How Can I Move Past a Disagreement with a Colleague?

About six months ago, I was asked to reflect on a difficult situation at work. Although it may have been hypothetical, I gave it some thought. The individual asking had a pretty stressful few months as he or she had a sharp dispute with a coworker. They both apologized for the way it was handled at the time, but ever since, it has been difficult to move on. It is still awkward to be around each other as the issue was never truly resolved. He or she was wondering how to approach this situation in a such a way that it would bring glory to God and would be in line with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. 

The challenge to maintain harmony in the workplace is one of the most difficult for all of us to deal with successfully. Business problems cannot be totally separated from personal problems. They say, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” However, it always seems to become personal, doesn’t it?  

Without knowing any specifics about this conflict, I believe I can provide some biblical principles that may help this individual. Let me begin by summarizing several workplace conflicts in the Bible and attempt to offer a gospel-centered and practical approach which may give some things to consider.

Biblical examples of disagreements with colleagues

It is not long before we see the first work conflict described in Scripture. In Gen. 4:1-5, we read about Cain and Abel. In this newly formed agrarian society, these young men worked together to help their parents. However, there was jealousy among brothers, which did not end up so well for one of them.

The next one we read about is between Abraham and Lot (Gen. 13:5-11). The Lord had begun to give both men success, but they outgrew their workspace. They came to the conclusion that their large operations could not remain together, so they amicably decided to go their separate ways.

In the NT, we find a workplace conflict between Paul and Peter, regarding circumcision for Gentile Christians (Acts 15:1-20). Paul summarized a key meeting with Peter in Gal. 2:1-10. However, we see in Gal. 2:11-14 that it took a direct personal confrontation with Peter to resolve the disagreement.

Later, we see a conflict between church members, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), which may have driven Paul’s call for unity in the church (Phil. 1:27). Paul exhorted them to imitate Christ’s humility, to consider others more important than themselves, and to look out for others’ interests (Phil. 2:3-4).

What can we apply here?

Obviously, the way that Cain and Abel handled their dispute is not the way I would recommend. Let me revisit the other three examples listed above to see if any of them might shed some light here.

Abram and Lot’s going their separate ways could be an option for you and your colleague, depending on how big your organization is. You might consider a transfer if you are getting in each other’s way too frequently. If you are salesmen in the same department, for example, this might be amenable.

The method provided by Paul in his disagreement with Peter is also worthy of consideration. Would a one-on-one meeting with the two of you to discuss the issue in more depth bring lasting resolution?

With regards to the situation I listed above with two ladies in the church, we do not know the nature of their disagreement. We do not know how or if it was resolved. What we know is that it seemed to affect the entire church. Your conflict may also have an impact on others within your organization.

There is much wise guidance in the books of Proverbs, Ephesians, and Colossians, for both employers and employees and their relationship to one another. However, there is not much directed specifically at relationships between employees. Perhaps we can find some biblical guidance elsewhere that could be helpful in your particular situation with your colleague. Let me suggest three gospel-centered approaches that may help you move through this difficult time: reconciliation, humility, and love.

Reconciliation

One of the primary messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ is reconciliation. Jesus calls people to repent and be reconciled to God. Christians are to be messengers of reconciliation as we present the gospel (see 2 Cor. 5:17-20). Another facet of God’s work of reconciliation is to bring diverse groups into unity, such as Jews and Gentiles, male and female, all races, and all nations. If this is Jesus’ overarching desired end state for the church, perhaps we can bring those same efforts elsewhere.

We are not only called to pursue reconciliation between unbelievers and God and between members of the Body of Christ, but we are also called to reconcile with those whom we have sinned against.

Jesus taught that if we were in the wrong, we should go and make things right with the one that we offended (Matt. 5:23-24). Jesus also taught that if we were the one who was wronged, we should reconcile with the one who offended us (Matt. 18:15). If we can pursue efforts in the power of the Holy Spirit to keep open lines of communication with coworkers among whom we disagree, we open the door to let God work in them, either through us or in spite of us, to see the love of Jesus Christ.

Humility

In addition to wanting to walk past the awkwardness into a greater understanding and openness to work in harmony, the next most important key to your success will be to pursue a humble attitude.

In 1 Cor. 12:14-20, Paul reinforces this humble Christ-like attitude. Just like the human body, each member of the Body of Christ has a valuable function. All members are essential. None are to be looked down upon. All need to stay connected to the head and to each other to function properly. In your case, both of you are members of the same team. You must figure out a way to stay connected.

As was mentioned above, regarding biblical examples of workplace conflict, we have a great passage about humility. In the context of Christ’s example of servanthood, we are to consider others more important than ourselves; we need to look out for their interests as well as our own (Phil. 2:3-4). This exhortation goes beyond the church walls. When we do this at work, people will see Jesus in us.

Love

As you pursue reconciliation with your colleague with whom you disagree along with a spirit of humility, perhaps there are a few more things to consider doing that may bring peace at the office. In Rom. 12:9-21, Paul gives us a few essential things that are counterintuitive, but transformational: 

  • “Honor one another above yourselves” (v. 10)
  • “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (v. 14)
  • “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17)
  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone’ (v. 18)
  • “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21)

Treating your colleague in the radical ways described above will make a difference. But Paul is also realistic. He acknowledges that sometimes we cannot be at peace with everyone. It takes two to make a relationship. If one is cooperative and the other is not, efforts to solve problems may not succeed.

Moving forward

I am trusting that some of what I shared will be helpful to you in your endeavors to work with your colleague and not against him or her. I trust that others in similar situations would benefit as well. I was reminded myself to be more proactive in pursuing reconciliation at my own workplace. There are a number of things I could work on that would glorify God as I put these principles into practice.

As you focus on reconciliation, an attitude of humility, and a commitment to demonstrate Christian love through honor, I encourage you to pray for your colleague, that he or she would see Christ in your attitudes and actions, and that others would take notice of how the God of peace is present at work. As you press on through these waters, I also strongly encourage you to remember that God is present with you at work. He is more involved than you realize, working with, in, and through you for His glory.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written over 180 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

Where do I Find God When I Start a New Job?

