Let’s be honest, some places are very difficult to work in. There are jobs that are mentally or physically demanding, and many people work in unpleasant physical environments – places that the human body just wasn’t designed to thrive in. There are also workplaces where some people aren’t very courteous, as well as those where people are downright offensive or intentionally abusive.
There’s a difference between a demanding job and a hostile work environment, though. Just because a job is difficult doesn’t mean that it has to be demeaning or denigrating to other people. In fact, I think that followers of Jesus should be among those who gladly step up to demanding jobs. However, I believe that we should also work to prevent our own spheres of influence from disrespecting human beings. After all, they are made in the image of the God that we serve!
Even if we love our job (or, maybe don’t have to work with others at all, in our current season of life), we all exist in a local “hostile work environment” while we walk this fallen earth, and which the human condition doesn’t allow us to fully escape. Have a look at this passage from the book of Romans, in the Bible:
For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
Romans 8:7-8 NLT
Until we get to Heaven, and receive new bodies that are free from this sinful nature, we will have to toil in this environment of conflict. Whether we attribute this to our “flesh” (the parts of this human body that are weak against temptation), our “sinful nature” (the source of our pride and selfishness), or external forces, this is a battle that hits closer to home than any vocation or work environment. It is fought within our very selves.
This conflict is more than just an inconvenience or irritation, though. Read those verses above a second time. This is not just a case where there are “different points of view”; instead there is open hostility between these forces we fight, and the righteous God. That’s pretty rough, and probably explains why actively working to do the right thing when we follow Jesus can be downright exhausting at times.
So, what do we do? I suppose that we could choose to give into our sinful nature. After all, wouldn’t that eliminate this tension, by just yielding to temptation and doing whatever sinful forces suggest? Many people have tried this, and from an outside perspective, it might seem like it works. Talk with them, though, and you will find that this lifestyle – choosing to live contrary to the abundant life that Jesus offers – creates even more pain and suffering, and it doesn’t really give us the freedom or peace that we seek, either. Living for pleasure creates a need for more pleasure, without the satisfaction of making a real difference – one that lasts beyond the memory of those who follow after us.
Instead, what if the answer is to give in…just not to the side of evil? I believe – and have personally experienced – that surrender to Jesus helps us thrive under these conditions. The conflict doesn’t disappear, but when I follow the winning side, I find that not only is Jesus more powerful to overcome evil (compared to sin’s relatively weak power to fight against God’s design), but He loves me and offers me rewards (like purpose, joy, relationships, and other blessings) that the “other side” simply doesn’t have the ability to give. Put another way, since we are going to be in the battle, we may as well choose to fight for the side that will win. Not only that, Jesus the Commander takes better care of his soldiers (treating them like family, rather than cannon fodder), not to mention that His “retirement plan” for them that is eternally better.
And, see again what the latter part of this passage says: the challenge is not to be controlled by our sinful nature. We may think that we control ourselves, but as weak as we are, we can be more successful when we allow ourselves to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Having said that, if you do work with others (whether formally in an occupation, or just through spending time with them in some capacity), be a positive part of the work environment. Seek out those around you whose hearts want to find peace (even if their demeanor seems to indicate the opposite), then help them find and cultivate that peace (first with God, since peace with people follows more easily after that) through Jesus Christ. Those who wish to please God may always have to fight being controlled by our sinful nature here on this earth, but we can at least keep the battle focused on sin, rather than pouring out our sinful nature on other people.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.