Blog - Embodying Truth

Love Your [Workplace] Neighbor

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

As a Christ-follower in a so-called "secular” job, your work neighborhood probably includes more than a few who do not share your faith. Down deep, what is your heart-attitude toward them? One non-believer, while a student in a Christian school, felt "judgment, exclusion, and [an] unwelcoming attitude.”

A variety of prejudices show up in the workplace, with age, race, and gender bias the most common. But what about faith prejudice? I grew up in a strongly evangelical Christian home—and I’m grateful for most of that heritage. But back then I sorted people into two classes—the good and the bad. If they used words like "damn,” smoked cigarettes, drank beer, or went to movies, they would likely not have been invited to my birthday parties.

One episode in the TV series, "Blue Bloods,” puts the good-versus-bad-people question into perspective. As the four-generation family sits around the dinner table, Linda Reagan (Amy Carlson) tells her young boys: "If you can stop yourself from defining someone by their worst choices . . . then you’ll be a better man.”

To which one of the boys asks, "But if a guy commits a crime, isn’t he a criminal?”

His grandfather, NYC Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) replies, "For that act, yes. But that’s not all he is. . . .Take Ebenezer Scrooge. He starts out a decent fellow, then he gets cranky, then he gets downright mean, then he gets scared, and then he tries to bargain his way out and then he ends up all jolly and generous. So, Ebenezer Scrooge, good guy or bad guy?”

Today’s workplaces include those who engage in all kinds of conduct Christians cannot and should not endorse. But if I secretly pigeonhole coworkers into good/bad categories, my heart-attitude will have consequences. I will judge the "bad” ones and "unfriend” them. Stay spiritually distant though physically near. One former soldier said, "I soon found that the military was really no place for a Christian. Daily my ears were assaulted with profane and obscene language.” That’s exclusion.

An alternative way to regard non-believing coworkers draws a larger circle of community and rules out exclusion. First, it sees them as foundationally good, because they bear the image of God. God himself called his creation, including human beings, "very good” (Gen. 1:31). Second, at the same time, those coworkers are fallen, broken, and spiritually disabled by sin (Rom. 3:23). And third, they are renewable. They have the potential to be re-created through faith in Christ (II Cor. 5:17). That’s embrace.

Thinking this way reminds me how much I have in common with coworkers who hold to other faiths or none at all. I too am created in the image of God. Like them, I am fallen, damaged, and distorted by sin. The only difference is that—through no merit of my own—I am in the process of being renewed (Col. 3:10). They need rescuing—as I did and still do.

The unbeliever in that Christian school came to faith in Christ when others showed him unconditional love. Love your neighbor, Jesus said. Your neighbor is someone located near you. Does the way you see your workplace neighbors lead to exclusion or embrace?

Comments (5)

John Clum (2/11/2015 6:42:41 PM)
Larry--you are spot on. I, too, have the same evangelical heritage and am transitioning to a view of grace. Thanks for the thoughts.
MARLENE HINES (2/12/2015 7:34:31 AM)
Larry thanks for your 'presentation'. The workplace can be a real battle ground with not only unbelievers but also those who profess to be spirit filled born again Christians. We just have to pray for each other as you have pointed out, since we all have our short comings and our perfection is in Christ Only
Larry Peabody (2/12/2015 7:48:31 AM)
John, thanks for your encouraging words. The transition is a challenging one, isn't it? Praise God for his faithfulness in pursuing his course in us.
Larry Peabody (2/12/2015 7:52:25 AM)
Marlene, yes I believe one of our primary roles as believers in the workplace is to pray for and encourage the other Christ-followers who may be coworkers, vendors, clients, students, patients, or whatever.
Wilson Chan (2/16/2015 1:44:04 PM)
Hi Larry,

Thanks for the wonderful insight on "love your (Workplace) neighbors. It is so true that I bring a lot of bias when I encounter with the non-believers. I need to have a transformation in seeing my workplace neighbors with new lenses. I find your 3 folds theological perspective very helpful, however, may I add one more dimension, which is the eschatological hope. I believe in God's grace, all things are going to be better tomorrow.


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