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?