The duty of work is an important biblical topic and it would be absurd to try and say in this short article all that the Bible means by work. But here are a few comments that will hopefully get us thinking about how we work and where we work. After all, the workplace is an essential location for evangelism. Most of us say more about our faith where we work than anywhere else. And of course, we say a lot whether we are speaking or not. Those we work with read us constantly.
First, work is not limited to what our culture defines as a career. Many aspects of work, as we know, are concerned with matters for which no financial remuneration is given, such as work done in the home. Although there is no financial remuneration, there are many rewards for such dedicated work.
Second, work is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. It is clear that God is a worker, as is seen from his activities in the week of creation. Since we are created in the image of God, one aspect of that image is engaging in work. God gave roles to Adam and Eve after he created them, which is why work is usually called a creation ordinance, one that should be practiced by everyone.
Third, work is an important aspect of sinless society. We can see this from the situation in Eden before Adam and Eve fell into sin, and from the descriptions that are given of heaven as a place of service. In the eternal state, work is a feature of heaven, of the perfect life, but work will not be found even in the minutest sense in the location of the lost.
Fourth, work should be performed according to the particular talents that God has given us. Obviously, the work God performed at creation was within his capabilities and according to his capabilities. There is an important principle that has to be implemented in order for us to enjoy work – we are to work according to our ability and competence. It used to be said that much of the problem with British industry was that many people were promoted to the level of their incompetence. God has made each of us capable of doing particular roles, and the fulfilling of these roles is an essential part of his calling in our lives.
Fifth, despite the fall of humankind into sin, work is designed to bring pleasure and satisfaction, and so it is a means of glorifying God. ‘There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God’ (Ecc. 2:24); ‘And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God’ (Ecc. 3:13).
Sixth, Jesus worked as a carpenter and taught in the synagogue, which means that he combined manual work with his role as a teacher. (Paul did something similar, being a tentmaker as well as an apostle.) The involvement of Jesus gives dignity and sanctity to work. Hugh Latimer, the English Bishop who was martyred for his faith, said of this aspect of the life of Jesus: ‘For as he blessed our nature with taking upon him the shape of a man, so in his doing he blessed all occupations and arts.’
Seventh, because of the Fall, work can be done for wrong reasons (instead of being for God’s glory, it can be done for human glory), in wrong ways (masters can be cruel and workers can be unreliable and lazy) and for wrong results (produce sinful products). There are many forms of work that are not legitimate.
Eighth, work (whether a career or otherwise) is an aspect of God’s common grace whereby he enables societies to function in a cohesive manner. If everyone did nothing, nothing would happen.
A man once asked workers on a building site what they were doing. One said that he was engaged in a monotonous task of building one brick on top of another, another said that he was trying to earn a living, and a third said that he was helping Sir Christopher Wren to build a great cathedral that future generations would use (St Paul’s in London). The third man had the right perspective, because while he was also doing a monotonous task to earn a living, he also realised that his small role was a contribution to a great purpose. Similarly, our small roles are all part of God’s great purpose.