I’ve got a joke for you this morning. Well it’s not really a joke. At least it doesn’t make me laugh. But let’s see what you think.
Question: When is a Christian not a Christian?
Answer: When he’s at work. Boom! Boom!
Witness at work – the challenge of standing up and being counted for Christ in the workplace. We thought last week about God at work – WHY we should work and HOW we should work as Christians. We found some good Biblical motives for working: because God has created us to work and wants us to rejoice in our work, because work is the contribution we owe to the world, because we are serving God whatever work we do, and because our work is a way we can glorify God as a witness to the world. We saw that it pleases God for us to do our work with all our might and with all our heart, but not by becoming workaholics or worshipping the work instead of worshipping God. And I reminded is that in God’s eyes, people are very precious and people matter more that “getting the job done”.
This morning I want to go on to focus on just one aspect of work – witness at work. This is an area where so many Christians seem to struggle that it definitely deserves at least one sermon. Unlike last time, this week is not so much concerned with work in church or in the home but specifically with paid work or voluntary work out in the world and our witness in the workplace. How can we stand up and be counted as Christians in our daily work?
I wouldn’t claim to know the details of the challenges you each face day by day in the work that you do. But I do have some idea about what workplaces can be like. I’ve been a student for 6 years full time and 2 years part time and a schoolteacher for 5 years. I’ve also worked as a supply teacher in a variety of schools. I’ve sold books in a bookshop, slaved in kitchens and as a cleaner and as a caretaker, “temped” in offices, mended computers, and even on odd occasions played music, all for money! In those different settings I have had the privilege of seeing a number of friends come to Christian faith. And then I have also listened carefully as many, many people over the years have told me the stories of the joys and the struggles they have as Christians in their places of work. So I am not totally clueless about what it can cost to stand up as a Christian in the workplace.
I’ll come to some practical suggestions later on, but first let’s ask a fundamental question. Why do so many Christians find it so difficult to witness for Christ in the workplace? What are the challenges to faith at work? Why is “daring to go public” about our faith so much of a problem?
DARING TO GO PUBLIC
The most important problem in witness at work is, I believe, one giant false assumption. It is the false assumption which almost everybody makes that religion just doesn’t belong in the workplace. The assumption that faith and work don’t mix. The assumption that when we go into work we are obliged, by society, by our employers, by our colleagues, we are obliged to leave our Christianity at the door.
Christians can make this false assumption that religion and work belong to separate worlds. Some Christians have the mistaken idea that some things in the world are sacred, some things belong to God, and everything else in the world is secular, everything else has nothing to do with God. That division between sacred and secular is not biblical, it’s not theological, it’s nonsense! The whole world belongs to God, and everything in it. The almighty omnipresent God is as present with us and as close to us in the workplace as He is in church – although we may find it harder in some places and easier in other places to recognise God’s presence. There is no sacred-secular divide! But we’ll talk much more about that next week.
The sad truth is that it is not only Christians who feel that religion and work don’t mix. Everybody else makes that same false assumption too – and that can lead them to put all kinds of pressures on Christians in the workplace. Here’s how it works. Over the last two centuries, for all kinds of reasons, the world we live in has become two worlds. There is the public world every human being shares in. The world of commerce and politics and business and news. And then there is the private world, or should I say, the millions of private worlds we each retreat into when we go home and lock our doors and live in our own fortresses. The private world of our family and our hobbies and our entertainments.
What everybody wrongly assumes is that these two worlds, the public world of business and commerce and our private worlds of family and hobbies, should not be allowed to mix. In particular, they assume that when we come to work we should leave our family problems and our entertainments at home. The reasoning here is quite simple. The public world is the same for everyone. It is concerned with things we all agree about, or things like politics where debate and disagreement will lead us to the consensus we need to carry on as a civilised society. The public world is concerned with “facts.” Out in the public world we should only be concerned with things which everybody shares and agrees about.
On the other hand, everybody’s private world is different. Our family life is nobody’s business but our own. Our hobbies are personal and individual. Where different people have different tastes and different opinions, there is more and more pressure to keep those opinions strictly in our own private worlds. Not in the public world where differences can lead to inequality and argument.
Now you can already guess where the vast majority of people feel that religion fits into this picture. Where does our faith fit in? Well, they say, Christianity belongs in our private world of family and hobbies. There is no place for Christian faith in the public world of business and commerce and work, they say!
We live in a multicultural multifaith society. There are many different religions in Britain nowadays. Christianity is just one option among many and we shouldn’t be forcing our opinions on others, so people say. We have no right to insist we’ve got it right and everybody else is wrong. So we must keep our religion boxed up in our private lives and not bring our religion into the public world of the workplace! That’s what the world around tells us in so many ways, more and more strongly. This is the false god of political correctness running wild.
God says different. Our faith is not just a matter of opinion but of fact! The gospel is eternal truth, a matter of life and death. The Living God cannot be kept shut up in a box! Almighty God is Creator of heaven and earth, all things visible and invisible! Jesus Christ
is Lord of all! Almighty God cannot be relegated to the private worlds of people who choose to believe. God is infinitely more important than business. Infinitely more important than commerce. Infinitely more important than politics. God is God of the public world. God is the ultimate indisputable fact! Jesus Christ is Lord of ALL – not just of those who choose to bow the knee to Him now.
But this is why “daring to go public” for Christ is so hard. Bringing Christ into your workplace means bringing your faith out of your “private” world and into the “public world”. It means going against this totally false assumption that religion is just a private matter for individuals. Speaking up for Christ in the public world of work is a challenge to everybody else that everybody else is wrong to shut God out of their lives.
