At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Three Ways to Think about Work-Life Balance

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How do we establish a balance between work and the rest of life?

Two passages in particular can shed light for us on this question. These passages give a picture of God’s character, and understanding God’s character is the first step in finding a work-life balance.

The first passage is Colossians 3:18–4:41, which includes the well-known verse, “…work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). In this passage Paul is writing about order in the home. Part of that ordering includes the proper work ethic by the household servants. Specifically, they were to serve their masters with the idea that they were really serving God through their vocation.

The second passage is Matthew 6:25–33, a broader discussion on having faith in God and avoiding worry. It is also couched in the larger passage that scholars refer to as the Sermon on the Mount.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus unpacks an ethics that builds on the Old Testament law, explaining what the law was always intended to teach: that holiness consists of conformity to God’s likeness as expressed in the moral law. Matthew 6:25–33 expresses more about the nature of the triune God than a command not to worry.

Proper interpretation of both of these verses relies on an understanding of who God is. I offer three characteristics of God that we must understand in order to comprehend the principles of work-life balance in these passages.

1. God Is Sovereign

Matthew 6:25–33 is pointing toward the idea that God is in control of the universe, so human anxiety is unnecessary and unhelpful. God takes care of the birds (cf. Matt. 6:26) and the plants (cf. Matt. 6:30), therefore he will take care of us.

But in both of these examples, the object of God’s providence is not passive.

  • The birds don’t worry about the future but they do go and find food for today.
  • The grass gets clothed but it still germinates, grows, and reseeds.

God is sovereign over the physical needs of the birds and grass, but they still have to fulfill their design function. So, too, we must trust in God and yet continue to pursue our vocations.

2. God Is Omniscient

God sees more than our actions. Ethics is about more than just what we do. Our lives will be judged (cf., Matthew 12:36) by who we are, what we do, and why we do what we do.

In order to please God, we must be regenerated believers in Christ (cf. Romans 8:8). We need to live according to the principles that reflect God’s character by obeying what Christ has commanded (cf. John 15:10).

We also need to do these things with the intention of glorifying God. That is the message of Colossians 3:23. Working for our earthly boss becomes worship when we do it with the goal of glorifying God.

3. God Is Gracious

When we work, it ought to be an act of worship with the intention of glorifying God. The reality is that we will do so imperfectly.

  • We will miss typos in our emails (or blogs).
  • We will arrive at work late or leave a few minutes early on occasion.
  • We will get unhappy when our coworker gets the promotion we feel we deserve.

We look forward to our final, completed redemption from the influence of our sinful nature, but that hasn’t come yet (Romans 7:21–24). We may be saved through faith in Christ, but should still be progressing toward holiness.

Thankfully God is gracious and slow to anger and does not give us what we deserve (Psalm 103:8–14). This means that we can put our vocation in the context of our whole life before God and not base our self-worth or our worth to God on our productivity at work.

Should we be productive? Yes! But we must trust in the grace of God to accept our imperfect offering, just as he accepts all of our life through Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Our work should be done in light of who God is and what he is like, even beyond these three attributes. We should see our vocation as part of the stewardship of the life that God has given us. We should work with the intention of benefiting society, demonstrating the nature of God’s kingdom, and bringing glory to the Creator.

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