A recent article in The Atlantic, “It Pays To Be Nice,” noted the benefits of investing in workplace relationships. A premise of the article is something most of us probably already know intuitively: “Being collegial is good for both individual workers and for businesses as a whole.” And, according to some research, if you have leadership ambitions, you’re more likely get further if you’re someone people can trust, someone who displays “integrity, compassion, forgiveness and accountability.”
The article noted various strategies to foster healthy teamwork and camaraderie. These include formalities such as hosting social events, as well as the less formal–and perhaps at times more difficult–habit of applying consistent, everyday “niceness” in our interactions. We invest in relationships by making decisions to love others as ourselves, whether we’re making decisions about pay, answering a co-worker’s question when we’d rather ignore him or her, or saying hello in the morning. All of these require effort and intentionality–maybe they even slow us down a bit–especially in the midst of competing demands.
Of course, we don’t invest in relationships just for the return we’ll get.—In fact, we may not get any return. The Atlantic cites: “…there are some companies where …understanding of reciprocity does not exist. Instead, the prevailing ethos is “no matter what you do for me today, I will not cooperate with you tomorrow.’”—We invest in relationships because we were created by, for and to love. The Bible emphasizes the importance of relationships, especially work relationships, in the Creation story and in the New Testament.
Made for Working Relationships
Because we are made in the image of a relational God, we are inherently relational ourselves. We are made for relationship with God himself and with other people.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Gen.1:27
God also called people to work:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” – Gen.1:28
It’s clear from Gen. 1:28 that God calls people, together, to work. Genesis 2 takes a closer look at the creation of mankind, and we see even more clearly how important relationship is:
God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Gen. 2:18a).
All of his creative acts had been called “good” or “very good,” and this is the first time that God pronounces something “not good.” At this, God says:
“…I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen. 2:18b)
When Eve arrives, Adam is filled with joy. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). Although this may sound like a purely erotic or family matter, it is also a working relationship. Genesis 2:18 describes Eve not only as a “helper” but also as a “partner.” The English word most often used today for someone who is both a helper and a partner is “co-worker.” Eve is created as Adam’s “helper” and “partner” who will join him in working the Garden of Eden.
Therefore, relationships are not incidental to work; they are essential. When we work in loving relationship with our co-workers, we have the opportunity to reflect relationships as they were meant to be.
Relationships Matter, Even When They’re Inconvenient
One means to healthy interactions at work is simply taking the time and effort to develop and invest in relationships. In the New Testament, we catch a glimpse of the apostle Paul demonstrating this value.
In 2 Corinthians, having left Ephesus, Paul went to Troas, a port city in the northwest corner of Asia Minor, where he expected Titus to arrive as well. While Paul was there he went about his missionary work with his usual vigor, and God blessed his efforts.
But in spite of a promising beginning in a city of great strategic importance,Paul cut short his work in Troas because, as he puts it, “my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there” (2 Cor. 2:13). He simply could not attend to his work, his very passion, because of the anguish he felt over his strained relationship with the Corinthian believers. So he left for Macedonia in the hope of finding Titus there.
Two things are striking about this passage.
First, Paul places significant value on his relationships with other believers. He cannot remain aloof and unburdened when these relationships are in disrepair. We cannot say with absolute certainty that he was familiar with Jesus’ teaching about leaving one’s gift at the altar and being reconciled to one’s brother (Matt. 5:23–24), but he clearly understood the principle. Paul is eager to see things patched up, and he invests a great deal of energy and prayer in pursuing that end.
Second, Paul places a high priority on reconciliation, even if it causes significant delay in his work schedule. He does not try to convince himself that he has a great opportunity for ministry that will not come around again, and that therefore he can’t be bothered with the Corinthians and their momentary needs. Repairing the rupture in his relationship with them took precedence.
The lesson for us is obvious. Relationships matter. Clearly, we cannot always drop what we’re doing at a moment’s notice and attend to relationships. But no matter what our task, relationships are our business. Tasks are important. Relationships are important.
Teamwork is a Necessity and a Gift
Many people form some of their closest relationships when some kind of work—whether paid or not—provides a common purpose and goal. In turn, working relationships make it possible to create the vast, complex array of goods and services beyond the capacity of any individual to produce. Without relationships at work, there are no automobiles, no computers, no postal services, no legislatures, no stores, no schools.
Our work and our community are thoroughly intertwined gifts from God. Together they provide the means for us to “be fruitful and multiply” in every sense of the words.
Excerpts for this article were taken from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary, available in-print or for free online: