One of the repeated and stressed themes in 1 Timothy is the tight connection between belief and behavior, or teaching and practice. Sound, or “healthy,” teaching leads to godliness while false teaching is unproductive at best and damning at worst. From the onset of the letter, Paul charges Timothy to “instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3) because this different doctrine, along with myths and genealogies, does not promote “the divine training that is known by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4).
Paul is speaking of the importance of sound doctrine in the church, but his words apply just as well to the workplace. W. Edwards Deming, one of the founders of continuous quality improvement, called his methods a “system of profound knowledge.” He said, “Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.” Knowledge of the deepest truth is essential in any organization.
Luke Timothy Johnson has translated 1 Timothy 1:4 more transparently as “God’s way of ordering reality as it is apprehended by faith.” The church is—or should be—ordered according to God’s way. Few would dispute that. But should other organizations also be ordered according to God’s way? The first-century Greco-Roman world believed that society should be ordered according to “nature.” Thus if nature is the creation of God, then God’s way of ordering creation should be reflected in the way society is ordered as well. As Johnson observes, “There is no radical discontinuity between the will of God and the structures of society. The structures of the oikos (household) and the ekklēsia (church) are not only continuous with each other, but both are parts of the dispensation [administration] of God in the world.” Workplaces, households, and churches all reflect the one and only ordering of creation.
A true understanding of God’s ways is essential in all workplaces. For example, a prominent theme in Creation is that human beings were created good. Later we fell into sin, and a central Christian truth is that Jesus came to redeem sinners. Workers are therefore human beings who sin, yet who may experience redemption and become good as God always intended. The truth about goodness, sin, and redemption needs to be factored into organizational practices. Neither churches nor workplaces can function properly if they assume that people are good only and not sinners. Accounts need to be audited and harassment needs to be stopped. Customer service needs to be rewarded. Priests and pastors, employees and executives need to be supervised. Similarly, neither churches nor workplaces can assume that people who err or sin should be discarded automatically. The offer of redemption—and practical help to make the transformation—needs to be made. In churches, the focus is on spiritual and eternal redemption. Nonchurch workplaces are focused on a more limited redemption related to the mission of the organization. Probation, performance improvement plans, retraining, reassignment to a different position, mentoring, and employee assistance programs—as opposed to immediate firing—are examples of redemptive practices in certain workplaces, especially in the West. The particulars of what is actually redemptive will vary considerably of course depending on the type of organization, its mission, the surrounding cultural, legal, and economic environment, and other factors.
If Christians in the marketplace are to understand how God would have them and those around them act (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15), they must understand God’s revelation in the Bible and believe in it. Truth leads to love (1 Tim. 1:5), while false doctrine promotes “speculations” (1 Tim. 1:4), “controversy” (1 Tim. 6:4), and spiritual destruction (1 Tim. 1:19). Knowledge of God’s ways as revealed in his word cannot be the domain of Bible scholars alone, nor is biblical understanding relevant only within the church. Christian workers must also be biblically informed so that they can operate in the world according to God’s will and for his glory.
What is at stake when leaders and workers operate according to the letter, instead of the spirit, of company policy? Steve Brock uses a personal experience to illustrate the value of ethics for sound business operation.
All Christians have a leadership role, regardless of their place in the organization. Executives usually have the greatest opportunity to shape the strategy and structure of an organization. All workers have continual opportunities to develop good relationships, produce excellent products and services, act with integrity, help others develop their abilities, and shape the culture of their immediate work groups. Everyone has a sphere of influence at work. Paul advised Timothy not to let his perceived lack of status prevent him from trying to make a difference. “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
It is interesting to note that some of this reality is already perceived in contemporary workplaces. Many organizations have “mission statements” and “core values.” These words mean roughly the same thing to secular organizations as “beliefs” or “doctrine” mean to churches. Organizations, like churches, pay close attention to culture. This is further evidence that what workers believe or what an organization teaches affects how people behave. Christians in the workplace should be at the forefront of shaping the values, mission, and culture of the organizations in which we participate, to the degree we are able.
W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 92.
Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 149.
Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, 149.
Steve Brock, "Essay: Ethics and Branding," Ethix 66, October 1, 2009, http://ethix.org/2009/10/01/ethics-and-branding.
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