Job’s Ethical Practices Apply to the Workplace (Job 31)
In the midst of Job’s second lament (Job 29-42), he unveils a significant treatise on ethical behavior, which in some ways anticipates Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). Although in the form of justifying his own practices, Job gives some principles that apply to many areas of our work lives:
Avoid falsehood and deceit (Job 31:5)
Don’t let the ends justify the means, expressed as not allowing the heart (principles) to be lured astray by the eyes (expediency) (Job 31:7)
Practice generosity (Job 31:16-23)
Don’t become complacent during times of prosperity (Job 31:24-28)
Don’t make your success depend on the failure of others (Job 31:29)
Admit your mistakes (Job 31:33)
Don’t try to get something for nothing, but pay properly for the resources you consume (Job 31:38-40)
Of particular interest is this passage about how he treats his employees:
If I have rejected the cause of my male or female slaves, when they brought a complaint against me, what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? Did not he who made me in the womb make them? And did not one fashion us in the womb? (Job 31:13-15).
A godly employer will treat employees with respect and dignity. This is particularly evident in the way Job takes his servants’ complaints seriously, especially those that were directed towards his own treatment of them. Job correctly points out that those in power will have to stand before God to defend their treatment of those under them. “What then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?” (Job 31:14). God will inquire from subordinates how their superiors treated them. Superiors would be wise to ask their subordinates the same question while it is still possible to remedy their errors. The mark of true and humble followers of God is their openness to the possibility that they are in the wrong, which is most evidenced by their willingness to field any and all legitimate complaints. Wisdom is necessary for discerning which complaints do in fact merit attention. Yet the primary goal is to cultivate an environment in which subordinates know that superiors will entertain thoughtful and rational appeals. Although Job is talking about himself and his servants, his principle applies to any situation of authority: officers and soldiers, employers and employees, parents and children (raising kids is an occupation, too), leaders and followers.
Our time has seen great struggles for equality in the workplace with respect to race, religion, nationality, sex, class and other factors. The Book of Job anticipates these struggles by thousands of years. Yet Job goes beyond merely formal equality of demographic categories. He sees the equal dignity of every person in his household. We will become like Job when we treat each person with all the dignity and respect due to a child of God, regardless of our personal feelings or the sacrifice required on our part.
Of course, this truth does not preclude Christian bosses from establishing and exacting high standards in the workplace. However, it does require that the ethos of any workplace relationship be characterized by respect and dignity, especially on the part of the powerful.