A couple of months ago, I sat in chapel where one of our chaplains and his family was recognized as they were about to move to another Army post to begin a new assignment. It occurred to me that I have never written about the many challenges a worker and his or her family face when they start a new job.

In the dozen jobs I had over my active-duty career, my wife and I understood that each time I was up for reassignment, there was what we called an “angel in uniform” who watched over the process. God needed us to be His representatives and do His work at just the right places at just the right times as we were stationed around the country and overseas. I tried to keep in mind that God was with me and that He had a variety of purposes in mind for His glory and my good.

But what do we need to do when we arrive at that new assignment? How do we fit in? How does our family find their place in the community, in the kids’ schools, and in church? These are not easy tasks.

Since there are numerous military families that are about to begin their “permanent change of station”, thousands of college graduates who moved across the country to start their new careers, and a host of other workers who for a variety of reasons have chosen to quit their jobs and relocate elsewhere, it might be an opportune time for me to explore this topic from a biblical and theological perspective.

Dealing with the new boss

Probably the first anxiety-producing situation is meeting your new boss. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. This unpredictability makes it a huge challenge for everyone.

I think what makes it challenging for all is that we have all seen, heard of, or have had bad bosses who have made their employees’ lives miserable. There are bosses who have been incompetent, uncaring, insensitive, selfish, angry, demanding, greedy, lecherous, or lazy. These all sound like sins to me.

As Christians, we know that sin has negatively affected the workplace since Adam and Eve. Adam’s sin cursed work for every human. Everyone we work for, everyone who works for us, our customers, and each one of us brings our own sins to the workplace daily, making work unnecessarily painful. And yet, God calls us to submit to our employers, knowing we are working for Jesus (Col. 3:22-24).

I can’t help but think about Joseph, and the three main positions that he fell into, starting in Gen. 39. He did not have bad bosses; to the contrary. The big take away from this narrative is that God was with Joseph, which brought him success. As a result, He blessed his employers. (See Gen. 39:5 and 23.)

I encourage those starting a new job to see your boss as someone whom God has put in your path for a variety of purposes. You can learn from them as they provide both good and bad examples on how to lead. Their sinful attitudes and actions will be part of the “thorns and thistles” we will experience at work until Jesus comes back. We must learn to see these as trials that God will help us to overcome.

Learning the new position

The next biggest challenge that workers will face is figuring out their new job responsibilities.

Ironically, this one is slightly less scary than the new boss. At least you have an idea of what you are getting into with a new position. You may have never done this particular job before, but it is possible you know someone who has or you may have been recommended by someone who used to hold it.

Sometimes, the job meets your expectations. The new projects you are assigned are doable in a reasonable amount of time. Your coworkers seem nice. The hours aren’t too bad. So far so good.

But after a while, those old thorns and thistles start showing up. You get handed more projects than you can handle; your plate is already full. You are juggling glass balls that can’t be dropped. More and more is expected of you. There is only so much you can do. You may feel like you are drowning.

You may have the opposite situation. You may feel overqualified for the job. It doesn’t challenge you mentally. You don’t have enough to do. You are underutilized. You are bored. It is not a good fit.

Either way, as a Christian, you have additional resources to handle this new job. Remember God’s promise that He will be with you wherever you go. That does not exclude this wilderness in which you find yourself. He is not only with you, but is working in you and through you to those all around you.

If the job is not a great fit, you truly have options. You can endure it, which may be what God wants. Or you can ask Him to rescue you from it, which is another avenue that glorifies God just as much.

Getting the family settled

In addition to your own struggles with the new boss and the new job, your family (if you are blessed to have one) has some different challenges of their own. You owe it to them to understand what they are going through. You also need to focus some of your time and energy over several months to assist.

My wife has often shared with young military wives that are new to our community at Fort Leonard Wood it normally took her six months or up to a year before she felt totally settled in a new duty station. She does this not to discourage them, but to give them realistic expectations. She learned, the hard way quite often, not to get overly involved in ministry activities until our kids and her were more or less unpacked in the new house, comfortable in a new church, and making friends in the new school.

Figuring out your purpose

I have had the privilege of serving in the same organization doing the same job for over 14 years now. However, during my twenty years on active duty and in various other jobs I had after I graduated from college, I can remember what it was like to go through what you may be going through right now. One of the things I have learned well is to trust God to show me some of the reasons why I have the jobs that He provided, especially in those tough jobs where I failed as a youth minister and a recruiter.

I also know from reading God’s word that He often places His people in just the right places at just the right time where He has chosen to use them for the building up of His kingdom. Many examples of ordinary workers come to mind: Moses, Nehemiah, David, Esther, the Apostle Paul, among others.

I would like to leave those who have recently started a new job with a word of encouragement.

God put you where you are for much more than just a paycheck, although that in itself is part of His blessing, too. He has a purpose for you being there. My hope is that you will see it. Maybe you will learn something critical you will need in the future. Maybe you will supervise someone who needs what you have to offer. Maybe you are there to minister to your boss. Maybe you have this job to see that God is with you and is working in and through you to love your neighbors by meeting their needs.

Whatever the reason (or multiple reasons) that you are working in this new assignment, know that God will use you as you walk with Him, abide in Christ, and are filled with the Holy Spirit. God will be present with you in your work, which I have called “Immanuel labor” for the past several years. I trust that you will be able to experience God’s presence like never before, and that you have joy when you do leave, knowing that this job was a significant part of God’s abundant life for you and your family.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written over 180 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

Further Observations on Work from Nehemiah

(Note: This article was published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

I listened to the book of Nehemiah on the way to and from the town my wife and I recently moved from. I heard several things that grabbed my heart in this great story that highlights the connection between God’s presence and human work, which I call Immanuel labor. Let me summarize some new insights that will supplement what I wrote in a previous article on my blog and in my book.

