God at work

I listened to a sermon on God at Work today. It got me thinking about God and work. If I want to behave Christianly at work, I need to know what God thinks about the work I do.

Is work to be suffered and endured? Is work is a curse from God?

Is work the outcome of the Genesis mandate to subdue the earth (Gen 1:26-28)?

Or is work outpouring of human activity on the journey towards God’s final kingdom?

In Scripture, God’s work is seen in creation, providence and redemption. God’s gracious invitation to us is to receive the benefits of his work. He invites us to a partnership in which we undertake responsible stewardship for this world working for his kingly rule to be more fully established in this beautiful but broken world.

The work of levites, priests, prophets, apostles, elders, agriculturalists, shepherds, masons, merchants, educators, physicians is rooted in a call to live in covenant faithfulness with the God who has redeemed them and to live as light, salt and leaven in the world.

Whilst some work is religious, such as Numbers 8:11: “Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering… so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord”, mostly work is “ordinary” as in Job 1:10, where we read Satan’s accusation regarding Job: “You have blessed the work of his hands so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.” Scripture does this without suggesting that the one is better than the other.

The New Testament reinforces the balance. Paul is a man called by God to preach Christ among the Gentiles (Gal 1:15) yet he tells masters and slaves in the house churches of early Christianity: “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not men” (Col 3:11). He tells the Thessalonian Christians, “to work with your own hands … so that your daily life may win respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (I Thes 4:12).

Work is only one rhythm of life and is to complemented by rest/worship/contemplation. Moreover, our work, is to participate in the work of God. In other words we are called to do God’s good in our work. Thus the promises in Deuteronomy 28:12: “I will bless all the work of your hands” is linked to the challenge “if you fully obey the Lord your God” (28:1). That in turn is linked to the practices of justice referred to in Deuteronomy 15:12-18 in the freeing of slaves. Indeed, Paul’s emphasis on the Christian relationship of both slave and master later blew apart the institution of slavery.

Eusebius, formulated a very unhelpful dualism about work. There are two ways of life, he said:

The one is above common human living. It admits not marriage, prosperity nor wealth. It is wholly separate from the customary life of man. It devotes itself to the service of God alone in heavenly love.

The other life, more humble and more human to many, have children, undertake office, command soldiers, fighting in the good cause, attend to farming, trade and other secondary interests.

This dualism often remain in our 21st century view of work. Our focus is on church life and pastoral ministry and rarely affirms the significance of ordinary work. But there are alternatives.

Luther taught that God continues his creative activity in the world through human hands. Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling. In our daily work no matter how important or mundane we serve God by serving the neighbour.

Calvin affirmed that when we work we express God’s image within us. No matter how ordinary or basic your task is in the world, if you “obey your calling in it” then it will “shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight”.

The Christian task in daily work is not simply to express God’s image, serve our neighbour, and maintain the good order of society, but also involves reforming the fallen structures of society. The work is not simply about looking for opportunities to share personal faith or ethics, but to labour towards all of life experiencing God’s shalom. And the primary agents in bringing about this social transformation are not the clergy, but Christian laymen and women.

Therefore Christians as kingdom citizens are called to find their place in the world and live holy and righteous lives as salt and light. And while this includes their calling to be neighbours and citizens and to be involved in various forms of church work, it primarily involves their role in regular employment.

Contemporary pietistic evangelicalism can fail to give “the work of the kingdom back to the laity”. This means that the call to serve God in the workplace is not simply to earn a living to support one’s family, not simply to be witnesses for Christ, but also to shape the world for good through the integrity of daily labour.

If as Christians we are to participate in the creation mandate of labour, marriage, and government, we need to remember that these structures are part of a fallen world. Not only is there the reality of personal evil but there is structural evil as well. Therefore our involvement in the structures and institutions of our society should be a critical, not naive, one.

In The Presence of the Kingdom, Ellul reminds us that Christians have an important role to play in the preservation of the world and its reconstruction but this cannot be done on the world’s terms but only in the terms of the Kingdom. Ellul goes on to say that Christians take the place where two powerful currents meet: the will of God and the will of the World. And it is there that Christians will have to be both discerning and faithful in seeking to do God’s good in our world.

The workplace is where so many spend most of their waking time. It can be a place where something of the values of God’s kingdom can shine through.

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