Monday, March 10, 2008

Thank God for Work

Justin Taylor has a great series on work @ From Leland Ryken's bookRedeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure, he identifies six dimensions of work. (I’ll number them in case you, like me, find that easier!) “Work (1) provides for life’s needs and wants and is (2) a means of economic production. It carries with it (3) a constant possibility of being a curse or drudgery, but positively it has the potential to supply a sense of (4) human achievement, (5) psychological satisfaction, and (6) service to humanity.”

He then presents:
A Biblical Survey of Work
When thinking about our own work, it’s helpful to take a fly-by look at redemptive history. There is so much more that could be said, but this will at least give us a glimpse at a few important points:

1. God himself is a worker. Gen. 2:2 says that “on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

2. Man was created in the image of God the Worker and was created to work. A lot of people think work was only the result of the Fall, not something from the beginning. But that’s not true: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (For an advanced defense of this translation see this paper by Gordon Hugenberger.) This divinely commanded and divinely blessed role of working was tied in to God’s image-bearers filling the earth, subduing it, and having dominion over it (Gen. 1:28).

3. Man brought about a curse upon the blessed task of work. See God’s pronouncement in Gen. 3:17–19. It’s interesting to note the role of food in the fall. God set forth a banquet of fruit for Adam and Eve to eat—every food was permissible (with just one exception). But by eating of the forbidden tree, the ground became cursed. The act of eating—so easy and so pleasurable—would now come about “in pain” and “by sweat.” Ruling over the creation would now be met with resistance (“thorns and thistles”). We should think of the effects of the fall when we think about the struggles we experience at work—it started in the Garden.

4. Jesus had a vocation prior to his public ministry. It’s amazing to think that Jesus spent most of his life working a common trade. If he began a carpentry apprenticeship under Joseph at age 12 then he probably spent at least 20 years (!) as a carpenter before he was baptized by John and began publicly declaring his messianic message. Think of it—six days a week, year after year after year, getting cuts and blisters on his hands, wiping away the sweat mixed with sawdust from his brow, carefully measuring and cutting and filling orders, etc.

5. Christian freeloaders are worse than unbelievers and should starve instead of receiving handouts. Now some of you may think that’s unkind to say—not to mention unbiblical! But I’m just paraphrasing the apostle Paul, who wrote, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess. 3:6–12). Working is that important!

The Church’s View of Work
Quoting Alister McGrath, in his Reformation Thought: An Introduction, he concludes:

“For Eusebius of Caesarea, the perfect Christian life was one devoted to serving God, untainted by physical labor. Those who chose to work for a living were second-rate Christians. To live and work in the world was to forfeit a first-rate Christian calling, with all that this implied. The early monastic tradition appears to have inherited this attitude, with the result that work often came to be seen as a debasing, demeaning activity, best left to one’s social—and spiritual—inferiors. . . . A spiritual aristocracy appears to have developed within early Christianity, with . . . negative and dismissive attitudes toward manual labor. . . .”

Justin Taylor in the second article list:

How to Work to the Glory of God
John Piper, in an excellent chapter of Don’t Waste Your Life on glorifying Christ in work, writes about the essence of God-glorifying human work: “it is done (1) in conscious reliance on God’s power, and (2) in conscious quest of God’s pattern of excellence, and (3) in deliberate aim to reflect God’s glory” (p. 141, my italics and numbering).

Let’s look at these one at a time:

Relying on God’s Power
All forms of serving should be done “by the strength that God supplies” (1 Pet. 4:11). Paul himself was a very hard worker—in fact, he candidly said that he worked harder than any of the other apostles. But he added: “though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

Seeking God’s Pattern of Excellence
God’s Word tell us that he is “wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isa. 28:29) and that we are to be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1) and are to “approve what is excellent” (Phil. 1:10). Christians in the workplace should not be known as “the super nice-guy who is average or below average in his field but who avoids cheating and backstabbing and dispenses good advice around the water cooler and occasionally leaves a gospel track in the bathroom for someone to find.” Rather, Christians should seek to imitate God’s pattern of excellence, working hard to excel in their field.

Aiming to Reflect God’s Glory
We all know 1 Cor. 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I think one of the reasons Paul listed eating and drinking is because they are things we do day in, day out, a number of times each day. The sort of things we hardly think about and just do automatically. If even drinking a can of Coke (or, my preference these days, Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi) should be to the glory of God—how much more so are vocations where we spend 40-50 hours per week?

How to Determine Your Calling
• Am I fully persuaded that it is right? (Rom. 14:5, 14, 23)
• Can I do it as unto the Lord? (Rom. 14:6-8)
• Can I do it without being a stumbling block to my brother or sister in Christ? (Rom 14:13, 15, 20-21, 22)
• Does it bring peace? (Rom 14:17-19)
• Does it edify my brother or sister? (Rom. 14:19)

(These questions are suggested by the Feinbergs in their excellent book, Ethics for a Brave New World, pp. 44-45.)

Integrating Faith and Work
What we need to be doing in order to integrate the faith and work:
• First, [Christians need] theological education about how to ‘think Christianly’ about all of life, public and private, and about how to work with Christian distinctiveness. They need to know what cultural practices are ‘common grace’ and can be embraced, what practices are antithetical to the gospel and must be rejected, and what practices can be adapted/revised for use by believers.
• Second, they need to be practically mentored, placed, and positioned in their vocations in the most advantageous way. They need cooperation with others in the field who can encourage, advise, and advocate for them. They need help to do their work with excellence and in a way that really helps others and strengthens social cohesiveness rather than weakening it.
• Third, they need spiritual support for the ups and downs of their work and accountability for living and working with Christian integrity.

One final clarification: your “vocation” (or calling) is not necessarily for life. As we get older we sometimes add and sometimes change vocations. (For example, one of your vocations now might be a daughter—and then you will add the vocations of being a wife and then a mother someday.) The most important thing to remember is that no matter your age, and no matter your vocation, the biblical command remains the same:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23–24)

Further Reading
_Leland Ryken, Redeeming the Time
_Gene Veith, God at Work
_John Piper, “Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5,” in
Don’t Waste Your Life
_J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life’s Decisions

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