Here are the topics I will discuss below:

  • Nehemiah was a spiritual leader, even though he was not in full-time ministry
  • Nehemiah was a man of prayer
  • God led Nehemiah to lead this great restoration project by putting ideas in his heart

Spiritual leadership at work

In the first chapter of this book, we meet Nehemiah. We don’t know anything about him. We are told in verse 1 that this book is in his own words. Right away, in verse 2, we see his leadership in action.

He asks his brother and some men about the Jewish remnant that returned to Jerusalem from their long exile. He learns that “those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace” (Neh. 1:3). The wall around the city and its gates were completely destroyed.

This devastating situation affected Nehemiah deeply, who reports that he “sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed” (Neh. 1:4). His heart was broken, which began to move him in the direction that Yahweh called him to get directly involved in repairing the broken wall.

This spiritual leader who God was working in to prepare him for this great work was an ordinary worker. The fact that Nehemiah is the cupbearer to the king was left to the end of the first chapter to set up the narrative by showing that it would be God’s power that was going to get this job done.

As this story develops over the next few chapters of this great book, we will see God begin to use this ordinary man as His co-worker to lead the Israelites to complete this project under His mighty hand. The team will stay focused on the task as long as Nehemiah stays focused on God, which he does.

Supplication and praise

As was mentioned above, one of Nehemiah’s first responses to hearing the news of the wall was to pray (Neh. 1:4-11). Nehemiah illustrated his spiritual leadership primarily by being a man of prayer. This first of several prayers that we will read starts with praise for God’s covenant love, then leads to confession of personal and national sins, followed by supplication asking for favor from the King. We see a variety of prayers offered by Nehemiah listed in Neh. 2:4-5, 4:4, 4:9, 5:19, and 6:9.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who is described in the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God was someone just like Nehemiah in that he found it easy to pray. In one recorded conversation, he had stated quite simply “All we have to do is to recognize God as being intimately present within us. Then we may speak directly to Him every time we need to ask for help, to know His will in moments of uncertainty, and to do whatever He wants us to do in a way that pleases Him.”  

I read this book early in my Christian walk. So, I often send up a short prayer at work as needed like Nehemiah did with the king. As I head from the parking lot to my building, I pray that God will lead me and give me wisdom. Sometimes I pray audibly when I am alone in my office. I may shoot up a quick silent prayer in a meeting when my temper starts to rise. I confess my sins when I see them. I take time to praise God when He enables me to accomplish a challenging task. There are always plenty of opportunities throughout the day to connect with God.

I think Nehemiah had a sense of God’s presence modeled after David, the man after God’s own heart. (See 1 Sam 13:14.) He understood what David had said in Ps. 16:11, “you will fill me with joy in presence” when he proclaimed to the Israelites that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). 

Sensitivity to God’s leading

Because Nehemiah was gifted and called to be a spiritual leader and because he remained close to God in prayer, he was able to sense when God was leading him, whether it was something great or small. Nehemiah sought the Lord daily. He acted on God’s promises to lead him. (See Ps. 32:8.)

In Neh. 2:12, we get a first glimpse of how Nehemiah got his marching orders. He describes a secret recon mission after dark to scope out the damage to the walls around Jerusalem that he took with a few men. He did not reveal his true purpose for this tour. What drove him that night was that God had put it in his heart to become part of the solution to the overwhelming problem that his people faced.

I found a similar situation in Neh. 7:5. After the wall had been completed (see Neh. 6:15), Nehemiah gave credit to Yahweh for calling him to take on a follow-on project. He wrote that “God put it into my heart” to assemble the exiles who had returned and compile a list of those who lived in the city. This alludes to God’s command to be fruitful and increase in number (Gen. 1:28) and His promise to Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5).

Although OT believers were not indwelt with the Holy Spirit in the same way as NT believers are, Nehemiah did have God’s Spirit working in his life. God spoke to him as He speaks to us today.

I want to challenge Christ-followers to remember God’s dealings with Nehemiah. We cannot be just like him, but we can be spiritual leaders by becoming men and women of prayer. We can relate to God in the same way. We can seek God’s heart and let Him lead us through changing ours. When we do those things, expect God to do a “great work” in us, with us, and through us, for His kingdom.

(Note: I invite you to read a short article, published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog, that highlighted a discussion I had about Nehemiah from a radio interview that I did in January 2021.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 180 articles on faith and work topics. Ninety of these have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

Their Sacrifice was Not in Vain

(This article was written for and published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

On Memorial Day, we want to find ways to honor our brave men and women who paid the ultimate price for their country while fighting this nation’s wars. Here, I want to reflect on the idea that their courageous work as a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine was not in vain. Let me paint a picture of a few scenarios where Veterans gave their lives, why they were willing to do so, how Christians are called to live a life of sacrifice like Jesus lived and died, and that their work had a lasting impact.

A few snapshots of sacrifice

Throughout our Nation’s history, both active and reserve service members of our armed forces have often found themselves in harm’s way. Over one million of them have willingly sacrificed their lives. Several memorable examples come to my mind. Most Americans would be familiar with these also.

As Soldiers from the North and South collided on the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July 1863, there were two scenes that were depicted in the movie “Gettysburg” where courage under fire was clearly depicted – Pickett’s charge on the Confederate side and the Battle of Little Round Top on the Union side. In both major battles, men faced overwhelming odds stacked against them by a determined, well-armed, and fierce foe, knowing full well that they might not make it through.

During the D-Day invasion in June 1944, as it was depicted in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, we saw for the very first time realistic, graphic, and disturbing images of men storming Omaha Beach at Normandy, France. These men knew that some of them would survive and would press on to liberate Europe from the Nazi invasion, but most of them would not. Yet, they moved out despite their fear.

More recently, during our twenty-year long War on Terrorism, service members from all walks of life went into harm’s way to fight for a cause they believed in. Despite the messy way that we withdrew from Afghanistan, I trust that our combat Veterans, many of whom are still serving today, know that their efforts to defeat an often-unseen enemy and bring peace to this region did make a difference.

Why are service members willing to sacrifice their lives?

