“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV).
We have mistakenly divided our work today as either belonging to the sacred or the secular realm. We tend to identify the work of pastors, missionaries and other work done on behalf of the church as sacred. We view this as special work that is devoted to God. All other work is viewed as secular, or worldly work, as if it were somehow less important to God. This sacred/secular view of work is a misunderstanding of God’s intention for our work.
The apostle Paul rightly understood how all work is to be considered sacred when it is done from a heart that desires to glorify God. Whether he was making tents in the marketplace or preaching the gospel on Mars Hill, Paul viewed both as sacred work when done with a view of “serving the Lord Christ.” This is the view that needs to be preached from today’s pulpits.
How might we gain a proper theology of work to correct our view today? Here are a few biblical principles to consider:
1. God works. God is the Creator of all. The Scripture teaches that he worked for six days and then rested on the seventh day. After each day’s work God examined his results and declared them “good.” He was satisfied with His work. In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” God created all and then He sent His Son to do the work of redemption to save us from our sin.
2. God made us to work. Work is not the result of the Fall. It was part of God’s original plan. God designed Adam and Eve to do the work He had prepared for them. In Genesis 1:28, God said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” They were to work at being parents, to govern the earth and the animals. Adam was instructed to “tend and keep” (Gen. 2:15) the garden. And God brought before him every animal that he might name them (Gen. 2:19). This naming was more than picking a name that had a nice ring to it. The language that Adam spoke was the one taught him from God. My thought is that it must’ve been so accurate as to put the exact picture in one’s mind when spoken. When Adam saw an elephant, the name would’ve been one carefully and scientifically considered, so that Eve would immediately know what he meant. The name captured the essence of the creature. God made us in His own image. He works and He made us to do work too.
3. Sin negatively affected our work. Work isn’t the result of the Fall, but it was certainly affected by it. Eve was designed to bear and nurture children as a partner to her husband. Her work was to continue, yet with sin’s curse it would be with pain, sorrow and unfulfilled desire (Gen. 3:16). Adam’s work to tend and keep the fields was to continue too. Yet, he would work by the “sweat of his brow” and the land would not yield to his authority as originally planned, offering up “thorns and thistles” when he planted grain (Gen. 3:17-19). The effect of sin on our work has led to two sinful attitudes concerning our work:
- Laziness. We don’t want to work. We want comfort without effort. We see people who have nice things and we think they got lucky. So, we buy lottery tickets. We want what others have, so we steal. We get a victim mindset and feel that society owes us.
- Workaholism. We put making money ahead of God and others. We work too much and rest too little. We eventually endanger our souls, our families and our health.
4. Work provides value for self and others. Work is God’s provision for us. He has given us the creation, but we must work in it to supply our needs. We are to work, so that we might have housing, clothes and food. The apostle Paul taught, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). We are to work as parents raising our families. Doing this work not only provides for our needs, it also has a moral impact on our identity and self esteem. We find meaning and pleasure in our work. We are able to join God in saying, “That was good.”
5. All work that glorifies God is sacred work. The word sacred is synonymous with the word “holy.” It means to be “set apart” for special use. Any work that we do for God’s glory and we use to provide a platform for the gospel is sacred work. This is why Bach used to sign his compositions with the letters S.D.G. (“Soli Deo Gloria” – “All glory to God alone”). Whether we work in a factory or on a farm, whether we work with our hands or our minds, we can do it with all our hearts unto Christ our Lord and give Him the glory for it.
6. God invites us to participate in His redemptive work in the world today. When we send missionaries to the field in a foreign land, they must learn the language and culture and they must find work to do, before they can even begin to share the gospel. They may work as teachers, doctors, nurses, businessmen, engineers, etc. But they view this work as a “platform” from which to share the gospel with others. We don’t have to be international missionaries to view our work as a platform for the gospel. We can be missionaries at home and do this too. Christ is looking for those who will join Him in His work. As Jesus said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matt. 9:37-38). God invites us to not only pray this prayer, but to answer it with our participation in sharing the gospel through our work.
7. God has plans for our future work. Early retirement has become popular in modern times in the Western world. The accumulation of wealth has led to an expectation of living out our last days on earth in leisure. But rather than playing golf and fishing for the last 20 years of our days, what if we gave our “retirement years” to God? What if we took our Social Security checks, packed our bags, and started serving God full time at our churches, in our communities and around the world? Besides, when we graduate to heaven, that’s just the beginning of our work. Heaven isn’t an eternal retirement. It is a time of infinite joy when we may fully join the Father in His work. Why else do you think He says that, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4) in that future Day when Christ returns? Why else would we need “plowshares” and “pruning hooks,” if there wasn’t going to be more work to be done?
Is your work sacred? It is, if you are working with all your heart, not as for men, but as for Christ our Lord.