Jerry works for a company that manufactures drill presses, the kind used in some of the more sophisticated machine shops. His supervisory position pays pretty well, but the money doesn’t make-up for the sense of pointlessness that eats at Jerry’s soul. “It’s the same thing day in, day out, year in, year out,” Jerry muses. ”Organizing a bunch of guys to make machines that punch holes in metal so that the holes can be filled with screws!” When he was younger, Jerry dreamed of making a splash in the world for God’s kingdom, but now the futility of the way he spends his time is grinding his life away. He struggles to get up each morning, prays for the clock to move toward 5:00 and longs for the weekend.
Jerry’s problem is that he thinks God doesn’t care about drill presses. That means the way Jerry spends 60% of his day is irrelevant. And that means Jerry feels insignificant and worthless.
Many Christians think God cares mainly about the work of “ministry” – preaching and teaching, evangelism and missions, and so forth. Jobs like making drill presses, they think, are second-class in the divine economy. They hold what we call the “Two-Story” view of work. They carve life into “secular” and “sacred,” assign most work to the “secular” category, and assume that God only cares about the “sacred” areas of life the “upper story.” In their view, work has no intrinsic value. Nothing about it recommends it as a worthwhile or noble human activity.
The futility of the way he spends his time is grinding his life away
But unless you can connect what you do all day with what you think God wants you to be doing, you’ll never find ultimate meaning in your work-or in your relationship with God, or in your life.
So, does it matter to God whether drill presses are made? If so, then Jerry should do it with his whole heart, knowing that he’s working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). If not, then he is wasting his life. He should quit his job and go into the ”ministry.” At the very least, he should put as little energy as possible into work itself to give him energy to evangelize his co-workers and participate in ministry outside work hours. Pursuing excellence in his job is a waste of effort.
God Highly Values Work
The Bible’s view of work stands in bold contrast to the “Two-Story” view. Work isn’t something outside God’s concern. Instead, it’s a major part of human life that God takes seriously. It has intrinsic value; it’s worth doing. Why? There are two reasons:
God is a worker
You may never have thought of God as a worker, but that’s how he first reveals himself in Scripture. In Genesis l, God says he created the heavens and the earth; Genesis 2:2 calls this activity “work.” It uses the same Hebrew word that refers to man’s work in the Ten Commandments. God didn’t stop working after Creation. He continues to work, upholding the creation (Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 1:3). He also meets his creatures’ many needs (Psalm 104). He’s working out his purposes in history (e.g., Deuteronomy 11:1-7). And, of course, he accomplished the great work of atonement at the cross. Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day. And I, too, am working” (John 5:17).
No wonder Psalm 111:1-3 says,
“Praise the LORD, I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly. Great are the works of the LORD, they are pondered by all who delight in them. Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever.”
God is a worker. This alone tells us that work must be significant, that it must have intrinsic value. God can do nothing that isn’t inherently good or he would violate his own nature and character. If God calls what he does work and calls it good, then work has value.
God created people to be his co-workers. Most of us know that man was created in God’s image. Since God is a worker, man-created in God’s image-must be a worker too. And that’s precisely what Genesis 1:25 says He is:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over the creatures that move along the ground.”
Mankind’s ruling over other creatures, subduing the creation and eating the produce of the earth all point to man as a worker. In fact, Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 says that the ability to find sustenance and satisfaction in one’s work is “the gift of God.”
But, here’s a twist: Man was created, not to work for himself, but to work as a co-worker with God. Before the Fall, God placed man in the garden ”to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:8, 15). God planted the garden; man cultivated it. The first partnership. What an incredible privilege! (I could put on my calling card, “God and Sherman. Partners.”) God doesn’t need me to help him run his creation, but as an act of grace he chooses to have me participate in his plans.
Man was created, not to work for himself, but to work as a co-worker with God.
This means that all legitimate work is an extension of God’s work. Legitimate work is work that somehow contributes to what God wants done in the world, not to what he doesn’t want done. (Biblical commands make it clear that prostitution, contract killing and burglary are illegitimate work. Christians might debate the legitimacy of manufacturing nuclear arms and selling Uzi machine guns to the public.) Of course, because of sin, none of our work completely fulfills God’s intentions. But this doesn’t take away from the inherent dignity that God assigns to wort.
God’s Work – Your Work
Still, it isn’t always clear how some work contributes to God’s work. How does a cashier, a data processor or an actuary contribute to God’s work? Or someone who sits in a cherry picker all day and repairs traffic signals? What about an international currency trader who sits in front of monitors, jumping in and out of markets, trying to score a few hundred extra dollars for the bank?
Does God care about jobs like these? How can they contribute significantly to his work in the world? To answer these questions, let’s look at five reasons for the work God gives us. These show that work has broad instrumental value in addition to its intrinsic value. Work is a means to several ends:
- Through work we love people by serving them.
- Through work we meet our own needs.
- Through work we meet our family’s needs.
- Through work we earn money to give to others.
- Through work we love God.
When someone asked Jesus which of God’s Old Testament commands was the greatest, he responded: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). In the broadest and simplest terms, this is what God wants done in the world. Love God. Love others. Love yourself.
Notice that when we fulfill the five purposes of work, we’re fulfilling the Great Commandments.
