The very notion of work is something that tires Americans. The morning trudge to work is undoubtedly not something that brightens the morning for most people. There are certainly a few matters at play but bearing it with an insufferable attitude is not an appropriate Christian response. After reading Tom Nelson’s light read, Work Matters, I wanted to provide a few briefs thoughts to encourage us to have a better biblical perspective on work.
First, scripture explains our current condition. Reading Genesis 1-3, we find humans were crafted and designed in a manner to work. In the beginning, humans were assigned a profitable workload. Working and keeping the Garden-Temple of God’s holy presence was intrinsically valuable, and the reward of spending time in God’s presence would have been exhilarating. However, the consequences of sin were damaging. Adam and Eve were told at least three consequences: a) being driven from God’s presence robbed us of our daily reward; b) our labors will be toilsome (i.e., thorns and thistles); our labor lost a lot of its intrinsic value as we are striving not for holy presence but daily sustenance.
Second, people do not live for bread (i.e., things of the world), but to commune with God (Matt 4:4). If we think biblically about having j-o-b-s, we find work has value. While that value is not equal to guarding and keeping the holy Garden-Temple, it is valuable. We work not only to have stuff (truck, boat, books, etc.), but more importantly, to provide (food, shelter, education, etc.). Parents work to provide for children and for their own needs (2 Thess 3:12). All Christians work to provide for the outposts of heaven to shine a heavenly light into darkness, aka., the local church. Work has value because it is an instrument to an end, and it also provides a place to carry out a more profound office.
Third, all Christians have the role of the office of believer. We carry this office out in every sphere we live and serve. Having a secular job gives a Christian permission to bring love, mercy, and the gospel into places outside of the church building. As a pastor, I can’t just walk into any workplace, but the Messianic Kingdom Participants who work there do.
Nelson has a good quote, “a proper biblical understanding is that all Christians are called to ‘full-time Christian work,’ doing good work well for the glory of God, regardless of their specific vocation” (p. 45). I think Nelson offers a good reminder. Ultimately, we should consciously be mindful that we take God’s work with us everywhere we go, including our secular vocations.
Fourth, you might not be preaching the gospel during a coffee break, but your conduct at work reflects poorly or appropriately on Christ. If you are an insufferable human, the boss is trying to fire because no one wants to be around, I bet your pastor doesn’t want you to pass our church fliers. But if you are a quality worker, marked by the fruits of the spirit, please pass out fliers for John Knox! A Christian who works with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is a blessing to the work environment and a positive reflection on Christ and his church (Gal 5:22-23). Likewise, the willingness to apologize when imperfect in these fruits at work also reflects well on Christ.
Fifth, work has a positive end for the world. Martin Luther contended that ‘God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.’ Work that is not sinful is good for society. Remember that when God’s people were in Babylonian exile, he told them, ‘build houses … plant gardens … have sons and daughters … Pursue the well-being of the city; Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you thrive” (Jer 29:5-7). Our good labor is good for society.
So tomorrow, and the next day, when the alarm goes off, know that your work has value both for the present felt needs and for longer-term purposes. If you struggle with work, then give Work Matters a quick glance to encourage you.