Integrity in the Workplace
May 17 05
I have been paying attention to the current controversy in the airline industry that may lead to a strike of United Airlines employees. That got me to thinking about unions in general. Then, personal employment issues came up and it got me to searching Scripture for some guidelines.
The employer / employee relationship is specified in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New. A thorough study of those verses indicates that both the employee and the employer are responsible for maintaining a Godly relationship. We must keep in mind that almost all Scripture references pertaining to employment actually refer specifically to a master / slave relationship. However, if we apply common sense, we can readily see that if God expects masters to treat their slaves properly, then how much more should an employer treat his employees fairly?
The Christian employee is to serve in submission, "with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh" (1 Peter 2:18). Christian employees are "to be obedient to their [employers], to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not stealing, but showing honesty..." (Titus 2:9-10).
The Christian employer is to treat employees with "sincerity of heart, as to Christ...with good will doing service as to the Lord...[without] threatening (intimidating)" (Ephesians 6:5-9). The Christian employer is to give to his employees "what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven" (Colossians 4:1). The Christian employer must recognize that Christ has given him all things, so likewise, the employer must give with all liberality to his employees. Deuteronomy 15:7-15 explains well this concept of giving. Again, this has to do with slaves, but we can easily see that it applies, in concept, to the modern employer / employee relationship.
For the Christian employer, the concept of giving is especially important. The employer is entrusted with the well-being of his employees. Proverbs 3:27 says, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so." Jeremiah 22:13 says, "Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice, who uses his neighbor's service without wages and gives him nothing for his work..." The Christian employer who seeks to build wealth for himself by unfairly using his employees is subject to the judgment of God. Malachi 3:5 indicates that God will judge those who "exploit wage earners..."
Indeed, James predicts a day when the rich who have not fairly paid their employees will lose everything (5:1-4). It must be noted here, though, that the employees who have been unfairly treated are repaid by God, not the unrighteous employer. As was noted above, the employee must serve in humility, not complaining. However, the employee is justified in bringing his plight to the Lord. God will repay what is due the employee and He will bring destruction upon the employer who unfairly treats his employees.
The overwhelming message in the Bible concerning employment is that the Christian, whether an employer or employee, is a servant of God. The Christian employee must remember that Christ came as a servant, without complaint; He gave His life and now the Christian is a bondservant to Him. The Christian employee must trust the Lord in all matters and conduct himself with all patience, waiting upon the Lord for deliverance. God is the ultimate Master, therefore the employer must answer to Him and not take advantage of his employees. If the employer expects God to treat him well, he must treat his employees well. The Christian employer must answer to God in all matters of employment, including fair wages, safe and healthy working conditions, and an overall concern for the welfare of his employees.
You may recall a verse in the Bible that is quoted often: "...[T]he laborer is worthy of his wages..." That verse comes from Luke chapter 10, a passage which describes a time when Yeshua sent out His disciples to preach the coming of the Kingdom. Some 82 men and women went out in pairs -- men with men, women with women -- carrying no money or belongings. Yeshua instructed them to remain in a town only if it welcomed them and their message. If such were the case, they were to stay only in a household of peace and, then, to stay in only that home the entire time they were in that town. They were to eat what was offered in that home and, essentially, to be cared for by that household, "for the laborer is worthy of his wages" (Luke 10:7). Missionaries, the laborers sent out from town to town, are worthy of support. So, this passage does not deal specifically with an employment situation. Yet, we know that God desires for employers, especially those who call Him Lord, to deal fairly with those under their employ, especially those who also call Him Lord. (See also 1 Timothy 5:18.)
Then I think back to the airline situation. I think about labor unions. I think about all the strife in the workplace. I particularly think about the Christian companies with whom I have had significant contact and I shudder to think about the judgment to come. I can only pray that those in a position to make a difference in Christian companies will do so and will do so quickly, for we do not know when the Master will return.