“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”
– Abraham Kuyper, “Severe Sovereignty”
In many workplaces identifying yourself as a “Christian” changes the dynamic of your work environment. People may see you differently, and not always positively. Saying you are a Christian is often to subject yourself to other people’s labels, prejudices, and disapproval. Knowing this and knowing Christ’s claim as Sovereign over all, I have asked and sought to understand what it means to be a Christian in the workplace.
I suspect many Christians ask this question as Sunday turns to Monday and their work week begins. Yet, everyone’s workplace is different, so there is likely not a one-size-fits-all answer. We each go to a different place in Christ’s domain when we go to work. For most of my professional life I worked in large office settings, but then I opened and operated my own small business, and now I work for a small Christian ministry. In each workplace, however, I have asked the questions:
- What does it mean to be a Christian here, in this place?
- How do I bring Jesus to the office such that the Kingdom of God will be present, that others may encounter it and enter into a relationship with Jesus?
For me, Paul’s comment to the Corinthians that we are “ambassadors for Christ” has been helpful in considering these questions and in continuing to learn about implementing an answer.
Creating a Place
When one country establishes an embassy in a foreign country, the embassy grounds are considered the soil of the home country, not that of the foreign host. The ambassador posted to the embassy represents the sovereign of his home country to the citizens of the host country. As Christians, we are told that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us, [for others to also] be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20) My first thought, then, about bringing Jesus to the office was to establish an outpost for God’s Kingdom. I began to view my actual office as an embassy of the Kingdom of God.
To establish that outpost or embassy, I began thanking God for the physical place I worked, for the work that I had to do and for the people, colleagues and clients, with whom I worked. I also prayed that when people walked into my office they would experience a tangible difference, that coming through my door they would have a sense of peace and calmness in the busy day and busyness of our work. I wanted stepping into my office to somehow be like stepping onto the soil of God’s kingdom. I knew there was nothing I myself could do to make that happen but I believed God could do it and that people would notice the difference.
I also made a very conscious decision not to hang religious pictures, to have a Bible out on my desk, or to speak using Christian jargon. In Washington, DC, where I work, such things can be seen as a political statement and not welcoming. Too often, what we say using Christian jargon, meaning it to be a blessing, instead puts people off and creates barriers. Not that we intend to create barriers but others may throw up their own defenses. I do not want that. And, as I observe Jesus through Scripture, He did not intend that either.
For that reason, I decided not to use Christian jargon when I spoke to believers and, especially, to non-believers. I felt that I needed to speak of Jesus and the Gospel using the everyday language we all use. Like an ambassador, I want to be able to speak of my homeland and its King while using the language of the country where my embassy is. Wanting to be Christ’s ambassador, I want to speak plainly and draw people to His kingdom and not suggest it is a foreign place where they are not welcome.
Working under Observation
If an embassy represents its home country in a foreign land, then everyone expects the embassy to work differently than its surroundings. Having chosen not to display artifacts of my faith at the office or communicate in Christian jargon, I knew there still must be differences that showed evidence of God’s Kingdom. If the embassy was a different place, then the ambassador must also be different. As ambassadors for Christ, we invite others to look at us and see Christ. This is in fact my largest and most continuing challenge.
Our actions show the attitudes of our hearts – and in the office people see that. When we put forth that we are a Christian others begin observing us, how we work, how we treat other people, all to prove or disprove the attitudes they have about Christians and about Christ. Being an ambassador is not a low-risk proposition. As Christians, however, we have unique resources. Jesus has promised He will never leave or forsake us (Mat 28:19). We have the gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:7-11). And, Christ has prepared good works ahead of time for us to do (Eph 2:10). No ambassador has had better resources, though all ambassadors serve in a country that is not their own.
One of the first things people notice about someone they work with is how that person treats other people. They look to see if the person is kind, helpful, considerate, or honest—if they care about the work they do and about the people they work with. It is quite noticeable when someone is not or is “in it for themselves.” Applying the label of Christian to ourselves invites an even more critical assessment. We must be aware of this. The Bible is clear about our attitude toward our neighbor: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18) and “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor 10:24).
In the workplace, love for one’s neighbor expresses itself not only in interactions with colleagues and customers but also in seeking the success of the organization (See Jer 29:4-7). This is not meant to over-spiritualize our attitude and actions at the office. Rather, it is quite practical. There are not many co-workers who put others above themselves. Such people stand out. More is said about this below, but we are to work heartily as for the Lord and know we will receive our reward from Him (Col 3:23-24). This is a challenge and a comfort. We serve Jesus Christ and our work as ambassadors is done for Him.
