A Biblical View of Work

Introduction

“I don’t know what to do. I really need help.” 

These were the words of a newly promoted manager I supported in my HR role. One of her employees had been accused of stealing product from a retail store that they serviced. The accusers claimed to have video evidence, but this long-term employee had never been accused of this before. The manager was new to a management role and was in a panic about how to handle the situation. 

I have heard these words often in reference to HR employee relations situations in the workplace. In my experience, every employee situation is different—different personalities, different circumstances, and different dynamics. Each situation has the potential for unpredictable outcomes. In the case above, the evidence was too overwhelming, and the customer’s position was unwavering to the point that we had to terminate a long-term and experienced employee. This was an unexpected blow to the manager and her team. However, this type of situation could happen at any time during the course of day-to-day work. 

Dealing with workplace human resources issues is more like a game of chess than checkers. Every scenario has multiple players with varying moves. It is impossible to predict an individual’s next move or reaction. In chess, individuals can achieve the title of Grandmaster through years of experience. But we will never master the ability to accurately evaluate and predict potential outcomes of human resources situations. We can become better, but no book, education, or class will make you a Grandmaster of people issues overnight. 

The purpose of this book is to provide a biblical map, of sorts, for employees at every level to navigate common HR workplace issues. These principles could apply to your own personal employment and to your management of others. This is not step-by-step legal advice, only a guide. It is important to maintain communication with your human resources and legal departments with any HR related issue. My primary goal is that you are able to evaluate each situation with a godly mindset and maintain that attitude throughout the process, regardless of the trials or outcome.

Biblical HR started as a journey to find meaning and purpose in my own spiritual life versus secular work. I was becoming more and more disillusioned by the ultimate goal of secular work to operate strictly on a financial level with worldly goals. I wanted to escape from this type of temporal focus and strive for more eternal things. In my opinion, my cause was noble. I desired to apply my skills and abilities to pursue more “Kingdom-centered” ideals. I was weary of workplace politics, manipulation, weak leaders, and meaningless objectives that were not God-honoring. However, I could not find resources that encouraged me on a practical level. 

There are many fine books and lectures on applying biblical leadership principles at a strategic and even organizational level. Many of these books or websites contained sincere biblically centered truth. But they came from a conceptual rather than practical perspective. I struggled to find a daily practical application of these concepts. 

As I struggled, God taught me that applying biblical principles to my work was Kingdom-centered work. I could honor Him in how I counseled people to deal with specific workplace issues such as a difficult boss, a low-performing employee, how to hire the right person, or even letting someone go from the company. I decided to write on these subjects as a ministry to others who are struggling with their role in the workplace and to remind myself of God’s sovereign faithfulness in my own life. I must confess, I find myself needing to read my own material from time to time to re-center my focus on this calling.

You are called to the same spiritual objective. You are called to further His Kingdom in the trenches of secular work. You are to be a light in a workplace that needs to know Christ. You are called to handle workplace situations through your relationship with Christ, not by worldly standards or corporate policies. 

As a believer, you have a tremendous advantage over any corporate procedure and/or policy. We can lean on our relationship in Christ to help us discern the truth of a situation or issue through a godly lens. Don’t underestimate the power of God’s truth and the work of the Holy Spirit in dealing with workplace HR issues. Most believers in the workplace tend to rely only on workplace policies to dictate their actions in complex situations. It’s much easier to follow an employee manual or written policy than work to discern the root truth of a situation. While it is necessary to consider and comply with organizational policies and procedures, the methods and actions to accomplish this compliance should be driven by our relationship with God. Rely first on the gift, wisdom, and discernment of the Spirit of God and His Word to guide you through any workplace issue.

We were created to use our God-ordained gifts for His glory in the workplace. We are to be firm examples of biblical principles in our employment. We are called to effectively lead an organization to long-term business health through the application of godly principles. I pray that my experience encourages you to join in the original, created plan for work and embrace God’s desire for His creation.

I realize that not every specific situation is addressed in this book. I did not tackle subjects such as substance abuse, love triangles, violence in the workplace, or conducting an investigation (among others). There are some extremely sensitive, complex, and volatile issues that most managers and employees are not equipped or experienced enough to address and should absolutely refrain from attempting to handle on their own. I have limited the subjects in this book to areas that managers and employees deal with on a regular basis and need basic guidance on handling. Most workplace issues fall into one of the articles included here. However, be prepared to communicate and escalate all workplace issues to your Human Resources and/or Legal Department. We can find ourselves outside of our jurisdiction very quickly and unexpectedly.

So, how do we practically apply the eternal gift of grace and mercy to the “thorns and thistles” of the workplace? How do we practically focus on biblical principles in dealing with specific issues like having a difficult boss or co-worker, being passed up for a raise or promotion, dealing with workplace rules and politics, a poor performance review (or even a good performance review), favoritism, and even political correctness? What about those things that are diametrically opposed to godly character and values? How do we become doers of the Word at work rather than hearers only at church?

