3 Ways to Love Your Unlovely Colleagues
By Andrew Laird, Australia
Andrew works in Australia for City Bible Forum and is the National Manager of their Life@Work program which aims to help Christians connect their faith with their daily work. He is the author of two books about work, including Under Pressure: How the Gospel Helps Us Handle the Pressures of Work. He is the former Dean of Ridley College’s Marketplace Institute, and he also has a background in radio journalism. He lives in Melbourne, is married to Carly and has three young children. He’s not ashamed to admit he’s a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra) and loves getting out on his road bike.
Sacrificial love is hard, even when it is directed towards someone we truly love. Our selfishness so often creeps in. But loving someone we don’t love—someone who makes our life miserable and difficult, well, that feels almost impossible at times!
If you’re in any job for any amount of time it’s inevitable you’ll come up against colleagues like this: Those who are difficult, frustrating, annoying, or just plain unkind. I remember one particularly lazy colleague whose work always fell on the rest of us to complete—it was hard to respond with kindness, generosity, and love! And yet Jesus calls us to love even our enemies (Matthew 6:27).
So how do we love unlovely colleagues?
Here are three ways, all modelled to us by Jesus:
1. Pray for them
While hanging on the cross, dying for our sins, Jesus undertakes an extraordinary act—He prays for those crucifying Him, asking for nothing less than God’s forgiveness for them. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In doing this Jesus is doing what He had earlier called His followers to do; “pray for those who ill-treat you” (Luke 6:28).
Why do I suggest this as a way to love unlovely colleagues? Because Jesus Himself teaches us so! And He models this for us in His hour of greatest suffering.
This is an “extraordinary act” because prayer is a costly act of love. Prayer takes time. And prayer takes a heart of concern for another. To be quite honest, I usually only pray for those whose well-being I care for… but Jesus says that should be everyone, including our enemies!
I have personally found praying for unlovely colleagues extremely helpful in changing my relationship with them and empowering me to love them when I find it hard. There was one annoying colleague in particular I committed to praying for regularly. While their annoying habits didn’t change, I did find that God grew patience in me for them, which made interacting with them much easier in the long run.
And prayer does more than simply change the way we feel towards a person. As God answers our prayers for them and our relationship with them, the relationship itself often begins to change. Of course, this isn’t something that will happen overnight—indeed this kind of change often takes time.
Perhaps you spend a lot of time ruminating about your unlovely colleagues. Next time that happens, why not turn your thoughts to prayers for them instead. You can begin with a simple prayer such as, “Father, I pray for my colleague X. They infuriate me, frustrate me, or are unkind to me. Change me to love them like you do”. Start with this and see how God answers it.
Even if the person we are praying for may never change, I’m persuaded that if we patiently keep praying for our own hearts to change, God in His kindness will do that over time.
2. Do small acts of sacrifices for them
Romans 5:7-8 has got to be some of the most incredible, life-changing words in all of the Bible. It reads: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
Before we come to our second point on loving unlovely colleagues, pause for a moment, and recognise who you and I are in these verses. We are not simply God’s unlovely, annoying colleagues, but His creation who turned against Him and rejected Him. So, meditate on this afresh; “Christ died for us”.
If you have been a Christian for any length of time those words can just wash over us. But don’t miss the magnitude of them. Christ loved the unlovely—you and I—by laying down His life for us, all while we still had our backs turned to Him and had done nothing to deserve love of any kind, not least the most extravagant sacrificial love.
This is our example when it comes to our unlovely colleagues. While we aren’t going to the cross for them, we can carry out small acts of “sacrifices”—acts that go against our natural instinct. For instance, when they are cold towards us, we offer to buy a coffee for them when we go to get our own. When they take credit for our work, we thank them for what they did to contribute. When they simply irritate us with their quirks and personality, we respond with warmth and respect
Not for a moment am I suggesting that any of these sacrificial acts are easy to do. After all, it is a lot easier to be generous to someone we like or to be nice to a well-liked colleague. But by doing these little acts of sacrifices, we’re slowly heaping coal on our enemy’s head (Romans 12:20).
It’s not easy to get started, but it’s not impossible. Firstly, pray and ask God to remind us afresh of His love towards us—“while we were still sinners”. And secondly, act anyway! Sometimes our heart generates habits. But there are also times when our hearts follow as we practise certain habits.
3. Speak well of them
One of the greatest temptations when it comes to how we treat unlovely colleagues is to speak poorly of them—gossip, slander, or undermine their reputation.
But again, Jesus is our example in this!
Scripture says we’re not to let “any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29). We’re also to “bless those” who curse us (Romans 12:14).
Let this be our model too when it comes to how we speak of unlovely colleagues. I’m not suggesting that we should make up false things to praise them for. It is appropriate to honestly acknowledge a colleague’s laziness or poor work habits but doing it in such a way that is constructive for them and builds up the team that they are a part of.
What we are to resist is speech that undermines them, belittles them, or is slanderous. Rather, seek to congratulate them for those things that they have done well (even if we think it will only further inflate their ego which we already find challenging to deal with). Like what the Bible’s instructed us to do, we speak well of others, even those we find unlovely.
But . . . what if I’m being bullied/caught in a toxic workplace environment?
A question that often comes at this point, and rightly so, is: “When is it right to challenge injustice in the workplace? When might loving the unlovely actually enable harm (or even bullying) to continue in an organisation?”
These are not simple questions, and it would be dangerous for me to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution. We need to consider these questions in the context of our specific situation and with the wisdom and counsel of Christian brothers and sisters.
However, a couple of things can guide us as we look for answers:
First, workplace bullying is a serious problem. Fortunately, many (although certainly not all) workplaces have formal procedures in place for us to report bullying. Jesus’s example of loving His enemies does not exclude us from going down such avenues where they might be available and appropriate.
Secondly, in some really toxic situations (racial discrimination, sexual misconduct, systemic bullying) where a workplace doesn’t take this kind of behaviour seriously or address it with appropriate action, the right course of action may well be to leave that workplace. I appreciate that this is not a simple thing to do, especially if there isn’t the immediate prospect of more work.
Make sure you weigh up a decision like this with Christian brothers and sisters. Let them know the needs that you will likely have if you leave such a working environment and can’t find more work. And if a brother or sister in Christ comes to you in such a situation, be prepared to support them should such a decision be necessary.
In all these ways we seek to be like Christ who is not only our Saviour, but in His saving work for us He also models to us how, like Him, we can seek to love and serve
 Andrew Laird, Under Pressure: How the Gospel Helps Us Handle the Pressures of Work, Green Hill Publishing, 2017, pg 62-63.
Thanks so much for this!