This article looks at the Christian in his workplace and the spreading of the gospel through evangelism.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1993. 4 pages.

The Christian at Work

In the Work Placeβ€’πŸ”—

About 95 percent of Christians of working age in the UK are employed in the offices, factories and other workplaces of our land. A small percentage is unemployed, and another small percentage is engaged in full-time Christian work. These are uncomplicated and unarguable facts, but how do we respond to them. Are we pleased, or alarmed, that more are not in a 'full-time' Christian ministry? Do the figures discourage us, or cause us to rejoice?

The answer to these questions is to remember that the chief need is to be biblical, and it is reassuring that the state of affairs described above, in which most Christians are employed in the ordinary working world, is precisely that which we find in the New Testament. Only a few were in 'full-time Christian work'. Most had daily occupations and responsibilities in the very different working world of their day.

Given the emphatic statements of the New Testament that the Christian church in every generation is the 'salt of the earth' and the 'light of the world' it is hardly surprising that God should send the majority of Christians into the very places where most people spend most of their waking hours β€” the very heart of organised life, the world of work. It is here that people spend time with each other, do similar work, know one another by their first names, and build up a rich variety of colleague relationships. It is here that the Christian has both freedom and appropriate opportunities to get to know those around him, and to share his faith, whenever the opportunity arises, with them.

We also find in the world of work a cross-section of all the ills, beliefs, behaviour, prejudices, characteristics and crises which exist in the world as a whole. Any workplace is a microcosm of that world, and it is into thousands of such microcosms that God has sent Christian believers to challenge, confront, or draw alongside that world, with all its needs, with the message of the gospel of his grace.

The World of the New Testamentβ†β€’πŸ”—

1. A Cosmopolitan Worldβ†β†°β€’πŸ”—

The world of the New Testament was as cosmopolitan as ours in the twentieth century. Politically, the Roman Empire was on the rise. Its territory was extensive and extending. It had an outward strength, but inwardly it was weak. It had nothing to offer that would inspire people, and because it did not win the hearts and minds of the people of the lands it conquered, it was regarded as an occupying power. The Romans ruled Britain for nearly 400 years, but very little Roman culture has survived in our national character and way of life. It produced mixture, but not compound. It gave us roads, but not itself.

With the exception of Judaism, which was represented in all the countries which the apostle Paul visited, the religion of the known world consisted chiefly of varied forms of idolatry. So, Paul could describe Athens as 'a city full of idols' (Acts 17:16), and the Ephesian goddess Artemis, figurehead of a pagan cult surrounded by much immorality, could be said to be 'worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world' (Acts 19:27). So entrenched was the Diana myth in Ephesus that even the city clerk could ask, rhetorically: 'Doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image?' (Acts 19:35). At Lystra, Paul and Barnabas were called Zeus and Hermes, for these were the names of the gods the people there knew.

As with Judaism, Greek influence also existed across national barriers. The rationalistic philosophies of Greek culture stimulated a search for wisdom: 'Greeks look for wisdom', said Paul (1 Corinthians 1:22), and he even went beyond this, using the term 'Greeks' as a synonym for 'wise' (Romans 1:14). There were Greek communities in Antioch (Acts 11:20) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:17). Timothy's father was a Greek, and he lived in Lystra. Greek philosophy was not wholly intellectual. It had been influenced both by the decadence reflected in the Epicureans and by the asceticism of the Stoics (Acts 17:18).

2. A Commercial Worldβ†β†°β€’πŸ”—

As with our world, the world of the New Testament was a strongly commercial world. A network of shipping routes for travel and trade was well-established. Paul used these sea routes extensively on his own missionary journeys (Acts 13:4; 13:13; 14:26; 16:11; 18:22; 20:6; 20:13; 20:15; 20:38; 21:1-3; and 21:6).Β  In 21:2 it is evident that Paul was not using what we might call a charter ship, but one which was plying a regular route. Verse 3 makes it clear that it was a trade run, for it had a cargo aboard. Later, a ship of Adramyttium took Paul to Myra (Acts 27:5), where they changed ships to one whose home port was Alexandria (Acts 27:6).

The frequency of Paul's sea travel, and the availability of passenger shipping generally, is reinforced by his own reference (2 Corinthians 11:25) to three shipwrecks in which he had personally been involved. These must all have been prior to the shipwreck off Malta in Acts 27, for the simple reason that 2 Corinthians had already been written by the time of that shipwreck.

It was into this world of sophisticated trade, but primitive idolatry and pagan superstition, that the Apostle Paul was called to preach a new message β€” the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. Against a background of spiritual ignorance and darkness, followers of Jesus were to 'shine like stars in the universe, spreading the light of the gospel from country to country'.

Working Life and the Spreading Messageβ†β€’πŸ”—

While it was the calling of Paul and his friends to bring the light of the gospel to the Gentiles, we can be sure, from the exhortations he gave to the churches, that he regarded the work of spreading the gospel as the work of every believer. Paul's task was to open the eyes of the Gentiles, and to 'turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God'. He could have undertaken this task without taking time off working at a trade, but we know that it was his policy to support himself, as an example to others (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). Consequently, while Paul was engaged in mission, he also worked. The same was true of a number of his friends. About twenty of them appeared to be available to travel with him; to be sent to churches to carry relief; to take or collect letters or news; to pass on instructions or messages from Paul; or to resolve a problem.

