At Work & Theology 101

What Can Jesus Teach Us About Our Work?

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There is no doubt that Jesus’ greatest purpose while on earth was to glorify God and bring about atonement through his death on the cross. His death paved the path for salvation, and his life showed us what the Kingdom of God looks like.

When Jesus came, he came to roll back the curse brought about by Adam’s sin (cf. Rom. 5:12–21). He demonstrated this by undoing the sickness and discord resulting from the fall.

In Jesus’ miracles we see him heal lepers (Matt. 8:1–4), heal a paralytic (Matt. 9:1–8), bring a widow’s son to life (Luke 6:11–17), and cause a crooked tax collector to repay what he stole (Luke 19:1–10).

Jesus clearly demonstrated what life was supposed to be like. In terms of the four-chapter gospel, he gave us a foretaste of the restoration for which we long. Jesus also gave us a picture of what a heavenly citizen would do.

Being the perfect man, Jesus lived his life like Adam was intended. He was human in every way. We know that he ate and slept and grieved. But we sometimes miss that Jesus worked, too.

Jesus came to lift the curse by taking away sorrows and pains, but he didn’t come to get rid of work. Instead of taking away work, we see that Jesus did work. In John 9:4, Jesus tells his disciples,

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.

When Jesus says this, he is talking about work that he is doing to demonstrate God’s goodness, specifically in healing a blind man. He is doing so-called Kingdom work, the kind of work that we so often associate with holiness, like preaching a sermon or helping old ladies across the street.

But Jesus didn’t only do work specifically for God’s kingdom in the sense that we often think of it. Jesus had a job for the majority of his life. He did real, hands-on work as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). In fact, when we consider the fact that Jesus only performed his role as professional teacher and healer for about three years, his career as a carpenter should rise in significance in our minds.

The fact that Jesus worked as a carpenter illustrates three things for us:

1. Work can be holy.

Unless the work you are doing is inherently sinful (e.g., robbing a bank, working in a brothel), the work you do can be holy. Often it is not the work that is unholy; it is the manner in which we conduct it. Jesus did not sin, and Jesus had a vocation. Therefore, it must be possible for us to do our work in a manner that glorifies God; our task is to figure out how.

2. Work should be integral to our lives.

It is hard to imagine Jesus living the divided life that many of us lead. We are often one person at work, another at church, and in our family still another. Jesus was as much the son of God when he was cutting a board as when he was healing a sick girl. We should strive to make our work an expression of our personality, as a way of demonstrating God’s goodness to those around us.

3. Our vocation is as important as our service at church.

Nothing that Jesus did was by accident. No doubt Jesus was just as holy as a carpenter as he was as a teacher; however, in God’s plan, Jesus spent more than a decade doing carpentry. It must have been important for Jesus to do that work, otherwise he would have either come later and began his ministry at an earlier age, or he would have taken a professional religious role.

None of those happened, so it seems that we should value our role at our workplace equally with our role in our church. They can both promote the kingdom of God.

What can Jesus teach you about your work? How does his life and love help you see your work in a new way? Leave your comments here

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  • Jim Price

    Mr. Spencer, in regard to Luke 19: 1-10; the crowd thought that Zacchaeus was a sinner or a crook but crowds often get things wrong. But Zacchaeus defended himself, saying that he had been giving one half of his income to the poor and if he was found making a mistake in collecting taxes he had refunded four times the amount. I read this passage as Jesus, recognizing Zacchaeus’ character and using this occasion to justify him.

    • Andrew Spencer

      Mr. Price, thanks for your thought comment and your engagement in the community here at IFWE.

      I agree with you that there is a recognition in the account of Zacchaeus that he was converted around the time that he gave away his money and promised to make amends for his previous cheating.

      On the other hand, I have difficulty reconciling the concept that Jesus responded to Zacchaeus’ good works by granting salvation with Scripture, including such texts as Eph. 2:8-9 and Rom. 5:6-11. In all of these texts and throughout Scripture, it seems to me that God works monergistically to bring about conversion. I believe this it what happened to Zacchaeus here: he sees Christ for who he was and believes due to being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and thus begins to do good works immediately.

      I also, however, appreciate that one could have an alternative reading of this text given a more synergistic understanding of justification, and this, hopefully, is not a matter for division in the body.

      Again, thank you for contributing to the discussion as one of the goals at IFWE is to bring together people of diverse theological backgrounds for a discussion about the challenges of integrating our faith with our lives.

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