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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  • Pete Smith

    I disagree with Dorothy Sayers. Her quote implies that Jesus never had to learn his trade. I believe just the opposite. His first attempts at carpentry or stonemasonry were not expert at all. Nor is imperfect work somehow a moral failure. Jesus lived in the fallen world as we do; he worked with defective tools and limited resources. Sayers confuses the divinity of the Son, the agent of creation, with his humanity in Nazareth. Jesus grew in wisdom. He also had to improve his human capital just as we do.

    • davegilbertson

      Not to mention the possibility that, like you mention, he didn’t build tables, but worked with stone. To make such a definitive statement seems like a weak leg as it were (pun intended).

    • Thanks for sharing Pete. I agree, Sayers’ quote could imply that Jesus was not fully human in the sense that he was born with perfectly refined skills in his trade. I like you, don’t believe that was the case. I wonder if we’ll get to see anything Jesus made in that shop in Heaven?…

  • Jeff Weaver

    Aaron, I appreciate your desire to assign significance and spur on faithfulness to our work, but am concerned about some the connections and assumptions you make and imply. I’d offer a couple thoughts to consider:

    – where is the mention of Jesus waiting to 30 in order to fulfill the age requirement of a priest, as outlined in Numbers 4?
    – where are the biblical references to Jesus earning credibility from his carpentry work, as compared to his miracles, baptism, commendation of the Father, defeat of Satan’s temptation, his birth city, his genealogy, and His resurrection?
    – what did Jesus expect His followers to remember about Him? What would be truly enduring from generation to generation until His return? A chair or His promises?
    – Why does Luke 3:23 describe that Jesus’ ministry began, at the time of his baptism, but not apply that term to his previous labors? And how does that direct the applications we make to ourselves?

    I surely do not hope to diminish the desire toward motivating faithfulness, servanthood, and the like, but want to challenge each other in what ways we use the scriptures and particularly the life of Christ to motivate people to that end. Take care!

    • Thanks for your response Jeff! You raise some good points and I’m glad you added them to the conversation. My intention was certainly not to elevate these years of Jesus’ ministry over the many works he did after He was baptized. But I don’t think that Jesus was just working to pass the time until he was 30. I think the Dallas Willard quote hits at the point I’m trying to make.

      “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.”

      • Pete Smith

        He was not merely passing the time as you state. He was fulfilling all righteousness. He was keeping the law on our behalf. He was fulfilling the calling Adam had abdicated in terms of work. At Jesus’ baptism the Father affirmed his pleasure in his Son. It is not a stretch to hear in the Father’s words a blessing on his past work – the work he’d been doing in Nazareth.

  • RCPreader

    An odd essay, given that we have no reason to believe that Jesus made any tables. He and his father were what is translated as “carpenters,” which usually meant people in the construction business, not cabinet-makers or furniture makers. While the sentiment is nice, it would be more effective if not based on highly dubious historical claims.

  • steve shanks

    Thank you for a beautiful article Austin. I am one of those people who feels like he is waiting for an upper-room assignment. I desire to build my ministry but I find myself in hallways with middle school students – as a MS principal – and in family activities with my wife and three kids. You have given me solace because you have helped me see that what I’m doing now can prepare me (if my attitude is right) for future opportunities to share my story. You have also helped me remember that God’s timing and will is best.

  • cken

    There is no evidence Jesus spent 18 years as a carpenter. If he did how did he manage to be crucified in Egypt?

  • Defog

    I have to wonder if Joseph and Jesus (and his younger brothers) provided their construction/carpentry services to vile Gentile sinners, or only to the well-heeled Jewish Pharisees of his day. If he wanted to use his occupation as a springboard for ministry I would have to guess than anyone could be his customer (regardless of Josephs personal beliefs). After all, if you want to reach the world, then why not provide them with over the top services and products – along with your testimony. It might just be the only time they will hear the Gospel that Jesus accepts all repenters, and they can be freed from Satans chains on their life. If you have been following the news, you know where I am going with this. Christian, reach out to your customers who are going to hell. That is your ministry.

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