Christian Ethics Free Course: LESSON NINE: EMPLOYMENT
The Technological Revolution is changing the Western understanding of work.
Gone is the time when all but the favoured few had to work for their — very existence, when to be unwaged meant almost certain death – or at least terrible destitution. Today we talk of the post-industrial society, of the virtual abolition of work as we have known it and of a booming leisure industry.
But there is another side to the matter. We are not finding the transition easy. The millions of unemployed, often on meagre incomes and in deprived environments, don’t greet this as a new day of creative opportunity. Instead, many are bitter, alienated, disillusioned and depressed. Saved from starvation maybe, but not from the loss of hope.
The Technological Revolution makes man the worker permanently redundant. Self-monitoring factories declare even the machine-minder obsolete. Unless the shop-floor worker can be retrained and relocated he has no future. Mass unemployment is inevitable – unless someone comes up with some bright ideas! However, first we must comment briefly on the two dominant economic theories of our society as they affect employment.
CAPITALISM AND COMMUNISM
Capitalism insists that the rich and the poor will always exist and should seek peaceful cc-existence for their mutual benefit. The wealthy put their wealth to work to produce more wealth. The labourer generates this wealth and is rewarded with a living wage. In a free enterprise system, excess capital will be used to generate more jobs, and unlimited expansion of the economy is theoretically possible.
Capitalism has been strongly undergirded by the falsely-named ‘protestant work ethic’ which teaches that diligent work is a moral duty, whatever the job and the working conditions. This ethic (actually a humanist one born out of the Renaissance) has been criticised on many grounds.
*It tends to slot people into a role appropriate to their class, thus denying the opportunity for a person to ‘break out.’
*It uses people as units of labour rather than treating them as whole people. A person’s identity becomes determined by what he does, rather than by who he is. Little wonder that the redundant worker feels such a loss of personal identity!
Raw capitalism itself is open to abuse by sinful human beings.
Alienation, inequality and hardship are the common lot of the worker in such a system. There are other problems:
*Untrammelled trust in the power of the free market means that many suffer at times of dramatic change, as with the Industrial Revolution and now the Technological Revolution
*Enterprise is commonly motivated far more by the financial benefit to the investor than by the benefit to society as a whole.
*There is no honourable place for those dispossessed of their jobs. They are the failures of society and little effort is made to develop new work – the market motivation isn’t there.
Socialism seeks to tackle these issues by proposing a cooperative economic system in which the means of production is common ownership vested in the state. Communism goes much further by insisting that the means of distribution should also be state-controlled, thereby moderating the market to ensure a fair distribution to all.
The weakness of communism is its implicit belief in the perfectibility of man outside of Christ and its utopian conviction that through revolution a new society will be born. Because it is idealistic, such societies have required repressive force in order to operate the theory.
Socialism also fails to take account of the inherent selfishness in sinful men and women. Its mammoth state industries have generally produced inefficient management and an underestimated workforce.
Socialist systems exalt the worker and, like capitalism, over-identify a man with what he does.
Capitalism is broadly associated with the Conservatives (UK) and the Republicans (USA), while socialism/communism has been the political philosophy of the Labour Party (UK) and of the Democrats (USA).
In Britain the contrast has been vividly demonstrated in conflicting party policies of free enterprise and state ownership, respectively.
Neither system has been able adequately to produce a society where there is full and satisfying employment. So is there a better way? The Bible doesn’t propose an economic theory but it does provide an approach to work which can dramatically change the face of labour.
2. THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF WORK
The Bible’s view of work has to be understood with reference to three other concepts: the Sabbath; Service and Salvation.
A. THE SABBATH
Read Gen Ch. 1. What did God do at the end of each day?
See, for example, verse 25. Then notice from Gen. 2:1-3 what God did when He had finished creating the universe: “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.” (Gen 2:2)
From these two passages we can draw certain principles:
1. WORK IS HONOURABLE.
God did not consider Himself above labour.
2. WORK IS GOOD.
Work should be of a kind whose product can be described as ‘good.’
3. WORK GIVES SATISFACTION.
The worker should be able to contemplate and appreciate the worth of his labours at the end of each day.
4. WORK SHOULD ALSO INVOLVE REST.
Work should be done to a rhythm which includes a day of rest every week.
5. WORK SHOULD PRODUCE RESULTS.
There should be a sense of completion about each week’s work.
