Theology 101

Five Foundational Ideas About Work Taught in the Bible

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Work in different forms is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible, more than all the terms used for worship, music, praise, and singing combined. I often wonder how I could have ever thought that my work was not important to God! Here is just one example:

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (Matt 7:26

For years, I thought this passage applied only to my “spiritual life.” I had completely segregated my spiritual life from my work life. In forty years at church, I had never heard what I now see so clearly in God’s word, that my work mattered to God. I had never heard anything like the quote boldly written on the cover of Doug Sherman’s book, Your Work Matters to God,

But unless you can connect what you do all day with what you think God wants you to be doing, you will never find ultimate meaning in either your work or your relationship with God.

That is exactly where I was. I had not connected the dots regarding work in the scripture and, as a result, saw no significant purpose for what I did most of the week. In a large portion of my life, I was like the foolish man building a house on the shifting sand.

To help all of us connect the dots, here are five foundational ideas about work taught in the Bible. Understanding these five ideas will help us build a solid, Biblical view of work, vocation, and calling.

The Four-Chapter Gospel

The first chapter of Genesis is more than the opening to the first book of the Bible. It is the opening chapter in the grand story of God’s redemptive plan for his creation. This comprehensive story has four parts:

  • Creation: The way things were.
  • Fall: The way things are.
  • Redemption: The way things could be.
  • Restoration: The way things will be.

This is the four-chapter gospel.

There is an important, practical reason to read the Bible as one narrative, as the four-chapter gospel: it enables us to understand our identity as God’s people as we see our role in his story.

From this perspective, we clearly see our call to participate in God’s redemptive mission. Our identity as God’s people comes from our missional role in the biblical story, which is in the here and now. We rediscover our true identity by recovering this storyline of Scripture.

The Cultural Mandate

On the sixth day of creation God comes to Adam and Eve and gives them their job description. Genesis 1:28 says,

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Writing about this passage in her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey explains:

The first phrase “be fruitful and multiply,” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less.

The cultural mandate was meant not only for Adam and Eve, but for Christians today, too. It still stands as God’s directive for the stewardship of his creation.

The Kingdom of God

With Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, the Kingdom of God has been established in this world, but it is not yet fully here. This is what theologians mean when they use the term “already not yet.”

Some say we are living in a time ‘between the times’ where the old age of sin and death and the new age of life and salvation are overlapping. The old age is defeated and will pass away, while the second has been inaugurated and will one day be fulfilled.

While the full realization of the Kingdom awaits Christ’s second advent, we should not minimize what is happening in this current age between the two advents, nor the role we are called to play in this season of “Already, not Yet.”

Today, we are witnessing the age to come breaking into this present age. Therefore, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, Christians live in tension: we struggle with the pain of this broken world, yet we rejoice with hope in the promise of God that through Christ all things are being made new.

Common Grace

Theologian John Murray defined common grace as,

Every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.

Common grace is common because it is universal; it is grace because it is undeserved and given by a gracious God. Common grace explains theologically and practically how we can work to fulfill the cultural mandate with those who are not followers of Christ, while not becoming “of the world.”

It enables Christians to serve the common good of their neighbors and transform the culture. It allows us to work alongside non-Christians for a common purpose.

In this regard, Abraham Kuyper writes,

God is glorified in the total development toward which human life and power over nature gradually march on under the guardianship of  ‘common grace.’

The Biblical Meaning of Success

If we will rediscover the biblical doctrine of work and correctly understand our vocational calling, we must recognize a more timeless, faithful definition of success.

The late John Wooden, the most successful college basketball coach in history and a committed Christian, was once asked how he would define success. He replied:

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

The New Testament defines success in a similar way in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30). Whatever they represent—natural abilities, spiritual gifts, or other resources—talents in this parable at least represent tools God gives us to carry out his mandate in the Garden to “take dominion” over the earth—to reweave shalom into creation—and to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples. In this context, we can assume two things from the parable:

  1. God always gives us enough in order to do what he has required.
  2. Whatever the Lord gives us now, he will ask us about later, expecting us to diligently work with these resources to further his kingdom.

Therefore, we base our definition of success on whether we have cultivated and invested our God-given talents and, by faith, taken advantage of divine opportunities to use them—whether we have been given one, two, or five talents.

Editor’s Note: The IFWE staff has published a GoFundME site on behalf of Hugh Whelchel’s battle with ALS. Please consider a generous donation to help support his treatments. The GoFundMe page is here.

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