Text: Titus 2:9f
The most common type of employment throughout the Roman Empire was slavery. Slaves – especially in the East of the empire – were often treated quite well. Some were farm workers or labourers. Others became architects, physicians, administrators, philosophers, writers and teachers. Household slaves had many rights. They could marry and earn money. They were virtually members of the extended families of their owners. But they were still slaves, and would have been tempted to be untrustworthy, dishonest and disloyal. But Titus is to encourage them to seek ways of making the teaching about God our Saviour attractive to those around them; to adorn the gospel, rather than tarnish it;.
I want to deal with two questions.
1. How can we adorn the gospel in the workplace?
What attitudes and behaviours can we adopt that will commend the message of God our saviour to those we work with?
(a) Look at work through a biblical lens. The Bible has a very specific doctrine of work. It begins in Genesis 1 with God the worker.
Ge 2:15 ‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.‘
God gives us nature. By our work we cultivate nature in order to bring fulfilment to ourselves, benefit to others, and glory to God.
Three men worked on a large building project. One was asked, “What are you doing?” “I’m mixing mortar,” he said. The second man said, “I’m helping put up this big stone wall.” When the third man was asked, he replied, “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of God.”
Those three men could just as well have been working on a car, a house, a road, or any legitimate product or service a man or woman might provide. Most people work to earn a living, attain success, or amass wealth. Such reasons, however, must not be the Christian’s primary motive for working. Like the third man in our story, we need to see that what gives work eternal value is not the product of our labour or the payment we receive for it, but the process of work itself — doing the job faithfully to the glory of the Lord.
Gen 3 and following records the fall and its consequences. But the fall did not make work sinful, although it did make it more difficult. Human sin complicates work in all kinds of ways. Of course, not all work is immediately gratifying. But Christian workers will resist the temptation to moan about work as a necessary evil, but will instead seek to rejoice in it as a necessary good. And Christian leaders and managers will seek ways to humanise even the mundane. Let our work be tinctured with ‘For thy sake.’ ‘A servant with this clause make drudgery divine. Who sweeps a room as for this laws make that and the action fine.’
(b) Go to the ant. You are paid to work, not to be idle. The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the Sluggard, or lazybones.
Pr 6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
The ant has no supervisor or manager. No-one sets targets, deadlines or performance standards. It just does what ants do. It works, as if work were the most natural thing in the world.
But not everyone heeds this lesson. The sluggard is clearly alive and well in some workplaces, if the following notice is anything to go by: ‘Some time between starting and finishing time, without infringing on lunch periods, coffee breaks, rest periods, story-telling, ticket-selling, holiday planning, and the rehashing of yesterday’s television programmes, we ask that each employee try to find some time for a work break. This may seem radical, but it might aid steady employment and assure regular pay cheques.’
Don’t expect to be taken seriously as a Christian if you are not prepared to put in an honest days’ work.
(c) Cultivate integrity. Sometimes, we feel that we that in order to commend the gospel we are expected to be whiter than white; always on top form. Then we feel terrible when we slip up and make a error or say something we ought not to have said. But Christians, of all people, can afford to be honest about their weaknesses and mistakes. Once again, the biblical doctrines of the sin and redemption bring a healthy realism. The fall reminds us that we are all sinners, and it is better to admit your imperfections and mistakes than to pretend that your have none. The doctrine of redemption reassures us that God’s forgiveness is freely available, and that he is even now in the process of making all things new – including the world of work. You do not adorn the gospel by making yourself out to be better than you are, and then living in constant fear of being knocked off your pedastal. You adorn the gospel if, when you get it wrong, you are prepared to admit it, apologise, seek to make amends, and learn from your mistakes.
(d) Expect conflict. Being a Christian at work is not about being the nicest person around. Sooner or later, the culture of your workplace will come into conflict with your Christian worldview. Then what will you do? A boss asked her secretary to lie for her. The secretary, who was a Christian, said, ‘I won’t lie for you; but then again I won’t lie to you.’
All of the above can be done while getting on with your work, without mentioning Jesus. But Paul doesn’t leave it there, and neither should we.
2. What is this gospel that we seek to adorn?
Paul calls it ‘the teaching about God our Saviour’. St Francis of Assisi famously advised: ‘Preach the gospel. Use words if you have to.’ Someone once said that they would like to throttle Saint Francis. Using hands, if they had to. The gospel is a message; it is good news; it is teaching. So of course words are required. Not for nothing is the gospel so often called ‘the word of God’ in Scripture. And not for nothing does Paul clinch it in Rom 10:17 – ‘Faith comes from hearing the message.’
To adorn the gospel but then leave the gospel itself out, would be like having a set of beautiful clothes but nobody to wear them It would be like having a wonderfully persuasive advert but no product to offer. It would be like having a beautiful musical accompaniment but no solo part.
How can we begin to put the gospel into words in the workplace?
(a) Know what and in whom you have believed. The greatest single reason for the church’s evangelistic disobedience centres in the church’s doubts. We are not sure if our own sins are forgiven. We are not sure if the gospel is true. And so, because we doubt, we are dumb. We need to hear again Christ’s word of peace, and see again his hands and his side. Once we are glad that we have seen the Lord, and once we have clearly recognised him as our crucified and risen Saviour, then nothing and no-one will be able to silence us. (John Stott)
1 Pet 3:15 In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
(b) Let it be known that you are a Christian. There are Christians – solid members of their chuches – who have worked for 15 years in the same organisation and never let it be known that they are followers of Jesus Christ. Mk 8:38 “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.”
(c) Build some bridges. Say what you did at the weekend. We can chat to our colleagues over coffee break or lunch. Invite a colleague to an evangelistic event or guest service. Comment on a book, film or news item. Dan Vinci Code, God Delusion.
(d) Don’t be paralysed by fear of getting it wrong. Someone criticized D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism. Moody asked, “Tell me, how do you do it?” The critic replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody retorted “Then I like my way of doing it badly better than your way of not doing it at all.”
(d) Above all, learn to love people. The Gospel is not primarily a process or a formula, but a person and a relationship. “I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I endure, so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts…No amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition, of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep, impassioned sympathetic love for human souls.” (David Brainerd) It is love that will give us urgency combined with patience, tactfulness combined with forthrightness, confidence combined with humility. No less than 19 times in the Gospels do we find Jesus conversing with individuals. And how sensitively, how wisely, how he dealt with each one of them.
(e) And finally, be much in prayer. We can knock at the door of people’s hearts, but it is the Holy Spirit who comes along with a key and unlocks it.