From the beginning, God intended our labours to be satisfying – a far cry from the view of working life as a necessary drudgery whose only respite is the weekend, and let’s hope it’s not raining! Consider also Psalm 127:1-2 and Eccl. 5:10-12.
The Sabbath was created for the blessing of humankind – See Mark 2:27.
It was instituted as a day of rest and recreation, of fellowship and worship, of blessing our fellow human beings.
Honouring the Sabbath kept a check on commercialism with its attendant evils of greed, debt, stress, materialism and exploitation. Little wonder that desecration of the Sabbath brought the judgement of God upon Israel. See how Nehemiah dealt with the issue during the restoration of Jerusalem – See Neh. 13:15-18.
By Jesus’ time, this blessing of God had been turned into a legalistic curse. Jesus restored a proper understanding of the Sabbath by His own approach to it.
He also saved us from dead works and put the Sabbath principle into our hearts. The primary emphasis under the new covenant is not on the observance of a day (important though that may be) but on living all our days in the rest which comes from grace (Hebrews 4:1-1
l). This sets us free to enjoy the creation ordinance of one day’s rest in seven and to make rest in God, not our daily labours, the source of our identity.
In contrast to the modern world, the Scriptures do not force a divide between the sacred and the secular. Consequently, all work is a ministry to God and to our fellow-human beings. Sacrificial love is to mark our tasks. Such love will produce diligence, punctuality and excellence.
Both employees and employers are called to serve one another. Hence, there is a concern for each other’s well-being. This abolishes the need for confrontation between workers and management and instead allows co-operation. It may lead to creating jointly-owned companies.
The Fall brought a curse upon all creation and not least upon work.
A new factor came into being (Genesis 3:l7-19). What does Solomon call it (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23)?
Redemption lifts the curse (Galatians 3:l3-14). This will not ultimately be seen until the new creation at Christ’s return, but the principles of the new age are already operating. Our work should fit in with God’s ultimate plan, which is: “through Him (Christ) to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:20)
We are to bring these principles to bear upon work.
1. They will make us examine the type of work we perform.
Not just any work will do. Is the product truly beneficial to the human race, a good gift from God? Try to identify some products which you consider to be decidedly unhelpful to society.
2. We will be concerned about the conditions we work under.
Do they uphold the dignity of men and women? Or degrade them by putting them in a soul-destroying environment or one that is dangerous to their health, or in a job whose demands threaten their family life?
3. We will want the work to give opportunity for a person to express his creativity and individuality.
This will enable a person to take pride in his job and feel he has actually produced something at the end of the day.
To summarise, the Scriptures teach a harmonious rhythm of work and rest, which is service to God and an expression of the process of reconciliation. It has none of the modern contradictions and conflicts.
3. DEFENDING WORK
The political polarities of Western societies drive those on the left to emphasise the right to work, while those on the right stress the responsibility to work. This is unfortunate because rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, for both workers and management.
A. THE RIGHT TO WORK.
This term has taken on a particular meaning: the responsibility of governments so to order their policies that all members of society are granted the human right of paid employment.
Biblically, we cannot speak of the right to work but we can speak of the rightness, or appropriateness, of work. God gave Adam a responsible job in Eden: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2:15)
Constructive work, beyond nest-building, is something which distinguishes people from the animals. A government which by its policies denies this, lowers human dignity.
Furthermore, work should have its reward. This is much more than merely a pay-packet. It is unfortunate that our society has so limited the concept of reward. Job satisfaction needs to include a sense of achievement, of producing something worthwhile, of creative expression, of appreciation by others (Matthew 25:l4-30) – nobody thanks the unemployed.
But the pay-packet is important! In l Corinthians 9:7-12 Paul argues that even preachers are entitled to some material reward for their labours (see also Luke 10:7; 2 Timothy 2:6).
The Scriptures command us: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. “ (Proverbs 3:27)
The sober fact is that, though the unemployed aren’t starving, they are far from well-off and most don’t have sufficient resources either financially or environmentally to live a life of creative leisure.
In fact, enforced idleness pot only gives opportunity for dissipation but creates loneliness, boredom told lassitude through lack of stimulus.
It also contributes significantly to, the rising crime rate.
It is a poor, not to say perverse, leadership that cannot find anything for people to do! At the very least, it shows a lack of creative initiative unworthy of those elected to govern the modern economic state.
Christians have a responsibility to speak out on this issue.
