Work makes up a significant portion of our lives. One would hope God’s Word would help us think about and approach our work in healthy ways. It does.
Four God-Honoring Ways to Approach Work:
1. We were made to work
God made galaxies, animals, plants, and human beings. All of it is called his ‘work’ (Gen. 2:2-3). We were made in the image and likeness of a working God (Gen. 1:26-27). Therefore, we are made to be workers. Work is not a product of the fall. Work was part of the original paradise, the Garden of Eden.
2. We were made to do excellent work
There are two different Hebrew words for ‘work’ in the Hebrew language. One is used to describe raw and unskilled labor. The other describes refined and meticulous work and that’s the word that’s used here in Genesis 2:2-3. God’s work in creation is excellent, skilled, and meticulous work.
We are not only made in the image and likeness of a working God, we are made in the image and likeness of a God whose work is scintillating. We are not only made to work, we are made to do excellent work, stellar work.
So here’s my exhortation to you: whatever your responsibilities are during the week; maybe you’re a construction worker or an accountant or school teacher or a stay at home mom or dad, whatever it is: do your best to be the best at what you do. We were made not just to work, but to do excellent work.
3. Work is a way to love your neighbor
The two greatest commands are to love God and love neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40).
How many different ways can you think of to love your neighbor as yourself? If we started listing as many different practical ways of loving our neighbor the list would be long: shoveling somebody’s driveway for them; cooking or providing a meal; watching somebody’s kids; giving gifts.
How often do your see the work you do as a way to love your neighbor? Think about this: God cares for, feeds, clothes, and supports the human race through your work.
Take the work of a custodian. What would happen to our world if all the custodians suddenly disappeared? Assuming nobody took up their work for them, our planet would eventually succumb to sickness and disease from the putridness that would accumulate. What a custodian does is an act of love.
What kind of financial chaos would ensue if all the accountants in the world stopped doing their work?
What would happen if all the musicians and artists in the world suddenly stopped doing their work? We would be robbed of the experiencing the joy and beauty of music and art that serves to enrich our lives.
Work is a way to demonstrate the love you have for your neighbor.
4. Work is a way to worship God
“They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly” (Ex. 1:14).
This describes the backbreaking labor the Israelites had to perform while slaves in Egypt.
“Those presenting an offering of silver or bronze brought it as an offering to the Lord, and everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it” (Ex. 35:24).
This verse describes the work of the artisans who were meticulously constructing the Tabernacle.
The word in the Hebrew language used to talk about work is the same in both instances. Now, let me show you another place in the OT where this word is used:
“In keeping with the ordinance of his father David, he appointed the divisions of the priests for their duties, and the Levites to lead the praise and to assist the priests according to each day’s requirement”
(2 Chron. 8:14).
The word used to describe ‘work’ in the OT is used here to describe the ‘duties’ of the priests the bulk of which revolved around the sacrificial system. The duties of the priests were all about Israel’s worship. So the OT writers present to us a seamless understanding of worship and work. Whether it was the backbreaking labor of making bricks, or building the tabernacle, or overseeing worship, in God’s eyes there was great continuity in that work. God doesn’t see your job as just a job, he sees it as a venue for you to worship him.
Two Pitfalls to Avoid:
1. Approaching work as a necessary evil
Often people look at work this way. It’s a means to earn money to provide for their needs. Obviously, that’s not the Bible’s take on it. God doesn’t see work as a necessary evil. If you do see work in that light you’ll face a couple of temptations.
First, if work is just a means to make money, you’ll see lower paying jobs as an assault on your dignity. In our culture, the jobs and careers that are most dignified are those that make the most money. That’s not a biblical worldview. The Bible does not deem certain occupations as more important than others because of how much money those jobs pay. If we see work through God’s eyes we will see all work is good work.
The second temptation you’ll face if you think work is a necessary evil to make money is: you’ll be tempted to pursue careers that pay well, but aren’t a fit for your passions and gifts. If work is about the money you make or the prestige your job has in society, you may chase after jobs that pay well but aren’t a fit for you. In God’s eyes all work, except that which is immoral or harmful, is good work. Therefore, the work you pursue ought to be work that you are gifted for and passionate about.
There are some very easy signs to look for and there are some very subtle signs difficult to detect. The easy ones: you’re consistently working very long hours and as a result your relationships are deteriorating. Your relationship with Christ is languishing. Your relationship with your family is hanging by a thread. That’s an easy sign of workaholism. Another easy sign: mentally you’re at work while physically doing other things. Maybe at the dinner table or in conversation with family or friends or doing odds and ends around the house, but you’re thinking about your work.
Workaholism can be much subtler. Why do you work? What’s your motivation for working? Workaholism can be driven by our pursuit of the American dream of material comforts and financial security. Workaholism can also be born out of a desire to show everybody how successful we’ve been. These are more difficult to detect. They require taking a leering look into why you work.
The gospel really does speak to the workaholic. To the workaholic, when you look to the cross, you’re given a glimpse into Jesus’ opinion of you. He considers you valuable enough to willingly lay down his life for you to save you. How much must you be worth to him for him to do that for you? You might have a stellar track record in your work, but nobody is going to make as big a deal of you as Christ did when he went to the cross for you. If you learn to rest in his approval, you won’t feel like you have to work your head off to garner the approval of those around you. Additionally, what Christ has given you is worth far more than any career can pay because on your deathbed your career will be worth nothing. What Christ has done for you and how you’ve responded to him will count for everything.