But for the far larger number of believers who belonged to the churches, the pattern was rather different. Some of them were slaves, and thus bound to their masters β€” not free to decide their own pattern of life. Their only freedom was the freedom to live as a Christian ought to live: 'Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them ... like slaves of Christ. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord' (Ephesians 6:5-7). Others were working people of various kinds. Lydia was a businesswoman (Acts 16:14), Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers (Acts 18:3); Erastus was Director of Public Works in Rome (Romans 16:23); and Zenas was a lawyer (Titus 3:13).

If it was true of Paul that he worked while he was engaged in mission, it was true of these others that they engaged in mission while they worked. Their work was at the centre of their daily timetable. It was their most important human responsibility outside their own homes. It brought them into regular contact with other people. It built relationships.

When Paul arrived in Corinth, for instance, he visited Aquila and Priscilla, a couple with whom he had a lot in common: they were all newcomers to the city; they were all Jews; and they had all been the victims of a measure of persecution. However important and interesting these things were in themselves, though, they were not what made them especially close. 'Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them' (Acts 18:31. It was the sharing of a trade, rather than the other common factors in their lives, which brought them together.

Holy Living and Salt in Our Speakingβ†β€’πŸ”—

The Apostle Paul taught that every Christian family should be supported by a breadwinner. In fact he went as far as to say: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat' (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Writing later to Titus, he gave three clear reasons why work was good for Christians:

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.Β Titus 3:14

However, Paul did not merely teach that work was a good thing. Had he seen work as an end in itself, he would no doubt have been fully satisfied to hear that all the churches had understood this, and everyone in them had been out to find employment. Far from it. The obtaining of work, even though it brought the important benefit of financial provision for self and family, and even giving to others (Ephesians 4:28), was only the beginning. Paul had more to say, and devoted much of his remaining practical teaching to the theme of how to live the Christian life in a secular, unbelieving or false-believing world.

Given that Christians were involved for many hours of their day and week in an ungodly environment, among people who were superstitious, dissolute or rationalistic, how should they conduct themselves? What should they do? All Paul's teaching in answer to these questions can be placed under two headings β€” holy living and 'salty' speaking.

1. Holy Livingβ†β†°β€’πŸ”—

Paul's first exhortation under this heading was to remind Christians that they are no longer what they were. He deals with all those elements of worldly life demonstrated by those who are not walking in the ways of the Lord, and reminds Christians that they are not like that any longer.

In his writings, Paul gives a number of lists of ungodly characteristics which can be found in the world. For example:

Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.1 Corinthians 6:11

Christians have been delivered from pursuit of that kind of conduct. Such sinful activities no longer have any part in the life of the Christian. Clearly then, Paul's recipe for holy living includes the complete avoidance of everything he lists as characteristic of worldliness.

But he goes further. He commands not only the avoidance of sins, but the putting on of holiness. His object is that Christians 'may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe' (Philippians 2:15). He wants those who follow Christ to 'put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness' (Ephesians 4:24). To be like this involves, in Paul's words, understanding, wisdom and carefulness: 'Do not be foolish, but understanding what the will of the Lord is' (Ephesians 5:17); 'Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders' (Colossians 4:5); 'Be very careful, then, how you live, not as unwise, but as wise' (Ephesians 5:15). Holy living will not come about by accident. It will be achievable only through the deliberate planning of our lives in a way pleasing to God, consistent with the biblical pattern of life set down for us, lived with the help of the grace and power of God.

2. Salt in Our Speakingβ†β†°β€’πŸ”—

The second, and only other theme of Paul's practical teaching about life in the world, concerns the speaking of our message to those around us. The idea that 'I witness by my life' (quite apart from the arrogance of such a statement, for holy living is never aware of itself) is not one which the Apostle Paul endorses. He exhorts those who are in Christ to speak out. To all the believers in one church, Paul wrote: 'The Lord's message rang out from you' (1 Thessalonians 1:8); and to another he wrote: 'For in him you have been enriched ... in all your speaking' (1 Corinthians 1:5). He also urged this same congregation to 'excel in speech' (2 Corinthians 8:7), while he exhorted another church to 'Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone' (Colossians 4:6). The Apostle Peter also encouraged all his readers: 'Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have' (1 Peter 3:15).

Life in Today's Worldβ†β€’πŸ”—

While many things have changed in 2,000 years, not least the technology we use in our places of work, the biblical principles which govern and guide the witness of Christians in the world still apply today. The working world remains our best point of contact with those who as yet are unaware of, or unconcerned about, the truth of the gospel. God, by the exhortations of his Word, has sent us into workplaces for our good, and for the world's good, and we have the responsibility there of living holy lives and of being a witness to his saving truth.

Just as, in the persecution which followed the death of Stephen, 'those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went' (Acts 8:4), so individual Christians scattered throughout the workplaces of the UK represent the Lord in the midst of their part of this so-called 'secular' world. There, they represent Him with the same authority as that possessed by a minister or a missionary, for they have the authority of God's Word. Being a Christian in a workplace is a first-rate occupation. It is 'Full-time service'. It is serving the Lord, and in all probability it is the one place where we can be especially effective, because our gifts have guided us to work in that sector of life, and we are surrounded by people with whom we have common ground, and will hear us because of the respect they have for us and for our skills, training, experience and work performance.

The New Testament knew nothing of large industrial sites, employing hundreds or thousands of people, but in our day, in such places, Christians may encourage and pray for one another in the task of reaching out to the workforces of our land. Such witness is unspectacular, but it is constant. Where people work together as colleagues, a relationship is built up, often over several years. In a workplace, it is not necessary that every possible word should be spoken at the first opportunity. It is a continuous privilege. In spite of the ravages of recession, and the toughness of our personal circumstances, it is still possible for us to pray for those around us, to respond to every need and opportunity, and, as Christians within our workplaces, to 'give light to everyone in the house' (Matthew 5:15).

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