Date: January 25, 2015
Study: Work as Worship
Teacher: Casey Haase
All believers are primarily called to salvation and discipleship, and that our secondary callings are our personal response to God’s primary call—the ways in which our own particular skills, talents, and gifts, are put to work providentially to love God and our neighbors.
PURPOSES AND PITFALLS IN OUR WORK
If someone were to ask you to give a biblical justification of work (all work – paid and unpaid) where would you point them? What would you tell them is God’s design for humans in the sphere of labor?
There are many things that motivate us to work; some motivations are self-centered while others are God honoring. It is good for us to examine ourselves to see what are our motives to work and compare them to the Bible’s holy standard.
What motivates you to work? Perhaps you like your job or your major but if you’re honest, you don’t really understand what work or your studies have to do with being a Christian and a disciple.
SEVEN PURPOSES FOR WORK AS CHRISTIANS
- We Work as God’s Representatives
The first two chapters of Genesis are essential for helping us to understand our work. When God first creates the world, it is formless and empty. But over the next six days, God forms and fills the earth, creatively and purposefully bringing order out of chaos: “The heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array” (Gen. 2:1).
God is a God who works. He is a creative God who makes something out of nothing and brings order out of chaos. By God’s word, all that we see – from planets and stars to birds and trees to people and penguins – was brought into existence.
And throughout the Bible, we see God continue to work:
–God works in nature ordinarily and extraordinarily (Hebrews 1:3, Col 1:17)
–“He [Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of His power”
–God works to direct the course of human history
–The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of all men to bring about his purpose for the elect and the reprobate
–God works in Christ to bring about the salvation of His people and God’s work will culminate in the creation of a new Heavens and a new Earth.
Our God works. And, His character is on display in the output of His work and also in the way He goes about Work. We learn that he is creative, kind, thoughtful, careful, and generous.
We also see that his work was good, as after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good” after Day 6 “and God saw that it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31).
And since we are created in God’s image, we, like Him, are beings who work. Our desire to order, arrange, manage, and create is the image of the divine stamped upon us. We were created to represent God as under-rulers over creation.
Although this desire to work is inherent in our nature, God calls us to work. Genesis 1:28 says: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground'” (Gen. 1:28).
Our overarching job description is this: to be God’s representatives and His image-bearers as we rule over the earth. And so, as we work, we show the world what God is like. How do we do this?
- We represent him by exercising authority
God is ultimately the authority over everything. But he has decided to give us authority, under him. And when we use that authority well and for the benefit of those we serve, we show the world that authority is, at its essence, a good thing and that God’s authority is a good thing.
- We represent him by bringing order out of chaos
Bringing order out of chaos is part of what it means to be human-to rule over God’s world in the way that he rules. And one way we fulfill this mandate to rule over creation is to create and to order, whether making meals, building houses, writing papers, taking tests, developing software, changing diapers, or caring for the ill. All of these are ways that we can do this. In all of these endeavors, we image and represent God.
Work then, involves imaging God’s character, creativity and concern for goodness. It’s important to notice that this purpose applies to all of the work we do. After all, God wasn’t simply speaking to Adam in regard to the world’s economy. He was speaking to Adam as husband, as father, as priest, and as king. In essence God’s command is to make the whole world like the Garden of Eden. And what is most special about that garden? It was the place where God dwelt with man. Though this passage has huge implications for our time in the workplace, its ultimate fulfillment is heaven, not this earth. It is, in the words of God to Habakkuk the prophet, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14)
- We represent him by exercising authority
- We Work as an Expression of Love and Worship of God
Work is a good gift from God. And work is worship. It is a main way in which we obey this first and greatest commandment. Worship is about who or what the object of our love and devotion is.
As long as our work is not sinful, whatever it is, it can be worship because it can be a response to the magnificence of who God is. This is true whether you’re making widgets in a factory in Pittsburgh or shaping policies on the floor of the House of Representatives. We can remind ourselves of this connection during our workdays by pausing and thinking: “I’m creating and bringing order out of chaos. I’m imaging and reflecting God. What an amazing God to let me share in his work in the world!”
And how do we love God through our work? By working as if we are working for him. Because we are. The Bible makes this clear in Ephesians chapter 6. “Obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. . . . Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does . . . .” We love God when we work “with all our hearts.” If we do all that God has required of us, at the end of the day we should be tired.
If we truly are to “work at it with all ours hearts, as working for the Lord,” our work will be dramatically different. We can encapsulate this notion in one word: excellence. Our Lord deserves no less. The Bible calls us to this standard (not perfection which assumes an absolute level of quality, but excellence, a standard that’s related to our gifting). Ecclesiastes 9:10 challenges us to excellence like this: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might . . . .” We love the Lord as we work with excellence, “as working for the Lord.” On a daily basis, are you more excited about the one who calls you to your work or about the work itself? Cultivate a heart that actively worships God in your work.
- We Work as a Way to Love Others
Work is the ordinary mechanism that God has chosen to provide for our daily needs. Consider God’s kindness in creating us to work. It is through our work that God cares for all mankind, not by zapping things into our hands every day, but through the process called “work.”
Martin Luther said: ‘When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And He does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meal.’ God gives us our daily bread through the work of others to which he calls them. This in part is how we fulfill the second ‘great command’: to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:30-31)
Do you see how God gives each person a specific set of talents that are to be used to love our neighbors? Any lawful occupation is worthwhile, and fits in to God’s providential care for people and creation. All lawful occupations have dignity before the Lord, and are useful to him.
