Does our work matter to God? Does God even care about the work we do? The short answer is yes! Our work matters to God. The long answer requires us to correct some misconceptions about work, to learn how to think rightly about work, and then to put those ideas into practice. To begin with, we need a definition: work is paid employment, service rendered to others or any productive activity. Work includes our jobs or careers, our volunteer work, and our work in the home of child-raising, cleaning, repairing, and cooking. Everyone is designed to work, and all work matters. With that definition in place, we can begin to form a theology of work:
Misconceptions about work:
Many Christians think wrongly about work. First, many Christians have misconceptions about work's origins. They may believe work came into the world with sin, and that work is a curse, a product of the fall. Of course, Christians aren't the only ones who think work is just a 4-letter word -- 70% of all people either hate or are disengaged from their job! Next, many Christians have misconceptions about work's purpose. We may think work is just a means to an end, a necessary evil to pay our bills. We may also view work as a means to a good end like evangelism. Both misunderstand work's full purpose. Finally, many believers misunderstand work's value. Either our work defines us and becomes our measure of personal success (which can then become an) or we see our work as meaningless unless it is explicitly "spiritual" -- i.e. ministry, missions, etc. Either mindset can lead to a material-spiritual dichotomy in our lives, wherein we separate the "sacred" and the "secular" and fail to live integrated lives.
Truth about work:
Work is not a product of the fall. God values work because God created it. The first thing we know about God is that He works. The Bible uses the same word for "work" to describe God's creation of the world as it uses to describe the work mankind does when it commands mankind to rest on the Sabbath just as God rested from his work. Today, God is still at work in the world, and He has made us partners in work. In Gen. 2:15 God put Adam and Eve in charge of care, stewardship, and tending of His creation. In Ephesians 2, we read that we are God's handiwork, created to do good works that God prepared for us. When we work, we act in God's image. So why does it sometimes seem like work is part of the fall? Because difficulty and frustration in work are part of the fall. Work itself is part of God's original, very good design.
Next, our work has purpose and value. Every job is important. God has gifted us differently and placed us in different jobs and realms of influence, and each of us is important. Even Jesus was known in his hometown as "the carpenter," and everything He did honored God, including his carpentry. You don't have to be in "ministry" for your work to have spiritual importance. The temporal monetary value of work is important because it provides for us and our families and enables us to provide for those in need. The day-to-day tasks of our work are important because they are part of how we worship God. Even the smallest part of our work affects other people, as anyone working on a production line knows well. On top of all that, work is also an opportunity for evangelism and ministry.
Finally, work has temporary and eternal reward. Joy in a job well done comes from God Himself, who also takes joy in His work. When he was finished with each phase of creation, He looked back on His work and proclaimed it "good" and "very good." God designed us to take joy in the fruit of our labor. There is also eternal reward for our work. We are to do our work unto the Lord knowing He will evaluate it. Our small acts of faithful service using the gifts that God has given us will cause Him to one day say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
Practical advice for our work:
Now that we have a well-rounded theology of work, how can we put it in practice? We can start by valuing our work appropriately. Our faith and work is not separate, and we should strive to do our work as unto the Lord and imitate Him, the first worker, in our own work. We should also focus on how our work can serve others. Instead of focusing on our own personal fulfillment, we can remember the way even the tiniest part of our job affects other people. As we work in God's image, we can set a godly example for others and be an influencer in the workplace. We can focus on improving ourselves and the world around us, adding value to the world and repairing, redeeming, restoring, and renewing that which is broken in our work and in the world. Finally, we can enjoy the fruit of our labor. There's nothing wrong with delighting in a job well-done, as God himself did with His creative work.
Questions to Consider:
- Do I think of my work as a curse? How can I reclaim God's creative vision of work?
- Have I separated my work life from my faith life? How can I bring them back together?
- How does my work serve others? Consider even the small ways that your work affects other people.
- What does it mean to work unto the Lord? How can I do my work in such a way that it honors God?
Listen to the full sermon here.