Date: February 8, 2015
Study: Work as Worship
Teacher: Kameron Slater
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.
Seven Purposes for Work: 1) We work as God’s representatives 2) We work as an expression of love and worship of God 3) We work as a way to love others 4) We work for money, so we won’t be a burden 5) We work to adorn the gospel 6) We work for our enjoyment 7) We work as an act of faith
Two Distortions of Work: 1) Idolatry- over-identifying with our work 2) Idleness- under-identifying with our work
One of the dangers of teaching a class on our calling in the workplace is that we can end up saying a lot of helpful, true, even Biblical things without actually getting to the gospel. You would think that as a born-again Christian your approach to your work should be different from a devout Jew or a faithful Roman Catholic or a good Mormon, for example—even though these groups largely agree on the framework that we’ve laid out so far. Your view should be different because of the gospel. How does the gospel make you a different worker than someone who is good, moral, with a Judeo-Christian worldview?
JESUS’ WORK CHANGES EVERYTHING
As a Christian, your work should be different because of Jesus’ work. Jesus was the perfect worker. He perfectly carried out the work God gave him to do (John 17:4), including accomplishing our salvation on the cross. Jesus’ work was to live a righteous life and die a sinner’s death. His work was to go to the cross, where he took the penalty that our sin deserved so that we could be made right with God. In the death and resurrection of Jesus a transaction took place. We came to the deal with the wages of our sin and a massive debt against God that we could never repay. Jesus came to the deal with a flawless credit score: a life of pure obedience and a perfect relationship with the King. And the great trade was made: God treated Jesus as we deserved, so that all who believe in him would be treated as he deserved. He made the ultimate sacrifice of his life so that we could know the ultimate grace of being forgiven of our sins and brought into a right relationship with God.
If we trust in Jesus, we are saved by his work, not by our work. Now, this good news, this gospel, has some very significant implications for us. The gospel changes five things about the way we work:
- We Work for a New Master
First, if you trust in Christ’s work, then you now work for a new master. We used to be slaves to sin, but we are now slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). We were enemies of God, but we are now sons and heirs (Galatians 3:26-29). We are stewards of the grace we’ve been given by the great King (1 Peter 4:10). Because Jesus is our new master, we work to please him.
- We Have a New Assignment
For the most part, the person you are becoming—from skills, to character, to the role you play in your family, friendships, and church—is not really what your boss cares about. At a functional level, what you do is more important to your employer than the person you are becoming.
But that’s not how Jesus sees things. Jesus reorders our assignments. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”(Matthew 22:37-39).
As a Christian in the classroom, home, workplace, community, etc, your main assignment is to love God. The moment you became a Christian, that trumped all other goals in your life. Now, that’s different from just saying “serve God.” Service is a part of it—but ultimately to love God is to become a worshipper. To love who God is—to devote yourself to appreciating his magnificence. Then, as we do that Jesus says, that love is most often expressed through loving other people. Another way to put this is that the main assignment that Jesus gives us is to pay attention to whom we serve, not to what we do: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
That means that in your workplace, you’re working for something different than the non-Christians around you. Yes, money is important. Yes, advancement can be good. Yes, we want to help our bosses do a good job. But ultimately you are there to love God better. That is your new assignment.
- We Have New Hearts
There’s probably nothing more deflating in the workplace than being given an assignment without the resources to carry it out. Sure, there can be an element of challenge in this kind of situation, but for the most part, it’s demotivating.
But Jesus doesn’t just give us a new assignment; he gives us the new hearts to carry it out. This is one of the many ways in which he is unlike any boss you’ve ever had: Jesus calls you to do the seemingly impossible, but he also gives you everything you need to accomplish it. If you are a Christian, then you have been given a new heart and a new mind. The prophet Ezekiel foretold this: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The apostle Paul explained that the power of the Spirit would enable us to love God: “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6). And not only to love God, but to love others as well: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
He also forgives and restores us when we fail to accomplish these “new assignments.” Unlike any earthly boss you will ever have, he is infinitely patient. Jesus doesn’t set us up for failure. Instead, he gives us the new hearts and all the grace we could ever need to love God and love others.
