A BRIEF THEOLOGY OF WORK

By Vern Mathews
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you have come into contact with someone who constantly grumbles about their job. Perhaps you happen to be that person who is prone to complain about frustrations at work. In our culture we understand the necessity of work, but in many cases, it seems we may have lost our understanding of the inherent goodness of work. Our conversations regarding work include phrases such as, “I hate Mondays,” “I’m working for the weekend,” or “TGIF.”

On the other end of the spectrum, many embrace their vocation so fully that it becomes their identity. Recently I’ve enjoyed watching the documentary, The Last Dance, which chronicles the career of former NBA superstar Michael Jordan. While it has been inspiring to have a close look into Jordan’s work ethic, I’ve also found myself cringing at moments after seeing some of the effects of Jordan’s unique style. The focus and determination that Jordan applied to his basketball career, making him such a great player, also caused him at times to treat his teammates poorly. On top of that, Jordan elevated basketball to such a pedestal, that he has since struggled greatly to find the same sense of inner peace and satisfaction that he enjoyed during his illustrious career.
 
What Does the Bible Say?
As followers of Jesus who want to embrace a biblical theology of vocation, we must reject both of these notions. God does not intend work to be a necessary evil that stands in the way of our happiness. At the same time, God does not desire that his image bearers would find their ultimate source of fulfillment in their careers. How then are we to worship the Lord in our work?
 
While there are numerous references to work and its importance throughout Scripture, the early chapters of Genesis provide us with a sturdy foundation for a biblical understanding of vocation. Genesis 2:15 reveals the first employer/employee relationship, in which God enlisted Adam to work the garden of Eden.
 
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15
 
Notice that work was instituted by God before humanity’s fall into sin in Genesis 3. Work was part of God’s good plan for humankind before the damaging effects of sin entered into the world and workplace. Our God is a working God. He created the heavens and earth and everything in them. So as human beings created in His image, it is no surprise that we too are meant to work. The problem of course comes in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve disbelieved in God’s goodness and plan for them, exchanging their union with God for the cheap pleasure of eating from a forbidden tree. This act of disobedience against God caused the entry of sin into the world and with it, work was fractured as well. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, we read in Genesis 3:17-19, how the curse of sin affected their work.
 
Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.
Genesis 3:17-19
 
The reality of living in a broken world is that our work will be...well, work. We may not all be landscapers and gardeners like Adam and Eve were, but anyone who has tried to grow a garden knows the challenges that come with trying to produce fruits and vegetables. In office jobs, the effects of sin are also on full display. Printers jam, computers crash, client demands change, interpersonal conflict causes stress, and the list goes on and on.
 
Final Considerations
 
While many are employed in traditional jobs in which they earn an income, it is worth noting that all image bearers of God are called to work, whether or not they receive a wage in exchange for their labor. For stay-at-home moms, full-time students, retirees, or others who are not employed in a traditional sense, work is no less important or valuable. Regardless of how exciting or mundane one’s work may be, the value of the work is not tied to income. The value of our work is that it reflects and gives glory to God. Whether we are running a board meeting or changing yet another dirty diaper, we have the great joy and privilege to honor God with our work.
 
In light of the current global pandemic caused by Covid-19, many of us have had to re-evaluate our job situations. Some of us have lost jobs, while others have been forced to work more than ever in difficult environments. As we’re each forced to reflect upon our vocation during this season, may we do so with an increasing awareness of and thankfulness for the work God has called us to.
 
Resources
The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Trager and Greg Gilbert
Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller
Posted in
Tagged with ,

Related Posts

No Comments