Although the answer to the above question seems obvious, e.g., to earn a living, to experience the self-esteem that comes from success at work, etc., for us as Christians we must let the Scriptures define our perspective on work. Using both Why Go to Work by Vision Foundation and A Biblical View of Work by my associate Dr. Ken Boa at Reflections, I am teaching through this subject at our Friday Morning Men’s Fellowship meeting at Piccadilly Cafeteria in Tucker and will be speaking on it at a Souly Business men’s conference October 1-3. (See the website on www.soulybusiness.com to learn more about this new ministry the Lord is using to inspire and ignite businessmen for Christ). As we will see, the ultimate value for our efforts at our work is found mainly in our relationship with the Lord, with people, and our rewards in heaven. Thus all of our hours and efforts at work can have spiritual and eternal benefits and this gives us hope.
First of all we see that God Himself gives us a model for work and rest as He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. So there is rhythm of work and rest as modeled by God. So, contrary to how we may feel about our work at times, it is not a result of the fall. It was and is a part of God’s created order (before and after the fall) for humanity to –“work and take care of ” God’s creation (Genesis 2:5, 15). Nevertheless, the fall affected the character of work in such a way that it became associated more with toil than with joy (Genesis 3:17-19). Yet our work itself is still a blessing and a gift from God. The book of Ecclesiastes speaks of the mixed signals about work — being both a vanity (meaningless under the sun, i.e., with no eternal perspective) and yet something we can enjoy. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11, 18-23; 5:18) Keeping these mixed signals in a balanced and Biblical tension, let’s look at some Scriptural principles about work.
YOU DON’T GO TO WORK TO EARN A LIVING. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33) “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27) We do not work to provide for our needs. Our culture associates work with the quest for success, significance, provision, esteem, and purpose. By contrast, Scripture teaches us that it is God, not our work, to whom we should look for these things. As believers, we must come to see that God is our source of provision and that work is a means He uses to supply our needs. If we look to our customers and clients rather than the Lord as our source of provision, we will be far more inclined to manipulate and use them rather than minister to them. We should feel as uncomfortable saying we work to earn a living as in saying we work for our salvation. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) On the other hand, Scripture rebukes idleness and sloth and God commands us to work and to work –“heartily” and –“with all our might” (Colossians 3:23; Ecclesiastes 9:10). The sluggard is reproached in the Old and New Testaments (Proverbs 6:6-11; 13:4; 20:4; 24:30-34; Matthew 25:24-30; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; 1 Timothy 5:8, 13). So, work hard, but don’t overwork.
WORKING HARDER DOES NOT NECESSARILY LEAD TO GREATER PROSPERITY. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.'” Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” (Haggai 1:2-6) There is certainly a correlation between hours worked and income, but not a fixed causality. In many occupations (e.g., farming, real estate, technology), the ratio of productivity to time invested can vary dramatically. We may suppose that we can out-earn our needs by working harder, but income is only one of several components that can affect our standard of living. If we miss these truths, we will be inclined to sacrifice other priorities (our relationships with God and others) when business is less productive. Thus we need to plan our business activities based on God’s priorities for our lives and not according to income.
THERE IS NO INTRINSIC VALUE IN THE PRODUCT OF OUR WORK. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10) God has promised that the product of our work will ultimately perish. It is not the fruit of our labors but the focus of our heart that gives value to our work in the sight of God. Thus, –“secular” work becomes spiritual when it is done to please God, and –“religious” work becomes secular when it is done to impress people. God is not impressed by or dependent upon our abilities or accomplishments. But if we do our work for His sake, it pleases Him in the same way the drawings children make for their parents decorate the refrigerator. These drawings are not valued because they qualify to hang in an art gallery, but because of the parent’s relationship with the children who made them. So the process of working can have eternal value if it is done to please and glorify the Lord. “His (our) work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15) This is the Divine equalizer for it’s not how gifted we are that matters as much as what we do with the few or many gifts the Lord sovereignly gives us. The faithful grandmother who serves her family and friends and prays for God’s kingdom work can receive as many crowns as Billy Graham.
SIGNIFICANCE IS NOT FOUND IN THE KIND OF WORK WE DO. “This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24) The world defines greatness in terms of wealth, wisdom and power but God defines it in terms of knowing Him and becoming like Him. If we aren’t secure in our identity as God’s beloved sons or daughters, we will strive to earn our identity from what others think of us. Many people are having an identity crisis and mothers are leaving their babies to pursue significance in a career and men are becoming workaholics to climb up one more rung on the status ladder. I heard a sad story of a dentist who took his life because health problems caused him to have to give up his practice. Yet a friend of mine, who loved being an airline pilot and had to quit flying because of losing a lung to cancer, was so secure in his relationship with the Lord that he was able to maintain his true identity and joy in a new vocation.
YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE NOTHING TO THE WORK OF GOD BUT GOD ALLOWS YOU TO PARTICPATE IN IT. “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14) “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”(Ecclesiastes 3:14) “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8) If we think that we can add to the work of God, our work becomes so inflated in importance that it can overwhelm relational commitments. We take ourselves too seriously when we think God needs what we have to offer. When leaders attempt to build business or ministry empires, supposedly for the glory of God, and use people to serve their visions, they make the mistake of trying to measure their visible success and of basing their significance upon their accomplishments. God is never dependent upon our contributions, anxiously holding His breath waiting for us to accomplish our task. Like Esther, He gives us opportunities to serve His purposes and even rewards us when we do so, but if we say no, His eternal purposes will not be thwarted. We lose but not God.
There should be a rhythm between work and leisure in our lives so that we can enjoy periods of refreshment, renewal, restoration, and relationships. The absence of a New Testament commandment regarding Sabbath rest means that we are dependent upon God to be led by His Spirit in the matter of rest and leisure, (Colossians 2:17), not only regarding how we spend our time on Sunday, but how many hours we work, or how much vacation we take and when or if we should retire. Work and rest are equally legitimate in God’s economy, but most of us have a tendency to overvalue work. Leisure can be a mode of true worship (Leviticus 16:29-31) and God even commanded His people to spend money generously on themselves and –“eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 14:22-26). It can be an expression of contentment with the will of God in our lives. From a Biblical standpoint, rest is not so much the absence of activity as it is the presence of God and re-creation in being in His presence. (Exodus 33:14; Nehemiah 8:10-12; Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 6:31; Romans 15:32).
Our work embeds us in a natural environment in which we can exhibit eternal values and hope in a temporal arena. It provides a context in which we can represent Jesus Christ by building relationships; by demonstrating character, conviction, and integrity; and by doing our work with care and quality. Living a life that reflects Jesus’ character “so that in every way they (we) will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10) and speaking God’s Word and truth when the Holy Spirit prompts us, can make 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday count for eternity.
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen