How do we live as believers in Jesus Christ? If the Christian life begins when we put our faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, how do we express this faith in our daily lives, including our work?
For many of us, the answer to these questions lies in ordering our behavior according to certain basic rules. Thus, for example, when it comes to the workplace, we might adopt the following to-do list: (1) Show respect to colleagues; (2) don’t use inappropriate language; (3) don’t gossip; (4) be guided by biblical values when making decisions; and (5) speak of faith in Christ if possible. Although this list could easily be much longer, it contains valuable guidance that reflects biblical priorities.
But there is a danger for Christians in such a list, whether in the workplace or elsewhere. It’s the danger of legalism, of turning the Christian life into a set of rules rather than our free response to God’s grace in Christ and a network of relationships centered in Christ. Moreover, those who approach the Christian life legalistically often tend to put on their to-do list items that are inessential or perhaps even incorrect.
Paul and the Galatians
This is exactly what happened with the believers in Galatia in the mid-first century. In response to the preaching of the Apostle Paul, they had put their faith in Christ and began living as Christians. But, before long, they started shaping their lives according to a list of do’s and don’ts. In this effort, the Galatians were influenced by outsiders who claimed to be Christians and who insisted that the Christian life required keeping the Law of Moses as understood by certain contemporary schools of thought. In particular, these “Judaizers” were persuading the Galatians to live like Jews in matters of circumcision (Gal. 5:2–12) and the ceremonial law (Gal. 4:10).
Paul wrote the letter we call “Galatians” in order to get the Christians in Galatia back on the right track. Though he did not address workplace issues directly, his basic instructions on the nature of the Christian life speak incisively to our interests in faith and work. Moreover, Galatians contains work-related imagery, especially drawn from the first-century practice of slavery. Christians, according to Paul, are to live in freedom, not in slavery to the Law of Moses and other earthly powers (Gal. 4:1–11). Yet, ironically, those who exercise their freedom in Christ should choose to “become slaves to one another” through love (Gal. 5:13).
Biblical scholars almost unanimously agree that Galatians was written by the Apostle Paul to a group of churches in the Roman province of Galatia, in what is now central Turkey, sometime between AD 49 and 58. Paul was writing to churches he had founded through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. These churches existed in a culturally and religiously diverse environment and had recently been influenced by Judaizers (Jewish Christians who argued that all Christians must keep the whole law if they want to experience the full Christian life).
Paul underscores the freedom we have in Christ in his response to the Galatians and the Judaizers who were corrupting them. Applied to the workplace, Galatians helps us understand and engage in our work with a freedom that is essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
After introducing himself, Paul greets the Galatians, referring to Christ as one “who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3). Thus he introduces the theme of freedom, which is central to the letter to the Galatians and to living as a believer in Jesus.
See Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, vol. 41 of the Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1990), lxxiii–lxxxvii.