Working for an Audience of One
Integrity in the workplace should be an easy thing to define, right? We shouldn't steal paper clips or pencils. We shouldn't lie to our boss. We shouldn't show up late, leave before quitting time, or push our lunch break limits. Follow the Ten Commandments and the rules of our employer. Then tie a 9-to-5 ribbon around it and, voila!, integrity. But it's so much more.
God has placed us in a world full of choices. Our integrity at work is not only tested in terms of the obvious red and green lights found in the moral code of Scripture. It is also important how we decide to exercise our freedoms and accept the consequences of our responsibilities. In other words, integrity is more complicated than just not stealing and not lying. It's what we do when no one is looking. That's where real freedom resides, and that's where we often compromise our integrity.
We have the freedom to work hard and do a job with excellence—or just do enough to get paid. We can search for the wise advice of those who know better—or just do what we know and get it over with. We can take risks that are necessary for success—or just play it safe and stay afloat another day. We can receive work evaluations with a desire to be a better employee—or get defensive.
As followers of Jesus and people called to a life of integrity, we face an important question. Will we use our freedom as an opportunity to please God through our work? Or as an opportunity to work only as hard and as good as we must? As we search the Scriptures, we find a clear, resolute answer to guide us: Our work, whatever it is, is a calling to work hard for an audience of One.
Paul writes one of the definitive passages on the issue of work and integrity in light of our freedom in Colossians 3. What's striking about his passage is the context. In verse 22, Paul addresses "slaves" as his audience. While slavery might feel like an "off limits" issue for 21st century Americans, God uses it to teach us about integrity in the workplace. God has used the context of the most difficult, painful, and demeaning "workplace" to teach us that our work in any context is always done for God and not other people. "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24).
Note first of all the context here: "whatever we do." Whatever our workplace, whoever our boss is, we are God's people working for God, for his pleasure and glory. Second, our work is to be done "heartily," which is to say enthusiastically and sincerely. God is not pleased with the work of grumblers (Phil. 2:14-16). Third, we work for the audience of the One we call "Lord." If we work for people, then the tension between freedom and responsibility will cause us to worry about keeping our jobs, doing enough to get by, and hoping that next evaluation is good enough for a raise. But working for God is a high calling. It affords us the freedom to work harder and to accept critical evaluation because we sincerely want to be better workers.
With our heavenly Father as the audience of our work, we become people of profound integrity who not only do what our work demands, but also use our freedom to stretch ourselves toward excellence, toward somewhere far beyond mere requirements. That kind of integrity not only pleases God, it makes us examples in the world that point to Christ.