So the challenge of witness at work is much bigger than simply the challenge of admitting to people at work that you are a Christian. Witness in the workplace is much more radical and subversive than that! Witness at work is about telling and showing the whole world that there are more important things in life than work, and that the most important reality of all in the universe is not work, or money, or success, but Jesus Christ! “Daring to go public” by bringing Christ into the workplace is a declaration that Jesus is more important than your work, more important than your boss, more important than your colleagues mistaken beliefs. As indeed Jesus Christ is more important. He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords. If Jesus Christ is not Lord of your work life, he is not truly your Lord!
Last year during the Olympic Games countless people people left work early or gathered in pubs to watch the events. If sport can break into the public world of work that much, surely the gospel of Jesus Christ has a right to be heard in the workplace! Jesus Christ really is more important than playing games!
LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE
Once we accept that God belongs in the workplace, then the problem of how to witness at work is not really any different from how to witness for Christ anywhere else. How do we witness at work? The same ways as we witness everywhere else!
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
What does it mean to be the light of the world in the workplace?
(a) LIVE THE GOSPEL
Things that everybody expects in work – hard work, integrity
“I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” Jerome K. Jerome
Things that not everybody gives – go the extra mile, no gossiping or backbiting, do your own work but also be ready to help others.
True friendship – you may well spend more hours a week with workmates and colleagues than you do with your family. Your friendship is a vital witness for Christ.
Something that you won’t always find – compassion in the workplace. True Christian love. Charity. The command “love your neighbour” does NOT have exceptions. It does not say, “love your neighbour, except at work”, It does not say “love your neighbour except when you are busy and stressed”. It does not say, “Love your neighbour except when the neighbour is that person at work that nobody can stand”. It does not say, “love your neighbour except when that neighbour is your boss who is on your back and getting at you for no reason.”
Witness at work is not just about finding ways of talking about Jesus at work. It is about doing your work in such a way that everybody asks – why do you work like that, and then you answer, “Because I am a Christian”. But it is not enough to wait for people to get round to asking about your faith. We must let our light shine in our words as well as by our actions.
(b) PREACH THE GOSPEL
Acts 5:42 gives us a glimpse of evangelism in the Early Church.
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:42)
They never stopped! Too many Christians never get round to starting! We wait and pray and pray and wait for the perfect opening to talk about Christ – and it never comes! So we need to step out in faith! Take a few risks! Christians should ALWAYS be pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable as they share the gospel. Early church was persecuted – they were commanded to shut up and they just went on preaching!
Acts 5: 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” 29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!
Christians in some former communist countries lost their jobs just for being known as Christians. In some places Muslims or Hindus lose their jobs, and even their homes and families, for converting to Christianity. So don’t dare to say that we are obliged to remain silent about our faith in the workplace. We don’t have the right to stay silent about Christ.
Mark 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? … 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
If it is considered impolite to share your faith at work – be impolite! The eternal destiny of your colleagues hangs on whether you are prepared to be bold and take risks. Push the boundaries! If you aren’t prepared to take risks – they are doomed without Christ! What if you are worried about “not fitting in”? Then be willing not to fit in! But what if your bosses reprimand you for speaking about Jesus? What if your promotion prospects are affected? What if you risk losing your job for speaking up about Christ? Tertullian wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. They don’t throw Christians to the lions any more. But colleagues who haven’t received Christ as their saviour are still doomed to a lost eternity! Perhaps the church in Britain needs some workplace martyrs!!
Matt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
I used to teach some RE lessons in the very challenging local secondary school in Borehamwood. As far as the head of RE knew, she was the only Christian on the staff. When there was a flu epidemic and they were desperately short of teachers I also did some supply teaching chemistry for them and got to know the chemistry teachers. You can imagine how surprised I was when we went to visit my old flatmate at his church in Watford one Sunday a few weeks later to discover that the Head of Chemistry not only attended but was an active member of that church.
At the absolute minimum, all your colleagues and workmates should know that you are a Christian! They may not know or understand what your faith means to you – but they need to know that you have a faith! Being a Christian is NOT some dark secret which you are obliged to keep hidden from everybody. Being a Christian should be THE MOST IMPORTANT thing in your life. Your relationship with Christ is what determines the person you are now and what determines your eternal destiny. For every Christian, Jesus Christ should be the most important person in your life. You talk to your colleagues about your families and their families, your hobbies and their hobbies, your holidays and their holidays. How much more should you talk to them about your Lord and Saviour Jesus Push the boundaries! Take some risks! Because Jesus is worth it!
TEN PRACTICAL STEPS
1. Pray about your witness at work
2. Get others praying for your witness at work – Home Group / Prayer Triplet
3. Find out if there are any experienced or successful Christians in your line of work? Can you benefit from their experience?
4. Has anything been written by a Christian about your line of work?
5. See what resources there are on the internet to help you in your situation.
6. Try to link up with other Christians who do the same job as you
7. Try to link up with other Christians at your place of work
8. Find ways of letting others at work know that you are a Christian – badges, postcards, Christian calendar, Christian book on desk or in locker, talking about church (barn dance, Andy’s induction, camping weekend), talking about Jesus, run an Alpha course
9. Take your minister to work with you one day!!!
10. Step out in faith – take risks!
God’s word the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ really is the only way of salvation for a lost world. We show a lack of love for our colleagues and workmates when we stay silent. The loving action must always be to speak, to shout, to warn, to persuade, to pray so that our friends do not drift on to a lost eternity. The people who showed love while the Titanic was sinking weren’t ones who kept everyone amused by playing more music and handing out more drinks. They were the ones who handed out the lifebelts and pointed the way to the lifeboats,. So “dare to go public!” Live the gospel but also preach the gospel. Push boundaries. Take risks.
If you have a job let YOUR light shine in your workplace this week!