- We Have a New Confidence
In the gospel we have a new confidence. It seems like so many problems we run into in the workplace basically come down to issues of self-worth and confidence. Notice that the gospel doesn’t give us self-worth, but it does give us a new confidence. There are many out there who will say something like “God loves you so much! That’s how much you’re worth! Feel empowered! Feel that self-esteem flow through you! You can do anything!” But that’s not Christianity. That’s pride. The gospel doesn’t give us self-worth. In fact, if anything it does the opposite. It says that you’re actually worth a lot less than you thought. You have spent your life devoted to defaming the most beautiful being in all of existence: God. The point of the gospel isn’t how great you are—even after you’ve become a Christian. It’s how great Christ is shown to be through you.
Instead of a doctrine of self-worth in the Bible, we see the real answer to all the things we think we need self-worth to achieve. You think you need self-worth to feel acceptable. But you are acceptable because of Christ’s work, not your own. You think you need self-worth to be motivated. But our motivation comes out of a desire to please the God who sacrificed his own son to forgive us of everything we ever did wrong. We are motivated out of love that flows from that gratitude. You think you need self-worth. But actually what you need to do is to understand that everything you thought self-worth could provide (which it won’t) is found in Christ. And so through the gospel we have a new confidence.
- We Have New Rewards
Through the gospel we have new rewards. What are you working for? Money, power, fame, comfort—for a few decades at most? A school building named after you—until the next donor comes along? A company that outlives you? A vacation house at the beach? A job that makes the best use of your talents? Helping lots of people? Whatever the rewards that you are striving for, the rewards that Jesus provides are far greater—and they last forever.
There is no greater reward than what Jesus gives to those who work for him. There is no greater reward than to be in the place where work, worship, praise, and glory are inextricably bound together because that is where God himself dwells. There is no greater reward than an “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4).
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS AND APPLICATIONS OF FREEDOM AT WORK
Working for Jesus changes everything forever. In him we have a new master, a new assignment, new hearts, a new confidence, and new rewards. Now, practically, what does this look like at the workplace? It gives us tremendous freedom!
If we don’t have this eternal perspective for our work, we’ll be blown by the waves of stock market gyrations, temporary successes and failures, bosses who do or don’t treat us well, and our own desires. By working for Jesus, we aren’t completely free from the fluctuations that inevitably affect our work, but we are free from having our identity and responses anchored to these circumstances.
What does this freedom look like in our day-to-day work? It means that we can respond to our circumstances and situations differently because our ultimate identity, our self-worth, and our present and future rewards have already been secured by Jesus.
- Freedom to Worship God through our Work
In Christ, you are free to worship through your work. Worship is in its essence is adoration and action. Adoration: comprehension of the excellence of who God is. And action: responding accordingly. Work helps us do both of those.
First, adoration. Being a worker helps us understand the magnificence of the character of God—the ultimate worker. It’s one thing to read in Scripture that God’s authority is good. But it’s quite another to experience it as you act it out—either by exercising good authority or benefiting from it. It’s one thing to read in Scripture of God’s creativity. It’s another to see it in his creation. But we can understand it yet more as we act it out—experiencing the delight of a creative stroke of genius that itself is merely a shadow of God’s own creative power.
Second, action. If God is worth serving, then we want to serve him. And that looks like obedience to him, no matter how small or important the task. It means that my attitude and aims are no longer tied to me and my circumstances – how much money, power, fame, or comfort I can accrue for myself. Work is no longer built around me and my goals but around making much of God.
