Since our work is actually God’s work in us, our work should be worthy, as God’s work is. But apparently we have the ability to hinder God’s work in us, for Paul exhorts, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). His topic is life in general, and there is no reason to believe he means to exclude work from this exhortation. He gives three particular commands:
- “Be of the same mind” (Phil. 2:2).
- “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
- “Look not to your own interests, but the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
Again, we can work according to these commands only because our work is actually God’s work in us, but this time he says it in a beautiful passage often called the “Hymn of Christ” (Phil. 2:6–11). Jesus, he says, “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, and being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8–9). Therefore God’s work in us—specifically Christ’s work in us—is always done humbly with others, for the benefit of others, even if it requires sacrifice.
“Be of the Same Mind” (Philippians 2:2)
The first of the three commands, “Be of the same mind,” is given to Christians as a body. We shouldn’t expect it to apply in the secular workplace. In fact, we don’t always want to have the same mind as everyone around us at work (Rom. 12:2). But in many workplaces, there is more than one Christian. We should strive to have the same mind as other Christians where we work. Sadly, this can be very difficult. In church, we segregate ourselves into communities in which we generally agree about biblical, theological, moral, spiritual, and even cultural matters. At work we don’t have that luxury. We may share the workplace with other Christians with whom we disagree about such matters. It may even be hard to recognize others who claim to be Christians as Christians, according to our judgments.
This is a scandalous impediment to both our witness as Christians and our effectiveness as co-workers. What do our non-Christian colleagues think of our Lord—and us—if we get along worse with each other than with nonbelievers? At the very least, we ought to try to identify other Christians in our workplaces and learn about their beliefs and practices. We may not agree, even about matters of great importance, yet it is a far better witness to show mutual respect than to treat others who call themselves Christians with contempt or bickering. If nothing else, we should set aside our differences enough to do excellent work together, if we really believe that our work truly matters to God.
Having the same mind as Christ means “having the same love” as Christ (Phil. 2:2). Christ loved us to the point of death (Phil. 2:8), and we are to have the same love he had (Phil. 2:5). This gives us something in common not only with other believers but also with nonbelievers in our workplaces: we love them! Everyone at work can agree with us that we should do work that benefits them. If a Christian says, “My job is to serve you,” who would disagree with that?
“Do Nothing from Selfish Ambition or Conceit” (Philippians 2:3)
Jim Grubs is deeply convinced faith values and principles are a rich resource available to use in making our choices or decision more effective than they might otherwise be. He writes in this case study: "Let me illustrate with a story from the company, Reell, with which I worked."
"Toward the end of 2000, as many will remember, our economy, particularly the technical sector, took a 'nosedive'. Reell, being a part of that sector, lost close to 35% of its revenue without any promise of recovery. Carly Fiorina, then CEO of HP, said "Who turned out the lights?" By February 2001, we had exhausted all the cost-cutting strategies possible - except wages, but were still losing money. So, we had to make a decision of whether we should lay off about 20% of our workforce (40+ coworkers) or make some fairly significant compensation reductions - averaging 12-15%. The corporate leadership (about eight people) was queried as to their recommendations. Many felt we needed to reduce the workforce. If we didn't do that we would lose our best people. And besides, this was an excellent opportunity to let go those who were considered "dead wood" - very efficient."
"Of the other "mind" were those who believed we should take the wage cut approach. The rationale which was applied here hearkened back to a part of our purpose statement "Reell is a team united in the operation of a business based on the practical application of spiritual values...". Thus, we considered some JudeoChristian principles to give us perspective. The first being to reduce wages allowed a coworker to chose whether to stay or leave ("freedom of choice" - a basic principle found in Genesis 1). Secondly, the sharing of resources (money in this instance) was deeply ingrained in our culture. Working in teams included sharing everything from tools, to ideas, to time, to energy, to wisdom, etc. Sharing is a hallmark of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Thirdly, the Christian conviction of 'emptying' ourselves for the sake of others (Phil 2:3-8), a premise for the highest form of love, becomes the glue for holding a corporate or any kind of community together."
"Reell chose this approach and although there was no guarantee of success, in this case, it did provide a positive outcome in which morale was significantly increased; talent attrition minimal (one coworker left); commitment to service, quality and profit was deepened and trust that the leadership cared went 'through the roof'. It was risky, but it seemed to touch deeply the hearts and minds of literally hundreds of coworkers. Yes, the core principles and values of our faith can be effective for work communities!"
Regarding others as better than ourselves is the mind-set of those who have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:3). Our humility is meant to be offered to all the people around us, and not just to Christians. For Jesus’ death on the cross—the ultimate act of humility—was for sinners and not for the righteous (Luke 5:32; Rom. 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:15).
Workplaces offer unlimited opportunities for humble service. You can be generous in giving credit to others for success and stingy in passing out blame for failure. You can listen to what someone else is saying instead of thinking ahead to your reply. You can try another person’s idea instead of insisting on your own way. You can give up your envy at another person’s success or promotion or higher salary, or, failing that, you can take your envy to God in prayer instead of to your buddies at lunch.
Conversely, workplaces offer unlimited opportunities for selfish ambition. As we have seen, ambition—even competition—is not necessarily bad (Rom. 15:20; 1 Cor. 9:24; 1 Tim. 2:5), but unfairly advancing your own agenda is. It forces you to adopt an inaccurate, inflated assessment of yourself (“conceit”), which puts you into an ever more remote fantasyland where you can be effective neither in work nor in faith. There are two antidotes. First, make sure your success depends on and contributes to others’ success. This generally means operating in genuine teamwork with others in your workplace. Second, continually seek accurate feedback about yourself and your performance. You may find that your performance is actually excellent, but if you learn that from accurate sources, it is not conceit. The simple act of accepting feedback from others is a form of humility, since you subordinate your self-image to their image of you. Needless to say, this is helpful only if you find accurate sources of feedback. Submitting your self-image to people who would abuse or delude you is not true humility. Even as he submitted his body to abuse on the cross, Jesus maintained an accurate assessment of himself (Luke 23:43).
“Look Not to Your Own Interests, But to the Interests of Others” (Philippians 2:4)
Of the three commands, this may be the hardest to reconcile with our roles in the workplace. We go to work—at least in part—in order to meet our needs. How then can it make sense to avoid looking to our own interests? Paul does not say. But we should remember that he is speaking to a community of people, to whom he says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). Perhaps he expects that if everyone looks not to their individual needs, but to the needs of the whole community, then everyone’s needs will be met. This is consistent with the body analogy Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere. The eye does not meet its need for transportation but relies on the foot for that. So each organ acts for the good of the body, yet finds its own needs met.
Under ideal circumstances, this might work for a close-knit group, perhaps a church of equally highly committed members. But is it meant to apply to the nonchurch workplace? Does Paul mean to tell us to look to the interests of our co-workers, customers, bosses, subordinates, suppliers, and myriad others around us, instead of our own interests? Again, we must turn to Philippians 2:8, where Paul depicts Jesus on the cross as our model, looking to the interests of sinners instead of his own. He lived out this principle in the world at large, not the church, and so must we. And Paul is clear that the consequences for us include suffering and loss, maybe even death. “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” There is no natural reading of Philippians 2 that lets us off the hook of looking to the interests of others at work instead to our own.
Thanks to everyone who has invested in the Theology of Work Project! Thanks to your generosity, we were able to meet all our needs for 2017! We ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers and charitable giving in 2018 as we equip Christians to connect to God's purposes for work.