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Character in the real world: Christians in the work place
02/08/2004
Scripture: Titus 2:9-10
Track 6 of 9 in the Living as disciples in the "here and now" series
Running time: 28 minutes, 10 seconds.
Faith and life meet



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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


Sermon for Sunday, February 8, 2004
"Character in the Real World: Christians in the Work Place"
Living as Disciples in the "here and now"
(Titus 2:9-10 )
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

I ran across an interesting set of workplace rules I thought you might enjoy. There are about a dozen of them here:

Godliness, cleanliness and punctuality are the necessities of a good business.

This firm has reduced the hours of work and the clerical staff will now only have to be present between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on weekdays.

Daily prayers will be held each morning in the main office. The clerical staff will be present.

Clothing must be of a sober nature. The clerical staff will not deport themselves in a raiment of bright colors nor will they wear hose unless they are in good repair.

Overshoes and topcoats may not be worn in the office, but neck scarves and head wear may be worn in inclement weather.

A stove is provided for the benefit of the clerical staff. Coal and wood must be kept in the locker. It is recommended that each member of the clerical staff bring four pounds of coal each day during the cold weather.

No member of the clerical staff may leave the room without permission from Mr. Rogers. The calls of nature are permitted and clerical staff may use the garden below the second gate.

No talking is allowed during business hours.

The craving of tobacco, wines or spirits is a human weakness and, as such, is forbidden to all members of the clerical staff.

Now that the hours of business have been drastically reduced, the partaking of food is allowed between 11:30 and noon, but work will not, on any account cease.

Members of the clerical staff will provide their own pens. A new sharpener is available upon application.

The owners recognize the generosity of the new labor laws, but we will expect a great rise in output of work to compensate for these near utopian conditions.

Well, that was 1852. Things are supposedly better now. Right?

We want to talk about what it means to be a Christian in the workplace. We want to ask the question, what does it mean for a disciple to live out their faith out there in the real world, every day, wherever you happen to be? It's a really simple kind of principle. Martin Luther stated it well when he said it this way. The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays. Not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty, not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.

Disciples make the gospel look good is the principle that's at stake here.

About a third of your life is spent at work wherever that happens to be, under whatever circumstance that happens to be about a third of your day is somehow invested in a work place where normally you interact with other people. And the gospel is made to appear either good or bad by your choices.

Ah - one more time we're going to come back to this basic premise. Disciples run counter to the culture in which they live. If you remember Titus Chapter 1 let's go back and look at that just briefly. Titus Chapter 1. Here's the world these disciples are living in. Starting in Verse 10.

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons."

A world full of people that can't be trusted. A world full of people who do not know how to demonstrate good character. Sounds a little bit like Super Bowl Sunday. And the Christian stands out in that culture. Makes the gospel look good.

Look at Chapter 2, Verse 9. Now this is an odd kind of situation because the text doesn't have direct application to us. It's one of those where we're gonna have to look for points of comparison.

Teach slaves . . . . . (verse 9, Titus Chapter 2) Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

There's an enormous difference between first century and eighteenth/nineteenth century America. It is almost a foregone conclusion that when somebody who lives in the U.S. with any awareness at all of our background, reads this text or any text like it in the New Testament, you automatically see things in "black and white". You see it in north and south. You see it in slave and free. Teach the slaves he says, to be certain character. But we're worlds apart here. In the United States, slavery was primarily a racial situation. And once a slave, if a slave ever achieved freedom, there was a real question about what the status of that slave ultimately became and how they were supposed to be able to live out in our culture. An existence other than an existence that was clearly defined by skin color.

Wasn't true in the first century. In the first century slaves were an economic issue. They didn't look any different than anybody else. They may have been from some other racial background, but the skin color was not an issue because it was all middle east and southeast Europe. Some people were slaves by choice, in that, that's the best way they had to make a living. Slaves had the opportunity to buy their way into freedom. They could actually earn a living. There were, in fact, some stories of slaves who actually hired themselves out to other people in their free time (if you can imagine).

In our culture that concept of free time never quite occurred to anybody. Slaves, when they became free were Roman citizens. They were just like everybody else. We have very clear teachings of freed slaves in Rome, having achieved quite high status socially. Many of the slaves, as a matter of fact, were household members. When you read the household texts in Scripture Colossians 3, Ephesians 5 you'll notice, it will follow this pattern every time. Husbands, wives, children, slaves because they're all part of the household. Slaves had the responsibility, for example, of managing the affairs of the family. Slaves often had the responsibility of taking the children to and from school to make sure that they arrived safely. They were trusted members of the family.

So we find ourselves wrestling with how do you translate a text like slaves behave in a certain way be the kind of disciples God calls you to be in a situation where we don't quite have that same (well, it just doesn't resonate with us).

Probably the place where it becomes most clear, is in places where we find ourselves under somebody else's authority. Employees, for example, student athletes, musicians, military members. Most of us, in some point of our life, live under somebody else's control. We may not be exactly slaves, though, I would confess that some of you have felt like that in your employment and other places. But the principle of how you live in that circumstance becomes critically important because disciples, in fact, make the gospel look good by the way they conduct themselves by their attitude.

