At Work & Theology 101

Wisdom from Romans for Dealing with Your Workplace Conflicts

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Working with people is one of the hardest things we have to do.

All workplaces, even so-called Christian workplaces, have people in them. Not merely people, but sinners. When sinners get together there will always be conflict.

More often than not, the greatest challenge is getting along with people in normal, daily life. Broken relationships and difficult people are evidence of sin in the world.

Conflict gives us opportunities to reveal the power of the gospel. Our task is to allow that power to overcome the sin we encounter.

Paul’s Advice for Personal Conflict

Paul anticipates our struggles. After a thorough explanation of salvation in Romans 1–11, he calls for absolute dedication to the transformed Christian life in Romans 12:1–2. He follows this with some ethical instructions, including loving other Christians with brotherly love.

By the time Paul gets down to verse 18, he is addressing the relationship of Christians to everyone else, including non-Christians. He writes,

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

There are two key takeaways from this verse:

First is the basic command to live peaceably with everyone. This is good advice. When the gospel changes our hearts and we become obedient to the commands to love our neighbor (e.g., Mk 12:31) and forgive others as we have been forgiven (e.g., Matt 18:21–35), we will begin to see a preview of the future restoration of all things. Striving to get along with others is both a duty and a reflection of our or new nature in Christ.

Second, Paul recognizes that sometimes conflict is unavoidable. He acknowledges that peaceable living may not be possible because the people we are interacting with are, in some manner, violent. Fortunately, Paul does not leave us without instructions.

Responding When Conflict Is Unavoidable

In the next three verses, Paul explains how we should respond when conflict is unavoidable:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 8:19–21).

Our response to the wrongs other people do to us can be summarized by two commands:

1. Do not avenge yourselves. 

The natural response when someone does something to us is to push back in the same way. If they discredit our work, we try to discredit theirs. However, Jesus tells the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount not to resist evil, but to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:38-42). When it comes to personal ethics, immediate retribution is not our responsibility. Our just God will balance the scales in the end, though we may not see justice in our lifetimes.

There are many situations in which forbearance is the best option. However, when problems arise in the workplace, it may be necessary to address them through gracious personal confrontation or processes provided through a company’s human resources group. Speaking up may help others who aren’t able to, so pursuing a solution may really be defending the weak (cf. Proverbs 31:8–9). It is essential in these cases to seek a resolution to the problem rather than revenge.

Seeking to correct a problem is both good and right. Seeking retribution should be avoided.

2. Repay evil with kindness.

Instead of returning evil for evil, our goal should be to be gracious in return. Instead of trying to expose the person that spoke ill of us, we ought to try to find a way to be kind. Sometimes this may take the form of helping someone the next time they ask, even if they never apologize for their previous offense. In some cases kindness is addressing a co-worker’s errors through appropriate channels so they have an opportunity to change.

Paul’s summary statement is powerful, as it tells us the path to overcoming evil is through doing good. Ultimately, only the gospel can overcome evil. We can be certain that, though suffering may continue in this age, the gospel will overcome evil in the end. This should encourage us to live justly in this life, be gracious with others, and long for the complete restoration that is to come.

The Gospel at Work

Our response to being sinned against provides a way to advance the gospel in two ways.

First, it helps preserve working relationships with those around us. Not retaliating or seeking retribution for every wrong will help create a working environment that better reflects the peacefulness that will come when the gospel’s power is fully realized in the new heavens and earth. The parable of the unforgiving servant reminds us that we have been forgiven for much greater wrongs than will be done against us (Matt. 18:21–35).

Second, it provides opportunities for us to verbally explain the story of Christ’s atonement and our future hope with our co-workers. Not being vengeful shows we have hope in God’s justice. This hope demonstrates a powerful faith in God’s goodness and provision. Such faithfulness is bound to lead to questions and opportunities to give a reason for our hope (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

Our actions can lead to the redemption of our workplace and the people in our workplace, which is a glorious opportunity.

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