During Memorial Day, we usually say that service members died for their country. They were willing to give their all for the cause of freedom. They sacrificed their lives for their families. That may in fact be true in the majority of cases. However, what I hear quite often is that these selfless men and women actually sacrificed their lives for the sake of the ones who fought side-by-side with them in battle.

Duty, Honor, Country. These are values that our military personnel hold close to their heart. Loyalty is another attribute that is lived out, especially in combat. What drives those who laid down their lives with heroic actions is loyalty to their unit and to their fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:6).

Christians are to live a life of sacrifice like Jesus

The Bible tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ lived a life of selfless service. Even though He was the creator of all things and had built houses for others as a carpenter, He had no home to speak of. He had a close relationship with his heavenly Father and His mother but did not have a wife or family. He owned everything in the universe and yet possessed nothing. He took on the nature of a servant.

Jesus taught His disciples that if they wanted to be great in God’s Kingdom, they needed to be the servants of all (Mark 10:44). They needed to die to self. The Apostle Paul took it a step further by teaching that Jesus’s followers needed to offer themselves to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). Just as Jesus submitted Himself to the Father to give His life as a sacrifice for our sins, we also need to entrust ourselves to God and consider others’ needs more important than our own (Phil. 2:3-8).

Throughout church history, Christian Soldiers who have enlisted in the Lord’s service, both literally and figuratively, have given of themselves: their time, talent, treasure, and lives. Servicemembers who have freely given life or limb for their country are to be commended and remembered. They did what God wants done in this world. God has maintained justice through their efforts. They worked with God to bring shalom to the people that He loved enough to send His Son to die for.

Your work is not in vain

The key term in my title, “not in vain” comes from 1 Cor. 15:58. The Apostle Paul is concluding his long discussion on the implications of the resurrection of Jesus. He boldly proclaims, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” He wants the members of the church in Corinth to know that the work they have been doing for the Kingdom of God has not been worthless; it has eternal value.

The use of the term “in vain” that is applied to work here immediately recalls the concepts found in the OT book of Ecclesiastes, where the theme of vanity permeates the entire book. Life “under the sun” does appear to be worthless, useless, hopeless, pointless, to no avail, etc. In contrast, however, we know that life “under the Son” is full of abundance, purpose, value, usefulness, fruitfulness, and hope.

As Christians, our labors, whether in vocational Christian ministry or in ordinary jobs, are designed by God to expand His creation and His Kingdom (His rule) on this earth. Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, whatever work we have done in this life makes a difference now and in eternity. Our faith is not worthless, our message is timeless, our contributions count in Christ, who lives in us.

I want our wounded Warriors and their family members who have lost loved ones to remember that we will never forget their sacrifices. Their final measure of devotion to their brothers and sisters in arms and this country, and their fearless disregard for their own personal safety for a greater cause had a lasting purpose – for freedom. For those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, I believe they will hear these words that we all want our Savior to say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 180 articles on faith and work topics. Ninety of these have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

The Value of the Greeting of the Day

When I was about to graduate from high school in 1976, someone in the class was putting together a list of “Senior Predictions”. Mine was kind of amusing. Whoever wrote it knew me well. They predicted that in ten years I would add, “Good afternoon” to my usual greeting of “Good morning”.

Flash forward ten years. I am a Soldier in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, learning how to give the “greeting of the day” to an officer or NCO that I meet while walking outside. 

The task is simple. If it is an officer, I initiate the greeting with, “Good morning (or afternoon), Sir (or Ma’am)” and give a salute. If it is an NCO, I would say, “Good morning (or afternoon), Sergeant (or First Sergeant, or Sergeant Major).” The key to success is doing it at the right time before they pass. You must be close enough to identify their rank and gender and give them time to respond.

Flash forward 36 years. I am now a retired Master Sergeant and a Department of the Army Civilian, working at one of our Army training centers. A few weeks ago, while walking down the hall in the next wing from where I work, I passed a Sergeant Major I did not know. I greeted him with a “Good morning, Sergeant Major!” He responded in kind. It felt really good and right. It got me to thinking about how important this greeting is to build a culture of dignity and respect in the workplace.

I would like to take a fresh look at this from a biblical and theological perspective. I will begin by highlighting what greeting God might look like. Then I will describe the blessings that greeting others brings to them as we acknowledge their presence and look for opportunities to serve them.

Greeting God as the day begins

I was recently reminded of the words of a great hymn as I listened to Christian music on the way to work. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty! Early in the morning my song shall rise to thee.”

When we begin the day with “Good morning, Lord!” instead of “Good Lord, it’s morning”, we will probably have a much better day. When your first waking thought is to acknowledge God’s presence with you, it sets the tone to abide in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all day long.

Psalm 5:1-3 is a great Scripture that clearly shows what I have stated. David begins with a sincere prayer to Yahweh, asking Him to listen and consider his lament he is about to share. He describes the words he is using as a “groaning” and a “cry”. He is offering this prayer to God in the morning.

Brother Lawrence, in the book Practicing the Presence of God, illustrated this idea of inviting God’s presence into his workplace. “At the beginning of my duties I would say to the Lord with confidence, ‘My God, since You are with me, and since, by Your will, I must occupy myself with external things, please grant me the grace to remain with You, in Your presence. Work with me, so that my work might be the very best. Receive as an offering of love both my work and all my affections.’”

A greeting can build relationships

An exchange of good mornings between two coworkers is a great way to begin a conversation. It may lead to asking them, “How are you doing?” or, “I haven’t seen you in a while. How are the kids, grandkids, wife, etc.?” It can open up doors for us to show compassion and love to our neighbors.

Greeting our coworkers and others we work with is even more important than greeting those we do not know just as a courtesy. When we do this consistently with our bosses, peers, and subordinates, this deepens the connections we have with them, and provides opportunities to minister to them if we notice something may not be right. (I invite you to read another article I wrote and posted on my blog on several lessons I learned at work where I shared my unique concept of 360-degree mentoring.)

