We have a natural way of cataloguing our work into different categories. There is the work that we call our job, what we do to earn a living. There is the work we call our chores, what we do to run our household: cleaning, shopping, paying bills, running errands and “honey-dos.” Then there is the work that we call volunteering, what we do to serve the community, like coaching a soccer team or serving on a board, or teaching a Bible class, or mentoring a student. Categorizing our work may seem rational and helpful, but how does the Bible define work?
The very first chapter of the Bible introduces us to God, who is creating, separating, gathering, ordering and arranging the Universe. Genesis 2:2 calls that activity work. Next, God planted a garden (2:8) and invited Adam join him in cultivating and maintaining it (2:15). Work continues to be a vital function of the community and the family throughout Scripture.
Webster’s Dictionary defines work as “the exertion of strength or faculties; physical or intellectual effort directed to an end.” J.I. Packer added, “Work means any exertion of effort that aims at producing a new state of affairs.” Those definitions reflect the way the Bible presents work, but not how our postmodern culture might express it: “putting in hours” “paying the bills” or “getting it over with.”
Yes, work requires a lot of our time and we must earn money to provide for material needs . . . and it’s true that “ . . . a laborer is worthy of his hire.” (1Timothy 5:18) Yet, we should not tie work’s value only to compensation. The marketplace claims that the higher the pay, the nobler the work; on the contrary, the Scriptures proclaim a different measure: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23). How you work and for whose praise is to be esteemed above the amount of money earned.
Recently, we had some work done on the entry to our home. After repairs to our threshold, flooring, doorframe and transoms, we hired Keith to paint the new front door. Keith has painted for us before, but last week, I got to observe him working at his craft a little more closely. Professional. Meticulous. Skilled. These words come to mind about a seemingly simple job that actually required several trips and tedious steps including the right weather and temperature and preparation. Although my hourly rate may be higher than his, Keith’s approach to his work definitely displays a God-honoring view of work.
Some would counter that the importance of your job equals the compensation you get for it. I wonder how the work of the CEO, the financial planner, the school teacher, the licensed practical nurse and the dishwasher are weighed in God’s economy? All are important to our communities, yet only one or two have great income potential. How can we withhold respect for work that doesn’t afford an affluent lifestyle? I don’t have the answers to a flawed economic system, but I can do my part to help restore the dignity of every kind of work.
The ability and opportunity to work is an honor and privilege. Check in with someone who has been unemployed for a significant period of time. Work provides, but it also contributes and serves. God began working in the beginning. He is still at work in our world and in us. He values and oversees everything you are attempting to do today, especially if you work with an eye to His glory.
Serving Him with you in the marketplace,
Lord, every day you give me an opportunity to serve you through the work you have given me to do, in business or leading this ministry, or serving my family by making breakfast or taking out the trash. Help me to recognize all of my work as a privilege not a pain. I ask You to begin a movement in the marketplace that restores the dignity of all professions and every job . . . beginning with me.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”