Redefining Work: Work as a Divine Calling
Many of us have just come from a long day of work. Maybe you find yourself asking the question: Did what I did today matter? Was it important to anyone except my boss or myself?
From a Christian point of view, what we did today is extremely important, especially to God. The first thing that God talks about after creating human beings surprises us. We would think that He would address issues like love, kindness, forgiveness, or family life. He does not. What God initially talks about is work.
We will therefore begin to look at work from God’s vantage point. As we do we will discover that work is not to be compartmentalized but integrated into our very being.
1. When God goes to work, we see dramatic results
The place to begin our discussion of work is not with man, but with God. According to the Bible God was the first person to engage in work. We read in Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The Hebrew word for “created” is bara and is only used of God in the Old Testament. Only God can create out of nothing, ex nihilo. Sometimes we say, we’ve created this or that. Technically that’s not true. We devise new things, but always using existing material.
In Genesis 2:2 we see that God’s creative acts are labelled “work”. “But the seventh day God had finished the work (heb maloche) he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
When God goes to work, we see dramatic results. Let me mention three that are apparent in the text.
God’s work is beautiful
Of the creation of trees we read, “And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (2:9). Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is the express intention of the Creator.
Everything God creates is beautiful. When people post on Instagram or Facebook a picture of a sunrise or a sunset they never comment on it by saying “Enjoy this good sunset”. No. What do they write? “Enjoy this beautiful sunset!” Beautiful is the superlative of good.
When Adam first saw Eve, the woman that God had created for him, he cried out with an exclamation of awe at the beauty who stood before him. When God works, he produces beauty.
God’s work is useful
When God goes to work, His work is beautiful, and beyond that it is useful. Everything that God created served a useful purpose for humanity. The trees were not only a delight to the eye, they were also good for food. By giving us the lights in the heavens God gave us the gift of orientation. By separating the waters from the dry land he gave us a foundation upon which to live and to build. By giving us fish, animals, plants he gave us the means to sustain our lives with food. Everything that God created served a useful purpose in the life of humanity.
God’s work is life-giving
When God goes to work he produces beauty, useful things, and flourishing. “And God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (1:28). The blessing of God is His favor upon us that allows us to flourish.
The emotional indication that God’s work is life-giving is joy. “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126:3). Every time you sense joy welling up within you, you are being apprehended by God’s life-giving work. He is blessing you. And joy is the emotion of blessing.
When God goes to work we see dramatic results. We see beauty, usefulness, and flourishing in abundance.
After God worked, he rested. This is the Sabbath principle, anchored in the creation-motif, before the Fall. Rest is an integral part of work. God knew that to be productive and fulfilled in the work that we do, we must stop doing what we do on a weekly basis.
2. When God sends us out to work, work becomes a higher calling (Vocatio)
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2:15).
What is work on the human plane biblically speaking? It is three things: relating, cultivating, and treasuring.
First no work is given to us by God without there being a relationship between us and God. This places our jobs on a higher plane. God calls us to Himself and out of relating to Him we do good and productive things. We hear his call and work out of trusting obedience. Because we know that our productivity and success is not based solely upon our strengths, but on God’s grace.
What this does is to save us and the rest of the world from being dominated by narcissism. Work is not foremost oriented to my self-interest, but to God’s interest for the greater good. As I work for the greater good, I too will profit from it. All productive work generates results above that which I need or could use. The excess is what benefits others. God blesses the world through the work of the one God has called to work.
As Adam was called to cultivate the Garden of Eden, so we too, are called to improve the culture in which we live. The term culture comes from cultivate, meaning to develop and to improve what is there. When people under God go to work they raise society to a new level. People are more honest, loving, serving. Products are of higher quality. Advertisement will not proclaim more than the product can deliver.
Eighteenth Century England had slipped into moral and spiritual bankruptcy. The country was gripped by wide-spread alcoholism. Children as young as five years of age were drunkards. Towns and villages were so dangerous that even the police were afraid to enter them.
Then a young Anglican priest by the name of John Wesley began to preach in the open air. His messages were powerful and cut to the heart. Those that gave their lives to Christ were invited to attend class meetings in which they began to be accountable to one another. So pervasive was the Wesleyan Revival that for almost one hundred years almost all alcoholism went away, neighborhoods had no need of police. People were genuinely kind and helped on another. British society was radically changed by men and woman who were called by God to be change agents.
Relating, cultivating, and then there is treasuring. Adam was to “take care of the Garden”. Caring for things that we work on is a way of saying we value them. We will treasure our relationships with our work colleagues and will be on guard against slander and bad-mouthing. We will treasure the reputation of the company in which we are employed and will work to increase its honor. We will value the customers that have entrusted their resources into our care.
What would happen to a person who would ignore being called by God to work for the greater good? Well, one of two things will happen to that person. He or she will either become self-absorbed and use the company and the people in it to their own advantage, or they will experience work as drudgery – something to get through for real life to happen. When work is separated from God, work becomes our master.
3. The Gospel is God’s greatest work
Journey Church seeks to be a place where urban professionals gain an identity that goes beyond being successful. In Frankfurt most people in the financial industry derive their identity from the work they do. If they achieve success they determine that they are successful. But, as you know, success is fleeting. It comes and goes. If you build your self-esteem on the deals you have cemented, the raises you’ve earned, or the size of our bank account, you will lose.
You see, identity is not based upon what we can do for ourselves, but what God does for people who cannot save themselves.
The first human beings rejected living in union with God as their life-source. They instead turned away from Him and began to live life on their own. What they did was become lost. Lostness is relational separation brought on by rebellion against God.
Martin Luther coined the term “incurvatus in se” to describe what happens to a person who has turned away from God and only has himself. He turns inward and becomes bent over.
How did God respond to the lostness of Adam and Eve? He went to work.
The Bible tells us that He sent himself into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life and then gave his life as a substitution in payment for our rebellion.
The Gospel is God’s greatest work on our behalf. Why is that? Because for one, we cannot work your way back to God. We cannot undo what we have done.
Instead it is God who works to settle accounts between us and him as Jesus hung on the cross. The cross is a means of transaction. Our sin is transferred unto Christ, and God’s righteousness is imputed or transferred unto us. What we could not earn, becomes the gift that God offers us; a gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and a new identity.
No, the greatest work that God has accomplished, is not creation. It is the work of the gospel, giving the best he had in order to win us back to himself. The gospel is therefore the greatest work that God has accomplished. And he did it for you!
O Lord Jesus Christ. You call me unto yourself, to live forgiven, free, empowered to help others to flourish. My Life does not belong to my company, my boss, or even to myself. My life belongs to you.
Today, make me more and more into who you are. May those around me see you in me, in the way I do business, in the way I support others, and in the way I do what I said I would do.
You have freed me from needing to be successful and prominent. I am a child of God bought with a great price. As I live with you today, may I be a blessing to those around me. Amen.