Don’t Waste Your Work
Over the last few weeks, we have been seeking to answer the question, “What is the Church?”. We have looked at who we are as Christ’s body and why it matters, and how these things inform our understanding of community. However, in thinking about the church there can become a great chasm in our minds between our faith life and our work life, between the religious and the secular. Therefore, we must consider how our faith interacts with our work, given that most of us spend more of our waking hours at our secular jobs than in any other pastime.
Many of us live with the belief that if any real kingdom work is going to be done, it is going to be done by pastors and missionaries, or those who serve in some church ministry. And the role of work is simply to fund the “real spiritual work” of the church. Yet, Scripture declares that work is not simply an end in itself but is part of God’s greater redemptive story in which all of us live, serving King Jesus as His ambassadors to progress His kingdom forward.
Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, in a public address delivered on Oct 20, 1880, said that life was divided into “spheres”, such as science, business, government, family etc, and each with its own head. And yet, he explains, Christ is ultimately sovereign over every sphere of life. In his most famous quote from his address, Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human life of which Christ, Who is Sovereign of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”. Kuyper is right. There is no work done that is not firstly a work done for Christ. In our individualistic culture, work has become a means to an end. The culture has moved self-worth from God to work. Therefore, the first thing we must recognise is that without understanding and trusting in Christ’s ultimate reign and redemptive purposes through our work, it will destroy us instead of being a tool through which we can glorify Christ. Also, trusting in our Holy Lord’s rule over our work will give moral guardrails to protect us from the incessant pressure to compromise.
Secondly, far from being a begrudging curse resulting from the fall, work preceded the fall and is therefore a gift from God. We are told that man was put “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Right in the midst of paradise we are presented with God’s good intention for how things are to be. Even though the fall has made work extra difficult, work is a gift of God. Through our work God provides for us and for our families, contributes to the common good, and also gives us a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. In right measure, work is a gift to be received with joy.
Thirdly, Martin Luther had a strong belief in the dignity and value of all secular work. He saw work as the providential instrument through which God cared for His world. He insisted that the farmer shoveling manure and the maid milking her cow please God as much as the minister preaching or praying. He said, “God is milking cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.” Luther put the stress in the right area. Work is not ultimately about self-orientated benefits such as material provision, divine rewards, the way it cures pride. But rather, it is about the place to serve God and neighbour. Trusting in this allows us to embrace the most menial and mundane tasks, knowing that there is inherent worth in them.
Lastly, the Apostle Peter declared that we are now “a royal priesthood … a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9). Work is the sphere, perhaps more than any other, where we can best serve as priests and proclaim the excellencies of Christ. How do we be priests in our workplaces? We can do our work in such a way that shows Christ is better than work, better than my time, better than a promotion, better than internal gossip, better than cutting corners, better than money and a thousand other things. When our worth is found in Christ, He is shown as exceedingly excellent.
Most of us are not called into formal ministry, but all of us are called to be ministers of Christ in every sphere of life. And for most, that will be in the sphere of our vocations. How might having a more Biblical perspective of work help you better embrace your work? How might the right perspective better shift your focus from what you do, to how you do it? How might you better glorify God as you put your faith into action? Our Lord has given us infinite resources drawn from the well of God’s grace that we can pour into our work and work relationships. The one who drinks from that well will never lack and will always have an overflowing abundance to share. May the Lord use you this week to proclaim His excellence in and through your work.