Now, before I leave that slavery topic, just let me suggest to you this one little side bar. It is clearly true that in the New Testament, slaves are never told that they shouldn't continue to be slaves. But the principles that undermine first century slavery are clearly in the New Testament. For example, when Paul talks about the sins of people, one of the sins that he clearly marked were those who were involved in slave trade.

When you turn a page in the book from Titus to Philemon, the story is that of a slave who has escaped ( he's actually probably not escaped, he was probably sent on a trip by his master and chose never to return) happens to encounter the apostle Paul and becomes a Christian. Paul sends him back to his owner with this instruction to the owner. Treat him as a brother not merely as a slave. There are these clear implications in Galatians 3. There is neither male nor female, slave nor free. The same thing is true in Colossians Chapter 3. So the principal exists that while you might be under someone's authority as a slave, you might also be their brother or their sister in the community of faith. In fact, early church history tells us that there were numerous times that slaves who had become Christians and were mature in the faith had become elders in churches where their owners were members. And so you had them responsible in a complete reversal of roles.

Well, having said that, let's ask this question. What does it mean to be a disciple out here in the every day world whereby we adorn, (that's the word in our text, verse 10) we adorn the gospel? We make the gospel attractive. How do we do that? Well, we do it by living life with grace, handling our circumstances graciously. Do you notice the language of this text? It's really full of just rather simple terminology. We are to be well-pleasing. One of the things that this text reminds us is that our behavior, our nature, our attitude ought to be the kind of attitude, well, well, actually it's like this. This word is only used one time in relationship to pleasing people, the rest of the time, every other time in the New Testament where it's used, it's used to talk about pleasing God, being well-pleasing to the Father. So in some way the way be behave causes those for whom we labor, those that are employers, those who are over us in whatever capacity causes them to be well pleased with us. They ought to be satisfied with our labor. They ought to be we ought to be good employees. Good members of that community whereby we find ourselves.

He says that we're not to be argumentative. Huh. . . . that one I have to list as a real tough one for me. I don't know about where you guys find yourself fitting into this category, but that non-argumentative thing, that's got to be a tough one to live out cause my basic nature is to be argumentative. I've written that one out of my Bible. You guys can choose to keep it if you'd like.

You're not to pilfer. Our text says don't steal from your boss. Um. . . I hate to admit this, but one of the ladies in our church came up here a few years ago and said, "Would you mind preaching a sermon on purloining?" And I smiled. I had no idea what purloining was. I hate to tell you that. I had to go get the dictionary out and look it up. The synonym for purloining was not a lot of help. It means to pilfer. Huh. . . that didn't help me a lot either. When I got around to figure out that purloining is stealing from the company or stealing from the boss, I realized that her problem was she had a son who was, in fact, stealing from his boss and she was afraid he was gonna get caught. But I got to thinking about that, ya know. There are ways in which, as a Christian, we tend to purloin. Do you know that the average in the United States is $1 billion per week in employee theft? You want to know why your pencil costs so much? It's because employers cannot trust their employees not to walk off with the "STUFF".

Do you remember the 1976 Johnny Cash song about his Cadillac that he snuck out of the factory, one part at a time? Took a transmission from here and a fender from there.

Have you ever thought about your relationship to the place where you work? The extra time you take that isn't really yours. If you ever calculate that out. . . . . . .now I've never really taken the time to try to figure this out entirely, so let's just do a little quick math, kind of on the spot. Let's say that you get a lunch break and a morning break and an afternoon break and you take an extra ten minutes each time. That's thirty minutes a day. Let's say you make $10.00/hr. That means that you're stealing $5.00 a day from your company, so if you work five days a week, you are now stealing $25.00/week. . . . .$100/month. . . . .$1,200/year. If a hundred of you do that in one company, guess what happens? Or those personal phone calls, or that time spent at your computer playing games, or worse yet, using the company computer or any other computer, for that matter, to access pornography.

There's a company in central Illinois, fairly well known around the world for making great big yellow machines. They found an employee who had, in less than a year's time, 30,000 hits on pornography. He was fired on the spot, not because CAT has a particularly high moral standard, because it was a time issue. He was stealing from the company.

Disciples ought to be better employees than that. That's basically what Paul is trying to say. And they are to be trustworthy. You ought to be able to trust them. You should be able to send the keys home with them. You ought to be able to walk out of the shop and say, close up on your way out. Have you noticed how far our culture has gotten from trustworthy?

We now have keys that come with our cars that only allow you in to certain parts of the car because we don't want anybody to be able to get in other parts.

You go to the store and nobody will touch your credit card any more. You have to swipe it yourself because you don't want anybody to have a chance to get your number.

You don't give anybody information over the internet because of identity theft.

We live in a culture where we don't trust each other.

Some of you probably still don't lock the doors on your house. But not many of you. But we all used to live that way didn't we?

Christians who live in the workplace ought to be employees who can be trusted. And if they're left alone the entire day, they will work the entire day, not because their boss isn't there, because of who they are.

