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Lesson 6: Religion in the Workplace *

Introduction: How do you view your work? Is it an unpleasant requirement? Is it your favorite thing? Is it meaningless? Is it blessing in your life? Is it a means to bless others or just yourself? What connection is there between our work and our commitment to God? Let's jump into the Bible and see what counsel it gives us about Christians at work!

  1. Why Work?

    1. Why do you work? If you could choose right now to be completely free from work the rest of your life, would you do it? What would your decision be if being "completely free from work" meant you were not allowed to do work of any type for the rest of your life?

    2. Read Genesis 2:15-17. God had this garden and He needed a caretaker, so He made Adam. Is that how you read the story? (No. Genesis 1:28-30 tells us that the garden was made for people, not the other way around.)

      1. If the garden was made for people, then why did God tell Adam to "work it and take care of it?" (This suggests that work is for our benefit. Work was part of the perfect creation.)

      2. Notice that in Genesis 2:15-17 the instruction to work comes right before the warning about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Is there a reason those two instructions are side by side? (We recognize that too much time on our hands is sometimes the source of mischief.)

    3. Read Genesis 3:17-19. After the entry of sin, work is called "painful toil." Is work still to be a pleasure? (It does not sound like a pleasure to me.)

      1. Our lesson suggests (Sunday) that "painful toil" still has the positive aspect of lifting us up from sin. Do you agree? If so, why? (This suggests "painful toil" is to keep us out of trouble. I think that reason existed before sin. The reason for the "painful" part of the toil is to remind us of the problems created by sin.)

        1. Genesis 11 tells us that after the flood people built the Tower of Babel. Some believe that a reason for building this tower was to safeguard the people against another flood. Rebellious people would safeguard themselves against further judgments from God. If you, as I do, have a job which does not require "painful toil" and "sweat," are we rebelling against God's judgment? (If the reason for the sweat and pain is to remind us of sin, then we simply are reminded less often by this aspect of life. However, what happened to all of creation is a reminder to us. See Romans 8:20-21.)

      2. How long does God say we should work? (Bad news. These verses in Genesis talk about working our entire life. ( Genesis 3:17 "all the days of your life."))

    4. Read Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Do you agree with Solomon that your life and your work are meaningless?

      1. Our lesson (Monday) cites Ecclesiastes 9:10 as the basis for Christians to be hard workers. If your life and your work are meaningless, what point is there in doing your work "with all your might?"

    5. Read Ecclesiastes 2:21-22. Is Solomon right?

    6. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. What reason(s) does Paul give for work? (Win the respect of others and not have to depend on others.)

      1. Are these meaningful reasons to work?

    7. Read Ephesians 4:28. What reason does Paul give for work here? (That you can help others.)

    8. Read 1 Timothy 5:7-8. What important reason for work do we find here? (Work allows us to support our family.)

    9. Consider this series of texts we have just examined. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that hard work and success are meaningless. Someone else will reap the benefit of our work after we die. Paul, on the other hand, tells us about the positive aspects of work. How can you reconcile Solomon and Paul? (I think Solomon is depressed and his writings in this section reflect his state of mind. On the other hand, there is truth to what he says. If amassing money is the goal of your work, it is ultimately meaningless. However, if helping others is the goal of your work, then it has great meaning. Genesis shows us that God's original intent in giving us work was to bless us. Helping others is a blessing.)

  2. How Work?

    1. Read Colossians 3:22. This advice is addressed to "slaves." Would it apply to employees today? (I think the advice applies to anyone who serves others.)

      1. Think back to the last time your boss was gone on vacation. Did it change how you worked?

    2. Read Colossians 3:23-24. How hard should we work? (With all our heart.)

      1. Why? (Because we should view our employment as if we were working for God.)

      2. What will be the result of working for our employer as if we were working for God? (God will reward us.)

      3. Where does this leave Solomon's advice? (To the extent that Solomon's advice is understood to apply to the money side of things, it still stands. But Solomon's statement that work is meaningless is inconsistent with Paul's advice that our work is meaningful to God and that He will reward us for it.)

      4. What is God's interest in whether we are good workers or not? (Read Matthew 5:14-16. The quality of our work is tied to our Christian witness. If we are sloppy, lazy workers, this reflects badly on the cause of Christ. But, if we are superior workers, then this reflects positively on our Christian beliefs.)

  3. Union Dues and Religious Do Nots
    1. Read 2 Corinthians 6:14-16. We looked at this text last week. Would this advice apply to membership in a labor union?

      1. Most labor unions in the United States support public officials and political candidates who promote abortion and homosexual rights. The largest labor union, the National Education Association, has adopted resolutions promoting both abortion and homosexual rights. How does verse 14 speak to being a member or financial supporter of these kinds of labor unions?

      2. Recall that in Colossians 3:23-24 we are told we should work for our employer as if we were working for God. Would you call a strike against God?

    2. You may recall the story in Matthew 17 about Jesus and the temple tax. The question was whether Jesus should pay it. This question presented a conflict between the obligation to pay taxes and the issue of the divinity of Jesus. If He was the Son of God, why should He pay taxes to His Father? Read Jesus' solution to this difficult problem in Matthew 17:27.

      1. What does this teach us about conflicts between work rules and our conscience? (Jesus showed His divinity by performing a miracle to pay the tax. While that may not be available to us for every work conflict, the principle is to go along as far as possible with those in charge, try not to offend them - but do not violate your religious beliefs.)

      2. For those in the United States who are faced with supporting labor unions, the law potentially allows you to pay your union fees to charity. You go along with the union obligation as far as you can without compromising conscience.

  4. Practical Advice for Workers

    1. Read Luke 6:35, 37-38. What should be our attitude towards difficult co-workers?

      1. How do we evaluate other employees? (I don't think this means supervisors should not make evaluations of employees. We will next read a text about discipline that suggests correction is good and necessary. But, co-workers should be careful about being critical and judgmental.)

      2. Should we be willing to "pitch in" and help out with projects at work? (The text tells us to "give" to others.)

      3. What reason does the Bible give for being generous with our help to co-workers and not being critical and judgmental of them? (Payback. If you help others, they will help you. If you criticize and condemn others, they will be critical of you.)

    2. Read Proverbs 12:1. Do you love discipline? What reason should we love it? (It teaches us something. We get better in our work.)

    3. Read Proverbs 16:13. How important is it to be honest with your supervisors and your co-workers?

    4. Read Proverbs 12:20. If you promote peace, instead of division at the office, what will be the result?

    5. Read Ecclesiastes 10:20. Should you "bad mouth" your employer? Should you say bad things about your boss behind his (or her) back?

    6. Read Proverbs 17:27-28 and 13:3. How important to our success at work is what we say? What advice do you find in these texts about being careful about how we speak at work?

    7. Friend, God created work for our benefit and the benefit of those around us. Will you decide to today that you will approach your work as if you were working for God Himself? If you do, God promises He will reward you!

  5. Next week: Respect for Authorities.
* Copr. 2004, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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