Last quarter we started outlining what is now commonly called a theology of work, about the fact that you are called to work. We looked at common mistake that cause many to have a negative image of work – after all, it is called work and not fun.
Then we took a look at some (but not nearly all) of the passages in the Bible about work that lead to a very different conclusion than the modern image of the drudgery of work.
Start with the premise that work is good
From Genesis 1:3 to Genesis 1:24, God saw what He had created and it was good. Granted, Adam saw something more that he wanted, but creation was still good. That goodness did not end when man fell and sin entered the world. However, man was put into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it (Genesis 2:7-9, 15) long before the Fall. The first work was not a result of sin; it was part of God’s original design!
That the root and start of work was good hasn’t changed, although work has gotten more difficult because of our fallen nature and confused direction. For Christians, work is still meant to be a calling. You do work to pay the bills, but there is a deeper and more important reason than that. Work may be satisfying and fulfilling, and it should be. However, the main purpose of work has to be what the purpose of life has always been; to glorify God. This idea is directly from God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
These verses, and many others, tell us that God is to be glorified in everything we do and in every aspect of our lives; work, home and play. Christ is to be the source of our strength and focus and He is to be our life’s goal. All we do and all we are is to display the glory of God and the supremacy of Christ. It is good to worship on Sundays and Wednesdays. But what about the other days of the week? He is worthy to be worshiped those days too – all days and every day.
What is wrong with thinking that work is just work – a way to earn money and support yourself and your family, and to prepare for the future? Everything! It’s not enough that we witness occasionally at work, have a Bible study at work or even that we may try to honor God in how we do our work, be Christlike to people at work, or support God’s kingdom with the money we make from work. Those are all good, but they are a small part of an even bigger picture.
Placing God on His throne and giving Him the glory in our lives must infuse and even transform our work as well as our home and personal lives. Most non-believers view work as a means to an end, work provides money to pay the bills, put food on the table and otherwise provide for family. The problem is that if a believer approaches work in the same fashion, the believer’s behavior at work, and the believer’s testimony at work begins to look no different than anyone else’s. In theory, the believer has a holy long-term goal or view, but his or her daily life begins to look ordinary. That is a bad witness to the world.
There was nothing ordinary about the daily life of Christ, in whose image we were made and who we are to imitate (Ephesians 5:1). To think otherwise gives you a non-transformative theology of work. Work remains as a means to an earthly end. Work is what gets us the stuff we want and delivers to us the life we so richly have earned and deserve due to our hard work. We may glorify God on Sundays, but He vanishes from the rest of our life.
Instead, our view of work and the fact that we are called to work, our theology of work, has to be that we were created by a loving God from the dust of the earth and we were made to cultivate the garden, in other words, to work.
We were created for work. God created us to work. But there is so much more to the life God wants for us than just work. We know that because we were created in God’s own image, nothing less. We were also created for relationships since God gave Eve to Adam and Adam and Eve were instructed to be fruitful and multiply.
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
28 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.”
Adam and Eve were created to live, be together and work. And as the progeny of Adam and Eve, we are called to live, relate and work as well. Christian community, church and even society flow from creation and Genesis 3. One thing we know is that community and society require work; all life requires work in one fashion or another. What matters is whether you treat work as a four letter word or as a gift from God.
Part of that society mentioned in the previous paragraph arises from God’s mandate that we are to rule over God’s creation.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
We were created to rule, to exercise dominion, over God’s creation. Why? To show God’s glory in our work. The way we care for His creation reflects Him living in us and reflects our relationship with Him, and it is all to display God in us.
2 Corinthians 4:6
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Despite the fall and the curse of work – work became hard and filled with conflict, work is still good. If all we see is the curse, the toil, the sweat and the difficulty, we have missed our calling and our future.