- Freedom to Serve Others Wholeheartedly
Do you have any idea how rare it is to find a truly altruistic person in the workplace? Someone who has no agenda but simply wants to do good to others? You can be that person. Why? Because all that you really need is met in Christ. Sure, it’s nice to be appreciated by your boss. But all that you think you need appreciation for—the affirmation of your self-worth that you think you need—has been met in Christ. Not by self-worth by Christ’s worth. And so you’re freed from your identity as a human being being tied to what people think of you or how much they esteem you or whether they appreciate you. You are free to serve without an agenda. God has loved you unexpectedly, unashamedly, with power. That makes you want to love him, out of gratitude for his grace. And he’s made it clear that loving him will involve loving other people: unexpectedly, unashamedly, with power.
If you are one of God’s children, then you are a son and a co-heir. You already own stock in heaven! You are free to give your life away now in service to others. And this may in fact be one of the most provocative, Christ-exalting aspects of your life in the workplace.
One way you can put this into practice is by building into your work schedule time to serve a co-worker or customer. Ask a colleague some day if there’s anything you can do to help him. Buy him a coffee, or run a quick errand for him at lunch. Listen to her share a personal problem, or stay late to help her finish a project. Practice serving in small ways as a reminder of the big ways that Jesus served you.
- Freedom to Trust God in our Work
The workplace is a place of worry. There’s a lot that can go wrong—and often does. But as someone who works for Jesus, you have freedom to trust God instead of giving in to worry. Now, of course, we don’t trust Jesus for the future simply because he’s a really smart career planer; we trust him with our future because he already secured it.
When you are feeling anxious or you are preoccupied with the future, remember all the ways that God has proven trustworthy in the past. Trace out how your specific anxiety is dispelled in light of the gospel. Let Jesus be the anchor of your trust. Consider a few important truths from Scripture:
- God is in control of everything. He is in control of allowing that fear to come true (Psalm 115:3).
- God has promised to use everything for our good and his glory. The only reason he would allow that fear to come true is because he intends to use it for your good (Romans 8:28).
- God loves you. More than you can possibly realize. And he is committed to doing what is best for you no matter the pain or pleasure involved (Hebrews 12:7).
- Jesus is your ultimate boss. There is no circumstance that could arise in your life that is surprising to him, that could keep you from accomplishing his will for you (Matthew 6:25-27).
- Freedom to Rest from our Work
God rested after the sixth day of creation. Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father after his work on the cross. God granted the Israelites rest from their enemies in the Promised Land. The idea of “Sabbath rest” is embedded in Old Testament—not only for the people of Israel, but even for their animals and land. Clearly our Creator is a gracious God who calls us not to endless labor, but to a healthy rhythm of work and rest. Proverbs 23:4 tells us: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” Rest is a good thing that God has built into our lives. It’s a gift that reminds us we are dependent on God and allows us to enjoy the fruit of our labors—even when our work on this earth feels endless.
God knows your limits. He designed them! And you can trust his intent for your need to rest. As Charles De Gaulle once famously remarked, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Do you really think that this world is going to collapse if you stop working? Take that up with the God who created you with a need to rest—a need designed precisely so that you would come to understand, each night as you fall into bed—that it doesn’t all depend on you. It depends on Him.
There are many ways that you can put this truth into practice; I’ll just list three. First, set natural boundaries. While at work, be focused, efficient, and intense. But, once you leave, rest from your work. Don’t check your work email. Let your boss know how he or she can reach you in an emergency, but otherwise, show restraint: you’re likely going to be back soon anyway. Second, bookend your days with prayers of dependence and thanks to God. In the morning, pray and ask him to give you wisdom to focus on the work he has for you. In the evening, thank God for the work he accomplished through you. Third, if at all possible, set aside Sunday as a day of worship and rest—even if you fear that taking an entire day off will cost you profit or promotion. Although you may bear the weight of enormous responsibility in your job, recognize that it is actually God who prospers your work. And we demonstrate our faith in his sovereignty by not working. Because sometimes “rest” is an act of faith.
