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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Career by the Book

Chapter 2: The Secular View of Work


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:

·   The careerist view of life.

·   What success really is.

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:

·   Respond to careerism in yourself and others.

·   Enjoy four freedoms offered by biblical success.

The Secular View of Work

Key Scripture: "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Cor. 4:7).  

"Congratulations, Joe! How does it feel to be a winner?" All of the sales people crowded around Joe to shake his hand. He had just tied for second place in the competition for "Salesperson of the Year" in the northeastern district.

"Yeah," he thought to himself, "Not only did I miss first place, but I just tied for second! What's the use? I'm never going to make it." Joe, very successful in everyone else's eyes, came away from the meeting very discouraged. In fact, he was feeling more insignificant than he had felt in a long time.


Joe had made the mistake of measuring his worth as a person by his performance as a salesman. By doing so, he was setting himself up for continued stress and anxiety; people who measure their worth by performance will feel tremendous anxiety to succeed. Their identity will be on the line with each new challenge their self-worth totally dependent on a sale, the stock market, or the whims of a difficult boss.

God has already established our worth by making us "a little lower than the heavenly beings" and by crowning us "with glory and honor" (Ps. 8:5). He never chose the workplace as a proving ground for our self-esteem. Instead, God desires workers who are able to use their abilities and skills to accomplish His agenda. This freedom focuses on God rather than on results. Winning is not the most important thing. Thus, Paul could say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7).

The biblical account of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30 gives insight into God's view of success. While three servants were given money to manage, only two were commended for their wise investments. The other one was sent away with nothing. The important thing to note is that their success was not measured by the size of their profits; God valued their faithfulness. Therefore, we can be sure that true success means faithfully pleasing God with the resources and responsibilities He has given us.

Anthropologists define an idol as anything that becomes so sacred that it defines self-worth, controls lives, and ranks first on a priority list. For Western Christians idol worship is seemingly foreign and remote. Yet for many, their work has become a god, commanding devotion. They join millions of other careerists who "worship" their jobs religiously. The following acrostic provides a description of careerism drawn from verses in Proverbs:

Consumes every waking moment (16:25).

Affects adversely other areas of life (10:9).

Results in loss of faith (14:2).

Establishes illusory self-worth (14:20).

Exits last from priority list (22:3).

Relegates career to an exalted position (30:32).

Impedes God's blessings (10:16).

Sees self as master of fate (10:27).

Measures according to monetary value (18:10).

Two Motivational Drives

Christians typically exemplify two motivational drives at work - careerism or Christlikeness. The following chart shows the assumptions inherent in each as well as the goals that such assumptions are likely to realize. If these goals are achieved, then certain results are likely to occur.

Careerism   Christlikeness
If only I could succeed, I would be loved by others.   If only I could bring glory to Christ, I would be happy.
If only I could succeed, I would be happy.   If only I could serve others and love them, I would be fulfilled.
If only I could be rich, I could control my fate.   If only I could accept God's view of me, I would feel significant.
To be competent.   To involve Christ in daily work issues.
To be competitive.   To honor Christ with my work methods.
To control situations and people.   To trust Christ with the results.
To consume things.   To give from my income.
People will never appreciate me fully. They will be disloyal and some will hurt me deeply.   My happiness will not rest on the response of others.
Pursuing these goals will make me empty, unsatisfied, and addicted.   I will sense meaning and purpose in what I do.
I will never be glad enough.   I will be content.
I will take two steps forward and one back.   I will sense lasting value in what I do.
God will be a distant figure in my life.   I will have a real intimacy with Christ.
Death will be the consequence.   Life will be the consequence.

Besides the three assumptions of careerism listed above, there are several other false assumptions under which the secular view of work operates. These include:

  • The ultimate purpose in life is to fulfill yourself.
  • You have the power to do whatever you want.
  • Success in life is equivalent to success in work.
  • You must do whatever is necessary to get the job done.
  • Work should result in the highest level of personal convenience and comfort.

The Business Person's Psalm

Psalm 15 is called "the business person's psalm." Its five verses describe godly character in the arena where it is most needed—at work! As you read this psalm, you may be surprised that your workview is fairly secular in comparison. Why have you adopted this view? Some possible reasons follow:

  • "My educational training presented life this way. I never questioned it."
  • "I've always assumed that religion is religion and business is business, and the two should not interfere with each other."
  • "The church has never taught me how my faith applies in day-to-day work situations."

If Christ is to be the center of the workday, Christian workers must be distinctive and unique. "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe" (Phil. 2:14-15). The contrasting secular view of work has no biblical basis and is thus doomed to failure. Furthermore, this view expects more of work than work can deliver. It leads to a very weak personal and family life because it leaves God out of the system.

Symptoms of Careerism

If you should choose the self-defeating path of careerism, you will suffer some or all of the following symptoms. Note the accompanying Scriptures from the book of Ecclesiastes.

