Arts & Culture & At Work

What Bach Teaches Us About Work, Worship, and Service

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Ask people who their favorite composer is, and you will get everyone from the “artist formally known as Prince” to Beethoven.

But ask who the best composer of all time is, and a majority of people who know anything about music will tell you it is Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach lived in Germany in the first half of the eighteenth century, yet in his day, he was virtually unknown as a composer, and those who knew of his work hated it. He was an accomplished organist, yet the genius of his work as a composer would not be discovered until 80 years after his death. This humble man, who would become the baroque era’s greatest organist and composer, wrote most of his music never knowing if it would ever be played by anyone other than himself.

Bach was not only a musician but also a theologian whose medium was music. He clearly understood that one of his callings was to write music to the glory of God. In fact, at the end of every one of his musical scores, he would write Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).

An article in Christianity Today about Bach ends with the following quote:

But music was never just music to Bach. Nearly three-fourths of his 1,000 compositions were written for use in worship. Between his musical genius, his devotion to Christ, and the effect of his music, he has come to be known in many circles as “the Fifth Evangelist.”

The Link Between Work, Worship, and Service

Bach understood the essential connection between work, worship, and service that many in the church today have forgotten. The Hebrew word avodah used in the Old Testament can be translated three ways―as work, worship, or service.

  • “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work (avodah) it and take care of it” (Gen 2.15).
  • “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me” (Ex. 8:1).
  • “…But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).

We can clearly see that the worship we experience on Sunday morning is different from the work we do in our vocational calling on Monday morning, but they are connected. As part of the created order, we were made to glorify God. We read in the book of Isaiah:

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth―everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made (Is. 43:6b–7).

And again, in the book of Revelation:

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will, they were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11).

One Foundation, One Purpose

The Latin word vocātiō means “a call or summons” and it’s where we get the word, “vocation.” God has created us in his image and called us to do everything in our lives, including our vocation, to his glory. We are to be wholehearted in our love for God.

As Austin Burkhart points out, avodah gives us a picture of a wholehearted faith, a life where work, worship, and service come from the same foundation. For those of us who believe, that foundation is Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). For those of us who, by his grace, have built our lives on Christ, work, service, and worship flow out of our lives as a response to what he has done for us.

Bach is often quoted as having said,

The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.

Bach understood the interrelationship between work, worship, and service in his vocational calling and so should we.


Editor’s note: Read more about the integration of faith and work in How Then Should We Work?

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