Many of us would jokingly dismiss the idea of love at work as something silly or inappropriate. I can imagine someone chuckling awkwardly at the concept and sheepishly returning to his cubicle.
Some of us might dismiss the idea on more serious grounds. What does love have to do with productivity? Love is too ill-defined to be useful in the workplace. Love is not a credible management tool.
As much as we might try to dismiss it, Jesus says we are to love our neighbors and our enemies, including our colleagues. Over the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of blog posts on this topic of love at work, focusing on the attributes of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7.
A Love Letter…to the Office?
I Corinthians 13, sometimes called Paul’s love letter to the church, is so familiar to us that it’s easy to read it quickly and dismiss it as nothing more than a collection of perfectly pleasant platitudes from Paul.
As we look closely at these words, though, we can see that there is much to learn and apply to our lives.
In the opening words of this love letter, Paul tells us that if we do not have love, we are nothing. If we have great knowledge, can fathom all mysteries and even have faith that moves mountains, but have not love, then it is all meaningless. If we do amazing deeds of compassion and self-sacrifice, but do not love one another, then these deeds are of no profit to anyone.
To understand this passage, we need to understand the word love.
In I Corinthians 13, Paul is talking about a substantial, transcendent love. Flowing from this love is a deep desire for the other person to experience good things, to be happy and blessed. We might say this kind of love desires the other person to flourish in a broad sense and experience God’s peace, shalom. When Jesus calls us to love one another, this is what he means.
Put in this context, it is clear that there is a place for love at work. Our colleagues are people made in the image of God, and we are called to love them. We’re called to desire good things for them – flourishing and peace.
We spend a lot of time with our colleagues – sometimes more than with our families. Over time, these close relationships can be abrasive and painful.
Where does this abrasiveness come from?
Bringing Love into a Loveless Place
The proximity of the office combined with our sin can make the office a loveless place. It’s easy to see the workplace as a zero-sum game with only so much flourishing to go around. As a result, we sometimes treat our colleagues as competitors battling for the scraps of goodness that might otherwise be ours. For some, there may be no love in the workplace because trust has been displaced by jealousy, anger, and pettiness.
Even with these harsh realities of the workplace, we are called to love with a genuine love. What’s more, we are called to be intentional with our love, with words and deeds. Paul’s description of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7 is a guide to how we are to love at work – love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, etc.
Jesus showed us how to love. He loved in a sacrificial way. He lived a life on earth marked by intentional words and deeds, so that others might flourish. Even today, he advocates for us so that we might grow and mature in our relationship with the Father. We can’t love perfectly as he did, but we can follow him and learn his moves.
In the coming weeks, we will dig into the attributes of love (patience, kindness, etc.) and explore how we can love at work.
Editor’s note: For a deeper dive on the love of God, take a look at Dr. Scott Redd’s recent blog post. Dr. Redd is the President of Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.
Do you struggle to love at work?