- Freedom to Pursue Excellence
How many of us set out to pursue mediocrity? How many four year olds who want to be firefighters want to be mediocre firefighters? How many college students studying to be engineers want to be mediocre engineers? And yet this world is full of mediocre workers. Why? Because there are constraints that keep us from excellence. Not just from achieving excellence, but from even pursuing excellence.
That’s because excellence in our work can’t be entirely motived from outside of us—like the allure of more money or the threat of being fired. Excellence must come from within us—and those motivations can’t just be conjured up at a whim.
It’s here that the gospel frees us to pursue excellence. Think of all the things that must line up for a typical worker to be motivated toward excellence. The task has to feel achievable. It should align with what you’re good at. It helps if the boss can be trusted. You need to believe in the cause. Wake up to the right brand of coffee. And so forth.
But in the gospel, we’ve got everything we need to be motivated! The cause is the enjoyment and proclamation of God. The sovereign God of the universe has designed the task—and given us new hearts to accomplish it. And for Pete’s sake, if you need the coffee, he’ll be sure you have that too. So even if the job looks hopeless from a worldly standpoint, the task you’ve been given by God: to worship him through you work by appreciating him more and working as unto the Lord. That is highly motivating.
Proverbs 22:29 tells us: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” Skilled work led to majestic service. Well, who do we work for? Like Daniel, Nehemiah, and Mordecai, we also work for a king—in fact, the King of Kings! How much more, then, should our ethic, attitude, energy, and effort befit service to him.
If you struggle with pursing excellence, let me suggest a few ideas. Find an accountability partner to help you develop good work habits: arrive at the same time each morning, fight distractions at the office, and remember that good work is the fruit of faithful work. Fill your mind with the worth of Jesus as your King. Call to mind the accountability you will one day give to him for your work. And pray that God would begin to change your heart to see that you ultimately serve him in your work.
- Freedom to Have Joy in your Work
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Working for anyone other than Jesus is discouraging. What’s the point? We build something but leave it to someone else who might mess it up. We become famous but die and no one remembers us. We save up for retirement but the market crashes. We have a mundane, invisible job that seems pointless in the grand scheme of things.
The answer to the fleetingness of life is to live your life with reference to the One who is not fleeting. And because Jesus rose from the dead, that relationship will last forever. So even if nobody notices that you are working your hardest for the Lord, your work has eternal significance. And beyond that, through your work you are beginning now what we will do perfectly for all eternity. This should produce great joy in us, whatever the specific roles Jesus assigns to us. As the Psalmist writes, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10).
True joy in your work will flow from your joy in Jesus. If you want to maintain authentic, infectious, lasting joy in your job, grow in your love for Jesus. You do this primarily through His Word. Give yourself to serious personal study of Scripture. Commit to a church that takes preaching and teaching seriously. Grow in your knowledge of and love for the gospel, and you will undoubtedly grow in joy. And that joy will shine through regardless of your professional circumstances.
Ultimately the evidence that the gospel is at work in our lives is not so much in the things we do—but in the freedom we demonstrate. We should worth ethically, to be sure. We should honor our superiors, to be sure. We should take satisfaction in a job well done. Those things are to be expected. But they’re true of lots of people, not just Christians.
As a Christian, though, you’ve experienced something those other people haven’t. You’ve come to the end of yourself. You’ve realized that no matter how hard you try, your attempts achieving what really matters are an epic failure. Because in your very nature you are a sinner. And yet despite that hopelessness, you’ve experience God’s forgiveness. You don’t know why, you can barely grasp how—but because of Christ’s work on the cross you’ve been forgiven. And that fundamentally changes how you work.
It changes it because now you’re free. Free from a need to secure self-worth through performance. Free from fear that you will lose what is most precious if things don’t go well. Free from a mad dash to work, work, work without any rest as if the world depended on your effort. Free to take real joy in your work, as in it, you see opportunity to enjoy Christ.
Working for Jesus changes everything.
The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller
What’s Best Next by Matt Perman