“Work”- When you hear the word what comes to mind? Is it the daily grind of producing purposeless papers or mixing concrete for long hours? Attending lectures with eyes half-shut or cleaning up some spill on the hall floor at the end of a long hospital shift? Whatever work means for you, it may have a negative connotation just like the 77% of other North Americans who would agree with you.
Work is a primarily a word with a negative connotation in our culture today. How often does Monday seem like the first of five obstacles before we reach the weekend? How about Wednesday being referred to as ‘hump-day’? How often do we hear “TGIF” on Friday afternoon while our co-worker drags their feet until 4:59?
Work needs to be redefined as a positive practise by young Christians today to impact our personal mindset and our cultures mindset.
Work Has Been Around For a While
Before we give a definition of work and explain how it is positive, it is helpful to go on a little magic school bus trip back in history to see how we got to our cultures view of work today. It will be fun, I promise.
The Beginning of Time – In the beginning God created. God’s very first attribute He shows us is His nature to work and to create. Therefore, since we are made in His image we also have a deep desire to create and work that has been placed in us. In Genesis 1:28, God’s first command to man is to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”. This means that we were created to work and instructed to work as the first command that we were given as humans. This stewardship role is a call for man to work with and for God knowing what we possess has only been gifted to us for a time. The implication is that the value and significance of our work comes not from the end results, but is measured based on the relation of how well we steward and relate to God’s work.
What is also interesting is that we were called to work even before the Fall. We do not work because of sin entering the world. Yes, we do work harder and with more frustration, but we have been mandated to work even before sin entered into the picture.
The Old Testament – God commanded that men should work and placed a high value on working with even menial tasks. This was shown mostly with the laws and commandments towards the nation of Israel.
The New Testament – Work (manual labour) was seen as a curse by the intellectuals of Greek culture and that the spiritual (faith) was of higher importance. In Jewish culture, work was still valued and this can be seen that Jewish teachers still held a trade to support themselves. This is similar to the tent-making Paul, who supported himself financially while travelling and preaching.
Early Church Fathers – By the time of Augustine, the “active life” of manual labour and the “contemplative life” of academics were seen on different levels, with the first taking a lower position than the latter. Picking up on this a century later, the Roman Catholic Church distinguished the illiterate laity from the learned clergy into distinct social realms. The reading of a book was held in higher esteem than the hoeing of a field. Faith and work had become more separated than ever.
1500’s – When the Reformation came work and faith were put back hand in hand. The first demand of a carpenter’s religion was now that he should make excellent tables. The new perspective showed that he could serve God, not only Sunday, but in whatever task he put his hammer to. Work and faith had a direct relationship and was not to be separated. Luther said, “We can only truly serve God in the midst of every day circumstances and all attempts to elevate the “contemplative life” are false.” The bearded lawyer John Calvin said, “We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive towards Him as our only lawful goal.” Work was now doing anything for God, to do it well, and do it motivated by our Christian faith to serve others in our daily tasks.
William Perkins and the Puritans expanded this newfound “Protestant Work Ethic” by declaring: “The true end of our lives is to do service to God in serving men.” Work held purposeful significance in how it was done and for whom it was done.
Industrial Revolution – With the rise of capitalism and Marxism, work became the goal itself. Instead of using work to glorify God, it became a means to glorify man, or the greater benefit of the country. Personal fulfillment came in the labour man could accomplish and the mark each person could leave on history. These ideas still firmly grip the corporations and western countries of today. Hence the term “workaholic” now had it’s meaning and keeps a foothold in many busy lives today.
Present Day – Like we discussed in the introduction, today, works main purpose is so we can enjoy ourselves outside of work. We work to live and not live to work. We find ourselves separating the workweek from the religious obligations on Sunday. Many Christians today want to have a deeper and more integrated approach to serving God in their work. They do not want to separate their work life from their church life and they want faith and work to serve similar purposes without being compartmentalised. So how should we work?
How Should We Work Today?
Based on God’s plan for work in the beginning, John Stott defined work as, “the expenditure of energy (manual or mental) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community and glory to God.” When our work can glorify God, serve the common good, and is a way we can express our human creativity this brings fulfillment for ourselves and God’s mandate for us. The significance of our work to God comes from the person’s motivation in working and not as much in the results of their work.
First, we need to discover that our primary calling is to follow Jesus out of darkness into light. We need to become servants of the King to allow our work to be significant to the kingdom. This means our faith and our work are entwined together and they co-exist at the same time. Our work finds fulfillment and purpose in our faith, and our faith can be expressed in our daily task.
Secondly, we are called to be of service to God in our various occupations of life. This means different skills we have can be matched with different occupations. Our occupation/career may change with time and life events, but they pivot on the hinges of our calling to be servants of God. Frederick Buechner in regards to our call said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet.”
Thirdly, we can fulfill our callings and find joy in our work by doing it faithfully and diligently. In the parable of the talents, those servants who were faithful over their talents, received this declaration, “Well done good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your lord.” Diligence in our studies and our work, often can lead to immediate rewards in our lives, but should be done ultimately for our Father’s blessing.
Fourthly, by doing our work with Christian excellence we can show our culture what it means to find a sense of pride and purpose in our work. Excellence means giving 100% and caring about the seemingly pointless aspects of our job. Excellence demands that we be true to the best God has place within us. Colossians 3:23 reminds us, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not too men.” How can we do it heartily and with excellence if we only give 80% and when we know God is watching?
Fifthly, by doing our work with creativity and for God, we can have joy! Yes, joy at work. It may sound contradictory at first, but when we are motivated rightly we receive joy because our happiness lies in our identity with Christ and not our accomplishments. We don’t need to become “workaholics” to feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing that what we can accomplish has been done for a greater purpose.
Finally, when we work with diligence, excellence and joy we show our culture a new way of doing work. Being a salt and light in this world means that our actions leave a new taste and new light on the way to work. Monday does not have to be resented. And Friday evening is not the goal of the workweek. We can have a new positive fulfillment that is infused by our faith and lived out in our daily task if we follow the biblical model of work.
We have the positive opportunity to enjoy ourselves while we are at work and we can live to work for our God with diligence, excellence and joy if we follow the biblical model of work that was intended from the beginning. We can learn to honestly say, “Thank God it is Monday!” as we enter the classroom or office to start the week.