This article is written by BCC Counselor Theron St. John as part of our mini-series on biblical wisdom for the workplace.
Late nights finishing projects. Work calls taken during vacation. Emails answered while spending time with the family. This described the life of Charlie.
Driven by a desire to climb the corporate ladder, he put in the work beyond the 9-5. His colleagues noticed his work ethic and applauded him for it. Yet, the praises he received in his workplace were not repeated in his home. All the time he gave to his job became time taken away from his family. Charlie’s work had become his world.
I suspect Charlie is not alone in this endeavor. Most of us desire to do our jobs well. Yet, there are two tendencies we face that do not match what God’s Word calls us to in our work: idleness and idolatry.
If we are not plagued with idleness in our work, then our temptation may be to make an idol out of work. When we make work our idol, it becomes our world and other problems arise.
Mistaking Our Identity
“Could you introduce yourself?” This is a simple question that can be a heart-revealer.
When speaking to a group of people or meeting someone for the first time, the answer to that question could be an indicator of what we view as our identity. A common response to the question may be what we do for a living. However, when our job title is the first description we give, before our faith and family, we may be viewing ourselves through the lens of our work.
Another sign that our work is our identity is when our job is what we care most about. Our concern is not in what fellow Christians think about our commitment to the church or in how our family feels about the times we are present. Our preoccupation is with how our boss and colleagues view us as workers.
Please do not misunderstand me. We are called to “work heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). We ought to do our jobs well. But our work is not what gives us our identity.
For Christians, our identity is in Christ, which means we live for Him and not for the corporate ladder (2 Corinthians 5:14-17). We are ultimately ambassadors for Christ, living as His representatives in our homes, churches, communities, and workplaces.
When we mistake our identity to be found in our jobs rather than in Jesus, we also fail to live the life He has called us to in His Word.
Misplacing Our Priorities
As God’s Word calls for us to live for Him, He gives us a set of priorities to live out as His ambassadors.
God calls for husbands and wives to prioritize their marriage above all other human relationships (Genesis 2:24) and to be sacrificial and submissive (Ephesians 5:21-33). He calls for parents to raise up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). He calls for these believers to be committed to their local churches and faithful in gathering with God’s people in the church (Hebrews 10:24-25).
When these commands from Scripture fail to be applied due to commitments at work, priorities have been misplaced.
When we are not able to take care of family, whether it is a spouse, child, or parents, because we feel the need to take care of our latest work project first, we have missed the mark. When our closest friends are unbelievers at work instead of people from our church community, we have prioritized relationships in the wrong place. When we consider success to be a promotion at work over having family devotions at home, we have misaligned our practices against the priorities of God’s Word.
A Response from God’s Word
One of the purposes by which God has given us Scripture is “for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). In God’s Word, we find teaching on how to be faithful in our work without making an idol out of it. Additionally, as the Word confronts us, we are reproved and corrected on how we have sinned against God. We have made our work our world rather than obeying His Word.
Therefore, the first response when we recognize we have misplaced our identity and priorities is to repent of making work our idol. True repentance does not stop with merely admitting and confessing. There must be a turning from sin to godliness and training in righteousness. In other words, repentance bears fruit (Matthew 3:8).
What does it look like for repentance to bear fruit in a person who has made their work their world? Here are four ways we can turn in obedience to God’s Word.
1. Work for the glory of God, not for the fear of man.
The last phrase of Colossians 3:23 says to work “not for men”. Sometimes we make work our world because we fear what our boss and coworkers may think. This is living for men and in the fear of man because there is a lack of trust in the Lord and His provision for us. When we turn from the fear of man and work for the glory of God by trusting the Lord with the results, we can have peace that God will take care of us.
2. View success by our time in the Word, not our time at work.
While we want to do our jobs with excellence, the eternal significance of how we steward our time will be seen most importantly by how we grew in our relationship with God, not with our employer. The world can applaud us for our strong work ethic and congratulate us on a job promotion, but if we spend too much of our time on work, we are not successful. Success is defined by knowing God and applying His Word to daily life, including our jobs. When we turn from viewing work as our ultimate success, we will have the right set of eyes to prioritize time in God’s Word.
3. Set aside intentional family time where work cannot reach us.
Sometimes the best thing we can do for our families is turning off our devices. Closing the laptop and silencing the phone can keep us from getting distracted by work when we are with family. While our minds may still tend toward work matters at times, starting this habit with our devices can help turn the misalignment of work over family into God-honoring time with them. Set aside specific times and days to just focus on family.
4. Commit to building relationships in our churches.
We want to be able to have work friends and even unbelieving friends, but our closest friends, the ones who help us grow in Christ, must be found in those we do life with inside our local churches. When we have neglected that, we must repent and turn to committing and investing in building relationships in our churches.
May God’s Word shape how we think about work and approach it!