Just like the Soldier who learns that the subordinate is responsible to give the greeting of the day to his or her superior, so we too, as servants of the Lord, need to consider others more important than ourselves. (See Phil. 2:3-4.) Jesus said that those who wanted to be great in God’s kingdom needed to become servants of all. (See Mark 10:44-45.) This illustrates humility.

A greeting can acknowledge the presence of those who feel invisible

In addition to blessing those with whom we work every day, perhaps there are others we should greet.

In the OT Law we read about the plight of the leper. For legitimate medical reasons, their highly contagious condition led them to be considered unclean. (See Lev. 13: 45-46.) They were isolated from Jewish society. And yet, Jesus made numerous efforts to touch them and bring them healing.

There are many people for a variety of reasons are somewhat invisible. (See article on my blog.) For example, among students at a university, there will be the uneducated in their midst, perhaps doing custodial work. Working at the successful business will be those who are not so successful. In the midst of the beautiful, young, and healthy, will be those who are less than attractive, old, and sick. These kinds of people tend to be overlooked at work, in our neighborhoods, and even in church.

However, these are the people that Jesus was drawn to: the least, the last, and the lost. Could we not reach out to them, like Jesus did? How easy would it be to acknowledge their presence with a hello?

When you give someone a cheerful greeting, you may give them a much-needed blessing in ways that you may not realize at the time. My wife recently went to a McDonald’s to get an Egg McMuffin because she had to be out of the house early. The gal at the window gave her such a warm, heartfelt, and joyful greeting that it lifted her spirits after a long, hard week in getting our house ready to sell.

Closing thoughts

I trust that these concepts will motivate you to pause and greet those who may need what you have.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 180 articles on faith and work topics. Ninety of these have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See complete list of published articles on Linktree.)

Do I Enjoy My Work Too Much?

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

A few weeks ago, I saw a question posted on social media from a faith at work organization: “Do you enjoy your work too much?”  This is a legitimate question to ask from a biblical perspective.

I get it. Some Christians choose to spend more time at work than necessary because they like what they do.  This can result in conflicts at home if things are out of balance. This becomes a cycle that is hard to break. Also, making work an idol is something that Christian workers need to be more aware of.

Although there may be valid reasons to be concerned with a Christian who obsesses over his or her job, I do not think the root cause of this is due to finding too much joy in it. To the contrary, I would hope every Christian would find joy at work and be able to express this fruit of the Spirit every day.

I would like to look at this issue through the lens of my unique theology of work, which focuses on the biblical connection between God’s presence and work which I have taught in great detail in my book and in 175 articles I have written on my blog. It informs me of three essential things:

1) The jobs that God provides for His children were designed to be enjoyed

2) Joy at work is a by-product of experiencing God’s presence at work

3) More time at work does not necessarily mean it has become an idol

Let me unpack this a bit.

God provides work that can be enjoyed

Finding the work that we need is always a spiritual journey for the Christian. God prepares us by giving us talents, gifts, and abilities. He leads us and gives us wisdom. There is joy in the journey.

Contrary to popular opinion, I am convinced from Scripture and from my own personal experience that God intended His people to find purpose, contentment, satisfaction, and even joy from the jobs He provides for us. (I encourage you to read an article that I wrote on finding personal job satisfaction.)

Even though Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones couldn’t get “no satisfaction”, I think that Christians can indeed find some measure of it as a by-product of the abundant life Jesus promises (John 10:10). 

We get a glimpse of this idea in the book of Ecclesiastes, which has an awful lot to say about work. Despite the many downsides of work that the writer had listed in Eccl. 2:17-23, he boldly proclaims that one of the best things in life is “to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God” (Eccl. 2:24). He echoes something similar in Eccl. 3:12-13. He concludes, “there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot” (Eccl. 3:22).

So, our work, and the enjoyment of it, is truly a gift from God. I am not sure we can enjoy it too much.

Joy at work comes from experiencing God’s presence

David expressed this connection well: “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). Jesus said something beautifully similar in John 16:24: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

It is easy for the average Christian to function with an unbiblical sacred vs. secular mindset. He or she experiences God’s presence in the sacredness of Sunday morning worship sessions, in prayer, while spending a meaningful quiet time in God’s word, or on a mountaintop. How many Christians can say with me that they go into their workplace every day experiencing God’s presence from start to finish?

In Practicing the Presence of God, we learn about Brother Lawrence. He is described as having “a heart that had learned the most essential ingredient of the Christian life: how to remain in the presence of God daily.” It was said of him, “The good brother found God everywhere, as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community. He was in no hurry to go on retreats, because he found the same God to love and adore in his ordinary work as in the depth of the desert.”

I also see joy as a natural (albeit supernatural) by-product of seeing God fulfill His divine purposes through us at work, as He works with, in, and through us to meet the full spectrum of human needs all around us. This is not a positive feeling about a great salary, work environment, or position, but a deep knowledge that God has put you at just the right time and place to use you as a light in a dark place.

Spending a lot of time at work

I believe that one of the underlying assumptions that drove this question was that people who enjoy their work too much were choosing to neglect their other God-given responsibilities such as family.

However, it does not mean that those who spend a lot of time at work are doing it with impure motives. Consider those who are in jobs that require more than 40 hours/week. This would include fields such as business, medicine, ministry, parenting, and the military. Working overtime is sometimes necessary to keep up with the never-ending demands and needs of customers. We need to make a distinction between the time expected for certain jobs and the choice to be obsessed by the jobs themselves. Grant Howard in Balancing Life’s Demands wisely reminds us, “Time is not synonymous with importance.” 

If you have one of these kinds of jobs, only you and your family can decide if you can stay the course for a short season or for the long haul. If you know God has called you to it, He will see you through it.

Closing thoughts

Bottom line – don’t let anyone steal your joy. The joy that comes from experiencing God’s presence that you boldly express through every thorn, thistle, and trial you are faced with will speak volumes to the truth of the gospel message that you hold dear. “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10).

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Nearly 90 of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Scriptural Metaphors Used to Describe Experiencing God’s Presence (Part 2)

I had good intentions. I wrote Part 1 of this series in July 2018. I intended on getting back to it sooner than I did. Part 2 ended up on the back burner for over three years. It’s time to put this article to bed.

