Recently, I had some interesting thoughts regarding one of my favorite theology of work topics. Let me circle back to the subject of “thorns and thistles,” about which I have written several articles on my blog and discussed in chapter 7 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.
I discovered a connection between Christian love and work that I had never noticed before. The main idea is that we can continue to pursue the challenging tasks we are called to do despite the difficulties we experience because love by definition implies sacrifice. We can endure during the hard times for three good reasons:
- God calls us to work even though it is hard.
- Sacrifice demonstrates love to others.
- Suffering for doing right is part of the normal Christian life.
Let’s unpack this a bit.
God Calls Us To Work, Even Though It Is Hard
Let me start at the beginning. In Genesis 1:28, God declares what is referred to as the creation or cultural mandate. It is both a blessing and a command. God had a critical job for Adam and Eve which also applies to us. They were called to cultivate the earth and bring out its potential, expand God’s creation, and be fruitful and multiply. This job began in Genesis 2:15 when God put them in the garden to work it.
We read in Genesis 3:16-19 that Adam’s sin resulted in God cursing the ground he was called to work. Instead of good things like food and flowers, the garden was now going to produce thorns and thistles, making work unnecessarily difficult. It also brought painful labor to Eve’s mission to bring forth new life. The very things that Yahweh called them to do were forever going to be harder than intended.
From this point forward, labor for men and women was going to be painful, time-consuming, frustrating, stressful, sweaty, and full of relational conflict. And yet, the work had to be done.
It also occurred to me that work is not just hard because of Adam’s sin and everyone else’s. It is hard by design. It takes physical effort to cut down trees, build a house, or haul in a net full of fish. It takes mental effort to analyze complex data, conduct legal research to defend a client, or to discover a cure for cancer. Even though work is hard, God created human beings in his image with strength of mind and body who have the capacity and capability to accomplish great things to expand his creation.
Sacrifice Demonstrates Love to Others
The second reason that can motivate us to keep on working faithfully, even when it seems impossible is to do so, is to show love to those whom God has placed in our paths wherever it is that we work. If we press on when work is hard, it displays love to our bosses, coworkers, employees, and customers.
Love implies sacrifice. Love is defined as sacrificially meeting someone’s legitimate needs. We often have to give up something of ourselves: time, talent, or treasure. Think of the Good Samaritan. I am also reminded of Jesus washing the disciples’ dirty feet (Jn. 13:1-17). That took love.
The Apostle John wrote this powerful assessment regarding Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for all humankind: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13).
There are countless examples of those whose work is incredibly difficult, and yet they continue doing it day after day because they love those whom they have been called to serve. Mothers and fathers immediately come to mind. They care for their children 24/7/365, keeping them alive, growing, and safe. There are many other workers who press on through incredible challenges. Think about teachers, nurses, police, etc., who do what they do out of love for those who desperately need their expertise.
Suffering is Part of the Christian life
We have discussed that work is going to be difficult because of Adam’s sin. And yet, God calls us to work. When we willingly sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure, as well as give up our pride, some sleep, a meal or two, and the freedom to do what we want in order to serve others, this demonstrates unconditional love. This kind of suffering, whether big or small, is a normal part of the Christian life.
The Apostle Peter gives Christian employees some helpful instructions. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pet. 2:18). He exhorts workers to press on in spite of the actions of their sinful bosses. Peter also taught that suffering for doing good is to be expected. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
I have only had a handful of what I would consider bad bosses in my many years with the Army. There was one I had a few years ago that forced me to focus on applying these biblical principles. I had to pray about my attitude and depend on the Holy Spirit to guide me as I responded to her yelling at me.
Working in an environment filled with sinful men and women (including ourselves) is one result of the Fall. This is the doctrine of original sin.
We also know well that trials we go through build our character and increase our faith (Jas. 1:2-4). Think of those irritating things and selfish people at work as a trial or a test that we must endure.
The good news is that God did not leave Adam and Eve to remain in the mess that they created for themselves—and us. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings to all some measure of relief from the curse. He may not redeem work in this life, but he does redeem, renew, and restore workers who belong to him.
Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God, put this consequence of Adam’s sin in proper perspective. I absolutely love this quote.
Work is not our enemy. Sin is our enemy. And only Christ is adequate to deal with sin. His strategy for dealing with sin, however, is never to remove us from the jungle, but instead to make us adequate to live in the jungle … Sin may make the work world a jungle. But we must never forget that Christ is the Lion of Judah, the King of the jungle!
When our jobs are the most difficult, if we reach out to the Lord by faith and seek his face in the Word and prayer, his presence will be with us to give us strength to persevere through every trial we face.
As we serve our bosses, coworkers, employees, and customers with God’s sacrificial love that was modeled for us by Jesus, we glorify God. We put the spotlight on the one who redeems workers and enables them by grace to bring a bit of the Kingdom of God to our workplaces. God’s curse on work will continue until Jesus returns, but until then, let us continue to be faithful to love others in spite of it.
Editor’s Note: This article was adapted with permission from the author’s website. Find the original article here.