At Work & Theology 101

Proverbs, Wisdom & the Benefits of Good Work

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I remember vividly the insecurity I felt early on in my first full-time job.

It was my first time swimming in the workforce and I was beset with fear over each decision I oversaw. What happens if the coffee order doesn’t arrive on time? Why are these files not printing on both sides? Should I have actually spoken up in that meeting?

As someone new to the workforce, I was falling victim to a limitation of experience. I lacked wisdom and needed guidance. If you work long enough, those fears begin to be replaced with different questions as you move up the ranks.

However, the tension of wisdom and work, in some capacity, affects each of us, begging the question, “What does wise work look like?”

The book of Proverbs contains cohesive guidance for instilling skill in the art of Godly living, as one of my professors at Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. Jack Collins, has often stated.

Refining our question then, how does one acquire skill in the art of Godly living, specifically in our daily work?

In Awe of God

Chiefly, it means to work and live life “in awe of God,” a key point outlined in the Theology of Work Project’s commentary on the book of Proverbs. Proverbs aims to mold its readers into the types of people that embody God’s knowledge and priorities (Prov. 2:5-6).

While much of the book is set in the context of the Ancient Near East and its subsistence agricultural context, its priorities apply to Christians seeking wisdom in their own lives and vocational callings.

As has often been noted by Collins, the practice of considering the respective cultural differences of the textual context must shape our own engagement with Proverbial wisdom. The contexts are certainly different, but the principles are replete with guiding insights that can still shape the likes and dislikes of the people of God today just as they did for its original audience.

For some, this might look like modeling and embodying honesty in one’s financial dealings (Prov. 11:1), for some it might look like using your words to bring life rather than slander (Prov. 6:16-19), while for some it might look like faithfully engaging in work, serving our daily tasks as we would serve the Lord (Prov. 6:10-12).

Maybe it looks like faithful stewardship and long-term planning (Prov. 31:14) or displaying prudence in workplace negotiations (Prov. 19:14) or embodying generosity to those in need (Prov. 31:20).

Each of these represents pieces of the whole. One must be taken in the context of the whole. Different situations call for prudence and wisdom in discerning different responses. This lies at the heart of Proverbial wisdom and its intersection with work.

While it could be tempting to search for a checklist of faithful Christian living, to work wisely, as prescribed by the Proverbs, is rather to be formed in the priorities and purposes of the Lord.

A Rhythm of Life

Wisdom, then, is not an accomplishment but a rhythm of life that dictates and informs each step of our life before God.

The Bible is more concerned with shaping your character to the person of Christ rather than padding your own CV.

A skill, like any craft, is honed over time. Hours of dedication, preparation, practice, and study allow for that skill to flourish and become second-nature to the participant.

If we’re honest with ourselves, training isn’t always that enjoyable. Anyone who has picked up a set of dumbbells or endured an hour-long pilates course knows that gaining aptitude in a skill can be painful. To seek to hone the skill of Godly living, we need a grace that goes deeper than our own endurance and bootstraps can take us.

The gospel affords that strength and perseverance for those who place their faith in Christ as they labor on in their own labors, seeking day-by-day to functionally grab hold of the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

A Changed Heart

Yet, the result is not merely behavior modification for the Christian believer seeking wisdom. The goal is a changed heart, seeing our heart of stone turned into a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).

To work wisely is simply to be steeped in the skill of Godly living and forged in the fires of his refining grace. It’s with this in view that Christians can faithfully serve their work and hone their own hearts and hands to be shaped by the life-giving precepts of the Lord.

Editor’s Note: This article has been reposted with permission from the Center for Faith + Work Los Angeles.

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