Blog - Embodying Truth
Your Workplace: Hill and LamppostFriday, February 25, 2011
As my wife and I drove north on I-5 the other day, our windshield framed the Seattle skyscrapers. Borrowing a sentence from Jesus, I stated the obvious: "A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Jesus used city and lamp metaphors to illustrate the role of his followers as world-illuminators. It’s hard to miss seeing a lighted city on a hill or a lamp on its stand. By contrast, a town tucked away in a valley or a lamp hunkering down under a bowl does little to drive the dark away.
If you’re one of Jesus’ world-illuminators, your workplace serves as both "hill” and "lamppost.” It positions you where your light becomes inescapably seeable. "But what,” you may ask, "is my ‘light’? On many Mondays, I don’t consider myself especially bright.”
Many religious traditions press us to think our light consists chiefly of what we say as we put the good news about Jesus into words others can hear. Such traditions would bend what Jesus said next into something like this: "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may hear your good words and praise your Father in heaven.” But, of course, that’s not what he actually did say. Instead, "…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds…” (Matt. 5:16).
So here the light turns out to be good deeds, worthwhile works, admirable acts. The light shines through what you do. The workplace puts what you do out where those in the dark can benefit from the light of your doing.
But wait! Didn’t Jesus warn against doing our "acts of righteousness” (Matt. 6:1) to be seen by others? Yes, but he spoke there of what we might call "religious” acts—like praying, fasting, or giving to the needy. Actions like that need to be kept, so to speak, "off the hill” and "under the bowl.”
Come to think of it, most of our getting together as Christ-followers takes place under the bowl. We generally assemble in places out of sight for most unbelievers. No doubt that’s a good thing. Outsiders might well misinterpret the actions we take to encourage and teach each other. We need those times "under the bowl,” just as Jesus’ disciples needed to pull out of the crowds and spend time with him in a "quiet place” (Mk. 6:31).
But those times refresh us for the return to the hill and the lamppost where our doing-light can shine into the darkness. Time and again the New Testament calls us to light up the world through what we do. The italics are mine in these few examples:
- We are to think hard about how we may "spur one another on
toward love and good deeds” (Heb.
- As God’s workmanship, we were "created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10).
- We are to "do good to all people” (Gal. 6:10).
- Dorcas was known for her habit of "doing good” (Acts 9:36).
- Paul urged Timothy to command the Ephesian believers to be "rich in good deeds” (I Tim. 6:18).
- Peter told his readers to live "good lives among the pagans” so that they might "see your good deeds” (I Pet. 2:12).
- And James made it clear, "I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).
Do words, then, ever belong in the workplace? Of course. As our good deeds prove the light to be real, they will raise questions. "Always be prepared,” Peter urges us, "to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Pet. 3:15). In their book, Your Work Matters to God, Doug Sherman and William Hendricks remind us that "the greatest need in the workplace right now is for Christians whose lifestyle and workstyle are so unique and so distinctive that coworkers will want to know why.”
Does the work world need more doers of the Word?