And we see that specifically, employment is the means that God has chosen by which we provide for ourselves and others. This view of our work should humble us. Instead of using our education, or training, our abilities, or even our successes for ourselves, we must realize that the Lord equipped us for our particular work to please him and to love our neighbors through our work–in fact, He prepared these good works in advance for us. If you work only for yourself, or only for your boss, or only for your clients or employees, you are missing the point of your work. You are called to what you do for God’s purposes.
Work, specifically, is a gift and a blessing that we pursue as an act of love!
- We Work for Money – So We Won’t be a Burden
So far all these purposes for work have applied to any work we do, not just our jobs. But here’s one that is specific to our jobs. We work for money. And through money we provide for our needs, for the needs of our families, and for the needs of others around us–including the needs of our church.
–2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”
–Proverbs 12:11: “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.” And Paul writes in
–Ephesians 4:28: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”
It glorifies God to work as a means to provide for your family and to be a blessing to others. You can take satisfaction, and work with all your heart as for Christ, in a job that provides for your family, allows you to be involved in the church and in the lives of others, but might not be the most personally fulfilling or financially lucrative. It’s a good thing “to lead a quiet life.”
This motivation for work is surprising countercultural. Some ignore this motivation for work and see poverty as inherently more holy than material wealth. It is true that there are temptations that come with wealth and means, but there is also great opportunity to do good to others when we have means. Others think that we should not worry about how well a line of work pays but rather pursue what you are passionate about. This can also be misguided. We should try to pursue a line of work that not only prevents us from being a burden to other, but lets us be a blessing to them as well.
Our main meaning as a human being isn’t to be found in our jobs. It’s to be found in Christ. And so working for the money you earn is actually a key motive for us. To provide for ourselves so that we wont’ be a burden to others, and to provide generously for others. Employment is the mechanism God has chosen to sustain us and to bless others.
- We Work to Adorn the Gospel
When we work in ways that image God’s authority, excellence, creativity and love, we silence those who might derogatorily say “all Christians are like X” and with our lives back up the gospel that we confess with our lips. Referring to the work we do to submit to governing authorities, 1 Peter 2:15 says “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” And in Titus 2:9-10 Paul writes about first-century slaves who are similar to us as modern employees: “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” “Make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” A good goal for your work.
How you work says something about who you serve. Your attitude and ethic in the workplace can be an aroma that adorns the gospel. Are you giving off a sweet or smelly odor in your workplace?
We’re pretty good at smelling those in our workplaces who are more interested in themselves than others, who care more about getting ahead than helping us along. We want to be the aroma of Christ and to adorn the gospel in our workplaces.
- We Work for Our Enjoyment
In His kindness, God even allows us to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 8:18 that it is God “who gives you the ability to produce wealth”; and Paul writes in I Tim 6:17-19, that God “provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” and Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 says “it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor…. this is a gift of God.” We serve a Generous God and so even as he allows us to enjoy what he has given us, we should also consider how we can be generous to others.
Have you experienced this type of satisfaction in your work? If so, it’s a small taste of the satisfaction God experienced in creating the world. Enjoying our work, and enjoying the fruits of our labor brings glory to God because it shows that his plan – his plan that we should work – is in fact good and satisfying. Take time to thank God for the work that he gives you.
- We Work as an Act of Faith
As Proverbs 19:21 says: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Work hard and work smart, but above all, trust God. He is the one who promises to take care of all of our needs.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:31-34). As Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.”
Paul reminds us that all our work should be an act of worship and of faith: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). In other words, Paul is saying that no matter what you do, what matters most is who you work for. As a slave, you’re not just serving your earthly master, you’re serving the Master of the universe, the Lord Jesus Christ. So serve him well. Paul is saying that what matters most is who you work for, not what you do. Who You Work for is More Important than What you Do: this is what gives your work meaning and purpose.
THE FALL AND ITS EFFECTS
These 7 purposes for our work don’t always seem true of our daily experiences. Rather than feeling the satisfaction of bringing order out of chaos, we feel the frustration of a chaotic workplace. And rather than seeing our work as worship, we see it as an arena that is immensely different from the worship that we do on Sundays. Why don’t our motivations resemble the picture in Genesis 1 and 2?
The short answer is Genesis 3. In essence, Adam and Eve were choosing to work for themselves, to prioritize what they thought was best over what God thought was best. Rather than representing God by cultivating the world as he would have them, they sought their own agenda and used the world for their purposes.
Work has never been the same since. God cursed the ground and he cursed childbearing and childrearing (Gen. 3:16-19). And the effects are devastating.
Work in this world can be hard, painful, and tedious. It can also feel futile: you mow the grass today it grows back tomorrow. You work hard to pass legislation this year, and next year, others come and undo what you spent time and money doing. Sin places a toll on our labor, and our work is limited in what it can accomplish, how long it lasts, and the satisfaction we can derive from it. “Meaningless, meaningless” was how Solomon described it. And, the fall affects our hearts, minds and motivations in the workplace.
The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller
What’s Best Next by Matt Perman
ADAPTED FROM CHRISTIANS IN THE WORKPLACE: LESSON 2, CAPITOL HILL BAPTIST CORE SEMINARS