A God’s-eye view of work
All people and all of creation await the return of Christ and the redemption that comes with it. Paul made it clear to us that the struggles of our lives and our world are merely temporary and that the goal is reconciliation and restoration:
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
When we look forward to His coming and our restoration, we tend to focus on ourselves. After all, through creation, God said His work was good until He created Adam and Eve in His own image. At that moment, God said His work was very good. It wasn’t just mankind that was very good, it was all of God’s work together (“all that he had made …”) that was very good.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
As a result, when the redemption comes, it would be incomplete if it was only us; redemption involves all of creation. God will renew all of creation. When we are redeemed in Christ, we will also have our view of the world and all of creation, including work, restored. Work will no longer be a curse, instead it will be our mandate from God, our calling. We truly are called to work.
What about right now?
In the meantime, we are left with work that still holds the curse of the fall. That doesn’t change the fact, and it is a fact, that work, even cursed work, is a calling. We are called, summoned by God, to work, at least to the extent and manner God has made us able.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
“Whatever”! That means everything. So, when you show up to +“work,” you are there working for Jesus Christ and for His glory. Every day! It is your calling to honor God is your work, your effort, your attitude, your words and your work product. What you do and how you do it matters because you are doing it in the image of God.
But what about a particularly bad and demeaning job? Am I called to work there and stay there? Not necessarily. Everyone is called to work, in the sense that “called” means “created” and/or “commanded” to work. We were each created to work, we are commanded by God to work, and called to work but that does not require us to work in a job where the work conditions are degrading, demeaning or sinful. Your sense of morality may be a calling from the Spirit that it is time to find a job where such conditions do not exist. It can be hard to know whether God has called you to a particular job or position at a job. But while you are at a job, you are to be the worker God made you with the heart and attitude you are called to have, a holy heart and a holy attitude.
1 Peter 1:15
15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;
Did you spot that? “In all you do.” How can we do that? Even more importantly, how should all this change what you do tomorrow? Here are a few of many possible scripturally based approaches:
• Glorify God through prayer about work and life – about everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
• Glorify God by respecting your boss(es) at work. It may be hard, but we are called to submit to their authority. (Romans 13:7; 1 Timothy 6:1).
• Glorify God if you are a boss, a supervisor over others, by how you treat and speak to those serving under you. (Colossians 4:1).
• Glorify God in your treatment of co-workers. They may not earn it, but you can still show them respect (Romans 13:7, Luke 6:31; Romans 12:18).
• Glorify God by giving thanks for work, for your job, and for your life. We have all been around grumbling ungrateful workers. That is not the Christ you want others around you to see. (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
• Glorify God by how you work, your approach to problems at work and the heart and spirit you show. That means you show up on time – always. That means you work without slacking off. (Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Corinthians 10:31).
• Glorify God with your choice of words, your speech and through your honesty. (Genesis 39; Psalm 15, Philippians 2:14-15, James 3:1-12).
• Glorify God by how you act and react during difficult times. There will be times of trial; there always are. How you respond in word, deed and attitude speaks far louder than your words alone. (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
• Glorify God by displaying trust in Him. He has promised to provide and He is faithful – always. (Matthew 6:11).
• Glorify God through your recognition that work is a calling, not a life. Refuse to make work and money an idol. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12; Matthew 6:24).
• Glorify God by living for Him. Give generously, even radically. (Proverbs 22:9; 1 Timothy 6:17-19, 2 Corinthians 9:11,13).
• Glorify God by serving Him outside of “work.” Yes, you are serving God as you work at your secular job, but there are opportunities to further glorify God by serving Him. Reach out to those less financially fortunate than you, to those suffering in poor health, to those who are less physically able than you. (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 12:9).
• Glorify God by resting from your work and by worshiping Him. (Deuteronomy 5:13-15; Psalm 46:10, Romans 12:1, Hebrews 12:28).
This is what a theology of work is all about; it makes work and life manageable. Even better, it makes work and life a blessing. Work, work honesty, work hard and work to the glory of God.
This concept of calling and of a theology of work requires that we see our work as nothing less than a part of our walk with Christ. Our work is an extension of our walk! We are creative because He was creative first. (Genesis 1 and John 1:1-3). God’s work of redemption is not limited to the church, it can and should occur in every workplace. We do that because of the new creation we have become:
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
We walk hand-in-hand with God as He works to redeem a fallen world. This is our mission and our joy.
About the author:
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.