At Work

Five Truths for Shaping Character at Work

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Character starts with the little thoughts we think and the little actions we take.

In a previous blog post on how to build character at work,  we set forth the process of forming character:

Sow a thought, reap an act.

Sow an act, reap a habit.

Sow a habit, reap a character.

Sow a character, reap a destiny.

Given this process, how can we begin to shape our character at work?

The Beginning of Building Character

Deciding what goes into our minds is the beginning of building character.

The apostle Paul urges believers,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2).

This involves first a negation, then an affirmation.

First, we need to reject some secular ways of thinking about our work. For instance, there are cultural portrayals of work as a necessary evil.

  • An old song, “9 to 5,” portrays the difficulty of working for a living.
  • There is a restaurant, TGIF, which stands for “Thank God It’s Friday.”
  • The attendant at the desk in the lobby of the office building I work in always says “Happy Friday.”

These slogans communicate to us that our work is drudgery, something to be endured, something to make money in order to live.

To the contrary, Dorothy Sayers argues in a classic essay on work that it is more true to say we live to work than it is true to say that we work to live. Certainly, we do need to make a living, and we need to provide for our families (1 Timothy 5:8).

We are also encouraged by our culture to work for the weekend, for your vacation, or for retirement. To the contrary, Sayers argues that it is more true to say that we play to work than it is true to say we work to play. We do need rest and recreation to recharge our batteries, but play and recreation are not what we are created to pursue as ends in themselves.

We are “not to be conformed” to these distorted cultural thoughts about work.

Five Truths for Shaping Character at Work

Second, we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds to affirm a biblical view of work. Here are five thoughts that can influence how we act at work.

1. We were all created to work. 

Work is not a result of the Fall. In Genesis 1:28, image bearers of God (male and female) are called to exercise domination or rulership over the whole creation.

Only God can make something out of nothing. We are to create something out of something. We are what Frances Schaeffer and J.R.R. Tolkien called “sub-creators.”

We can take wood and make a table or a house. We can take metal and make a tool or musical instrument and so on. Knowing that we are created to work alters our attitudes and actions at work.

2. Work is not a result of the Fall, but it is made more difficult because of the Fall.

Genesis 3:1-7 says the ground is cursed because of the Fall into sin. The ground will yield thorns and thistles. There will be much blood, sweat, and tears in the context of our work.

The Fall is what makes work burdensome and leads to the TGIF or “Happy Friday.”

3. Work is more than a place to make money or to evangelize. 

It is certainly appropriate to give to the church, or, when the appropriate situation presents itself, share the gospel, but these purposes are not the central reason to work. Work is valuable in itself.

4. The ministerial calling is not higher than other professions, such as medicine, law, business, or carpentry. 

Jesus was a small businessman for about twenty years. The Greek work for carpenter (“tekton”) can also mean something like a general contractor that works with wood, stone, or other materials. It is estimated that Jesus worked in this manner from age twelve or thirteen (when he would become an apprentice) to about thirty (Luke 3:23).

God’s kingdom can be advanced from all valid professions. We are all “priests” called to offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim his excellences in a world of darkness (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10).

5. We are called to glorify God at work. 

1 Corinthians 10:31 indicates that we are to give glory to God in how we eat and drink and surely in how we work. Our work is to be done for the Lord (Colossians 3:23).

If our work is done well, he may say “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

If we sow these five thoughts and really appropriate them, they will influence how we act at work.

The beginning of character at work starts with how we think about it.

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