by Luke Hulley
I’m sure every Christian would agree that there are some jobs which a Christian should just never do. Robbing banks, selling drugs and human trafficking would probably all fall onto this list. But what about other vocations which are not so clear-cut? What about owning a bottle store for example? Is this inappropriate for a Christian? In order to answer this question (and many others like it), we need to get a biblical perspective on what Christianity looks like in the world of work. What did Jesus have to say that impacts directly on where we work and how we work?
Most of us reading this article will be operating within a free market economy and it is perhaps within the Capitalist system where we find that the principles of the Kingdom of God have the potential to shine brightest because they are so starkly counter-cultural. I am not advocating for a Communist system here! I am simply suggesting that the kind of market which most of us operate in has the tendency to bring out the worst in humans. For example, Jesus, when speaking about humility said: “The greatest among you shall be your servant”(Matthew 23:11). Contrast this with the way things work in the Capitalist system, where it is not the servant or the “labour force” who are considered greatest but the owner of the capital! When considering these things, we need to make sure that our thinking conforms to the Kingdom of God even while we are immersed in a very different culture while doing business day to day.
Before we can answer the question ‘Which jobs are appropriate for Christians?’ we need to come to terms with the way in which Jesus called us to work. The love which Jesus modelled and taught us about was an other-centered love which never seeks to benefit myself to the detriment of others (Philippians 2:3,4). Our aim as Christians is not to accumulate as much wealth as possible by any means necessary. This puts us at odds with much of Capitalist culture.
Knowing how we are to work impacts directly then on which kinds of work we do. There are some vocations which are irredeemable simply because they operate purely on the basis of profiting from the misery of others. Some industries intentionally exploit certain sectors of society. An example of this kind of economic exploitation is the manner in which some money lenders keep those who are already impoverished in cycles of poverty by promising an unrealistic standard of luxury through easily accessible loans or lay-bys. As I have already mentioned, there are some vocations which clearly operate on this basis but I would challenge you to ask the tough questions when it comes to your own line of work – Does your work profit through the economic exploitation of others?
It is not only economic exploitation that should concern us though. There are some jobs that directly foster and encourage social ills which offend God and unravel the fabric of a healthy society. Jesus is clear on this, if our actions cause our brother to sin, we will invoke the fierce judgement of God! (Matthew 18:6) This has a direct bearing on our work-life. Does your job empower or entice others to sin? Obviously, there are some services which might indirectly encourage or enable sin if people misuse the products or services we provide. For example, people might over-eat and make themselves sick, but does this make the sale of food wrong? I am referring to those industries which directly reinforce destructive or sinful behaviour. The question to ask then is – Does your work encourage a destructive or sinful lifestyle in others which will invoke God’s judgement?
When examining the morality of our work or the industry we are in, we need to be careful of justifying our actions in the way the world does. For example, you will often hear wealthy capitalists defending their trade of a product that is well known to cause harm by saying, “We are not forcing people to do x, ultimately each individual must make their own responsible choices”. Satan does not force us to sin either but he is no less culpable for tempting us into it! Cigarette producers have perhaps fallen into this kind of justification by making the warning labels bigger and bigger on their products to warn the very customers that they are peddling their wares to and profiting from their destructive habit. Maybe you are not obliged by law to put a warning label on the products or services that your business sells, but if they need a label, should you be selling it?
We are living in a “dog eat dog” world, it is true. But in this world, we are tasked with demonstrating another kingdom which is run according to very different principles. The kingdom of heaven is one in which the other-centred love of Christ is the driving motivation behind every thought and action. I encourage you to grow into the image of God’s firstborn son by allowing the Spirit of God to convict, to lead and to empower you to love others in the workplace in the same way in which you have received love. Maybe this article has raised more questions for you than it has answered? If so, I encourage you to go to the Lord with the question, ‘What do you want me to do about it Lord?’ and seek further counsel. Some of the ethical questions which we face do not have cut-and-dried answers but we have confidence in the Spirit whom God has given to lead us and guide us into a life that fully honours Christ.