Q: #324. I am being treated unfairly at work. How should I as a Christian respond?
A: Let me begin by saying that I have been where you are several times in my life, and I know it can be a miserable place to be. I am going to answer this question a little differently than most, in that I am going to interweave some of my personal experiences, and lessons learned in my answer to this.
First off, let me say that some harassment, discrimination, or unfair treatment is actually illegal. If you have been a victim due to such things as age, race, sex, physical disability, religion, or several other things, you may legally have the makings of a lawsuit against your employer. I feel quite certain that in both of my situations, had I wished, I could have taken this action, but I personally did not feel this was the right way to go from a Christian standpoint (See: Q: #150). Ultimately, however, this is a choice between you and God.
This being said, let’s address what the Bible says about how we, as Christians, should respond in the midst of unfair treatment at work. Of course, the best example we can follow, in any situation, is that of Jesus. He said to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mt 5:44)(Lk 6:27-31). He showed us a perfect example of this while on the cross, praying for His enemies “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34). (Stephen also prayed for his enemies as they were killing him: Acts 7.) In a prophecy about Jesus, (Isa 53:7)(NASB) says, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.”
We are told in the Bible to be meek (Eph 4:2)(Col 3:12)(1 Tim 6:11)(2 Tim 2:25)(Titus 3:2), and that meekness is a trait of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Q: #222.) that marks a Christian (Gal 5:23). A good definition of meekness is “strength under control.” Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.” Jesus certainly set this example for us as well. He is one of only 3 men in the Bible specifically described as being meek: (Mt 11:29)(Mt 21:5) (Paul: 2 Cor 10:1 and Moses: Num 12:3 being the other two). Jesus said in (Mt 5:5) that if we are meek we will be “blessed” and “inherit the earth.” We will also: receive an “abundance of peace” (Ps 37:11), “eat and be satisfied” (Ps 22:26), be guided and taught by the Lord (Ps 25:9), be lifted up (Ps 147:6) and given salvation (Ps 149:4).
In addition to being meek, we are told to be “humble” (Col 3:12)(Prov 22:4). Webster’s Dictionary defines being “humble” as: 1. not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive 2. reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission. Jesus is also an example of this (Phil 2:5-8)(Mt 20:28)(Mk 10:45)(Lk 22:27)(Jn 13:14-17). If we are humble, God will give us grace (James 4:6)(1 Pet 5:5), we will be exalted (Mt 23:12)(Lk 14:11), and we will be “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4). God “does not forget the cry of the humble” (Ps 9:12), and He will hear “the desire of the humble” (Ps 10:17).
There are SO many other things that the Bible has to say in this area that keeping this answer short is very difficult! But, let me list 9 other nuggets of God-given wisdom we should keep in mind.
(Rom 12:21) says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(1 Pet 3:8-9) says, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; (9) not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”
(1 Pet 3:17)(NLT) says, “Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!”
(Titus 2:9-10)(NIV) in speaking to Christian slaves, God says, “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, (10) and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
(Also see: Col 3:22, Eph 6:5-8, 1 Tim 6:1-2, 1 Pet 2:18-20)
(Gal 6:9) says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
(James 1:2-4) says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (4) And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
(Also see: Rom 5:3-4, Jn 16:33, 2 Cor 12:9-10)
(1 Th 5:18)(Eph 5:20)(Phil 4:6) tell us to give thanks in the midst of our trials.
(Jn 20:23)(Lk 6:37)(Eph 4:32)(Col 3:13) and MANY other verses tell us to forgive those who have hurt us. (See: forgiving others for much more on this)
I would also like to share something that changed my life. In the midst of the worst trial I have ever faced (which wasn’t actually work related) I felt very strongly that God spoke these words to me: “Put Me first in EVERY single thing that you do and I will ALWAYS take care of you.” This is one of the few times in my life that I have felt I heard a direct word from God. I know that what I heard from God may seem obvious to most, and is actually in the Bible (Col 3:17,23-24)(1 Cor 10:31), but how many of us actually put God first in EVERYTHING. Now, I have to say I haven’t done this perfectly since that day, but I am definitely doing it more than I used to. It altered the way I do many things.
Let me share how I applied this to one of my job situations. In short, I was the assistant manager of a store, but the manager hired a friend of hers, and shortly afterwards demoted me and made him the asst manager. Then, they tried to force me to quit, but I would not. Soon after this, the manager decided to leave the company, which would make her friend the manager. He went on a vacation right before she was leaving, so he could get it in before becoming manager. I knew that when he got back, they had a plan to fire me. While he was on vacation, I had the duties of my old job. I had a choice to make. I could follow my natural (sinful) inclination and do the job poorly, take a lot of breaks, and maybe even make a few things worse, or I could take God’s words that He told me to heart and do the opposite. I chose to obey God. I worked my tail off, straightening, organizing, cleaning, putting out tons of stock, and more. When he got back, everything looked great, and much better than before he had left. And, I got fired.
Of course, when things like this happen to us, our sinful nature (our flesh) wants to lash out. We want to make someone pay, we want to get even, we become “bitter” and “angry.” But, as Christians, we cannot allow this. In speaking of “bitterness,” the Bible says in (Heb 12:15) that bitterness can become a “root” that springs up, causing trouble and defiling us. We are told in (Eph 4:31) to “put away” all bitterness. In speaking of “anger,” I can find nowhere in the New Testament which tells us that anger over injustices done to US is acceptable. (I believe it IS acceptable when injustices are done to others.) You can see more on right and wrong anger here.
