In Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller says Christians should be different than nonbelievers at work. This is often easier said than done, of course. But cultivating such “attractively distinct” lives is essential to our public witness.
Driven by a unique view of humanity and a love rooted in the wisdom of the cross, we can stand out at work in at least four ways.
1. Be known as fair, caring, and committed to others.
Driven by the Father’s love and his acceptance of us through Jesus, we can be known as fair, caring, and committed to others. Since we know the depths of our own sin and the magnitude of God’s grace to us, we can be ready to forgive and reconcile with others (Matt 6:12; Eph. 4:32).
We may even have opportunities take risks for the benefit of others. Keller tells the story of a young woman who was visiting his church. She didn’t yet embrace Christianity, but she was interested in learning more because of an interaction she had with her boss. Keller recalls:
She worked for a company in Manhattan, and not long after starting there she made a big mistake that she thought would cost her the job, but her boss went to his superior and took complete responsibility for what she had done. As a result, he lost some of his reputation and ability to maneuver within the organization. She was amazed at what he had done and went to thank him. She told him that she had often seen supervisors take credit for what she had accomplished, but she had never seen a supervisor take the blame for something she had done wrong. She wanted to know what made him different. He was very modest and deflected her questions, but she was insistent. Finally, he told her, “I am a Christian. That means among other things that God accepts me because Jesus Christ took the blame for things that I have done wrong. He did that on the cross. That is why I have the desire and sometimes the ability to take the blame for others.” She stared at him for a moment and asked, “Where do you go to church?”
2. Be known as generous.
Depending on context and opportunity, generosity at work can be expressed in different ways. Managers can be generous with their advice, access, and investment in people. All of us can be generous with our time and money, sharing our resources sacrificially. Small business owners can take less personal profit to benefit their neighbors, customers, and employees. Tegu, for example, is a wooden toy company founded by Will and Chris Haughey. Driven by their Christian faith, they intentionally take smaller profit margins to benefit the people of Honduras, where their wood is harvested, and to create an employee savings program.
We can also show generosity to our colleagues by loving them outside of work—cooking a meal for them if they have a baby, attending a funeral if they lose a loved one, grabbing dinner with them if they’re struggling, joining their club sports team, or attending their wedding. Generosity during after-work hours is a testimony of love—showing them that you see them as a whole person, not merely a productive colleague.
3. Be known as calm and poised in the face of difficulty or failure.
“This may be the most telling way to judge if a person is drawing on the resources of the gospel in the development of personal character,” Keller says. If our boss passes us over for a promotion or we fail to get the bonus we expected or a colleague is placed on the team we want to be on, how we respond reveals where we’ve placed our hope and identity. Keller writes:
For so many people the prospect of career reversal or business failure is such a struggle. When our meaning in life and identity is at stake, we panic, often acting impulsively, sometimes finding ourselves able to lie and betray others in order to save ourselves, or we simply plunge into despair. But Jesus says, rather, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20). What does that mean? Paul tells us that in Christ all treasures are hid (Col. 2:3), and Peter says that Jesus was rejected for us, dying to take what we deserved, and therefore “to you who believe, [he] is precious” (1 Pet. 2:7). . . . This is not simply rhetoric or even abstract theology. The Bible is saying: Only if Jesus is your treasure are you truly rich, for he is the only currency that cannot be devalued. And only if he is your Savior are you truly successful, for status with him is the only status that can’t be lost.
As Christians we mourn, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). We can laugh at the days to come (Prov. 31:25) because we know that, no matter how bleak things may seem, God does not abandon his people. He has tomorrow planned (Matt. 6:34).
4. Be known as authentic and integrated.
Some Christians aren’t open about their faith at work. Others talk about it all the time, but act and speak in ways that marginalize nonbelievers.
We should, of course, be wise about how we share the reason for our hope when we’re at work. But staying silent isn’t an option. If we want to be authentic people, we must bring our whole selves to work. Keller offers an example:
I know a man who began a business some years ago based on the idea that in a particular sector of financial services the existing providers of a particular product were using the complexity of the instruments and the ignorance of customers to keep prices high. He believed that a new company, being more transparent with clients, could offer lower prices and better service, not only resulting in healthy profits, but also help bring reform and integrity to a field that sorely needed them. When he presented his idea to prospective partners and employees, he struck a remarkable balance. He said that the new company was going to be values-driven, and he laid out those values. He stressed that he was committed to these values not merely because they would attract clients and drive revenue, but also because they were the right things to do. He said that these values grew out of his own Christian faith, but he quickly added, regardless of the basis for anyone else’s beliefs, if they were committed to the same values, they were equal partners. This is an excellent example of being both open about one’s faith and yet nonexclusive or sectarian about it.
As Christians, may we take every opportunity to testify to the compassion, generosity, steadfastness, and authenticity of Jesus. And when we—as sinners—inevitably fail at displaying his fullness, may we also be people who are quick to seek forgiveness from others and God, knowing that our righteousness is found in Christ alone.
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