TGIF. Everybody’s working for the weekend. If you really loved what you do, it won’t feel like work.
Ever hear these words or utter them yourself? Is there anything wrong with them?
A very common cultural view of work is that our work is really a means to end. The modern view is that you work to make enough money so you don’t have to work. It echoes a common religious view of work, which says that you work to make enough money so you can give it to the church. For the Christian, in theological terms, this begins the concept of work not where the Bible begins it. As we looked at last month in this series, the Bible presents us with a four-chapter gospel narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation. If the Bible gave us work at the Fall, then yes… work is a means to end, a necessary evil. But God gives human beings work at Creation. This means our work has a deeper significance. As Dorothy Sayers wrote, “Work should be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that people, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.”
If we take into account the doctrine of Creation, what are the implications for our work?
The Holiness of Work
Some speak of a sacred/secular divide. The idea is that what the clergy does on a Sunday morning or what the missionary does overseas is “kingdom ministry” and what the woodworker does on Monday morning is secular work. The Bible, however, is ripe with resources to remind the woodworker that what she does throughout the week, by making a great table and selling it a fair price, is a perfect fit for God’s definition of “holy work.”
The resource she would have to draw on for this is seen in the Hebrew word avodah. This one, singular, Hebrew word has been used by the people of God since the very beginning to describe work (Genesis 2:15), worship (Exodus 8:1) and service (Joshua 24:15).
What we divide, God created to be seamlessly integrated. Your work is your ministry. It’s also a primary way you worship God. Craftsmanship is to be done in service to others. It’s all one. Avodah. This is how God made the world!
I can’t tell you how many times as a pastor I’ve heard people say, “I’m thinking of leaving my job and going into the ministry.” What if we envisioned a South Florida together where the people of God saw their everyday jobs as ministry? And what if the pastors of South Florida saw their ministry as equipping people to view and utilize their everyday jobs as just that…ministry?
The Benefit of Work
Not only is work holy, but it’s also one of the main ways God intends for communities to flourish. Part of the job of every worker is to uncover the ways in which their work connects to the common good.
The resource we have for this is the biblical metaphor for work as gardening in the Bible (found in Genesis 2). Think of what the gardener does. The gardener takes the soil, the seed, the water and reorganizes it for the flourishing of others. In the book, Every Good Endeavor, author Tim Keller gives a helpful definition of work based on this biblical metaphor. He says, “Work is taking the raw material of creation and developing it for the sake of others.” Musicians for instance, he says, take the raw material of sounds and notes and rearranges them in such a way that it brings the meaning of art into our lives. The lawyer then takes the raw material of research, facts, and eyewitness testimonies and rearranges them in such a way that it provides justice for the client. You can’t just have the facts or the testimonies…they have to be gardened!
Lester Dekoster in his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, invites us to imagine that everyone quits working… right now! He then asks us to consider what happens next, and then gives us a picture:
“What happens? Civilized life quickly melts away. Food vanishes from the shelves, gas dries up at the pumps, streets are no longer patrolled, and fires burn themselves out. Communication and transportation services end, utilities go dead. Those who survive at all are soon huddled around campfires, sleeping in caves, clothed in raw animal hides. The difference between [a wilderness] and culture is simply, work.”
Next month we’ll talk about the next chapter in the biblical narrative, The Fall, and work through how sin, misplaced identity and the reality of a broken world all factor into how a Christian should be thinking about the work they do. In the meantime, may each of us find great comfort in the work God has called us to do, knowing our work is both a holy calling and one of the main ways God uses us to benefit the world around us.
Brad Schmidt is the Lead Pastor of CityChurch Fort Lauderdale and a City Network Leader for Made to Flourish – a collection of pastors committed to integrating faith, work and economic wisdom within their congregations.