At Work & Theology 101

Is There Dignity In Your Work?

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“Ruth: the Gleaner,” as it hangs in IFWE’s office.

On the wall at our office at IFWE is a beautiful picture of Ruth, as illustrated in the new Saint John’s illuminated Bible. In this print, Ruth seems to celebrate as she lives out the dignity of her calling to work.

Her arms are filled with sheaves of grain that she gathered when gleaning in Boaz’s fields. Her head is held high and there is movement in her dress, as if she is dancing. She’s like the woman in Proverbs 31 who is “clothed with strength and dignity,” whose glory comes from God and her faith in him as displayed through her hard work.

I’ve been reflecting on this biblical theme of dignity, both the dignity of human beings made in the image of God and the dignity we experience in having meaningful work.

One key point woven throughout scripture is that we are all called by God to work (see Matthew 25:14-30). This is what gives our work significance and in turn gives us a sense of dignity and satisfaction. And this is why the poor are robbed of their dignity when they become dependent on handouts rather than given an opportunity and the incentive to work.

Just as critical a takeaway on the theme of dignity and work is this: Not all Christians who are working feel a sense of dignity in their work because they think it’s meaningless, outside of earning money to support their family and church.

This is particularly true for those called to the business arena. That’s exactly how IFWE executive director Hugh Whelchel felt, as he explains in his book How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work:

I secretly envied pastors, missionaries, and others who got to work ‘full-time’ for God. I saw little if no connection between what I did as a businessman and God’s Kingdom.

From my vantage point here at IFWE, I’ve had the opportunity to see and hear the responses of people who are learning for the first time what the Bible actually teaches about work.

People who felt weary and heavy-laden by guilt or a sense of meaninglessness in their vocation are freed up by the truth that ALL work matters to God.

  • One young woman thought that in order to serve God well she must go work in Africa, even though she wasn’t necessarily passionate or gifted for that work. When she learned that all work matters to God, she rejoiced, realizing she could still support the poor in Africa but instead seek work that was a better fit for how God designed her.
  • One college student was motivated to enter the field of politics but thought that it would be more valuable to God to become a pastor. A half-completed application to seminary had been sitting on his desk for weeks. When he learned that all work matters to God, he was ecstatic and eagerly completed internship applications to work for various public policy organizations.

When people learn their work truly has worth in God’s eyes, they are freed to work with all their might for him and the good of others. They actually become better workers, recognizing that God has called them to responsibly steward all of their lives for his glory and the benefit of their neighbor.

Have you ever seen those performances in church where a group of people come up on the stage, each with a poster in their hands which tells a personal story of transformation?

For example, one will say, “Once was an addict, now sober in Christ for 3 years.” Another reads, “Believed my value was in my looks. Now resting in the beauty of how Jesus sees me.”

Envision what the signs would look like for people transformed by the biblical meaning of work:

  • “Felt my job as a CEO was insignificant. Now creating wealth for the glory of Christ.”
  • “I used to apologize for just being a mom. Now boasting about the significance of my work.”
  • “Once enslaved by comparing myself to others. Now free by God’s definition of success.”
  • “Felt weird to have such an odd job. Now on fire to live out my unique calling.”

Imagine the impact this newfound significance and freedom could have on our cities, our nation, and our world!

Just like Ruth, may you be “clothed with strength and dignity” as you head into work today, knowing that what you do matters to God.

Do you feel that your work has significance? What about our work is dignifying? 

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