Monday, November 28, 2011

The Profitable Employee

    Probably most Americans today are thieves. No, they do not go around holding up corner grocery stores or breaking into homes, but they steal nonetheless. They steal from their employers.

    Let's be honest and admit it. How much time do we spend each day at work not engaged in productive labor, "goofing off" – talking with others when we should be working? How many things have we taken home from the job for our personal use that belonged to the company? How many times have we used the company telephone or company e-mail for personal business, and on company time? How many times have we padded the paperwork to make it appear that we did more work than we actually did? The truth of the matter is that we have probably all done some of these things at one time or another.

    To most of us this seems pretty trivial, the pettiest of petty theft, but it is not. It involves an important moral principle: we owe it our employer to do what he is paying us to do. When we are derelict in our duty we are essentially stealing from him, and this, in turn, dishonors God.    

    Writing to Titus, Paul instructs him to "exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well-pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity . . ." (Tit. 2:9,10; NKJV). Here there are several things that are required of those who work for others. First, we owe obedience – we need to do as we are told! The job won't get done if we don't follow instructions, and everyone loses as a result.

    Second, we need to be respectful: ". . .be well-pleasing in all things, not answering back." We need to try to please the boss and not argue with him. We should always be courteous and respectful.

    Third, don't steal! ". . . not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity . . ." This is especially true if we are being paid by the hour. If we stop working in order to socialize on the job we are defrauding our employer. And, of course, it goes without saying that we should never take company property!    

    What is especially remarkable is that this passage, and others like it, are not addressed to employees who are free to leave their employer if they are dissatisfied with their working conditions. Rather, it is addressed to "bondservants" – it uses the common Greek word for "slave" (doulos) and the Greek word for slavemaster (despotes). Slaves had no choice about whom they served, and some of their masters could be cruel and tyrannical. Yet God wanted the slaves to serve their masters faithfully. How much more do we owe those for whom we work as a matter of free choice, who are paying us for our services!

    God is also concerned about the manner in which we perform our duties. For example in Col. 3:22-25 we are told to obey our masters, "not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God" (v. 22). "Eyeservice" means merely creating the appearance of work in order to impress the boss. When he's not looking, we slack off. Oftentimes today employees will cut corners, fluff up the numbers, or ignore problems in order to produce numbers. But this only produces a paper result, not a satisfied customer, and defeats the whole purpose of work. There is no pride in our workmanship. It is also fundamentally dishonest.

    Paul then goes on to say, echoing the language of Eccl. 9:10, that "whatever you do, do it heartily (lit. "work from the soul"), as to the Lord and not to men" (v. 23). In other words, we are to be conscientious about our work and always try to do our very best. We might think, with good reason, that our boss is an absolute moron and a jerk (and we speak from our own personal experience in this), but we should do our best anyway, for the Lord's sake if not for the boss's. God sees what kind of job we are doing, and in His time we will get our reward.

    A.W. Pink put it like this: "Let each reader of these pages who is an employee ask himself or herself, how far am I really making a genuine, prayerful and diligent endeavor to comply with God's requirements in the performance of my duties?" (Practical Christianity, Baker, 1974, p. 185).

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