“He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.”
Our work in the world should be a reflection of God’s work in us.
In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that God has “called us to his own glory and excellence.” Both of these verses emphasize that Christians have been called by God to live and work according to a standard. In Ephesians the call is to the standard of “worthy” (axios). In 2 Peter the standard is “excellence” (arete).
The Greek word arete is interesting. Wikipedia gives a good definition: Arete, in its basic sense, means “excellence of any kind”. The term may also mean “moral virtue”. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.
In classical Greek culture, arete represented a life lived to the highest standards of virtue and excellence. Peter taps into this popular notion in Greek culture, but he makes it known that Christians are called to a much higher standard. He raises the bar when he says that God calls us to live and work according to God’s own “glory and excellence.”
This has great relevance to how we do our job every day. God calls us to excellence—to his standards—in three key areas on the job:
This is excellence in our integrity at work. God calls us to do our work with the highest ethical standards. To do what we say and say what we do. To be honest, to follow through on commitments, and to reflect God’s character in our attitude, action, and words. To be someone at work that others can count on to do the right thing.
This is excellence in the mechanics and methods of our work. God calls us to do our work with the highest standards of skill. To be someone at work that others can count on to get things done and solve problems. To continuously strive to grow and improve and get better.
This is excellence in how we interact and collaborate with others at work. God calls us to engage with the people with whom we work. To care and listen. To connect and collaborate. To be someone at work that others want to work with. Connecting with people at work is about love. Not sentimental, romantic love; but real-world caring and commitment that people can see and feel.
Psalm 78 quoted above tells us that God chose David to be the shepherd of his people, and then describes two key attributes that David displayed in the way he did his job as a shepherd: “With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skilful hand.” An “upright heart” is character, and a “skilful hand” is competence. Both are critical. One without the other distorts God’s kingdom.
Dorothy Sayers spoke to this some years ago when she wrote: “The church would tell a drunken carpenter to stop getting drunk and come to church on Sunday. That is fine, but the very first demand that his religion makes on him is that he should make good tables. What use is his piety in church attendance if he was insulting God with bad carpentry?”
Connecting with people at work is about love. When asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God calls us to engage the people around us in a way that is motivated and directed by love. Love is the ultimate connector.
Thus, our credibility at work is the result of the combination of our character, competence, and connection. This is our reputation. Our image. Our brand. And since we represent God and his kingdom, the credibility of the Christian faith at work is also the result of the combination of our character, competence, and connection.
Whether we realize it or not, the world is watching us. Every day through our attitude and behavior we are answering the question: What does Christianity at work look like?
Trust God and work with character, competence, and connection.
“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” (Proverbs 22.29)