In my last post, I highlighted the main metaphor that was used in the OT to describe how believers could remain close to God in their daily lives, by walking with God. In this article, I want to look at two corresponding images found in the NT – abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Abiding in Christ

This word picture that describes how we relate with the second person of the Trinity is probably quite familiar to most Christians. In John 15:1-7, Jesus presents another metaphor that describes who He is. In addition to being the light of the world, the bread of life, etc., Jesus states that He is the vine.

Jesus is not talking about some kind of clinging vine that you sometimes see climbing up a tree or spread out over the side of an old house. A grapevine is more or less equivalent to the trunk of a tree.

Jesus said in verse 5 that He was the vine and that we are the branches. He said that if we abide or remain connected to Him, we will bear fruit: we would grow healthy grapes to the glory of the Gardener. There would be something tangible that others could see that would naturally flow from this supernatural connection to Jesus by faith. (Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23.)

Later, in his first epistle, the Apostle John discusses this concept of abiding a little deeper. (See 1 John 4:12-15.) It turns out that all three members of the Trinity are involved. When we abide in Christ, it is based on the foundation that we have been reconciled to God the Father. He abides in us through His Holy Spirit who indwells us. It begins and ends with faith in Christ and a desire to follow, obey, submit to, and remain with him constantly.

For me, throughout my day, I am often reminded to draw near to God’s presence by abiding in Christ. I do this by humbly expressing my dependence on Him. I read, meditate, trust, and obey God’s word and I pray in Jesus’ name through constant adoration and praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.

Being filled with the Spirit

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he describes how Christians are to rest in their union with Christ, to walk in unity with believers and in light among unbelievers, and to stand strong against spiritual opposition. One of the keys to this walk of faith is to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

Paul contrasts being controlled by God’s Spirit with being drunk. Alcohol can overtake a person’s natural tendencies and can lead them to say and do unprofitable and unloving things. When we give God’s Holy Spirit control, He overcomes our fleshly bent and empower us to do Christlike things.

I have used a great illustration for many years to explain how the Holy Spirit changes a Christian from the inside out and how being filled with the Spirit is distinct from being indwelt by the Spirit.

Imagine a glass of milk. Plain 2% milk. It looks like every other glass of milk. Next to it, I have a jar of Hershey’s Syrup. Putting the jar right next to the glass does nothing for the milk. The milk has to accept the chocolatey goodness. When we pour it in and stir it a bit with a spoon, the very nature of the milk changes to resemble the Hershey’s Syrup. It is not like the other glasses of milk. It has been transformed into something better. Guess what? We can’t make it go back to the way it once was. 

The Hershey’s Syrup has now taken up residence in the milk. But if we just let it sit for a while, perhaps the syrup might start to separate from the milk and sink down to the bottom of the glass. It hasn’t left the milk, but the milk has begun to lose it distinctive chocolatiness. What do we need to do? I think we need to get a spoon and give it a vigorous stirring. Then it will look as good as new.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit. He will never leave us if we are true believers. (See Eph. 1:13-14.) We just need to allow Him to fill us up with His presence.

How can we consistently walk, abide, and remain filled?

Christians are to live out their faith by intentionally relating to all three members of the Trinity as it is described in Scripture. I make an effort to walk with God the Father, abide in Christ, and be filled with the Spirit. The more I do that, the more I am empowered by God to remain in His presence.

There are many times I fail on a daily basis. Something called sin always seems to get in the way.

So, how do I deal with that? The answer is simple. I confess and forsake my sin when I need to (1 John 1:9). The Holy Spirit convicts me. I know when I have unconfessed sin, as David described in Ps. 32:3-4: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (I invite you to read an article I wrote about losing and regaining our sense of God’s presence.)

Let me add a personal note here. There have been many times over the past several years when I sensed the presence of God at work. It occurred to me one day that it was not my efforts that drew me close to God. It was Jesus’ work on the cross that paid the penalty for my sin, allowing me to recognize and enjoy His presence at work, at home, at church, or wherever I happen to be. I recalled a key verse that exhorts us to maintain our walk with God by faith: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It’s all about grace. God’s merciful, abundant, and amazing grace.

I hope that you will be more mindful to walk, abide, and be filled at church, at home, and at work.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Reflection on Rocket Scientists

You have probably heard it said many times, “It’s not rocket science!”

This common phrase which can be used on many occasions comes with the understanding that rocket science is a technologically complicated field. It is something that only true rocket scientists can fully understand and master. They must have a superior intellect and years of higher education to do it.

I have had an interesting take on this phrase that I have said quite often.  Here it is: Rocket science is not rocket science to a rocket scientist. 

The term “rocket science” as it is used in this context, refers to complicated projects or ideas that are extremely difficult to execute or comprehend. For those who have formal training and advanced degrees in the field of astrophysics, engineering, or some related field, doing what they do is not something extremely difficult for them to think about or do. They have all the tools they need.

However, I imagine that there are a host of other things, like sports, auto mechanics, teaching, or construction that might be a major challenge for them. These skills are “rocket science” to them.

I would like to explore this topic from a biblical and theological perspective. I am hoping that what I share in this brief article may be of some help to the vast majority of us who are not rocket scientists, as well as those who are.

God’s brilliant plan to create humans in His image to function as His coworkers

To begin this discussion, we must start at the beginning. “In the beginning, God created” (Gen. 1:1).

What God made was absolutely perfect. However, it was incomplete. God’s creation needed help. In Gen. 1:26-28, we read what is commonly known as the creation or cultural mandate. It is both a command and a blessing. God created human beings who were gifted with His own creativity. He called them to be His coworkers so that they could maintain, sustain, and expand what He had made.

In Gen. 2:5, we learn that God made the rain but needed man to work the ground. This illustrates that God’s original intent was for humans to be His coworkers. I call this connection Immanuel labor.

