Blog - Embodying Truth
Appropriate Workplace WitnessingThursday, 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.
- Doing quality work (good work transmits light wonderfully).
- Speaking the truth (even when it costs us dearly).
- Admitting when we’re wrong (yes, even saints sin).
- Forgiving others when they hurt us or mess up on the job.
- Reacting with patience when crises cause others to panic.
- Accepting and befriending the misfits, outsiders, and eccentrics.
- Relating to supervisors, peers, and subordinates with self-giving love.
- Laying down the work tools to rest.
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!