Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
Work and the Fruit of the Spirit
We often think of the fruit of the Spirit, described in Galatians 5, in the context of church life. But when we apply it to our work, it can give us a fresh perspective, and have a transformative effect on our workplaces.
Love can transform our view of other workers (colleagues, customers, managers, etc.) as image bearers of God rather than objects of utility in the course of our work. Love can transform our view of work, recognizing the value it brings to others and the world. The book Theory R Management  illustrates the transformation that comes to the workplace when people are treated with love, dignity, and respect.
Joy can arise from accomplishing something meaningful. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research shows that more satisfaction can come from our work than from a day at the beach. This is not to be confused with superficial joy, whipped up in an artificial way through cheers and slogans, but the deep satisfaction of doing what we are called to do. Dennis Bakke’s book Joy at Work captures this well.
Peace creates an atmosphere conducive to creativity and teamwork, leading to new ideas beneficial for any organization. This is not to suggest an absence of conflict, because new ideas often involve struggle and compromise. Engaging in conflict in the context of shared objectives can keep the tension healthy. Peace also means avoiding gossip, supporting others, and contributing to the good of the organization.
Patience recognizes the need to consider the long term. In our increasingly short term world, we have seen far too many examples of individuals looking for shortcuts, pursuing short term gain at the expense of longer term outcomes, or simply leaving at the first sign of difficulty. A recent study asked CEOs of 500 companies whether they would knowingly forgo long term opportunities in order to make quarterly results, and 80% said they would. Bankers and borrowers pursued short term gains with subprime mortgages and real estate speculation, leading to the far-reaching recession of 2008-2009. On the other hand, after Toyota’s production failures in 2009-2010, the company’s leadership acknowledged its focus on speed had contributed to the problems and it then increased the design time of new vehicles.
Kindness stands out when it is offered at work. A colleague recognizes a person who is struggling and offers a hand or someone to talk with. A boss sees an employee who is dealing with a difficult personal situation (a divorce, a sick child) and cuts some slack for a period of time. A teacher sees behind the apparent rudeness of a student, and looks for ways to help overcome a learning disability. In each case, the person sees others at work as more than a utility, and the recognition of that person as an image bearer of God works its way out in action. This is not to be confused with ignoring failure or having low expectations, but rather, carries out the words of Jude 22, “Have mercy on some who are wavering.”
Generosity seems to be at odds with the goal of most businesses — to maximize profit — and with the goal of career advancement. But when everyone is simply looking out for their own interests, the cutthroat environment stifles collaboration and creativity. Some businesses have demonstrated that generous return policies can actually improve the bottom line. Generosity can permeate an organization when it starts with the leader, but it can have a supportive impact no matter where it is practiced.
Faithfulness is demonstrated by sticking with the task to completion, being a person of your word in delivering what you promised, or simply showing up even when you don’t feel like it. Faithfulness is often not as glamorous as laying out a vision, but it is vital to any kind of work. Melissa Rafoni, in the Harvard management update (2008)said, “Strategic planning gets all the cachet and all the ink, but the most creative, visionary strategic planning is useless if it isn't translated into action.” Paul says, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters” (Colossians 3:23).
Gentleness is best seen in the hard conversations at work, such as during a sharp disagreement, difficult performance review or termination. It may be seen in the way a teacher challenges a student. These tough conversations are done with a sense of humility in spite of a position of power, allowing for communication and trust, and avoiding the degradation of the individual. Like kindness, gentleness is not the same as reducing expectations or excusing a lack of excellence. Instead it is a means of correction that begins with humility and respect.
Self-Control is required in the face of temptation to cut a corner, bend a rule or act dishonestly because of the significant opportunity for gain. Executives formerly of great wealth and power are now in prison because of the lack of self-control, but lack of self-control is not restricted to top level executives or politicians. The person in the lowest position in an organization may be tempted to use company resources for personal gain, or a student may be tempted to cheat on a test in order to get a better grade and pass a class. Self-control is that check within each individual that is necessary for a healthy workplace. Self-control is greatly enhanced in the presence of mutual accountability and organizational systems that increase teamwork and interdependence.
Wayne T. Alderson and Nancy Alderson McDonnell, Theory R Management (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994).
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow (Rider & Co., 2002).
Dennis Bakke, Joy at Work (Seattle: PVG, 2005).
Jonathan Wellum, “Short Termism”, Work Research Foundation talk, May 6th, 2008.
Dan Strumpf, “Toyota adding more time to new vehicle development” Associated Press story, July 7, 2010.
Melissa Raffoni, “Three Keys to Effective Execution,” Harvard Management Update, May 23, 2008.