God equipped men and women will the skills necessary to sustain His creation

God created male and female so that they could “be fruitful and multiply.” Humans were not clueless. Their bodies and minds were designed to know what to do in order for that to happen. I believe that when their babies were born, they inherently knew how to care for them, as do most parents today.

After God created the Garden of Eden. Adam was charged “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). He and Eve suddenly became gardeners. Since God created trees, there would be a need at some point for lumberjacks and carpenters. There was gold and precious stones in the ground (Gen. 2:11-12), so there would be a need for goldsmiths and jewelers, some of whom would later build a tabernacle in the wilderness. Later, in Gen. 4:17, we see that Cain built a city. In Gen. 4:20-22, we read that Cain’s descendants became those who took care of livestock, played music, and forged instruments of bronze and iron.

Daniel Doriani, in his book Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation, shares this insight: “In this description of the very earliest stages of human history, we find God’s creativity and expanding blessings being expressed in the diverse professions and vocations of his people. . . All these different professions are being established as the means by which society is advancing under God’s plan – a plan honoring every vocation that furthers God’s purposes.”

How did these unique individuals develop the skills and talents needed to do this work? Likely, it was a process, similar to how young people today figure out what they want to do when they grow up.

It may have begun with interest. “What is that shiny rock in the ground?” This led to involvement. “I wonder if I can make something useful with this pliable piece of metal.” As involvement continued, it became experience. Perhaps they received some training and education from others who were also involved. Eventually, they developed marketable skills that God could use to accomplish His work.

Over time, God sovereignly equipped a wide variety of ordinary workers to do what He needed done in the world. Economies and civilizations were built at the hands of these talented men and women. God equipped those who were made in His image with innate abilities to learn, grow, develop, create, and become everything that He needed them to be in order to meet the wide range of human needs.

How do you see your own intellect, talents, and strengths?

Let me attempt to tie it all together now.

I have observed that many people see all jobs on some kind of continuum. Some jobs are simply beneath them; others, like rocket science, are too hard or out of reach. Their job falls somewhere in there.

Recall that God initially made people in His image who developed the interests, skills, and expertise needed to sustain and expand His creation. I believe He still does that today. Therefore, all jobs have value and contribute to what God wants done in this world to meet the needs of those He loves. It is not biblical or helpful to look down on some jobs and hold other jobs in high esteem. All are of value.

I believe God created some people with the ability to do rocket science. (I will address that shortly.) He created many others for different kinds of work.

Take a quick inventory of the many talents, aptitudes, gifts, skills, and abilities that God has entrusted to you to use in your sphere of influence, among your family, church, and community to glorify Him. I believe you are smarter than you realize. You might even do things that rocket scientists can’t do.

In 2017, I saw a movie that moved me deeply. Hidden Figures tells the story of a team of Black female mathematicians in the early 1960’s who worked brilliantly and diligently behind the scenes at NASA, amidst a hostile environment. In spite of many challenges, their work contributed significantly to the success of the first manned space flight. This film demonstrated how God put the right people with the right skill sets at the right time and place to do a good work that had an enduring impact on society for the common good.

I invite you to take a minute or two to praise God for leading you on your career journey, even if you did not realize it at the time. He has graciously provided all of the talents and skills you needed to do the work that He called you to do over a lifetime. Thank Him for what He has given and also for what He has not given you. You were designed for a purpose. Go out and fulfill it with excellence and joy.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

What Do Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians Teach us About Work?

(Note: This article was posted in the Coram Deo blog.)

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (TOWBC) indicates that “Workplace themes are woven into the fabric of the Thessalonian letters.” There is a reason for that. One of the problems in the church of Thessalonica was that some believers were idle. Here, Paul reminds them, “Christians need to keep at their labors, for the way of Christ is not idleness but service and excellence in work.”

In this article, I have collated some excerpts from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession that highlight what the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians teach the church about various aspects of work. I have done this previously with several other books of the Bible (Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Minor Prophets, the Gospel of John, Romans, and Exodus).

A Christian’s motivation for work

In his greeting, Paul makes the first of many statements regarding work. 

In 1 Thes. 1:2-3, we read that Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica, specifically remembering their faithful work and loving labor, which he praised in 1 Thes. 1:8, “The Lord’s message rang out from you … your faith in God has become known everywhere.”

Regarding God as a worker

In 1 Thes. 2:13, Paul is thankful that the church in Thessalonica accepted God’s Word, which is described as being at work in those who believe. This living and active Word of God came from God the Father, was revealed by Jesus the Son, and was given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God has always used His Word to transform lives, and its power is still effective in every believer’s heart and mind today.  (See Heb. 4:12.)

In 2 Thes. 2:13-14, we observe that Paul reminds his readers that they have been chosen and were called to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding God’s purposes for work

In the context of the instrumental value of work, meaning that work is not just good because God created it and is a worker (intrinsic value), but work is good for us. It serves various God-given purposes. Through work, God meets our needs and our family’s needs (1 Thes. 4:11-12).

Regarding how we should work

In 1 Thes. 4:11-12, with the context of the church neglecting their earthly responsibilities in light of their belief in Jesus’s imminent second coming, we see Paul’s command to the church to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind their own business, and to work with their hands so that they might earn the respect of nonbelievers and be responsible and independent.

In his final instructions at the end of his first epistle, Paul tells the church to respect those who work hard among them and to warn those who do not work hard (1 Thes. 5:12-14). He has much stronger language for these idle Christians in his next letter, which we will discuss now.

Refusing to work in light of Jesus’ return

In 2 Thes. 3:6-12, Paul exhorts the church to keep away from those who are idle by choice. If a man does not want to work, he should go hungry. A few commentaries and writers have shed some light on this unusual command, which may also help to explain the strong words of exhortation to the sluggard in Proverbs. Let me share some insights from them to help us out.

The TOWBC provides some background. “Many believe that some of the Thessalonians had stopped working because the end times were at hand … They might have felt that Jesus was coming at any minute, and thus there was no point to work.” They call attention to the fact that these passages warning those who are idle are found “in the context of teaching on the end times.” The commentators exhort, “Responsible Christian living embraces work, even the hard work of a first-century manual laborer … If people can work, they should work.”

