The Gospel and the Lagos Worker

In his helpful book Mastering Monday, John Beckett identifies five themes which should be considered in our attempt to demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace. They are Purpose, Values, People, Stewardship, and Serving. These all are nurtured by the Gospel.

The Gospel gives us a clear purpose for our work; we serve Christ and extend his kingdom through what we do.

The Gospel gives us an ethic centred on love, and this guides all the steps we take and the decisions we make.

The Gospel reveals that people are God’s priority (and should be ours, too). It was for people – sinful, broken people – that Jesus hung on the cross and died.

The Gospel reminds us that our lives, skills, and talents belong to God. We are simply stewards. So as we clock in at the office, apply our minds to a problem, or contribute to a project, we are offering back what God has given to us in trust.

Finally, through Christ’s teaching and his atonement, we are taught to lay down our lives for others through serving (John 15:13).

We will focus on the two themes of People and Serving.

People

The Gospel will lead us to value people above profits. Whether we work in risk management, financial planning, or customer service, it is people ultimately that we are serving. Sadly, the ambition and drive in most workplaces tend towards the opposite. The lust for power and prestige means that people are often trampled upon. In a bid to be seen as ‘performing’, managers will exhaust their subordinates. In a bid to cut costs, organizations will refuse or delay payments to vendors for services rendered. And even employees will offer shoddy service to customers. Likewise, the daily pressure to thrive in a competitive environment often leads us to focus solely on the ‘bottom line’, without regard for the humans who are involved in shaping it. It helps to remember that without people, whether as employees, customers, or vendors, there would be no business.

 Serving

John Chapter 13 is a remarkable chapter of the Bible. We have a stirring message proclaimed not merely in words but through vivid action. Shortly before his crucifixion, as he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, Jesus inverted the social pyramid. He took a towel and a bowl of water and washed the feet of each of his disciples. Contrary to social custom, the teacher became a servant to the student. Then he instructed them to do likewise.

We are called to serve others through our skills and talents. As Peter wrote, ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Pet. 4:10).

In the words of John Beckett, ‘Serving is integral to how God wants his kingdom on earth to function.’ And we see this in Jesus’s instruction to the disciples in Mathew 20:26:

 “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”

In a city like Lagos, with its craze for prestige and lust for wealth, the message of Christ is profoundly counter-cultural. Lagosians seek to be recognized and celebrated. We want to move up the ladder of career success, not pick up a servant’s towel. But that is precisely what the Gospel implies. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to work is to serve.

So how do we go about this? We can start by noting the following:

As an employer, I should serve my employees, helping them to become their best selves. For we both have one master, which is Christ.

As a trader, I should offer goods of high quality to my customers.

As an executive within an organization, I should realize that I am serving the company by offering my skills and talents.

The Gospel leads us to understand that, ultimately, it is not my CEO or the customer whom I am serving, but Christ.


This article was first published on City Church Lagos.

A Serving God

We think of God as a King, and rightly so. We learn from David that

The Lord has established His throne in heaven,

And His kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19)

But do we even consider that the Almighty Creator also stoops to serve his creatures? Yes, he does. And he fulfills this role in the worknature2 of Providence. Providence is God’s work of preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. God not only brought the world into existence, he continues to sustain, preserve and care for all he has made. Whether they are plants, asteroids, or humans, he continues to maintain them.

In God’s service to us, many attributes come into play. These include Love, Wisdom, and Power. But the quality which seems to come into focus in his providential care for his creatures is the attribute of Goodness. And according to an Louis Berkhof,

Goodness is that perfection of God which prompts him to deal bountifully and kindly with all his creatures.

David celebrates this goodness in Psalm 145:9

The Lord is good to all,

And His tender mercies are over all His works.

Again in Psalm 104:14,15:

natureHe causes the grass to grow for the cattle,

And vegetation for the service of man,

That he may bring forth food from the earth,

And wine that makes glad the heart of man,

Oil to make his face shine,

And bread which strengthens man’s heart.

Jesus spoke of this quality in God during his Great Sermon:

That you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt.5:45)

And Paul testified to it before the people of Lystra:

Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.(Acts 14:17)

Gladness! That’s what true service does. It brings gladness to the hearts of those being served. This is what God does for his creation (Psalm 103:1-5), and this is what he expects us to do for others.

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.(Luke 6:35)

How Jesus turned the world upside down

The problem with the world is not  its diversity – social, ethnic, or racial. I am white, he is black; I belong to society’s elite, he is a poor farmer; I speak Yoruba, she is Fulani. No. The problem arises when love and service are left out, and the elements of power and superiority are introduced. Then it becomes: I am white, he is black, therefore I am better than him. I am the manager, she reports to me, therefore she must do whatever I want. I am wealthy, he is poor, therefore I can do as I wish to him.

This is the language of power and it has dominated the world ever since. Cain killed his brother Abel because he felt he could exercise power over him.  He was not driven by love to serve him, rather he was driven by power working through hate (Gen. 4:1-10). Abimelech, king of the ancient city of Gerar, wanted to forcibly take Sarah as his wife, but God prevented it (Gen. 20:1-3). What about jesus_sends_12the African slave trade? Local chieftains would connive with slave traders to capture innocent people and sell them into slavery. The Civil Rights movement was launched to end the segregation of Blacks in American society.  The Egyptians oppressed the Jews because they were afraid of them (Exodus 1:12). Fear has a way of working alongside power. Tyrants are motivated by fear –  fear of losing power, fear of their enemies, etc. And fear, as John tells us,  is opposed to love (1 John 4:18).

Jesus understood this dynamic (Luke 22:25) and his ministry was a complete reversal of the ethic of power in the following ways:

    1.  In the first place, he did the unthinkable – he took on human nature.  The almighty God, Sovereign Lord of the universe, the Great Being whom sinful and helpless men throughout the world look to for help. He became like his own creature.
    2. He did not just enter into the human condition, he took on its most despised form – the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7). A servant is not one you normally  invite to parties; human societies don’t select servants to rule over them. A servant typically occupies the lowest rung on the ladder of social status. And this was the spot that God took when he came to earth.
    3. Finally, in becoming a servant, perhaps he could have chosen to serve the dignitaries of the earth. He possessed such wisdom and knowledge at a tender age that he gained acceptance to  a discussion with learned men (Luke 2: 46). Surely, Pilate or Caiaphas would have been glad to have such a person wait on them in their palaces! But, not Jesus. He became a servant to the most despised in the society. He met with tax collectors (one of the most hated groups in Jewish society at the time). He preached to the multitude (the rich don’t move with the multitude). He moved among the lepers, the blind, the demon- possessed, and he healed them. His disciples were men of no reputation – fishermen, revolutionaries, tax collectors, etc. And he faithfully served and taught them. On the night before his death, he did what no Jewish rabbi would do. He attired himself like a servant and washed the feet of his disciples one by one, leaving this symbolic act as an eternal legacy that life does not consist in ruling over others. On the contrary, life is truly lived only in loving service to others (John 13: 1-17; Luke 22: 24-27).

TGIM

Thank God it’s Monday!

Time to follow your dreams and pursue your calling.
Time to rejoice in the beauty of the world and the goodness of the created order. Time to solve problems for others and reap rewards in the process.
Time to add value to your neighbour and help build God’s kingdom.

Welcome to a new week – it’s time to Live!