Making every effort to show up to work on time in order to please a boss you don’t like is an exhausting routine to keep up with. When the alarm goes off in the morning, a flood of feelings hit you as you anticipate your day. Depression, because you don’t have the energy to face your boss again. Anxiety, because you’re worried about how your boss is going to make your life more miserable than yesterday. Yet, you muster up all the strength you have to get up, get dressed, and get out the door. Only to spend the rest of the day counting down the minutes until you can safely go back home. Work quickly becomes about getting through the day, rather than enjoying the work God has called you to do.
As Christians, how should we respond when our boss feels like our enemy? The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 12 & 13, that we can respond to our difficult bosses by overcoming evil with good. In order to overcome evil with good, we are invited to live with eyes wide open as we reconnect with God, ourselves, and our boss.
When we are going through a rough patch with a boss, one helpful step is to remember why God has you working in the first place. The Apostle Paul says work is for worship. In Romans 12:1, Paul writes, “In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, this is your true and proper worship.” Through Jesus’ victory over sin and death, he has made a claim on our entire existence. Therefore, whatever we use our bodies for, we are using them as an offering to God. Since so much of our time is spent at work, what we do at work matters to God. In fact, our daily work is an offering of worship to God. We don’t show up to work to make our bosses happy, we show up to work to glorify God.
Sometimes, we can be so full of anger and resentment toward our boss, that we have not taken time to ask if we are at fault in any way. We may even have fallen into the trap of thinking too highly of ourselves. Paul continues writing in Romans 12:3, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” It’s easy to think we are better than others. I remember a time when I was competing against my friend for the same job. Everything in me wanted to win. I thought, “I’m the better candidate for the position!” Little did I know at the time, that I was sick with the original virus of pride. When we can’t take a step back and take an honest look at ourselves and our own actions, then we don’t stand a chance of having a better working relationship with a difficult boss.
When it feels like our boss is making our lives miserable, our vision may become impaired. We begin seeing every one of the boss’ actions as bathed in ill intent. We can’t imagine that she has any desire to do good. Yet, Paul encourages us in Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” In other words, yes, we are called to love our difficult bosses, but to do it sincerely, we must look at them, as my colleague says, “with eyes wide open.” We need to see the evil, but we must also be willing to see the good. We can’t ignore either if we want to love them well.
Of course, living with eyes wide open is easier said than done. Paul of all people knew this. He was writing to the Romans during Emperor Nero’s reign. He knew that overcoming evil with good was necessary, but not easy. He writes in Romans 13:1, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” This was radical news to the early Christian church. No, not because Paul was encouraging them to submit to authority, but rather because the authority was established by God. In Paul’s day, the emperor thought of himself as divine. It would have shocked Nero to find out that he wasn’t divine, but rather it was the one who granted him authority who was divine. In other words, those in authority may have been placed over us by God, but only God grants authority to them.
When we live with eyes wide open, we will also have the wisdom to know when to confront or leave an immoral or toxic boss. As we nurture our relationship with God and ourselves, we will know what God wants for us. We may only be able to overcome evil with good by walking away or sending a letter to the board of directors about a boss’s behavior. I worked for a toxic boss for a few years and after enduring the dysfunction long enough, I had to give myself permission to move on. It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made, but it was a decision that said no to evil and yes to good. I acknowledged that God wanted me to thrive and he made it clear I wasn't going to be able to do that as long as I stayed put.
Therefore, we need not live in fear of our bosses. Even if they abuse the authority that has been given them, we can live assured that God is still on his throne. He defeated the great enemy of sin and death and will not be vanquished by our dysfunctional bosses. Yet, in the mean time, he has freed us from the need to take revenge against or placate our boss. God has given us the opportunity to let Christ’s light shine through us as we overcome evil with good as people who are connected to God, ourselves, and even our difficult bosses.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Travis Jamieson