Many Christians are quick to compartmentalize their faith, living as though the gospel only applies to their personal lives and actions. In reality, the implications of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection go far deeper. The gospel changes every dimension of our lives, radically transforming the way we think about and interact with every image-bearer we encounter. The gospel is simply too powerful to limit to our quiet times and Sunday mornings; if we have really experienced God’s incredible mercy and grace, the truth of the gospel will spill into every part of our week, including our work. God Himself is a worker (Gen 1:3-31, Gen 2:7-9, 18, 21-22) and has called us to co-labor alongside Him to increase human flourishing (Genesis 2:15). Scripture also gives guidance to laborers, instructing them how they are to provide for their families (1 Timothy 5:8) and conduct themselves in the workplace (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, Colossians 3:23-24, Ephesians 6:5-8). However, what does the Bible teach us about the unique role and responsibilities of executives and supervisors? What characteristics should manifest themselves in the life of the “Christian” employer?
Like all Christians, believers who manage or lead others in the workplace should prioritize their team’s success and flourishing above their own. Power over others can be dangerous - it can puff our hearts up with pride and convince us that we are more valuable, more important, and more deserving than others. In reality, however, Christians have been adopted in Christ by grace through faith, not by their works or level of authority here on earth. A business leader’s main objective is not to build a name or reputation for themselves but to make much of Jesus through their relationships and dealings with others. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that God did not favor masters over slaves but instead calls earthly “masters” - business leaders, supervisors, and executives in today’s world - to remember that both they and those under them ultimately serve the same King (6:9). Doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, Christian employers are to humbly consider others as more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3) and be open to receiving feedback about their performance (Proverbs 12:1).
Honor and Advocacy
Business leaders that follow Jesus are to recognize the humanity of others and use their influence to pursue their wellbeing. The Bible is clear - every human being is made in God’s image and is therefore equal in value and dignity to every other person (Genesis 1:27). Because of this truth, employers are to show respect and honor to everyone they work with, regardless of their ability to return the favor. They are also to advocate for those at the company who are most vulnerable. God calls all who follow Him to administer justice and show mercy and compassion to those around them (Zechariah 7:9). If a particular person or group in the organization is struggling, Christian employers should step in to meet the need.
Patience and Kindness
When employers are primarily motivated by the bottom line, they are more inclined to treat their employees as a means to an end - simply tools used to boost the company’s profit. If we believe that all human beings are invaluable to God, are employees any different? While caring for the laborers you manage certainly does not mean the company’s finances are ignored, business leaders must not manage through threats or fear but through encouragement and development (Ephesians 6:9). Scripture reveals that God is slow to anger but full of love, compassion, and grace towards us (Psalm 145:8) despite the fact that we were still rebels against Him when He died for us (Romans 5:8). The Bible warns us about the dangers of anger in group settings, noting that “a hot-tempered man stirs up strife” while he who has control over his anger can more effectively soothe heated disagreements between individuals (Proverbs 15:18). Even when they find an employee to be frustrating or underperforming, employers are to exercise patience with them and seek to understand them.
God designed work to be good, and employers are to model what it looks like to work unto the Lord in a way that promotes the welfare of others. The Apostle Paul says that every able-bodied Christian should labor, “doing honest work with his own hands, so that they may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28 ESV). In fact, we are not only to do this work but do it enthusiastically (Romans 12:11). Christian business leaders should show their employees what it means to work hard, complete tasks with excellence, and give back generously if and when prosperity comes.
Honesty and Fairness
The pages of Scripture are saturated with God’s love for justice and righteousness. He is explicit about His heart for the poor and the hurting. He abhors the exploitation of workers and declares that employers who abuse them will be held accountable. The book of James provides a stark picture of this justice to come:
“Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (James 5:3-4 NLT)
God hears the cries of oppressed laborers and has promised to do something about it. Similar to the way elders will be held to a higher standard by God in how they cared for members in their congregation, so too will employers be held accountable for how they cared for employees within their company. Christian employers should deal with their customers and employees justly and fairly, placing image-bearers above any self-interested pursuit of riches or fame (Colossians 4:1).