Take a look at this article about Christian Brothers Automotive on our VALOR magazine website to see a real world example of bringing glory to God in your work.
Through work we love people by serving them.
On any given morning, you might sit down to a breakfast of ruby-red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, boxes of cereal from Battle Creek, Michigan, and milk from a local dairy. Before eating, you may thank God for the food. Why? Because he has brought to your table something you need. But God hasn’t just dropped your breakfast out of the sky. He used an extensive system of workers to give you this food. He used farmers to plant and cultivate citrus trees and wheat, and to raise dairy cows. He used scientists to check the food for purity and bankers to arrange financing. Then, too, there are the dealers in farm equipment, and behind them, the builders of that equipment, steelworkers who make the steel for it, and miners who mine the ore for the steel. There are railroad workers who transport the ore, and oil workers who provide the diesel to run the train engine.
And Jerry’s drill presses? They may be the ones that punched the holes in the sheet metal for the milking machines, the farm equipment or the truck parts. Drill presses are an important link in a complex chain that God uses to meet your needs.
But are drill presses really important? Yes, because meeting people’s needs is significant. It’s God-like. It’s something he wants done. It’s loving those people. Consequently, Jerry contributes directly to God’s work in the world. Through his work, he serves the needs of people like you.
Meeting people’s needs is significant. It’s God-like.
Through work we meet our own needs and those of our families.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, Paul explicitly says that we should pursue gainful employment to provide for our own needs. So we’re commanded to work. (See also 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.) Furthermore, we are to work to provide for our families: ”If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). This is strong language! Failing to try to meet the basic needs of one’s family is denying the faith. Why? Because it directly opposes God’s command to love those who are our own. In fact, it’s to act worse than an unbeliever, because even pagans have the sense and decency to provide a livelihood for their families.
Providing for the family is one of the most important reasons why many people go to work. But because this motive is so common, many people fail to see it as a God-given reason for work. But that won’t do. If you work to meet your family’s legitimate needs, then you’re fulfilling something important that God wants done in the world.
Through work we earn money to give others.
Scripture adds this purely benevolent purpose to work. Even those who once lived by theft but who have come to Christ should work with the goal in mind of sharing with others (Ephesians 4:28). In fact, the overwhelming thrust of Scripture is that as God makes us prosper, our abundance should spill over to benefit others who are in need (II Corinthians 8:/3-15). David looked back on his life and said, ”I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed” (Psalm 37:25-26). In other words, the righteous person’s prosperity, given by God, overflows in generosity toward others. Scripture teaches that giving some portion of our income away is both a discipline and a privilege. I believe that every Christian, no matter what his income, should use part of it to meet the material needs of others. Of the five purposes of work, this is probably the one that gets neglected the most.
Through work we love God.
Does this sound odd to you? In fact, is the concept of loving God itself unclear to you? It is for many Christians. Work makes loving God practical. An investor I know explained to me one day why he invests in convenience stores and restaurants. “I love to take a raw piece of land and make it productive,” he told me. “The store or restaurant I put up sells food and other items people need. And it provides an income for the employees I hire. It also gives me a good return on my investment.”
Does God want people to have food and other items they need? Yes. Does he want people to have jobs? Yes. Does he want my investor friend to get a fair return on his investment? I think so (see Matthew 21:33-41 , 25:14-30). Consequently, we can say that my friend is loving God through his work because in his work he’s doing something God wants done.
That is, after all, what it means to love God: to do what God wants us to do and to do it out of a sincere desire to please him (John 15:9-15, Romans 13:10). In fact, that’s the only way we can love him. If we want to love God through our work, then we need to determine that what we’re doing in our jobs is something God wants done, and that we’re doing it because God wants it done. I also happen to know that his motives for investing are legitimate and godly.
Work makes loving God practical.
Think through your job on this basis. At first it may be hard to see how your work connects with anything that God wants done. But think broadly about people’s needs and the work God has given mankind. Of course, you may evaluate your work and decide that you’re involved in something God does not want done, that your job actually harms people rather than meeting their needs. If so, you need to consider whether God would have you change jobs or do something about the evil in your workplace.
You may also decide that although your work accomplishes something God wants done, the way you work and your motives have been far from God-honoring. If so, that calls for a change in your attitude, your character and your behavior. Since everything about you should be involved in loving God, it makes sense that your work should be involved, as well. Just think about how much of your heart, soul, mind and strength go into your work. Imagine, then, as you spend yourself at that task, being able to say, ”I’m here to do something God wants done, and I intend to do it because I love him.” If you can make this statement, you’ve turned your work into one of your primary means of obeying one of God’s greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40).
What Really Counts
Work matters to God. He takes it seriously. It has intrinsic value, like all good gifts to us from God. It has instrumental value as a means of loving and serving God, others and our families.
Looking at work this way can revolutionize your attitude and behavior on the job. Perhaps for the first time, you’ll see a connection between what you do all day and what God wants done. In other words, you’ll become co-workers with God in the everyday tasks of life. Even if your task is manufacturing drill presses.
“Whatever you do, ” Paul wrote, ”work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
When we work with this attitude, we fulfill the highest and noblest destiny to which anyone can aspire: We are partners with God in accomplishing his work in the world.
Originally appearing in Brigade Leader, Fall 1991