At Work & Theology 101

Ever Wonder Why Jesus Spent so Much Time Making Tables?

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Ever wonder why Jesus spent so much time making tables? Why did he spend the vast majority of his life on earth working with his hands in a carpentry shop?

Surely he, of all people, had a divine mission so urgent and important that it exempted him from years of hard work at a lowly job that lacked any religious merit.

As Tom Nelson puts it in his book, Work Matters:

Here was the Son of God sent to earth on a redemptive mission of seeking and saving the lost, of proclaiming the gospel, yet he spent the vast majority of his time in an obscure carpentry shop.

This doesn’t seem to be a very smart use of Jesus’s extraordinary gifts or his messianic mission.

Today, we might say that Jesus just missed God’s will for his life…

…Or maybe not. Maybe we’re the ones who have poorly defined sacred and secular.

We can already learn a lesson from this: If we feel like our spiritual gifts are not being well used in our work for a season, that’s okay – welcome to the life of Jesus.

Also when we (as we so often do) feel like God has given us a huge mission to accomplish, yet what we do every day isn’t outwardly related to that mission, that’s okay, too. We must look for ways that our work develops our character, our skills, and our faith while we wait.

The biggest paradigm-shifting idea that comes out of Jesus’ work as a carpenter is this:

If Jesus were to come today as he did then, He could carry out His mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles.

In other words, if Jesus were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family surroundings and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was His by nature and becomes available to us through Him.

– Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Jesus’ contentment to work day after day constructing things in his shop was truly stunning. Jesus’s hands not only created the world but also the wood in his carpentry shop. The master craftsman of the universe spent much of his life on earth crafting wood with his hands.

Tom Nelson again says it best:

The One who masterfully crafted humans from dust was making chairs for people to sit on.

I would be willing to bet these chairs were crafted with the finest wood available and carefully fit together with extraordinary attention to detail.

No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth.

– Dorothy Sayers, Why Work

It was Jesus’s years of obscure work in a carpentry shop that laid the foundation for his earthly ministry. It was the excellent craftsmanship of his tables that gave credibility to his life-giving words.

We are rightly in awe of Jesus, who shockingly ignores cultural convention by picking up a basin and towel and washing His disciples’ dirty, stinky feet. Yet we tend to forget that Jesus had been modeling a basin-and-towel kind of servanthood in a carpentry shop for years. Jesus’ humble service in the workplace was the training ground for that glorious display of servanthood in the upper room in Jerusalem.

– Tom Nelson, Work Matters

If I ever get an “upper room moment” in my life, I want to have decades of practice serving others in vocational faithfulness.

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