At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

These Five Points Will Broaden Your Definition of "Faith and Work"

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There is a significant need to recover a biblical theology of work in our time. In the past there has been a failure of the evangelical church to address a theology of work.

William Diehl says in his book Christianity and Real Life:

I am now a sales manager for a major steel company. In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any time of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others….There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face…I never have been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.

In response to this, I am often asked for a few topics that any short summary of the theology of work would include. These five points will broaden your definition of “faith and work.”

Work Is Not a Result of the Fall

We were all created to work. In Genesis 1:26-28 image bearers of God (male and female) are called to exercise dominion or rulership over the whole creation. Only God can create something out of nothing. We are to create something out of something. We are what Francis Schaeffer and J.R.R. Tolkien called sub-creators. We can take wood and make a table or a house. We can take metal and make a tool or musical instrument and so on.

Work Is More than a Place to Make Money to Give to the Church or a Place to Evangelize

It is certainly appropriate to give to the church, or when the appropriate situation presents itself to share the gospel, but these purposes are not the central reason to work. Work is valuable in itself.

The Ministerial Calling Is Not Higher than Other Professions Such as Business, Medicine, Law, or Carpentry

Jesus was a carpenter, or general contractor, for about eighteen years. It is estimated that he worked in this manner from age twelve or thirteen to “about thirty” according to  Luke 3:23.

God’s kingdom can be advanced from all valid professions. We are all “priests” called to offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim his excellency in a world of darkness (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10).

We Are Called to Glorify God in Our Work

1 Corinthians 10:31 indicates that we are to give glory to God in how we eat and drink and surely in how we work. Our work is to be done for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Work, whether in business, medicine, law, carpentry, construction, garbage collection, or the arts can all be done to the glory of God and for our Lord. If our work is done well he may say “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

Recovering a Theology of Work Can Encourage a Flourishing Society

Throughout the ages people have desired a path that leads to flourishing. When we work together with other people and serve customers, giving them good products and services, we increase the well-being of our society.

We are to use our talents for the good of the kingdom – God’s rule and reign on earth as well as in heaven (Matthew 25:14-30). The Bible encourages “shalom, or flourishing in every direction. The kind of peace desired is pictured in Micah 4:4:

And each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree with no one to make them afraid.

This kind of ownership and enjoyment of the fruits of our labors is encouraged by scripture. The resulting state of flourishing brings glory to God and produces joy, peace, and security.

Editor’s note: This post was adapted from its original form, an article that will appear in the upcoming, updated version of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

What else would you include in a definition of a biblical theology of work? 

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  • It seems to me that our view of work as something that is the result of the fall also ties in with our eschatology that heaven is a place where we sit around on clouds playing harps or gathered around the Throne of God praising forever and ever and ever and ever, amen. Frankly, that bores me just to think about doing nothing forever but singing. Much of the theology I grew up with was that heaven was the big vacation or retirement place where our labors and toils ceased.

    Ergo, for me to change the way I view my work required that I change the way I viewed heaven; I will be working there, too. If the King of all creation needed Adam and Eve to tend to the garden before the fall, then work is not a curse but a divine pleasure. To carry that logic further, then heaven- wherever that may be- will be a place of working with the King there, too. If that is the case, then all the work I do in this life is not a curse, but a school that is getting me ready to help the King in the new heaven and the new earth, too.

    That view totally changes the way I punch into work. If I’m going to partner with Him then, then I can partner with Him now.

    Furthermore, I’ve told my sons that one of the greatest feelings they’ll ever have is to lay their head on their pillow at night after they’ve worked their butt off all day. Nothing builds self-esteem like work.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Al Erisman

    I like the addition of the future of work cited below. Many great sources for this. I also like to think about the products of our work being important. Sometimes we focus on the relationships and the ethical actions. In the introductory comment to your excellent post, I would add that the steel plays an important part in a flourishing society, and that work is more than a platform for acting ethically and developing good relationships. The work also has a purpose.

    • Christian Overman

      I totally agree. Making steel is in itself a response to the First Commission that God gave to humans in Gen. 1:26-28, to govern over the material world. For Adam, tending the garden and naming the animals was something God gave him to do, and thus the work itself had great meaning and purpose. Same for today. Gardening is God’s work.So is making steel.

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