Practically applying the gospel to workplace issues is something that everyone who works struggles with from time to time, myself included. The primary purpose of this book is to provide some biblical guidance and focus to honor God in the challenging world of work. 


A Biblical View of Work

The very mention of work stirs a range of emotions within us—everything from anxiety, fear, frustration, anger, pride, satisfaction, disappointment, discouragement, and a host of others. But God did not originally intend it to be this way. God is the author of work. He created it prior to the Fall for His purposes. It was not originally created to be a punishment or a consequence of sinful rebellion. Let us remind ourselves of His original desire for our work.

In the Garden of Eden, God created man to rule and have dominion over His new creation (Genesis 1:26). This was a great responsibility and honor. By introducing the concept of work, God invited us to participate in His creation by enjoying our God-given gifts to not only grow food to eat, but to grow His Kingdom. We are to encourage and build the Body of Christ, to sanctify His people, for the glory of God. Work was good! But after the Fall, because of our sin and rejection of God, our spiritual condition, and ultimately our work environment, changed dramatically. It became impossible for us to have the same working relationship with God. Genesis 3 tells us:

Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 3:17b-19

We brought a tough life upon ourselves, which is more than a little discouraging. But Jesus Christ loved us enough to be born into a sinful world, to live and teach us His precepts, and to die on the cross as a penalty for our sins. He provided redemption from the rejection of Him that caused this environment and our spiritual condition. His desire is to regain the perfectly designed relationship He initially shared with us at creation. This redemption should be first and foremost in our minds and provide us a model for how we deal with any situation or issue, even in the workplace. The work of the cross has provided us with grace and mercy to last an eternity, and we are forever free from the burden of sin. The sacrifice of Christ is our only source of hope.

As he ends his book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer describes the only way that we can keep the priority of the gospel first and foremost in our minds.

Finally, we have been brought to the point where we both can and must get our life’s priorities straight. From our current Christian publications, you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and their faiths, or refuting this or that ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you. But our line of study makes the present-day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being—that is, learning to know God in Christ.

J.I. Packer – Knowing God. InterVarsity, 1973, p. 279.

Our work life and the challenges it brings can easily fall into the category of a distraction. We run toward it or try to escape. It attracts us or repels us. It feeds our worldly desires or drains us spiritually. This turmoil tends to lead us away from God rather than to Him. We have forgotten His original, created desire for us.

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” This applies to our whole lives. It applies to our church life, our theology, our marriages, our parenting, our relationships, and even our work.

Work was originally intended to strengthen our relationship with our loving God and to enjoy Him forever. We have allowed the difficulty and complexity of secular work to distract us from this objective.

Our Biblical Response to Work

Before we can begin talking about specific workplace issues, it’s important to remind ourselves of a few key biblical principles: God’s sovereignty over all things, His gift of eternal salvation, and the sanctification of His people. These basic principles can ground us to consider God’s original intention of work.

In God’s providence, He orchestrates and sustains every aspect of creation to glorify Himself. In this concept, He has ordained the job you have, the company you work for, and even the boss that has authority over you. How we respond to the workplace situations God has placed in our path reveals much about our heart attitude and belief in God’s sovereignty. C.H. Spurgeon, in his sermon on Matthew 20:15, states:

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.

C. H. Spurgeon – Divine Sovereignty, “Sermon on Matthew 20:15.”

The sovereignty of God is a source of comfort in the face of trials or difficult workplace challenges. Learning to rest in His sovereign will for our lives is a lifelong lesson of trust and submission.

By offering the eternal gift of salvation, Christ desires for every soul to spend eternity with Him. As Scripture reminds us:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all
people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4

So, remind yourself daily of the gracious gift of salvation you have been given and treat others as eternal souls precious to Christ. Boldly point others to Him with grace, mercy, forgiveness, and patience. Strive to consistently display this heart and attitude toward your co-workers, your boss, and your customers.

Through His supreme sovereignty and the gift of eternal salvation, God will use worldly circumstances and people to conform us to the image of Christ. This is part of Christ’s sanctification plan for our lives:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

God has everything on earth at His disposal to mold us into the image of Christ, and loves us enough to use it all, even the most difficult workplace issues.

One important aspect to consider is that these principles are an application of the work of the Trinity in our lives. God has sovereignly designed the plan of salvation; Jesus Christ has performed the work; the Holy Spirit seals it. (We will not elaborate on this correlation here, but to study the work of the Trinity is definitely worthy of our time.) The Trinitarian work in our lives is important to consider lest we think that we have anything of value to contribute to the successful outcome of anything. The principles outlined in this book will not guarantee any resolutions; this work is best left to God alone. We must pray to that end. These suggestions are only a guide to set our hearts on Christ first and foremost as we walk through difficult HR issues.


Read the whole chapter in Biblical HR.

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Think of Biblical HR as putting the soul back into how we should be treating people as HR leaders and companies as a whole.

Jess Terry
CEO and Principal – Blue Ocean Edge, EVP Operations - Rheia, Former Chief Human Resources Officer – Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., Former Chief People Officer – Taylor Morrison