The TOWBC confirms what I had heard regarding what Paul demands here. “The positive view of hard work that Paul was promoting was countercultural. The Greco-Roman world had a very negative view of manual labor.” They continue, “In Paul’s assessment, manual labor is not beneath Christians, and Paul himself had done what he demands that these idle brothers do. The apostle plainly regards work as one way believers may honor God, show love to their fellow-Christians, and display the transforming power of the gospel to outsiders.”

Working in light of the creation mandate

Nelson indicates, “At first blush, Paul’s rather blunt words seem cold and lacking Christian compassion, but upon further theological reflection, Paul’s words convey to us some needed insight. Paul does not rebuke those who, for various legitimate reasons, cannot work, but he does say that an unwillingness to work is no trivial thing. For anyone to refuse to work is a fundamental violation of God’s creation design for humankind.”

R. Paul Stevens states, “The sluggard knows nothing of the creation mandate, that work is good, that work is part of our God-imaging dignity … In short, the idler has no theology of work. Realizing neither the intrinsic value nor the extrinsic value of work, the sluggard refuses to see work as a gift, a calling, and a blessing.” This insight is absolutely right on target.

I appreciated how both Nelson and Stevens emphasized the need to understand the creation mandate. We were designed by God in His image and called to work to expand His kingdom. This basic concept of work gives working in light of Jesus’s imminent return a whole new perspective.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Creating Positive Changes In Your Organization

(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

I was asked to review some recent changes to U.S. Army policy on pregnant soldiers which addressed some of the unique challenges that females (which make up 18% of our force) and their families face. 

The challenges pregnant soldiers experience are in many cases more complex than what civilians have.  When their unit gets orders to deploy or when they have to go to away to a required school for several months they may need to execute a family care plan.  They may have to buy new uniforms to fit their ever-changing bodies during and after pregnancy.  They must be able to maintain their physical fitness.

The proposed changes included a wide range of things such as maternity leave (some of which is authorized for their spouse also, if dual military), uniform wear, height and weight standards, schooling, and deployments.  They will improve female Soldiers’ quality of life and enable them to advance in their careers as they expand their families.

A female officer I highly respect was impressed.  She stated, “This makes me want to stay in the Army.”

This policy got me to thinking about how important it is for any organization with female employees who may become pregnant to ensure there are standards and benefits in writing that are reasonable, compassionate, and appropriate to provide a healthy work environment that does not hinder assignment and promotion opportunities, encourages wellness, and clarifies expectations for all concerned.

Why should we be interested about such matters?  Is it my duty to care for those who have special needs in my workplace?  What can an ordinary employee do if these kinds of policies are not in place? 

Let me offer some ideas from a biblical and theological perspective as to how we can meet the needs of individuals as well as work towards fair and appropriate policies that will benefit all in the long term.

Being the Good Samaritan

It should be fairly obvious that we have the opportunity every day to fulfill both of the two greatest commandments that Jesus clearly spelled out in our workspaces every day.  We can love God as we work for His glory with the strength and wisdom He provides and we can love our neighbor.

Like the Good Samaritan, if we focus on being employees in our organizations who are actively concerned with meeting the practical needs (i.e., physical, emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual) of our coworkers who are facing unique challenges, this is what biblical love of neighbor truly looks like.

Building unity amidst diversity

I found a statement in a memo from the Secretary of Defense in November of 2020 that appears to be the focus in driving these changes: “The women who serve in the U.S. military are vital to the readiness and lethality of our Armed Forces, making important contributions every day to protect our Nation.”

The Apostle Paul wrote something similar about the value of each member of the Body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12:12-26.  Paul’s main point was that all team members have value, purpose and function.  He emphasized that every individual brings something unique to the table.  Everyone contributes.  No one is unnecessary.  All workers are needed.  All should treat one another with honor, respect, and concern.

If these kinds of attitudes are appropriate for diverse members in the church, they can certainly help to build teamwork in any organization.  Perhaps God has a plan for you to ensure that employees with unique needs are cared for in practical ways so that they will want to continue to be part of your team.

Bringing Shalom to your space

In Jer. 29:7, Yahweh tells the Israelites who are exiled in Babylon, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Just like the Israelites who were in captivity, God sends each of us to an organization as an employee to be His agents of redemption.  We must shine the light of Christ in dark places and become part of His work to bring common grace to all who are made in His image.  (See also Prov. 11:10.)

Hugh Whelchel, in How Then Should We Work? ties this passage to the cultural mandate in Gen. 1:28.  He points out the connection between the command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” with the command to the Babylonian exiles to “build houses and settle down” and “marry and have sons and daughters” (Jer. 29:5-6).  He sees that as they “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jer. 29:7), they are also exercising “subduing” and “ruling” functions.  By doing so, they are “reweaving Shalom.” 

Whelchel continues, offering an application for us, “God meant them to be a blessing to the world even while they lived in Babylon.  God intends the same for us.  We are called to work for the shalom of the city, whatever or wherever that city is, where God has put us.  We are to be a blessing in our time and place.  This is possible only because we have found our identity in Christ, the Prince of Shalom.”

Practical application

So let me return to my question, regarding what an ordinary employee can do.  There are countless ways that the average worker, who does not own a company, is not a manager or supervisor, or does not work in human resources can help to ensure there are benefits for pregnant workers and young mothers. 

Some ideas include: plan a baby shower; provide meals the first few weeks after delivery; extend grace if they have to leave early or arrive late due to emergencies; ensure there is a private and clean space for nursing mothers to pump throughout the work day; ensure that motherhood is not the sole basis for decision-making when the employee is up for a promotion, reassignment, or special project; just listen.

Christians are called to be salt and light wherever God sends us (Matt. 5:13-14).  If changes are long overdue, perhaps God can use us to influence organizational leaders to provide better support systems for women who need it.  If positive reforms happen due to God’s presence in us, it brings glory to God.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)