1. The glory of God
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. . . . You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). “…rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:7).
2. The good of others
But how do we do something to the glory of God? First by offering it to him — doing it for his sake and in his power. But, second, by seeking the good of others. The first commandment is to love God with our whole hearts (Matthew 22:37). But the second is like it: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving your neighbor is not some abstract thing you need to go to Africa to do; rather, we love our neighbors primarily in the context of our vocations — the things we do every day, like our work. Our work is an avenue of doing good for others.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:5-7). When Paul tells slaves to “obey” their masters, of course, this means doing what they are told and not being disagreeable. But it means more than that. It means employees are to seek the good of their employer. Don’t just do the minimum; take initiative and go the extra mile. Don’t be a clock-watcher; render service with a good will that seeks and desires the good of your employer — and your co-workers, any who work for you, your company or organization, and ultimately the good of your city and society in general (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
3. Enjoyment of the work itself
You don’t get more spiritual points for hating your job. And you don’t get docked spiritual points for loving your job. As Christians, we are to love our jobs. Not just the fact that our jobs are a service, but also the activities of our jobs themselves. “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 5:18). “I perceive that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
4. To earn money to support yourself, give, and enjoy
Earning money is a legitimate motivation for our work. It’s just not the first motivation. We earn money so that we can support ourselves without being in need: “…and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). And, if you notice the connections that exist within 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, you see that working such that you are not dependent on anyone is actually a form of love.
So we work in order to support ourselves. We also work in order to have something to give: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Don’t work to get merely; work to get in order to give.
And, with some of the money we earn, it is right and good not simply to support ourselves and give sacrificially for the good of others, but also to enjoy it and do interesting things. For God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17) and “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). The problem is in putting your hope in riches, being arrogant, and being stingy (1 Timothy 6:17-18), not in enjoying the fruits of your work.
Sometimes we are underpaid in our jobs here, and not all the good that we do is seen or rewarded or cared about on earth. But the Lord sees it all and will reward it all: “render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” (Ephesians 6:8).
Likewise, sometimes we are treated unjustly in our work and wrongs are committed against us. Further, sometimes those who have greater authority are shown partiality so that they get away with things they shouldn’t. So also here, we are able to continue on in the hope that God notices those wrongs as well, and will address every wrongdoing either on the cross and through repentance or in judgment: “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” (Colossians 3:25).
6. The gospel
We are able to do these things ultimately only because we have been made alive in Christ through faith in him. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1). As the flow of the chapter shows, seeking the things above does not mean retreating to the wilderness to grow wheat and wait until Jesus comes, but to live according to his ethic here and now, putting to death evil desires (vv. 5-9) and putting on love and kindness and humility towards others (vv. 10 – 16) and doing this in the here and now (v. 17), including our vocations (vv. 18 – 4:1), not by retreating into the wilderness.
7. Adorning the gospel
By living all of our vocations for the glory of God and good of others, doing them well and in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, we create a good testimony that supports and demonstrates the truth of the gospel and shines the light of Matthew 5:16 in such a way that some people will become Christians through our witness (that’s the meaning of Ephesians 5:7-17, one of the hardest to understand passages in the NT until you read Peter O’Brien’s commentary). “Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our savior” (Titus 2:9-10).
Your work is intrinsically valuable and justified in its own right, simply by virtue of the creation mandate (Genesis 1:28). You do not need to justify your work on the basis of its evangelistic usefulness. At the same time, work does serve as a testimony to the gospel and we should be mindful of that in our work (that’s part of what it means to “walk in wisdom” (Colossians 4:5; cf. Proverbs 11:30).
By doing good work and enjoying it, for the glory of God and good of others, you not only serve your workplace, but, through that, you serve and transform society as well. If dozens and hundreds and thousands and millions of Christians all did their work in this way right where they are at, society would be transformed by the gospel because it is in our vocations that we most effectively carry our faith into the world.