So how should we respond to renewed intolerance towards Christian thought and practice?
I believe that Christians should prepare to challenge the current order with a two-pronged effort: that of personal witness and public ministry. I’ll tackle personal witness today, but it’s important to maintain the combination. We are all expected to provide an arresting testimony to the transforming effect of salvation in our lives. It’s not always spoken first. It is our tacit commitment to deliver outstanding work, to earn our keep, provide for a family and to submit to the demands of difficult employers that will silence the critics of the gospel.
Peter said, Give every man that asks of you the reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15) I would suggest that, in many cases, it has been partly the lack of meekness and fear that has increased the level of hostility and discrimination in the workplace. What is meekness? The Greek word is used to describe a broken colt, i.e. one that can take a bridle. Consider a horse in a dressage event: there is amazing power and amazing restraint. So meekness is treading carefully. It is characterized by a measured, thoughtful deliberate response, rather than a heavy-handed reaction. In our public discourse, we can be uncompromising, but this is contrasted with gentler, approachable personal empathy. We can count on God to not only intervene in our debates and confound our critics, but also to convey His grief over their moral failures as if they were our own.
I recently went into MacDonalds for breakfast and used their free Wi-fi service. Since my laptop battery was low, I plugged into an outlet. The cleaning lady saw the socket and informed me in an imperiously loud voice that I was not supposed to use their electricity, since my equipment was untested on their supply. ‘Free Wi-fi, not free electricity’, she bellowed and pulled my plug from the socket. In some establishments, I know customers can use an available socket. I simply said, ‘Oh, I see’. For the first time in a long time, I was at a loss for words. Her tone was almost derisory and caused a small stir. I felt that her response did not fit the level of infringement. What a pity that she decided to make an example of me! It was an error, but she could have called me aside and explained the unstated policy. Meekness and respect were replaced by a brusque and slighting attitude.
Whatever your role at church, your responsibility at work is to be a credible witness to the power of Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. The command to preach is the fulfilment of an essential Christian ministry, but your employer doesn't pay your salary to do that, it’s paid to honour their side of the contract of employment, so honour yours by working hard. If you want to preach, then pay for it yourself by employing your own resources and time. Even Paul, a full-time apostle, reminded his converts of his labour saying ‘You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions’ (Acts 20:34). Of our attitude to work, he says, Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; (Eph. 6:6) So do we ‘slave for Christ’ by volunteering to undertake the most challenging assignments, or do we avoid added responsibility at all costs?
I can go further. Christ said, But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44) Imagine listening to the problems of our worst detractors, and not just our allies. It might be that a difficult colleague is facing a tight deadline, a bereavement or redundancy. Would you decline help, sending a card or offering a listening ear just because you found out that he criticized your work as unprofessional or recommended you for disciplinary action? Would you just brace for the next insult and turn the other cheek? Paul says, Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1Pet. 3:9). Paul lived by this ethic, We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it (1 Cor. 4:12).
Surely this approach would arouse more curiosity than wearing a cross to work, or distributing Bible tracts. ‘What’s changed you? Why would you lift a finger to help me?’, they might well ask.
Consider also our use of discretionary time. Peter states, For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you (1 Pet. 4:3,4) The early Gentile converts avoided participation in the sensual excesses that characterised idolatrous ancient Greek cities like Corinth and Ephesus. Today’s idols include the narcissism of ‘retail therapy’, racial idealism, ‘irreverent’ humour, the unhealthy diet of ‘sleb’ gossip, ruthless ambition, reducing women to sex objects, the workaholic obsession to achieve our property and wealth aspirations. These things don’t consolidate Christian faith or commitment, so I have to challenge myself to avoid them on a daily basis. Paul warns us, Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things comes the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience (Eph. 5:6)
What about money? Do you provide financial support to elderly relatives, or are you preparing to hammer your credit card at the summer sales? Paul said, ‘If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’ (1 Tim. 5:8)
Where does your monthly salary go? Is it largely committed to paying off the debts incurred for big ticket creature comforts? Let me be clear, three years ago, I owed over £20,000 on credit cards and loans. It’s now just over £2000. I now know how to manage my income, but I’m still a learner. I’m also learning to save to help others. As Paul said the reformed ‘must work hard and do what is good with his own hands, so that he might earn something to give to the needy. (Eph. 4:28)
So these are all practical ways in which we can maintain our effectiveness as the salt of the earth. In the last part of this series, I’ll look at the second front of our battle, that of Christian ministry.