What is work? In the last nine weeks, I (Douglas) have been attending a course every Friday morning at the International Christian College (ICC) called “Theology of Work” and much of what I want to say is inspired by the content of that course. If you would like to read more on the subject, I highly recommend a small book called “The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work” by Darrell Cosden.
How much time do we spend working compared to how much time we spend reading the bible and praying? Which is a more spiritual activity: prayer and bible reading or balancing an account sheet or building a road? We would assume that Christians will say: prayer and bible reading. That being the case - we can observe that Christians spend most of their lives doing “not so spiritual” things. It implies that Christians are wasting their time working.
You might want to respond to that by saying “our work is an important part of our Christian witness to our colleagues” or “we work so that we can give to the church” or maybe “our work is an act of obedience to God, through which we are sanctified”. These reasons are true, but they suggest that our work is a means to an end – we use it to do the real spiritual things like witnessing and giving (“the Lord’s work”). But if “the Lord’s work” is different to our day-to-day work then it is not surprising that many Christians revere those who are in full-time Christian work and have at some point in their lives harboured the desire to go into full-time ministry themselves. After all, the missionaries, evangelists and ministers are the 1st class Christians are they not!? They are the ones who have truly made it. If that’s true, then most Christians are only ever 2nd class!
That just isn’t true. Although our working lives do indeed provide a platform for evangelism, and giving to the church, and showing obedience to God’s calling, the danger of attaching our spiritual value to these “end results” is that our work in itself becomes unimportant. It’s merely the incidental thing that we do to get to the real work.
But God made us to work. That is how we are designed. Adam worked in the Garden, not as a platform for evangelism, or so that he could earn money to give to the church, or as a way to learn obedience to God. Adam worked because God gave him the freedom to work. God didn’t need to let Adam name all the animals, but he allowed Adam the joy of taking part in God’s work – the work of Creation. Likewise, although we live in a fallen world where mankind has to work with toil and sweat (Gen 3:17-19), we are “co-heirs” (Rom 8:17) with Christ and therefore we are “co-workers” in the new creation. Paul wrote “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17).
If we are part of the new creation, then the work that we do must also be in some way part of the new creation. Revelation 21 pictures the “new heaven and new earth” as a city with walls, gates and streets. They didn’t exist in the Garden of Eden! They were invented long after The Fall, but they exist in a redeemed form in the new creation. What else will exist in the new creation? If we know that what we do now will have a contribution to the new creation how will that change our attitude to our work?
Of course, only God can build his kingdom and bring about his new creation – whether in people, on earth now, or in the new heaven and the new earth. But as justified men and women through Christ, our work becomes an outworking and expression of who we are. We are restored to fulfil our original purpose – to be God’s growing and ever more skilful co-workers. Eric Liddell once said “when I run, I feel God’s pleasure”. That is because his “work” was a participation in God’s work, and (echoing the shorter catechism) he learned to glorify God and enjoy Him through his work.
So, do we take the same eternal perspective in our work, or do we see it only as a means to an end? Whatever we do, even if we are unemployed, we are participating in God’s creation, and as Christians we are God’s co-workers.
Today we live with the results, good and bad, of what previous generations did through their work. Every product of work, and every way of working, in some way preserves and develops what has come before. Human beings stand on one another’s shoulders all the way back to Adam. No doubt, some specific products of our work will be transformed through judgement and incorporated into the “new physics” of the new creation.
But all this talk of the heavenly value in our work must be looked at only from the vantage point of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the regular time and space in our week through which we can look at our working lives and “judge” (1 Cor 2:15) how we are doing as imitators of and co-workers with Christ. We are not justified through works but we are liberated into a freedom to work as Christ’s co-workers. This means that we don’t need to become workaholics as this society might encourage us to do, but we can enjoy the liberation of a Sabbath rest without any sense of guilt. When we are reflecting God appropriately, all of our work will be seasoned with Sabbath. Therefore, Christians don’t celebrate Sabbath as the last day of the week, but as the first day from which an increasingly Christ-shaped working week can flow. It is through our attitude to the Sabbath that we form our attitude to the rest of the week and the work that it entails.
So I want to say two things regarding the work of every member of this congregation:
- Our work is not a means to an end. It is part of God’s work within Creation and we look forward to seeing the fully justified and redeemed end results in the New Creation.
Therefore we are all “missionaries” in our own right, and we should pray for one another as such.
- Our “day of rest” is not simply a day to recover from a busy week. It is a day when we can look upon our work with a “God’s-eye” perspective that should shape the week to come. Therefore the starting point for any co-worker with Christ is the Sabbath.
As a redeemed and justified co-worker in Christ, may you feel God’s pleasure through your work and enjoy God’s work through your rest.
Young Adult and Student Worker