So he says, we handle life with graciousness, with grace. We do the thing that we're called to do and I think there's a reason why that's true. It's because we see the bigger picture of things. This isn't about dollars and cents. It's not about bottom line. It's not about whether the company earns money, although that's not a bad thing. It's because we've learned that our circumstances don't determine who we are. Right? We are who we are determined by the relationship that we have with Christ. And so, whether you have a good boss or a bad boss is absolutely immaterial to whether or not you do your job, the one that you were hired to do. Cause it isn't about him, it's about you and who you are.

So I remind you of my friend, my first roommate in college whose basic rule of thumb was, it's good enough for who it's for. Except the one for whom it was for was God. Therefore he did everything with excellence. And it didn't matter the attitude of the person for whom you were doing it.

We used to put in lawn sprinkling systems. If you ever need a good lawn sprinkling system let me know. I am the resident expert of tearing grass out and putting it back without being able to tell it's gone. But you know, there are some people who are just really picky about their lawns. And by the time they get done harassing you about whether it's gonna look good or not, you just want to walk away and leave, well, at least one spot that looks awful. You're tempted, you know? But you don't do it. You don't do it because of them, you do it because you see the bigger picture. That this is a reflection on your Father, not the one down here, the one UP THERE. See, we see the bigger picture, that there is much more at stake here than just whether or not we have done our eight hours worth of work.

Here's where, here's where American history is helpful.

I had the chance to spend some time with James Bailey this week. James is an African-American student at our Seminary who's done a lot of work looking back into the old Negro Spiritual and in the history of this country. The most oppressed people had a song in their heart and they sang with gusto and they gave us a music genre that has impacted nearly every other form of American music. And they sang (have you ever looked at them?) They sang about heaven and hope. Why? Because they saw the bigger picture. It wasn't about a row of cotton or corn. It wasn't about twelve or fifteen or eighteen hours a day in a field. It was bigger than that and they had a hope down in their system that enabled them to look past all of that. You know what it sounds like in the Bible? It sounds like this. He endured the cross by seeing the joy that was on the other side. Seeing the BIGGER picture.

And when I cannot work because of the nature of the day, or circumstance, I can be the right kind of person because I understand the BIGGER issues. And ultimately, that bigger issue is this see we know that ultimate reason the salvation for the people for whom we work is at stake. Now I understand that it's hard to be a Christian out here in the work place. At best you are often tolerated for your faith. And often put down for it. And yet when you understand that this person for whom you work will one day stand before God. . . . .have you ever noticed how Scripture handles that?

For example in 2Corinthians 5 . . . it is . . . . . .God and give account for the deeds done in the body. The very next phrase. . . . 2Corinthians 5:11 is this. Therefore we persuade men. Do you hear that? It's not about us. This isn't about saying, oh we're all gonna face judgment, therefore we better get our act together. The point is, all of us face judgment, therefore we persuade people to have their lives right. See the ultimate reason for being a good workplace person is so that you can adorn the gospel. So that you can empower people to see Christ. St. Francis said it this way. Preach always, use words when necessary. It's that different life that adorns the gospel and gives people an opportunity to see Christ in action. It is true, your actions often speak louder than your words. Especially when they contradict your words.

I'm really encouraging you to make a decision today to be a better workplace person. To let Christ be seen in you, the way you treat other people, the way you handle the circumstances, the way you deal with the folks around you. It may be that your (and this isn't in the text, I understand it), it may be that you're the boss, and how you, as a Christian employer, or supervisor treat the people around you may have enormous implications for how they view their understanding of what God is like.

But for most of us, it's the matter of how we treat the people for whom we work. Do we give them the life of a disciple? Are we trustworthy? Do we adorn Christ? Maybe it even comes to church and you decide for yourself, whether the effort you put in to what you do here, gets your best effort as a disciple.

See, the power of the gospel is not merely words. In fact, to be really honest with you, even though that's my whole life, words, much of the gospel isn't words, it's pictures. It's pictures painted by watching somebody work. It's pictures painted by looking at a person's life. It's the imagery of Jesus being seen.

I want to make this hesitant statement because some of you have made decisions in your life that you would, under no circumstances see an "R" Rated movie and I want to commend that. The movie that we're going to show a little clip of is, in fact, an "R" Rated movie. It's Amestad. It's rated "R" because of its graphic depiction of slave trade.

A group of slaves were taken to Havana, Cuba with the intention of taking them on around the coastline of Cuba to sell them. In the journey there was a coo and Sinca (?) took over the ship and demanded that they sail it back to Africa, except that the Cubans at night, would reverse it and then in the daytime they would head back the direction they were supposed to. And what they ended up doing is ending up in Long Island. It went to court in New York City where the U.S. Supreme Court finally freed these people because they were, in fact, free men, illegally taken. During the trial, while none of these Africans understood any English, they had a Bible and that Bible had pictures of Jesus in it. And I'd like to see if you can see the power of what it means to live in pictures.

It's the power of Christ seen in images, pictures and I'm looking at them right now. There is a world full of people out there that we rub shoulders with every day in the places where we work and very often the only image of Christ they will ever see is you.

What incredible power sits in this room to show the world it doesn't look so bad.

You know and I know He has the power to make your life well and He has the power to make the lives of others well through you.

Let's stand.