Sep 20, 2012

Four Workplace Lessons From the Book of Ezekiel

Ezekiel has much to say about the workplace. His words touch on finance and debt, economic development, honesty, allocation of capital, workplace evaluations, fair return on investment, economic opportunism, success and failure, whistleblowing, teamwork, executive compensation, and corporate governance.

In the Old Testament, a few individuals were called to be prophets with the mandate to bring God's word home to his people. But as members of the new covenant, all Christians are called to the prophet's job. The prophet Joel foresaw this when he spoke God's word thus, "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28). The apostle Peter announced this as a present reality on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33).

The prophetic responsibility of all Christians yields several lessons for a theology of work and bears on our witness in the workplace. God calls each of us to take personal responsibility for the fate of others. We are to be sentinels in our own right as we hold ourselves accountable for the people around us.

This does not come to us naturally in an age and culture that cherishes individualism. In terms of our daily work, Christians bear personal responsibility to work for justice in their workplaces. Ask yourself these four questions as you consider this responsibility.

1. Are we speaking God's words at work? 

Christians in every workplace feel pressure to participate in activities we know are not compatible with God's Word. Do we put God's truth above the apparent comfort of fitting in? This is not a call to shrill judgmentalism at work, but it may mean standing up for the person being scapegoated for the department's failure, or being the first to vote in favor of dropping a misleading advertising campaign. It could mean admitting your own role in perpetrating an office conflict or writing an honest performance review despite the pain it seems to incur. These are ways of speaking God's words to others at work.

2. Are our lives illustrations of God's message?

We communicate not only in words but in actions. Throughout his ministry, Ezekiel was literally a walking, visual illustration of God's promises and judgments. A Silicon Valley CFO was asked by her CEO to "find" $2 million of additional profit to add to the quarterly report due in one week. The CFO knew it would require inaccurately categorizing certain expenses as investments, and certain investments as revenues. During the week she happened to have her monthly meeting with other Christian CFOs. They gave her the courage to stand up to her CEO. On the day the report was due, she told the CEO, "Here is the report with the additional $2 million of profit as you requested. It might even be legal, but it's not truly accurate. I can't sign it, so I know you will have to fire me." Her CEO's response? "If you won't sign it, then I won't either. I depend on you to know what you're doing. Bring me the original accurate report, and we'll issue that and take our lumps for not meeting forecast profitability." In both her words and actions, this CFO illustrated living according to God's word, and that influenced the CEO to do the same.

3. Are we willing to serve obstinate people?

God forewarned Ezekiel that people would reject his message (Ezek. 3:7). Ezekiel was overwhelmed with the call (Ezek. 3:15), but the Lord's hand was on him and God's Spirit intervened (Ezek. 3:14). What if the Silicon Valley CEO had insisted on the falsified report anyway? Although the CFO was willing to be fired, God didn't allow Ezekiel that option. Ezekiel had to stay with his people and suffer the consequences of their unrighteousness alongside them. As Christians we may be called to remain in unjust workplace situations as witnesses to God's justice. On a more prosaic level, all of us have difficult co-workers. Can we find a way to engage them without enabling their difficult behavior? Prophets—including all Christians—are called into difficult situations, not away from them.

4. Are we willing to blow the whistle in the case of extreme immoral practices? 

A sentinel is literally a whistleblower, charged with sounding the alarm in the case of extreme danger. A properly trained sentinel handles minor dangers within his or her own capabilities, but warns the surrounding community about dangers too great to be handled alone.  It is sometimes argued that whistleblowing by employees is unethical because they have the duty of promoting their employers’ interests. But the sentinel’s duty is to the entire community, even if blowing the whistle makes the sentinel’s platoon or company look bad.

Living with God is not just a matter of worship and personal devotion. Christians are called to personal righteousness, but we are also called to be prophets and sentinels who are responsible to warn others to act rightly, whether in the marketplace, at home, in church or in society.

 

Editor's Note: This article has been edited from a much longer article about Ezekiel from our friends at the Theology of Work project. The High Calling and Foundations for Laity Renewal have been working with this project for several years now. Will Messenger has done a fantastic job organizing the scholars to develop a systematic and thorough review of the Bible's approach to work.

Image by Steven Depolo. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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