At Work

Labor Day Sermon by Hugh Whelchel: ‘Why Do We Work?’

IFWE's Executive Director Preaches on Our Call to 'Reweave Shalom'
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Editor’s note: On Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, IFWE Executive Director Hugh Whelchel, author of How Then Should We Work?, preached a Labor Day weekend sermon on how your work helps to “Reweave Shalom” in bringing flourishing to the world around you for God’s glory and to further his kingdom. His sermon was delivered at McLean Presbyterian Church in McLean, VA where Whelchel serves as an elder. His sermon can be watched in the video above starting at 31:15 minutes into the video and is approximately 28 minutes long. You can also listen to the audio of the sermon here, or below is an excerpt. 

Do you want to lead a personally fulfilling and spiritually significant life?

To be able to do so, we need to know why we were created. We need to understand what our work is to accomplish and how through that work we can better steward all that God has given us.

In order to accomplish this, we must understand the Creator’s original objective in creation, which was to bring glory to himself. We see this idea throughout the Bible. For example, Revelation 4:11 reads, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” One of the ways we do this is by understanding how to correctly enjoy the very goodness of God’s creation, because by doing so we bring him glory.

In the opening chapter of Genesis, we find the first hint of God’s original intent for his creation. God’s purpose for creation was to be glorified. Just as a great painting reflects the glory of the master artist, God created everything for his glory, including man, the crown jewel of creation.

C.S. Lewis writes in his “Reflections on the Psalms” that “The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.”

To be effective stewards of all that God has given us, we must achieve the owner’s original objective—to bring glory to himself. One of the ways we do this is by understanding how to enjoy the very goodness of God and his creation.

In Genesis 1:31 we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” As God looks out upon his finished creation, he sees all the good things he has created working together in an extraordinary way. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. In accord with God’s design, every part of creation is distinct, interconnected, and interdependent. Everything works exactly as he has intended.

In the Old Testament, this idea is called shalom. As Cornelius Plantinga Jr. writes in his book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, shalom is the “webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” Shalom means “universal flourishing, wholeness and delight—a rich state of affairs” in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed.

Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be—the full flourishing of human life in all aspects, as God intended it to be.

Shalom (including its Greek counterpart, “eirene,” found in the New Testament) appears over 550 times in the Bible. In most of our English Bibles, we translate shalom as peace, but it means much more than an absence of conflict. The concept of shalom in the widest sense of the word is one of the most significant themes in the Old Testament.

Biblical scholars tell us that shalom signifies a number of things, including:

  • Salvation.
  • Wholeness.
  • Integrity.
  • Soundness.
  • Community.
  • Connectedness (to others and to God’s creation).
  • Righteousness.
  • Justice.
  • Well-being (physical, psychological, spiritual).

Shalom denotes a right relationship with God, with others and with God’s good creation. It is the way God intended things to be when he created the universe.

This was God’s original design for his creation—not that we live in scarcity, poverty or in minimalistic conditions. He desires that we enjoy the fruits of his creation and the fruits of our labor because by doing so we bring him glory.

The story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis also explains why we all long for shalom, or “the way things are supposed to be.” It has been woven into the very fabric of creation. Biblical scholar Jonathan Pennington writes:

Human flourishing alone is the idea that encompasses all human activity and goals because there is nothing so natural and inescapable as the desire to live, and to live in peace, security, love, health, and happiness. These are not merely cultural values or the desire of a certain people or time period. The desire for human flourishing motivates everything humans do—both belief in religion and the rejection of it; monogamous marriage and a promiscuous lifestyle; waging war and making peace; studying history and creating art; planting fields and building skyscrapers. All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately.

Every person has a powerful, relentless drive to experience shalom through right relationships with God, with our families, with our communities, and with the physical creation. This is because shalom was God’s original design in creation. Yet these relationships were broken at the Fall, and the shalom of creation began to unravel.

Restoration of shalom is God’s design in redemption. Understanding shalom is the key to realizing how God intends to use the work of our hands to participate with him in the restoration of his creation. David Dark, in his book Everyday Apocalypse, says it this way:

The movement called Christianity cannot be understood apart from the Jewish concept of shalom. The Christian Gospel does not call people to give their mental assent to a certain list of correct propositions, nor does it provide its adherents with a password that will gain them disembodied bliss when they die and the pleasure of confidently awaiting their escape until then. Shalom is a way of being in the world. The Christian Gospel invites us to partake in shalom, to embody shalom, and to anticipate its full realization in the coming kingdom of God.

We will never create full shalom in this current age. Such fulfillment awaits the age to come, when Jesus will establish everlasting shalom in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Still, like the Jewish exiles in Babylon, we are called to “work for the shalom of the city” (Jer. 29:7). Through our work, we are to be a blessing in our time and place. This is possible only because we have found our identity in Christ, the Prince of Shalom. Because of him, we know what real shalom is supposed to be.

Therefore, the work we do in the here and now is important to God, as it brings about flourishing and serves as a signpost to point others to the New City, the City of God, where all of God’s children will live one day in perfect shalom. Until then, our calling is to work for the shalom of this present world, to the glory of God and by the grace of God, reweave the unraveled fabric of our broken world.

Editor’s note: Read more about the purpose of your work in How Then Should We Work?

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