Instead, what the Bible says we should do when others wrong us is NOT to seek our own vengeance, but rather to let God fight our battles for us. We have a picture of this in the Old Testament in actual wars. When God fought for Israel, they ALWAYS won the war (Josh 10:7-14)(Ex 14:13-14)(Deut 1:30)(2 Chr 20:29). When He did not fight for them, or they sought to fight on their own, they lost (Num 14:39-45)(Deut 1:42-45)(1 Sam 4:1-11)(Jer 21:3-7). This same thing can happen with us today! Let God fight your battles (Rom 12:19)(Heb 10:30)(Deut 32:35)(Ps 31:15)! In my case, the man that took my job and got me fired, got fired himself by the company about a year later.
OK, so how do we respond when Christians say, “Well, you can’t just let people walk all over you!” To that, I simply ask this: Can you show me in the Bible a place where Jesus didn’t let people “walk all over him?” Maybe put a better way, is there any place where Jesus stood up for Himself or His rights?
Now, of course, God had to give me an object lesson on this the day I started writing this study. My wife, the school teacher, and I went out to eat supper and were discussing this study. After supper, she wanted me to stop by her school and help get her classroom organized for the new school year. She and the teacher next to her share two storage rooms. The other teacher has taken far more of the storage in both rooms, and has room to spare while my wife doesn’t have enough room for her stuff. I said, “that isn’t fair,” and told my wife she should talk to her. My wife replied, “Isn’t that standing up for my rights?”
Yeah, SO, I gave this some more prayer, thought, and study. Here is what I have come up with. In my OPINION, based on some Biblical principles, I do not believe we just need to be totally silent when we are mistreated at work. Here are some Biblical steps I think we can take.
First, we need to pray. Pray about if you should confront whoever is treating you unfairly. If you feel led to do so, pray about what to say. Pray for God to search your heart and show you if you are doing anything wrong (Ps 139:23-24). If so, you may need to apologize. Then, we should keep the following verses in mind as we confront:
Remember to approach it with “meekness” and “humility” (verses above).
Do it without “selfishness or empty conceit,” “not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of (the one you are speaking to) others” (Phil 2:3-4).
Do it with “love” (1 Cor 16:14)(1 Jn 4:7-8), and “grace” (Col 4:6), remembering to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 19:19)(Mt 22:39)(Mk 12:31).
Do it without “complaining or arguing” (Phil 2:14), or anger (Eph 4:31)(Col 3:8).
Speak to the person in private (not in front of others) (Mt 18:15). (This was meant for Christians speaking to Christians, but I still think it applies.)
In confronting, I find it useful to ask questions, and find out where people are coming from.
*** Note: It is interesting to note that when Jesus was attacked by people, nearly every time He confronted them with a question in response: (Attacked Mt 9:3 – Question Mt 9:4)(Attacked Mt 12:2 – Question Mt 12:3-4) (Mt 12:10/Mt 12:11-12) (Mt 12:24/Mt 12:26-27) and more.
Perhaps ask questions such as:
Have I done something to make you upset? (As opposed to: I don’t like being picked on!)
Am I doing something wrong that I can do better? (As opposed to: I don’t deserve this kind of treatment!)
I have not gotten a raise in two years, is there some reason why? (As opposed to: I have been here 2 years and haven’t gotten a raise, and I deserve one!)
I have been here for 5 years, and others who have been here less time are being promoted instead of me, is there something I have done wrong? (As opposed to: I have been here for 5 years and IT ISN’T FAIR that I haven’t been promoted!)
In the case of my wife, I suggested that she might say, “My husband and I were organizing my room last night and I didn’t have enough room to store my stuff. I noticed that you have a lot of extra storage room. Can you help me figure out where I can store my stuff?” The list of questions can be endless, but I feel like these kinds of questions can demonstrate the Christian qualities that we want to keep in our confrontation.
Of course, we know that there were MANY times that Jesus did not stand up for His rights, especially as He was being led to the cross. But, when He did confront, I see that he exhibited the Christian characteristics above in doing so. Paul did as well (2 Cor 10:1)(2 Cor 2:1-4)(Acts 20:18-19)(1 Cor 1:10)(Rom 12:1).
However, Paul also had several “human” moments too, when he may not have handled things exactly right. For example, when the High Priest commanded those around Paul to strike him, Paul called him a “whitewashed wall” (Acts 23:2-3). But, he did apologize when realized he was the High Priest (Acts 23:4-5) 🙂 . In an earlier incident, Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown in prison. The next day, the magistrates of the prison set them free. However, Paul said, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” When the magistrates found that out, they begged him to leave, and he finally did. Maybe these can give us some comfort when we don’t exactly confront the right way 🙂 .
Finally, I must say again that while the pattern shown over and over in the Bible is to be non-confrontational, I honestly see nothing wrong with taking a Biblical based approach if we feel like we need to confront. We ultimately need to remember though that “we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20), and as such, we want our actions to point others to Christ (Titus 2:10)(1 Tim 6:1), and be a testimony of our faith (i.e. Paul and Silas, after being beaten, thrown in prison, and put in stocks [Acts 16:22-24] “were praying and singing hymns to God” [Acts 16:25], and Stephen, while being attacked [Acts 6:8-14], had a “face as the face of an angel” [Acts 6:15]). If we do this, I do not believe that God will be displeased. And, if the person we talk to is not receptive to what we have to say, then we move on, we pray some more, and we come up with another God-given solution. Remember, God will fight your battle if you let Him!
P.S. Let me add a personal note. (1 Pet 2:20) says that if we “suffer for doing right, we will find favor with God.” I saw God’s favor over and over as I tried to do the right things in the midst of my mistreatment at work. I have also seen God’s favor since those times as well. In fact, I truly believe that a big part of the growth of this ministry has occurred as the result of God “working out for good” (Rom 8:28) the bad that happened to me. Plus, I KNOW my faith is much stronger! God can and will do the same for you! Look for those blessings! It will ALL work out!