In A Theology of Work, Part 1: The Glory of Work, I explored the goodness of work in God’s design. But, in this age of busy schedules and workaholic attitudes, we can get work wrong; we can even make work inside the church an idol. On the other hand, some of us are in jobs that are not exactly fulfilling or thrilling. How can a biblical worldview about work help us navigate between the dangers of worshipping our work and a weariness with our lot in life?
One of the great declarations of the Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria – all to the glory of God. The Reformers boldly asserted that worship was bigger than the four walls of a church building. They declared that we all have a vocation — a calling; in other words, God has called you to the work you are doing right now. With this in mind, allow me to propose four observations about a “theology of work.”
. . . God has called you to the work you are doing right now.
1. As good as work is, work is not God.
Work itself is not part of the curse, but there is a curse put on work (Genesis 3:17-19). We were made to be useful, but now we face an uphill battle in a world that we broke. Our joy in work – even good work – will be tempered by pain and frustration. That’s why we look forward to a New Heaven and a New Earth where the curse on us, on the earth, and on our work will be lifted once and for all.
Work can be very satisfying – since it’s what we were created for. But work can also be frustrating, pointless, and exhausting. Even if you have your dream job, at the peak of your career, you’ll still experience frustration and disappointment. If you look for your life’s meaning and purpose in your work — if you are expecting it to give you a reason to get out of bed every morning, to offer you hope and joy and satisfaction, to be your source of meaning and purpose in life — then you’re basically asking your job to “play god.” Work has become your idol. The problem is your job can’t bear the weight of these godlike expectations you place on it to define you and to satisfy your heart.
. . . your job can’t bear the weight of these godlike expectations you place on it to define you and to satisfy your heart.
2. We need to see work as worship.
Within the idea of vocation, there is the truth that any field of work can glorify God. There is no work beneath human dignity because our dignity does not come from what we do, but from what God has done. It also means that we have no right to look down on anyone who is doing honest work. I hope I have taught my children that every honest working man and woman they meet is worthy of respect — to never judge the hotel maid, the box boy, or anyone else as being any less worthy of respect than a doctor or teacher.
Because of the Gospel, you don’t have to find your identity, your ultimate meaning and purpose in life, in what you do. You can find it in Who you’re ultimately working for. When you see work as a means of reflecting and magnifying God, then it changes your entire perspective. It keeps you from making work an idol, placing too much value and significance in what you do. At the same time, seeing your work as worship keeps you from the danger of devaluing it and treating it merely as a means to get stuff.
3. A biblical worldview on work should change our attitude.
In Colossians 3, Paul writes advice to workers with lousy jobs: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (NIV).
Because of the Gospel, you don’t have to find your identity . . . in what you do. You can find it in Who you’re ultimately working for.
In this passage, Paul is not endorsing slavery. He is speaking to believers in a difficult situation. How do we worship and witness in the middle of a difficult job? If I am a slave or working under an unjust boss or an unfair teacher, how do I glorify God in the midst of injustice, especially when I am a victim?
And yet, what Paul is telling slaves is far more subversive than it appears. To slaves, he says “Be the opposite of all the others – work as if you are serving God. Refuse to play the victim, even when you have every right. Astonish your masters.” Paul is tackling that question with a shocking proposition: love your enemy. Love the master who enslaved you by showing them what God is like. Paul tells slaves that they are not powerless and that they have a dignity that comes from God – and not even slavery can diminish them.
4. Work is a witness, a way of building bridges for the gospel.
In our work, we are usually in the world. We rub shoulders with unbelievers. If we do our work in reliance on God’s power, according to his pattern of excellence, and clearly for His glory, we will build bridges for the gospel. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12, Paul exhorts believers: “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody” (NIV, emphasis added).
When we work to glorify God, every task is a sacrament.
In the Middle Ages, a nobleman walking through Paris came upon a building site. He saw three stonemasons hard at work. “What are you doing?” the visitor asked the first mason. The man looked weary, and he was annoyed by the interruption. He shrugged and said “I’m cutting stone.” The nobleman asked the same thing to the second mason, “What are you doing?” “I’m making a living,” the second mason replied. The noble approached the third mason who was working with great care. He asked, “And what about you?” The man’s face lit up as he turned and with a smile replied, “Oh me? I’m building a cathedral for God and his people.”
Your earthly boss may sign your check, but you work for God.
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Your work is worthy, it is worship, and it is a witness. So work towards excellence. Martin Luther put it this way: “The Christian cobbler does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” When we work to glorify God, every task is a sacrament.