In the summer of 2019, I was bouncing between two projects, studying the book of Romans with colleagues, and putting the final editorial touches on a book about faith in the workplace. After a few weeks, the lines between these two projects became blurred, and I began to read Romans with the themes and concerns of my book in mind. As a result, I edited and rewrote the book reflecting on Paul’s voice in Romans. What emerged from the conversation was a handful of Pauline perspectives which I believe can act as a guide or a road to follow on how the Christian faith can be lived in the workplace.
The six themes include: the gospel attitude, the mind of fallen humanity, embracing our adoption, understanding and honoring authority, respecting differences, and women in leadership.
- Romans 1:16-17 – The gospel attitude
- Romans 1:18-32 – The mind of fallen humanity
- Romans 8:18-30 – Embracing our adoption
- Romans 13:1–7 – Understanding and honoring authority
- Romans 14: 1-23 – Respecting differences
- Romans 16: 1-23 – Women in leadership
These six themes from Romans I believe best address the existing nature or context of the modern work environment. Today, I’d like to tackle the first one on how the gospel should shape our perspective.
The Gospel Attitude
For most Christians, places of work are not friendly to their faith, and the path forward is filled with obstructions, missing signposts, or whole sections of the map missing.
I think this is one of the reasons why so many Christians enjoy gathering together on the weekends, to get a break from the disruptive and awkward moments they experience in the workplace. To be certain, the church can have its share of strangeness, but rarely does this involve important things like our collective yet personal identity in Christ. By and large, we agree with others in the church regarding life’s meaning, purpose, and source. And, because of this, Christians typically make sense of the events of life in much the same way.
For example, I once had a conversation with a friend concerning the death of her mother. Her mom was a devout, genuine believer and was a lifelong encouragement to those around her. Her mom’s death was tragic and graphic. For a woman who was so faithful, her suffering made little sense. Yet, as she suffered, she did so with courage and dignity, knowing she would be seeing Jesus soon and someday have a new body. My friend and I both agreed her mom faced death with the courage that comes from a resolute faith, and that her absence with us meant presence with the Lord.
Alternatively, I mentioned this situation to a non-Christian friend, and he immediately said:
Needless suffering—this is why I support death with dignity initiatives. What barbarian would think that type of suffering serves any purpose?
I didn’t agree with him but remained silent because I was afraid of his disapproval and felt awkward and powerless. To be certain, at times I have not felt so awkward or afraid and have rightly chosen to be gentle and to hold back from talking about my faith because it was not the right time and would been perceived as insincere, contrived, or insensitive; however, this exchange with my non-Christian friend was not one of those times.
Having Boldness and Freedom to Share Your Faith
The apostle Paul writes:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ (Rom. 1:16-17).
Theologian Michael Bird suggests a simple test to determine whether a person is ashamed of the gospel. Bird thinks that we are ashamed when we care more about someone else’s opinion of us rather than God’s. The apostle Paul captures this idea in other writings, reiterating that he cared little about what others thought of him but stood alone to be judged by the Lord (1 Cor. 4:3 ESV). Os Guinness calls this mentality, “the audience of one,” that is, we do best when we live our lives like a performance in the theater but with only God as our audience.
So, the apostle Paul’s counsel to me regarding this situation at work would be that I have a power problem. That is, that I do not fully grasp the gospel as the power of God for those who believe. The gospel is powerful because, according to Bird, it also reveals the character “of God embodied and enacted in his saving actions.” So, this gospel of apparent foolishness that leads to awkward moments (1 Cor. 1:18 ESV) should not be a source of shame because God’s nature is being revealed through his saving action.
I often hear from my fellow believers that they shy away from sharing their faith at work because it would be frowned upon, or they may get in real trouble. But I don’t think this is correct. Title VII, which outlines the legal parameters for expressing faith in the American workplace setting, says people can share their faith as along as it does not inhibit business operations or become harassing to fellow employees. So, we do have some protections.
Honestly, I wonder if the real reason we are so inhibited when it comes to sharing our faith has less to do with the fear of being fired and more to do with our doubt in the ability or power of the message.
Think of it this way. In your conversations at work, when do you feel the most confident? Typically, it is when someone asks a question to which you have a known answer. From experience, you know what solves the problem, gets resolution, or creates success. The topics that you feel confident addressing can range from work related tasks, sports teams, restaurants, or best routes. In the same way, when the conversation turns to deep considerations of meaning, purpose, and identity, you can talk just as confidently about your faith because you know not only that it’s true but also that it works, solves or resolves life’s most important problems, and creates life success.
You and I only need to be concerned about one person’s opinion of us. Our gospel attitude should be informed by the reality that there is only one person watching the drama of our lives, only one person in the audience, and he has acted in history, demonstrating a God who loves his creation.
Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on Sept. 9, 2019.
If you are a Christian employer and wonder what your legal protections are in the workplace, please download this free guide from the Alliance Defense Fund.