Blog - Embodying Truth

Appropriate Workplace Witnessing

Thursday, December 08, 2011

One question from the forum described in the previous blog asked: "What is appropriate in workplace witnessing?” There is, of course, no bumper-sticker answer to that. God has given us his Holy Spirit as teacher and guide to make us able to navigate all areas of our lives—including our witness at work.

But two statements by Jesus—which at first seem to cancel each other out —may help us hear the Spirit of God more clearly as we seek to make our workplace witness "appropriate.” You’ll find both teachings in what we call Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

The first occurs in Matt. 5:16—"let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The second opens the next chapter: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1).

On the one hand Jesus is saying, "Do your good deeds publicly.” On the other hand, he seems to be saying "Do them secretly.” In chapter 5, we are to put our light on display. But in chapter 6, we’re to keep our righteous acts in the closet. What are we to make of this? Jesus, who not only tells the truth but is the Truth, clearly is not contradicting himself. How should we apply what he said in the work world?

The words in each text give us a place to start. "Good deeds” in Matt. 5:16 translates two Greek words that literally mean "good works.” But "acts of righteousness” in Matt. 6:1 comes from one term that means "righteousness.” Because Jesus goes on to speak of giving, praying, and fasting, Bible translators usually interpret the word as referring to acts of piety. One translation speaks of the "practice of your religion.” Another, "religious acts.” And yet another, "religious duties.”

During Jesus’ days on earth, the "hypocrites” gave, prayed, and fasted hoping to get people around them to notice. Their motivation was all wrong. No, says Jesus. Activities like that belong in private, not in public. They are for God’s eyes, not for human gazing. By contrast, the "good deeds” in Matt. 5:16 do not come across to others as being "religious.”

Let’s see how this fits the workplace. Some Christians seem to think witnessing means letting unbelieving coworkers watch them practice their religious devotion to God. This may take many forms. Making a show of head-bowing and eye-closing in prayer. Placing strategically opened Christian books where others can’t miss them. Wall-papering the workspace with Bible verses or Christian artwork. Are these always and absolutely out of bounds? No. The key lies in our motivation.

Back in first-century Israel, Jesus looked at the motivation for doing religious acts in public. Today, not many of us would do the things mentioned in the previous paragraph to win admiration from unbelievers. But we need to consider whether our motivation may be to manipulate them into listening to the gospel. If so, we need to remember that no one has ever entered the kingdom of God through human maneuvering.

In the workplace, however, there are many Jesus-approved actions the Holy Spirit can use to bring honor to God. Those are the "good works” of Matt. 5:16. What might some of those be? A few examples:

Even though such good works show, they are not "for show.” They are not external special effects intended to engineer a response from unbelievers. Instead, they emit the inviting glow of the Light of the world who lives within us. That explains their astonishing capacity to attract those still working in the dark, perhaps leading them to ask: "Why are you like that?” When that door opens, walk through it!

Comments (2)

Pepper (12/11/2011 5:35:08 PM)
Pin my tail and call me a donkey, that really helped.
Henry Paasonen (12/8/2011 9:12:48 AM)
Right on, even on mission fields such as France where the evangelical Christian is immediately dropped in the "sect" or "cult" category. Then, whatever "good works" are done will -- though not always -- be viewed as sect or cult behavior. Yet, the truly powerful reality is that each born-again believer in Christ is a temple presence of the Holy Spirit. Being the very sanctuary of the holy presence, the sovereign power and the sure purpose of the Triune God, that's being awesome "salt" in the world. Sheer presence is saltiness. However, as the Reformers emphasized again and again, the Spirit and the Word ever work together. Sooner or later, the Lord will bring us to a chosen moment when we are called to open our mouths and speak the gospel of Jesus Christ -- speak Him (Romans 10:14-15). Nevertheless, as an old pastor once told me, "We cannot do without discernment" in the when and the how of our "good works" or of the "good news". But Jesus never fails. He knows those who are His. He shall not lose a single one of them. Who the Father draws will come. Who the Father draws will be given to Christ for eternal salvation. What peace we have in doing "good works" and in awaiting the "good news" time and place for the spoken Word. &;lt;smile&;gt;

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