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Good Work

08.16.17 | Culture, Purpose, Work | by Matt Shantz

    A Gallup poll recently taken in Canada revealed that only 16% of Canadians are engaged in their work. Gallup defines engaged workers as those who “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company and work. While 70% are not engaged and 14% are “actively disengaged”, which is defined as employees that are so unhappy at work that they “undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish”. Those simply “disengaged” are said to be “sleepwalking through their workday, putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.

    A Hays Canada Survey also done recently reports that 47% of Canadians are not happy with their jobs.

    What a picture of the Canadian work force! Half of Canadians are unhappy in their jobs and 84% are disengaged in their work.

    So here’s a question… How should Christians approach work? Christians are meant to be distinct, right? A counter-culture? Salt and light? What does that look like when it comes to our labour? What we’re after is a theology of Work.

    Here are 8 characteristics of the Christian perspective on work: 

    1. WE WERE CREATED FOR WORK

    Many of us are familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to the question, “What is the chief end of man?” Which is, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And that’s a great answer. A glorious answer. But there is an earlier, more “down to earth” answer given in Genesis 1 and 2.

    “Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness. And let them have dominion.” (1:26)
    “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (2:15)

    Before the fall (Genesis 3), there is work. Meaning, from God’s perspective, we should not work to live but rather live to work. Our lives are meant to contribute to meaningful work. To do what our Creator did after He made the world. He stood back and admired it, saying, “that’s good. Really good.” You ever do that? 

    Work was part of paradise. Work is good. We were made for it.

    2. WE ARE TASKED WITH CULTURE-MAKING

    “…God said…fill the earth and subdue it…” (1:28)

    Theologians call this verse, “The Cultural Mandate”. God is mandating that humans create culture. At first glance that seems like an over-reach. But it really isn’t. For humans to fill the earth is to create civilizations. 

    It wasn't like Adam and Eve were just to have a few children, live under a tree with big branches in the garden forever and do some light gardening. They were called to fill the earth and subdue it. To build cities and utilize the earth’s resources to create, ultimately, culture.

    The cultural mandate found in the opening verses of the Bible is one of the ways I want you to see that your work is meaningful to God and others. “I’m not doing the Lord’s work if I’m not a pastor or a missionary” is false! Where would humanity be without education, construction, business, medicine, raising children, farming, and government? Where would culture be without Apple Computers, Dyson vacuum cleaners, and really good coffee? I rest my case.

    Your work contributes to culture making and that honours God’s vision for your most basic human purpose.

    3. WE ARE TASKED WITH RULING AND REIGNING

    “…fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over [it]…” (1:28)

    The Bible makes a claim that Disney movies don’t. That all human beings — not just the special few and those of royal blood lines — are made in the image of God. We’re all kings and queens and the world is our kingdom. 

    The Hebrew word rule is radah and translates rule, reign, or have dominion. History shows us that there have been good rulers and bad rulers. Those who have contributed to human flourishing and those who haven’t. Those who are responsible for incredible acts of humanitarian good and those who are responsible for horrific atrocities. 

    We can contribute to human flourishing or to oppression and injustice. The natural question is, “How will you rule?”

    We should see ruling as stewardship of what God has entrusted to us. Work that contributes to the good of humanity and the earth. Tending soil and seed that produces food; rearranging sounds to make music; fabrics into fashions; raw materials turned into houses and hybrids; blobs of paint colours into stunning works of art; untrained students into capable graduates. 

    I’ve heard the question we can ask ourselves about ruling and reigning put this way: “Does what I’m doing make the world a more garden-like place?” Great question.

    4. OUR WORK HERE AND NOW IS TRAINING FOR FUTURE REIGNING

    Simply put, our work in this world has an impact on the world to come. The New Heaven and New Earth (the age to come) will be a garden city (Revelation 22:1-4). God’s purpose for humanity started in a garden but was never meant to be limited there or stay that way. That’s why the age to come is a garden city. 

    N.T. Wright put it this way: “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbour as yourself—will last into God’s future… They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

    Curse-free, exhilarating, satisfying work and responsibility await us. We need to recognize that the work we do here and now is important in the grand scheme of things.

    In Luke 19 Jesus tells a parable of a nobleman and three servants. He leaves them each a mina (a large sum of money). And upon His return he evaluates what they’ve done with them. Of course, the nobleman is Jesus, the servants are His disciples, and the minas are everything He's entrusted to them. Interestingly, upon His return, the nobleman says to the faithful servants who worked diligently in His absence, “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten/five cities.” Now, it’s a parable remember. So it doesn't necessarily mean that our faithfulness in our work now will translate into responsibility over cities in the life to come.

    But maybe it does.

    5. ALL WORK MATTERS TO GOD

    In Colossians 3, Paul instructs bondservants to work heartily for God, not men. Think of the kind of work these first century slaves would have done. Menial tasks. Working in the fields, cleaning floors and dishes, without control over what they did and didn’t do every day. And Paul is telling them to work hard at the tasks because they matter (even when we think they matter very little).

    I mean, can you imagine if the janitor who cleans a public restroom didn't do their job? That would NOT lead to human flourishing!

    God isn’t swayed and moved and taken by what we typically deem as important work. Jesus came as a servant. Even (perhaps especially) the work of servants matters to God. You and what you do matter to God. 

    You and what you do matter to God. 

    6. JESUS IS YOUR BOSS

    “…work heartily, as for the Lord… You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24)

    When it comes to the work of your head and your hands, work for your true boss: Jesus! Dave/Joe/Gladys isn’t ultimately your boss. Jesus is. Since that’s true, does it change anything about how you approach your work? Your work ethic? Your commitment level? Your attitude?

    If Jesus is your boss (which He is) than even mundane work or work that you’re really discontent with can be turned to worship. What if every approached the work of our hands and heads as a heart-offering of worship to our Saviour? 

    7. JESUS WILL REWARD YOU

    “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for me, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

    Remember, this particular text is written to bondservants. Slaves. And slaves didn’t receive an inheritance. But in Jesus, even the slave is an heir. An heir of the Kingdom of God. A son or daughter of the King of kings. 

    You’re working for Jesus and He will reward you for all work done unto His glory. If it's ethicial, if it leads to human flourishing, if it's an offering of worship, you will be rewarded for it. 

    Your work unto the Lord now is headed for an inheritance. And that inheritance, that reward, is ultimately Jesus Himself. 

    8. WE ARE TO GLORIFY GOD IN OUR WORK

    “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

    What could be more routine than eating and drinking? And even these can be done unto the glory of God. Glory literally means weight or heavy. It refers to significance and importance.

    So how do we glorify God with our work? By what we do and how we do it. We glorify God by being really good at what we do. And by serving with Christlikeness. 

    We reshape the raw materials of the world in such a way that God’s glory and presence are made visible. We work hard, honestly, sacrificially (and so on) in such a way that the gospel is made visible and God is glorified. 

    There is no work that has glorified God the Father more than the finished work of God the Son. It is this work of Jesus that we are invited to rely on. And it is in light of this work that Christians are able to have the most stunning and compelling vision for work on the planet.