces if everyone followed the Spirit’s leading in how they communicate to one another. This would transform our workplaces, and it would transform our society.
Avoiding Work by the Flesh
Many of our work environments are defined by what Paul calls the works of the flesh: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21).
We may not have all these sinful passions occurring in our workplaces, but chances are high that we have some. A workplace filled with jealousy leads to division and decreased productivity. A workplace filled with idolatry leads to increased focus on less important things. A workplace filled with anger leads to hurt feelings and wounded people. These works of the flesh are destructive to any work environment, and just one of these in abundance can destroy the mission of the company or organization.
Creating a Fruitful Workplace
The beauty of a Spirit-led vocation is that these works of the flesh do not have to be our reality. Paul contrasts the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. As we itemize the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, imagine a workplace that is filled with these characteristics: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Notice Paul does not describe these nine characteristics as fruits of the Spirit; instead, he identifies them as the fruit of the Spirit. All nine of these characteristics come as a package deal when we surrender our will to that of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is leading our lives, all nine of these characteristics will be the fruit of following his lead. If we are seeking the Holy Spirit at work, we will not only be more joyful, but we will also experience more abundance in the other eight characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.
To put it another way, when we follow the Spirit in our vocation, he will cause us to increase our capacity to experience and produce all nine of these characteristics. Imagine a workplace filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Even more, imagine the positive impact on society when workplaces exhibit these characteristics.
Notice that surrender to the Holy Spirit is the difference between a work environment filled with the works of the flesh and a work environment filled with the fruit of the Spirit. After all, this is the fruit of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is removed from our work, all we have left is our sinful nature, which breeds the works of the flesh. When the Holy Spirit is included in our work, we have healthy and balanced work environments where people can flourish.
In the coming weeks, there will be a series of articles published on the value the fruit of the Spirit brings to the workplace. As we discuss each of the nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, let us not forget that the Holy Spirit is the source of this fruit. These are not nine self-help tips; these are nine characteristics that come from complete surrender to the Spirit’s leading.
As we begin this series, imagine the possibilities of our work environments when they are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In doing so, we can again see work the way God intended: to be something good.