The Right Relationship with Relationships
When we discuss the foundations of a theology of work, the conversation tends to result in two distinct and valid theories.
- Work matters to God because business provides goods and services that make the world a better place.
- Work matters to God because it provides creative outlets for people to live out their calling in the world.
Even though these positions are critical in developing a theological viewpoint to our work, there’s another core theological tenet our work must embody: relationship.
For many theologians, the concept of relationship is intrinsic within the 2 tenets of workplace theology. When relationship becomes an assumption, it is not often described in clear and practical terms.
For this reason, we believe the value of relationship is a needed addition to our foundational views about a theology of work.
The Case for Relationship
No matter your job status or role, your work occurs within the context of other people. Even if you work from home in your sweatpants, the end results of your work occur within a contractual relationship between you and a co-worker, supplier, or customer.
Even before our increasingly connected age, business occurred within a marketplace — a location where people come together. In fact, the Greek word for marketplace is Agora, and the word agoraphobia represents an anti-social person fearful of those open spaces with many people.
Theologically, God embeds the value of relationship on our hearts and minds. Consider Genesis 1:26:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”
Of particular importance, look at how God uses first person plural in this verse. God did not say, “Let me make man in my image.” God said, “Let us make man in our image.” The plural implies a relationship within the Godhead, classically interpreted as a reference to the Triune nature of God.
In other words, an important theological aspect of the Trinity exists in how it models relationship for humanity. God’s perfect nature includes a relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we are made in God’s image, we too ought to reflect this focus on relationship.
Therefore, when we consider the ways our lives should reflect Godly, Christ-like living, the focus on relationship becomes clear. We see the early church community place emphasis on relationships. Acts 2 illustrates these relationships in action. The body of Christ devoted themselves to each other. They broke bread together; they prayed together. They lived life together, as Dietrich Bonheoffer so perfectly establishes in his writings.
Given the amount of time carve out for work each week, and the many relationships we create and sustain through our business activities, our work life becomes an important element of relational building and stewarding.
Glorifying God and Building Community
When we engage in our work relationships, we have an opportunity to promote the dignity of the other person, having also been made in the image of God. Instead of considering the relationship on value-add terms, we can flip the conversation to consider the ways in which we might serve and build up others as image bearers of God.
What does this mean practically? The way you answer an email matters because it can build up or tear down a relationship. The way you address a disputed invoice matters because you should value the sanctity of the person at the other end of the discussion. The way you approach a conversation over coffee matters.
If we truly believe that we are reflections of our creator, we must approach our business relationships in a way that glorifies God and builds community.
So even though the purpose of business often finds its definition through the goods and services it can offer for community flourishing and/or the value it can provide in helping people find meaningful work, we must not neglect a third purpose of business — the building and stewarding of relationships for the glory of God.
Photo Credit: Alejandro Escamilla