B. THE RESPONSIBILITY TO WORK
The responsibilities of an employer are clear:
1. He must pay the labourer worthily.
The employee needs a living wage commensurate with the work done, sufficient to keep him and his dependents in health and honour. Woe to the employer if he withholds it: “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.” (Mal 3:5)
2. He must provide a safe environment for his employees.
Deuteronomy 22:8 reminds us of our responsibility for the safety of others.
3. The work conditions and hours should not grind the face of the poor
4. He must deal fairly with employees, as to the Lord.
“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with Him.” (Eph 6:9)
The worker must be taken on as a person, not merely as a unit of labour. Workers,
too, have responsibilities:
1. To serve wholeheartedly as to the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-7).
This includes showing proper respect for a boss together with enthusiasm and willingness when working. Those working for Christians should not take advantage of the fact (l Timothy 6:1-2).
2. To work honestly and not steal (Ephesians 4:28)
3. To provide for their own family (l Timothy 5:8)
Scripture has a specific command for those who are wilfully idle (2 Thessalonians 3:6- l 0): “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2Th 3:10)
C TRADE UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS’ FEDERATIONS:
The trade union movement arose because of the failure of employers to observe biblical principles. Banding together to defend certain basic human rights was the only way. Unfortunately, the whole process – which started with the best motives – has led to a sharp economic and political division.
Should a Christian join a trade union or an employers’ federation? The answer lies in balancing two passages of Scripture, both of which were written to Christians:
“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” (1Co 5:10)
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2Co 6:14)
One passage tells us to stay in the world, the other to come out. We are to be involved in the world and its affairs as salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16), but not to be compromised in our testimony by that involvement. In particular, a Christian must not be yoked to an unbeliever. This applies to covenanted relationships where we become dubbed with the other person’s values and actions.
The issue then has to be decided on merit. How much commitment is required? Is there a real say? What is the strike policy?
Believers have vital contributions to make in industrial relations.
Indeed, it would help if our divinely-given wisdom dominated! Blessed are the peacemakers.
4. CREATING WORK:
Many things need doing in our society which will not naturally attract capitalists motivated only by profit. The government could, by redirecting part of the nation’s wealth, create jobs which may not be strictly of economic necessity, but neither are they a mere playing at work by creating artificial jobs in local government.
For example, we could as a nation begin to clear up some of the mess of our past ‘achievements’ – derelict ground, inner city wastelands, spoilt countryside, defunct architectural monstrosities.
We can embark upon building houses for people instead of expecting people to fit economic units of accommodation. We might also build fine parks, elegant architectural testimonies to a generation with hope, new cultural resources. Our heritage could be given a face-lift. Our roads could be dramatically improved.
In the caring areas we could provide research and resources for the growing numbers of elderly and disabled people in our society. We could create real opportunities for deprived youngsters. Our casing professions could be properly staffed without that necessarily meaning wasteful inefficiency.
We could invest in leisure facilities for all. Craftsmanship could be revived as true art. Educative leisure could enhance the lives of many.
Even tourism could be developed as a worthwhile industry instead of an offering of over-priced trash. Think of some more ideas.
Believers should put pressure on the government to take initiatives in creating worthwhile jobs, but the church should also take initiatives of its own, not least taking advantage of government funding where possible – provided there are no positively anti-Christian strings attached.
This is part of the church’s care for the needy in society and shouldn’t be seen as peripheral to the gospel. We should consider projects like:
*Drop-in centres for the unwaged.
*Initiating projects for the good of the community.
*Helping the unwaged put together CVs, application forms, coping with interviews.
*Motivating those who have lost motivation.
*Using unwaged Christians in the charitable service of the gospel.
*Helping the unwaged obtain their social security benefits.
*Providing educational facilities to those who need retraining.
*Organising pressure groups on local councils and government to do something about the problems.
*Helping wives and mothers to develop home and community- based employment which keeps them in touch with their children and offers creative outlets for their talents – see Proverbs 31:10-3l
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (Ecc 9:10)
1. Think about and evaluate the kind of work that you do.
2. Assess what your church is doing about unemployment.
3. Obtain information that will be of use in advising the unemployed.
1. Examine your own attitudes to your job, if you have one. Are they pleasing to the Lord?
2. Write down a report of your week’s work as your boss might see it.
3. Assess your leisure activities. Are they worthwhile and recreative?