Most Americans spend 40-60 hours each week at work, which averages out to 90,000 hours spent at work in one’s lifetime.[i] Yet, many Americans are unhappy with their current job. Work is seen as something that is necessary in order to make a living and be able to do the things one loves to do in their free time. As Christians, however, it is essential to think biblically about our work and consider how the Lord may want to use our career for His glory. In this article we will discuss a biblical theology of work and implications of the gospel at work. Both are important for understanding the biblical view of work and God’s plan for His people at work.
A Brief Theology of Work
Work is God’s idea. He created work before the Fall and called Adam to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Work is the means by which the Lord uses human beings to be fruitful and subdue the earth. The Lord has gifted each person with specific talents and abilities when used rightly aides in human flourishing, which ultimately brings glory to God.
Work, when done unto the Lord helps provide a sense of purpose for each person. Yet, in the fallen condition of the world, this does not work perfectly. People do not naturally use their talents and abilities for the glory of God and the good of others. Instead, they are used for selfish and evil purposes.
When work is put as the ultimate sense of purpose, it becomes an idol that enslaves. In a fallen economy this plays out in many ways. The low-level effects of work idolatry are stress, depression, no sense of purpose, etc. It can even lead to atrocities such as income inequality, child labor, forced labor, and extreme poverty, among others. The remedy for this is found in the gospel.
Putting Jesus first and viewing work as a blessing from a good Father puts work in the rightful order of creation. A gospel understanding of work is not an instant fix on this earth. In this life there will be frustrations and difficulties due to work. What can change is our perspective. The gospel focused disciple knows that all things will ultimately be made right until Jesus reigns in the new heavens and the new earth.
The Gospel at Work
In a fallen world, work is difficult. It will not bring satisfaction and an ultimate sense of purpose, for only Jesus can. For this reason, it is vital for each follower of Christ to cling to the gospel at work. The workplace is a realm in which the believer has a platform to glorify God and serve the common good.
In the letter to the church in Colossae, the Apostle Paul exhorts, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as unto the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV). In this brief exhortation Paul gives a theology of the gospel at work. Every person who is able to work fulfills a role in the economy and the workforce, but are ultimately working for the Lord. This is a healthy view of work and will allow not only the individual but those around them to flourish.
When the temptations to put work first and seek it as ultimate come, a rehearsing of the gospel will help set things in proper order again. Having a gospel view of work will foster a godly work ethic and can guard again two opposite temptations in regards to work: being a workaholic and being a sloth.
A gospel view of work will not only foster a good work ethic but will see rest/leisure as essential and necessary. One of the symptoms of the idolization of work is the tendency to be a workaholic.
When work becomes ultimate, it will begin to consume. This is when a person will start working more than 40-50 hours a week and taking work home because the work never seems to end. Yet, the gospel reminds us that we grow weary and tired. God is the one who does the work, and we are his means by which the work gets done. The Lord modeled this in Eden when he took a day of rest after the completion of creation. Jesus also modeled this when went off to quiet places to pray and be rejuvenated. Intentionally stepping away from work and resting, shows great faith in the Lord to keep working even past human limits.
The opposite temptation to being a workaholic is to be a sloth. This is when a person sees the daunting task of work and decides to allow someone else to work. The Scriptures warn against this in both Testaments. Proverbs warns that “slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15). The Apostle Paul writes, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Yet Paul’s strongest warning against the sin of sloth is in his letter to Timothy, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). The gospel reminds us that work is God’s idea, and he has created us to work, if we are able, for his glory and the common good. Therefore if an able-bodied believer does not have the desire to work, they must examine their heart for the sin of sloth.
Work and Gospel Proclamation
Living the gospel at work not only provides an opportunity for the believer to glorify God, but also work for the common good. An essential aspect of working of the common good is to work with a missionary mindset.
In a fallen world, work has a dual function. The economy of the workplace and industry is a way the Lord allows, not only his common grace, but also his saving grace to propagate. In order for the message of the gospel to spread to all peoples, the Lord uses not only professional missionaries, but business professionals who live with a missionary mindset.
Most believers are not professional clergy, but go to work every day in order to provide for their families. These workplaces are filled with people who do know the gospel of Jesus Christ. Going to work with a missionary mindset, is an excellent way to spread the gospel to people who will never come to a church building. This will look different in every workplace. Some workplace environments avail themselves to open gospel conversations than others. There will always be opportunity to build relationships with coworkers, clients, and customers for the sake of the gospel. This will take being intentional and recognizing opportunities as the Lord opens them.
From a global perspective there is potential for gospel proclamation in non-traditional ways. Many countries are closed to the gospel and do not allow official missionaries and faith-based organizations to operate. This does not mean that believers do not try and get the gospel to those countries, but must be creative in so doing. For years many “missionaries” have been teachers, doctors, contractors, etc. However, in an expanding global economy, there are opportunities for business entrepreneurs to spread their business in regions such as Asia and the Middle East. As Christians they take their business expertise to these regions, they are also taking the gospel.
Let us end where we began: work is God’s idea. He created it in the pre-fall creation as a way for humanity to have dominion and flourish. In a post-fall world, work has the potential to become an idol or drive a person to the idol of sloth.
The gospel reminds the believer that work is a gift from the Lord, and a healthy balance of work and rest are necessary. Work also is how the Lord allows not only his common grace, but also his saving grace to propagate.
Believers who can work are called to work with a missionary mindset. We are called to have a good work ethic and seek the good of our workplace but also use the workplace as a way to bring the gospel to bear in the lives of those in whom we have contact. As Christianity braces for cultural decline in the West, there will be plenty of opportunity for gospel proclamation as believers live out a gospel theology of work in the workplace.