Compassion and Tenderness
All believers should have compassion towards others, and this is especially true for Christians in positions of authority in the workplace. Their hearts should be sensitive to the pain and stress staff members are experiencing and identify ways that this suffering can be alleviated. This kind of concern is modeled by the centurion Jesus encountered in the city of Capernaum. Centurions were powerful members of Roman society, responsible for training and leading hundreds of soldiers. In order to maintain control of such large numbers of troops, centurions would often discipline them harshly and publicly. However, the centurion that approached Jesus was grieved that his paralyzed servant was lying in agony at home and begged Jesus to heal him (Matthew 8:5-6). This display of concern was undoubtedly difficult for the centurion - showing such care was a threat to his public perception and could be seen as a sign of weakness. However, he was burdened by the distress of those who worked for him and knew he had to do something about it. Christian employers too should see employees as whole people - people that experience fears, hurt, worry, and hardship. Only by treating them as more than a means to an end can we display Jesus most holistically.
Before telling Christians what they are to do, God often starts by reminding them who they are in Him (Romans 8:9-13, 1 Corinthians 6:14-20, 1 Peter 2:9-12). It is out of our new identity in Christ that we are called and equipped to love others as Christ first loved us. In His sovereignty, God has ordained some believers to have authority over others in the workplace (Proverbs 16:9). With this privilege to lead comes the responsibility of taking care of those they manage. Below are just a few ways that bosses, supervisors, and employers can do this well.
Pay employees fairly and provide them with enough to meet their basic needs. God detests employers who take advantage of their workers (James 5:4). The hired person is always to be compensated for their labor, no matter their background or relationship to the business owner. This is especially true for the impoverished employee that is counting on being paid fairly to make ends meet (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Workers should also be paid enough to take care of themselves and their families if possible, even when the result is lower profitability (Leviticus 23:22). Not every business leader has the ability to increase the salaries or benefits of those under their supervision, but those that do have an obligation to make sure workers are provided for financially (Proverbs 3:27).
Create a work environment free from harassment, exploitation, and ungodly coercion. Employers that turn a blind eye to harassment or poor treatment in the workplace will one day have to answer for their callousness and indifference. “If I have been unfair to my male or female servants when they brought their complaints to me,” writes Job in the Old Testament, “how could I face God? What could I say when he questioned me? For God created both me and my servants. He created us both in the womb” (Job 31:13-15 NLT). Later in that same chapter, he even invites God’s curse upon him if he has “broken the spirit” of the farmers who work his land (31:39 NIV). Recognizing employees and celebrating the work they do is one way to nurture spirits instead of breaking them. By choosing to encourage and edify instead of harshly criticizing, believers show incredible grace to their colleagues and bring God glory (Ephesians 4:29). Christian leaders should strive to create a desirable and pleasant workplace in which abuse of all kinds are prohibited and swiftly punished, gossip is discouraged, and employees feel safe and valued.
Provide the freedom employees need to flourish both inside and outside the workplace. Humans are multidimensional beings; we were not created to live at the office. Work “is a supreme gift from God and one of the main things that gives our lives purpose,” writes author Tim Keller. “But it must play its proper role, subservient to God. It must regularly give way not just to work stoppage for bodily repair but also to joyful reception of the world and of ordinary life” (Every Good Endeavor, p.42). Employers have to recognize this reality. In a sense, employees are a form of human capital that God has given to employers to steward on His behalf. This means providing workers with professional and personal development opportunities as well as giving them the flexibility they need to perform their other God-given roles well - including their roles as spouses, parents, community members, and worshippers. Providing employees with generous time off, ample paternity leave, comprehensive health benefits, and opportunities to improve skill sets or explore passions are just a few ways to facilitate well-rounded flourishing.
Salt and Light
Applying faith to our work lives can seem both difficult and dangerous, but believers must be ambassadors of Christ wherever they go (Acts 1:8). Although Christian employers may not always be permitted to use their secular platforms to share the gospel verbally, they can use their leadership to depict God’s mercy, grace, and love. This often requires discernment - in wisdom, executives must consider how to best apply the gospel to each unique situation. While challenging, this is never done in vain because “at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 NIV). For the Christian employer, the office is not just a place of business but profound opportunity to meet the needs of others, help them explore their passions, and grow both professionally and personally. It is also an institution the Lord can use to build His kingdom, push back evil, and promote the public good. Through their unique capacities in the workplace, God has given Christian business leaders the incredible privilege of demonstrating what biblical flourishing looks like in both word and deed.
I am the lead data and research analyst with The For the City Network and joined the team in February 2018. I help volunteers, pastors, nonprofit leaders, and business professionals better understand the characteristics and dynamics of their communities so that they can more effectively pursue human flourishing together. I earned my master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas - Austin and continue to live in North Austin.