  • Loss of self-esteem. "A good name is better than fine perfume" (7:1).
  • Compromise of integrity. "Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart" (7:7).
  • Inflated notions of importance. "There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt" (8:9).
  • Hopelessness and stagnation. "So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun" (2:20).
  • Rage. "I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun" (2:18).
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse. "I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly" (2:3).
  • Loneliness. "But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" (4:10).

The Danger of Compromise

Although God intended Christians to be "salt" and "light" in the marketplace, many believers are morally camouflaged. Behaving like their unsaved coworkers, Christians blend into their environment like lowly chameleons. For the most part, Christianity is at best ignored and at worst scorned in the workplace. But Christians who compromise their integrity on the job dishonor God and violate His gift of work. In effect, something good is perverted into something evil. Almost everyone is ingenious when it comes to rationalization—giving good reasons for bad behavior. Some of the most common "reasons" appear below:

  • Everybody is doing it.
  • I'm just bending the rules, not breaking them.
  • Everyone pads their expense accounts; the company expects it.
  • They owe me one.
  • It will all come out in the wash.
  • It's the way the system operates.
  • If I don't do it, I'll lose respect.
  • Who's going to know?
  • Once I get to the top (by cheating and deception), I'll fix the system.
  • It's okay; with the extra money, I can give more to the church.

Proverbs 7 is an excellent example of the development of compromise. As you read the following verses, you will discover that compromise...

... flourishes when the decision to do right is not made ahead of time (vv. 6-7)

...occurs when you underestimate evil and flirt with temptation (vv. 8-9)

...is always just a choice away (vv. 10-12)

...entices through flattery and fantasy (vv. 13-17)

...ensnares through rationalization and deception (vv. 18-21)

...occurs finally with a refusal to think about the righteousness of the actions (v. 22a)

...always costs (vv. 22b-23).

Whether we like it or not, America is in the midst of a moral mudslide. This shift has partially occurred because Christianity has not made much of an impact in the marketplace. But there is hope! While compromise always leads to a downward spiral, integrity lifts a person to unbelievable heights, paying off multiple benefits such as:

  • Self-respect. Probably the greatest benefit of cultivating integrity is a sense of confidence and self-respect that allows you to hold your head high.
  • A closer walk with God.
  • Maintaining your character, especially when others around you are compromising theirs, draws you closer to God.
  • A passion for integrity and the courage to do right. You can become a moral and ethical influence where you work as you develop a Christlike character of integrity.
  • An effectiveness in evangelism. You can make the gospel attractive as you show that it makes a practical difference in the way you live and work.
  • A model for the next generation. You could alter the course of a young person's life by the character you exhibit in your own moral choices.
  • Encouragement and restoration if you've blown it. Failure is an unfortunate part of being human, but you can find forgiveness and make amends where possible.

David wrote: "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord' and you forgave the guilt of my sin" (Ps. 32:5). 

Life Applications:

A. Evaluate your work-style by quickly responding to each statement. Picture yourself as you really are, not the way you would like to be.

1. I begin each workday with a prayer that God will help me do my work in a Christlike way.                                            

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Frequently

2. If I saw that people in my company were going to do something in an unethical or illegal manner, I would stand up and voice my objections.

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Definitely

3. I set limits to the amount of time and energy I put into my job, and my schedule reflects those limits.

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Always

4. I present the gospel message clearly to my coworkers.

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Frequently

5. I would accept a job that paid extremely well, even if it didn't fully utilize my abilities, over a job that might thoroughly satisfy but did not pay as well.

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Definitely

6. I discuss how the Bible relates to workplace issues with other Christians in my profession.

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Frequently

7. I pray for my supervisor, my employer, my employees, my customers, and others in my work world.

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Frequently

8. I talk about the nature of my work and the issues I face on the job to my spouse and my children.

Never 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Frequently


B. Have I ever:

1. Pilfered supplies?

2. Used the company phone for personal long-distance calls without reimbursement?

3. Taken too much time for lunch?

4. Falsified or exaggerated information on a resume?

5. Participated in a bribe or kickback?

6. Charged personal expenses on the company expense account?

7. Used illegal drugs or alcohol on the job?

8. Cheated on my income tax return?

9. Called in sick when not sick?

If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, don’t be discouraged! The purpose of the questionnaire is to help you think about how God affects - or should affect - your everyday work life. Now you are ready to begin.

1. Determine those areas in which you feel you are not reflecting Christ in your workplace. Explain why you think these areas are not acceptable to God.

2. What practical steps should you take to make things right?

3. Is an apology or restitution necessary? How will you go about it?        


Test your knowledge on this chapter by taking the quiz at the end of chapter 4.   

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Please see Review Questions at the end of Chapter 4.

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