Faith & Work: An Uneasy Alliance – Viewing Work through the Lens of the Great Commandment – 3 of 8
“There is what I do on Sunday, and then there is what I do during the week. There is my private faith life, and then there is my public work life, and they look very different.” But we are learning that God Himself a worker and that work is a spiritual activity; it isn’t meant to be walled off from our Christian faith. Your work is important to God, and as long as what you do for a living is “legitimate work,” done in a God honoring way, then God smiles upon it. It honors Him and brings Him glory. Our work is one of the ways that we worship God (Matthew 22:37-39). Through our work we have an opportunity to express love for God, love for our neighbor, and love for ourselves.
Through work we serve people. I have a friend who works for a corrugated packaging firm. Now you might think, “Making cardboard boxes can’t be something God wants done.” Well not so fast…cardboard boxes are a humble link in a complex chain that God uses to meet my needs and yours. Your pantry and refrigerator are filled with items that are now or once were shipped in a cardboard container. Through our work, we serve people. Think of all the workers who were involved in bringing you last night’s meal. Farmers grew the grain, the vegetables and the fruit. Ranchers raised the livestock and the poultry. And all of that food had to be prepared, cooked and packaged by someone working in plants and factories across the country. Then there are people who inspect those factories to make sure your food supply is safe. Food must be shipped, which involves the trucking and railroad industries. Someone built the roads and laid the rail those trucks and trains traveled upon. I haven’t even mentioned grocery stores. And of course behind all of this commerce is the banking industry.
Through these and other jobs, people are served and legitimate needs are met. In a similar way, God uses your work to meet people’s needs. Some occupations serve us in more abstract ways. Take the artist and the musician. Remember—God is himself an artist; just look around at His creation. He’s the source of artistic and musical talent. Have you ever been refreshed by a beautiful piece of art or music? That is clearly something that God wants done.
Through work we meet our own needs and those of our family. Now, it is not always noticed, but there is an element of self-interest in Jesus’ Great Commandment. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12 we are commanded to work in order to provide for our own needs. There is no place for laziness or irresponsibility in the Christian life. The Bible is clear: We are to work to provide for our own needs, when it is possible for us to do so. But our responsibility doesn’t stop there; we are to work in order to provide for the needs of our family (I Timothy 5:8).
That is strong language! Why would Paul say that someone who fails to provide for their family has denied their faith? Because our faith commands us to love our families by providing for their needs. Paul says that to fail in this regard is to be worse than an unbeliever. His point is that even unbelievers, who don’t share our Christian faith, know that they ought to provide for their families. Surely the Christian, who has the benefit of biblical teaching, has no excuse. There is no place for laziness or irresponsibility in the Christian life. If you can work, and can find a job, you should work. It is one of the ways that we demonstrate appropriate love for ourselves and for our families.
Through work we earn money to share with others. This isn’t something that many of us think about, but the overwhelming thrust of Scripture is that when God gives us more than we need it should spill over to help others (Psalm 37:25–26; Ephesians 4:28). God wants us to be generous, just as he is generous. In Acts 2 members of the church at Jerusalem began selling their property and possessions in order to meet the needs of the poor in their church. No one forced them to do that; out of love, they gave. God is a giver, and if we are going to be like Him we too must be givers. And that is one of the reasons God has given us work to do, so that we will have something to share with those around us who are in need. Of the four purposes for work, this is probably the most neglected.
Here’s the fourth and final purpose of work: through work we love God. The test of loving God is doing what God wants out of a sincere desire to please him (John 14:15). Right action and right motive. If your job is going to pass the test, it must be legal and moral and contribute to the first three purposes (through work we serve people, we meet our own needs and those of our family, and we earn money to give to others). Then, you need to determine your motives in working. Are your motives purely self-serving, or are you consciously seeking to please God and love and serve others through your work? Work can be an act of worship—if we consciously seek to please God through it. To do that, we need to practice the presence of God while we are at work. We should work as though God were our ever-present boss. Believe me, that will change how you go about your work. Before work each day, pray “The Workers Prayer” (see enclosed card). If you consciously go about your work each day with these things as your agenda, then you are truly loving and worshipping God through your work!
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Consider this week how your specific job contributes to Jesus’ Great Commandment as expressed through the four purposes for which God gave us work.
- How does viewing your job this way, change your attitude toward work?
- Begin each workday with the workers’ prayer (see enclosed card).
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)