Our work and our faith go together, hand-in-hand. The quality and character of the work we do speaks about our faith – probably much more than any words we speak. And people observe our work. It impacts them. We can show our faith by the work that we do: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 3:18).
The idea of “works” here is not charitable or “Christian” works but the things we do, day-in and day-out. Those works do not necessarily have to be “big things” and are most often the small, regular tasks that fill our days. Whenever work is done “as for the Lord,” then that work itself speaks the Gospel. It is not the size of job or task that has the impact; it is the Lord and what He can do and does through our faithful work. Ambassadors recognize that their work is not their own.
Not only do we show our faith by work, but our work itself can also point others to God. In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that as believers we are the light of the world (See Mat 5:14-16). Like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden or a lit lamp placed on a stand to light the entire house, we believers are to be about the regular tasks of work and life. That is where their light shines. There is a progression here, sweeping upward. It begins with believers, doing the good works Christ has prepared for us. It moves to the others who see those good works and turn to give glory to our Father in heaven. The ambassador’s work points others to his sovereign and to his homeland.
The Work We Do and Do Not Do
Knowing that others will give glory to our heavenly Father as they see our good works, our work is then to lift up Jesus. Jesus promised, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32). But, what does that mean, practically speaking – how do we “lift up Jesus”?
First, we ask Jesus to help us and to work through us. We want to abide in Him, knowing that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). An ambassador must stay connected to his sovereign. We ask that the Holy Spirit fill us and enable us to live lives that are true, first and foremost, to Jesus’ call and claim on our lives. We must lift up Jesus in our own life. He must have first place in our hearts and in everything. Jesus is to be preeminent (Col 1:18). We must live lives of increasing obedience to Him. Along these same lines we also pray for ourselves, for the others in our workplace, and for God’s kingdom to come.
Second, we do our work diligently and to the best of our ability. The quality of what we do and attitude by which we do it matters in the workplace. This may be the first way those working with us recognize the difference Christ makes in our lives. In my work, I have wanted to follow Paul’s instruction, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”(Col 3:23-24) That instruction speaks of the attitude by which we work. It is not easy, but we have that goal.
Third, we must recognize that our workplace is a community. The workplace provides daily opportunities to interact with colleagues and clients, to develop relationships and extend care. We must value the people we work with just as Jesus did. He came to seek and save the lost. At work, we will encounter people who we may not otherwise meet in other places, and likely not (at first) in church. We must be prepared to give people an answer for the hope that is in us in the place where we meet them. We lift up Jesus by acknowledging His involvement and action in our lives, including our work—in the business and busyness of life.
Quite often, I am reminded of how God is present with me at the office, that if God did not come through, I would not be able to do the work that I do. For example, there have been paydays where I have been waiting and praying for the cash to come in to pay my employees. By God’s grace, we always made payroll. It would be wrong for me not to acknowledge God and His provision in such ways and within the community, my workplace, where He is acting.
Even though I may see how God is acting in our workplace, I am learning that not everyone at my workplace is or will be open to hearing about Jesus. There are those who are eager to hear and others who like to ask questions. But, at the same time there are those who like working in a good environment and nothing seems to prompt them to go beyond that. There may also be others who actively oppose any expression of Christianity. We do not know what God is doing in the lives of those around us. Nor should we expect that only one conversation is needed or is what God intends. It may be one conversation about God or a series of conversations that do not necessarily focus on God. Most likely it is through our daily work, the actions that we are not aware of ourselves, that God is working or speaking. We do not know if we are planting seeds or working in the harvest. It is not necessarily for us to know. Ambassadors serve.
We do know, however, that an ambassador does not grant citizenship. Only the sovereign grants citizenship. By creating a place for the kingdom of God at our work, we act as ambassadors welcoming others and facilitating introductions. It is God the Holy Spirit who convicts the human heart and draws people to Christ (Jn 16:8-11). Lifting up Jesus means that we are to be faithful to Him and to do work as unto Him. We are not to be ashamed to be known as a Christian. In fact, our job as ambassadors is to let God make his appeal through us. There is no need to shrink back or be afraid. It is God who is really at work. We are His ambassadors.