Allow me to take a step out of my mom suit into my office suit for today’s musing about grace in the workplace. It’s been bothering me for a while that there is a chasm between workplace values and the ones we applaud when we’re in our “spiritual mode.” Could we as Christian business folk be dedicated to applying Biblical principles in finance and to being unashamedly ethical, yet find ourselves in the shoes of Pharisees – or in their sandals, rather?
The Christian faith is the only one that promises heaven to sinners and grace to those who could never qualify for mercy. This sets us apart. Shouldn’t Christian business then have as a key characteristic this same gem – grace? Perhaps holding justice and fairness as absolute standards can lead us to loveless dealings in the marketplace.
A number of years ago I had my first run-in with the question of grace versus justice in a business context when intellectual property was taken by a former colleague. I could sue, I could stop her publication of my content, and was sick to my stomach thinking of the injustice of it all. I had every right to exercise justice but in my planning of it, I felt my spirit cringe at the hardness it produced inside of me. I became convinced that God wanted me to let go of justice and to choose grace.
My rational, Westerner, capitalist mind rebelled.
Arguments surged through my mind: “If no-one stops her, she’ll just do it again. I should stop her for the sake of the next victim. The content she stole was God-given. I should fight for what God gave me! It is a way to exercise good stewardship. The book I would have published now can’t be published, so she also stole from my income. I should defend it for my children’s sake, as my book royalties are always deposited into their university savings fund.” All this justification, but no peace!
A list of my own offenses, many of which went either undiscovered or unpunished, came to mind, along with the reminder that the same measure we measure with, will be used to determine judgement for us. I realised that I may be creating a very small space for myself while trying to close in the prison walls around her. Suddenly, I was not so sure about the wisdom of my plan to make her pay …
A year later another injustice took place – this time very real money was at stake. The legal and just route beckoned again and I desperately wanted the law to run its course. I had legal advice, nasty meetings, and drafted those mails one reads three times to make sure one gets the point across as strongly as is still decent. And again, all I felt was pain and resentment. Even though I was acting within my rights, I was not content with the outcome. Clearly I was going around the same mountain – a tell-tale sign that I had not yet passed the test or learned the principle truth at stake.
In my quiet times Matthew 5 to 7 came up again and again. Would God really expect us to be so weak that we allow others to slap both cheeks, to win court cases they should lose, and to make us walk a second mile when we definitely have better things to do? Suppose there is no second level message here, and Jesus means this literally. He is saying something very powerful: “I don’t want you to become so tough that no-one can ever hurt you; I want you to become so gentle and unselfish that no-one can hurt you.”
An image came to mind as I read this passage over and over again: A little gecko hunted by a predator. Wisely, it lets go of its tail and escapes. We are that gecko and when hunted by injustice, we can duct tape our tail in place with an attitude of “no-one will take advantage of ME!” or we can let it go. If we fail to shake off the tail, we – like a gecko in the claws of its predator – can lose our very lives.
Who can let go of the tail? Only those of us who know that it grows back! Christians live in the Kingdom of God, where what we have, gain and lose has more to it than economics. Kingdom economics include God’s unmerited favor, our position as sons and daughters of the Most High, multiplication principles as told in so many of Jesus’ parables. We live beyond mathematics! That is why we can let the tail go. We know our welfare and future provision are not in the hands of men. They are not our source – God is. Their injustice, their grabbing of what is ours, their abuse and unfaithfulness – none of that should faze us. That is what it means to choose grace. Because when we choose it for others we choose it for ourselves.
Matthew 18 tells of a businessman who had every right to exact justice on his employee, but gave him extravagant grace. The employee failed to do the same to his colleague. He was subjected to torture so he could discover his foolish mistake. A life of torture today, I believe, is often the result of making that fatal error many Christians make: Taking grace for ourselves, but extending only cold justice to others. Separating what God has done for us from what we should do for others. It is a symptom of separating our spiritual lives from our secular lives, claiming that spiritual principles don’t work well in business. On the back of the injustices I mentioned above, came some of the most fruitful business deals I ever had. I gained more than I would have gained in court – much more, and peace as a bonus.
Perhaps that is why Jesus spoke more about money than about any other entity… It is a test, a trust and temporary. It will be the platform displaying most clearly whether you and I have truly chosen to live by grace.