What makes an organization a place where people love to work? Perhaps better yet, how can a business be known as a place where employees are actually hesitant to leave at the end of the work day? Obviously offering people heaps of money helps, but it’s beyond mere remuneration, isn’t it? At a very fundamental level people long to be appreciated. Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, once quipped “there are two things people want more than sex and money—recognition and praise.”
If a company wants their employees to be delighted, then the company must make their employees feel important. Employees must feel they play a vital role in the mission of the organization. How does an organization go about creating such a place? Scripture has much to say about love and through a bit of proper exegesis it can be readily applied to the workplace. The following is a brief examination of Romans 12:9-21 and explanation of how Paul’s exhortation might be applied to create a workplace of love.
The Marks of a True Christian
N.T. Wright, Anglican bishop and leading New Testament scholar, describes Romans as “a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.” In Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Martin Luther describes Paul’s letter as “truly the most important piece in the New Testament.” He goes so far as to encourage believers to occupy themselves with it daily and memorize it word for word. Clearly Paul’s letter to the Christian churches in Rome is worthy of review.
In the 12th chapter of Romans, Paul begins a discussion on God’s righteousness in everyday life, and it is here we can gain insight on how to form an organization of love. Paul begins by exhorting believers to totally dedicate themselves to God by presenting one’s body as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” After listing gifts given to the body of believers, Paul focuses on the marks of a true Christian in verses 9-21:
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The sum of these verses describes a life that is pleasing to God. It has often been said that “love is a verb.” Note how each mark Paul lists is an action (e.g. hold fast, serve, rejoice, contribute, bless, etc.). Love is not something a person has; it is something a person does. In fact, it’s something we all can do every day on the job.
Living Romans 12:9-21 in the Modern Day Workplace
In Romans 12:9-21, Paul reveals that for an organization to be strong it must lead with love. Rarely is love a topic of discussion in business circles. Not a single business school in the U.S. offers a course in love. And while business school curriculums do list a variety of leadership studies, the subject of love is not discussed. Yet Jesus, the greatest leader ever, advocated that we should love each other. He listed it as the second greatest commandment next to loving God. It is not surprising then, that love heads Paul’s list, for all that Paul says is embraced by the call to love. What follows are actions businesses can practice to become an organization of love.
Love one another with brotherly affection.
A call for managers to love their employees can seem a bit odd at first. It would likely be awkward if your boss walked up to you, looked you in the eye and confessed his love for you. Dr. Paul Zak, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont University, explains that this is due, in part, to our limited vocabulary. There are multiple kinds of love. “Because English has only one word for love, we Anglophones sometimes have difficulty making ourselves understood when we talk about love. I am speaking of philia here, the word used by the ancient Greeks to indicate a virtuous love that entails familial loyalty and fidelity to the community; the word means “friendship” in modern Greek.” This is the type of love Paul discusses in this section of scripture. The call is to “love one another with brotherly affection.” While leaders don’t necessarily need to tell employees they love them, philia should be shown.
Let love be genuine.
The key is authenticity. Organizations must develop a culture of authentic love. Employees need to be certain their employer has their best interest in mind. “Faking love in the office or in the retail aisles will not do. We are all adept at picking out unctuous simulators, those false friends who fake philia for the sake of a sale. You have to really mean it—and you have to mean it every time. Once lost, philia between manager and employees, or merchant and customers, is hard to regain.” Likewise, Paul encourages his readers to let love be genuine.
Be patient in tribulation.
Paul, in urging patience in tribulation, connects it directly with prayer, as if prayer alone would place us where we could be patient when tribulation comes. Prayer brings us into that state of grace where tribulation is not only endured, but where there is under it a spirit of rejoicing. In an earlier section of his letter to the Romans, Paul shows the gracious benefits of justification by stating, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It seems contradictory to give thanks when trouble comes your way, but that’s exactly what Paul tells us to do. So when a trial presents itself, leaders should give thanks and pray for wisdom. That irate customer or malcontent employee is an opportunity. Be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer, for this too shall pass.
Overcome evil with good.
Verses 17-21 focus on how we are to deal with adversaries. The common theme here is that Christian leaders must never take revenge. We can never respond to sin with a sin. Undoubtedly, we will all be wronged in some way in the workplace, but we must never take revenge. Paul categorically forbids it. Why? Paul lists four reasons: revenge does not build good organizations, revenge does not promote peace, revenge usurps the task that belongs to God only, and revenge succumbs to evil rather than overcoming evil with good.
One could take this study further by meditating on all of the marks of a true Christian that Paul provides in Romans 12:9-21. This study merely provides groundwork for future examination and application. What has been shown is that for leaders to create a workplace of love, attention must be given to how love is shown. Love is an action; leaders must put it into practice, and it must be genuine. Companies seeking to create a workplace of love should also view difficult times as opportunities for innovation. In an age when top talent is scarce, those companies that overcome evil with good and provide a loving workplace will attract top talent and ultimately find themselves in a favorable state.