How do people approach work? How should Christians approach work?
As far as I can tell, there are basically three approaches to work.
1. RECEIVE WORK AS A GOD
Those who receive work as a god might think something like, “My security, worth, and identity come from my work: how well I do, how much money I make, and/or how I advance in the company or profession. How others perceive my work matters immensely. Therefore work is everything. I work as hard as I can for as long as I can in order to get as much security, worth, and identity as I can. I rest so that I don’t burn out, so I can work more.”
No matter your vocation (teacher, doctor, construction worker, artist, stay-at-home-mom, etc.) you’re going to be tempted to receive your work as a god. One scary thing about receiving your work as a god is the reality that everything you’ve worked for your entire life can be taken away from you in a moment-either by force or failure.
After the scandal at Penn State, Joe Paterno, a world-famous coach, was asked what the biggest heartache was for him through it all. He responded, “My name. I have spent my whole life trying to make that name mean something. And now it’s gone.” His worth and identity were gone. Just like that.
Another scary thing (perhaps the scariest!) about receiving your work as a god is the reality that what you are longing for cannot be accomplished through your work no matter how good your work is. This is what Jesus gets at in Matthew 16 when he says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” The answer is nothing. Jesus is helping us see that nothing in this life can bear the full weight of our soul. Nothing in this life deals with our true problem of sin and separation from God. Work is a terrible god that cannot deliver what we truly need.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
2. REJECT WORK AS A GOD
Those who reject work as a god likely think something like, “My security, worth, and identity don’t come from my work: how well I do, how much money I make, and/or how I advance in the company or profession. How others perceive my work does not ultimately matter. Therefore work is necessary. I work so I can provide for myself and my family, so I can have money to do things I like to do, and I can give some money away in order to help people. I rest so that I can have a break from work. I rest so I don’t have to work.”
I’ve got a buddy who has a really good job. He gets paid a very good salary and has the opportunity to help people in need daily through his work. He once told me, “I hate work. I just work and try to do well so I can take care of my family and go play. That’s the only reason I’m here.”
The sad thing about my friend, and about many people, is that we have a distorted view of work. We simply see it as necessary to get money or take care of certain responsibilities. But seeing work as only necessary is not how Jesus designed us. He designed us to work. In Ephesians 2, Paul says we are saved not by our good works but for good works. We’re saved by grace alone and then changed and empowered to do good works God has prepared for us to walk in. Many of the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in” are likely works we do in our jobs every day.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
3. REDEEM WORK AS A GIFT
Those who redeem work as a gift think something like, “My security, worth, and identity come from Jesus alone. Work is not a god, but Jesus has wired me for work. Therefore work is a gift. I work so I can be a blessing to my family, my church, and at the same time, I work in order to partner with God in cultivating his creation and loving my neighbor. I rest to remember that Jesus has already finished the work beneath my work. I rest to remember my identity comes from Jesus, not the things I do for Jesus.”
Yes, Christians should reject work as a god. However, we’re not meant to stop there. We should redeem work as a gift realizing Jesus has wired us for work. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).
When we embrace that we’re wired for work, we’ll start to have a new vision for our work. As Tim Keller says, “The material creation was made by God to be developed, cultivated, and cared for in an endless number of ways through human labor. But even the simplest of these ways is important. Without them all, human life cannot flourish.” It doesn’t matter how simple you think your work is. In fact, most of Jesus’ good works were as a carpenter, not a prophet.
It doesn’t matter how simple you think your work is. In fact, most of Jesus’ good works were as a carpenter, not a prophet.
Are you RECEIVING work as a god?
“Work is everything.”
Are you REJECTING work as a god?
“Work is necessary.”
Are you REDEEMING work as a gift?
“Work is a gift.”
Written by Brett Baggett
Edited by Jenny Yarbrough