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What Does It Mean to Have a Biblical View of Work?

For all of us, the fruits of our labor can be used for the good of those around us.

I once heard the late Habitat for Humanity ministry founder Millard Fuller tell a moving story about former president Jimmy Carter. After leaving office, Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, spent countless hours volunteering with the ministry, helping build houses for needy families. At one such house, Fuller asked a little boy who was part of the family who lived there if he knew who built his house. Expecting him to credit President Carter, the little boy happily surprised him by exclaiming, “Jesus built my house!” Doesn’t that paint a great picture of the work of a Christian? Whether it’s the job we do for a living or the work we do as a volunteer, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world caught a glimpse of Jesus in the way we work? And wouldn’t it be great if we could instill such habits, attitudes, and motivations in our children?

A Biblical View of Work

Work was God’s idea. He worked in creating the world, and since we were made in His image, work is central to our design. When God put Adam to work in the idyllic Garden of Eden, He gave him a meaningful job to do, tending and caring for God’s creation (Genesis 2:15). When Adam and Eve sinned against God, the nature of work changed, introducing an element of toil (Genesis 3:17). All of us experience that from time to time. But work still plays a vital role in our lives.

Much like the way our culture declares so many falsehoods about money and possessions, it also has its own messaging about work. The world says our work is all about us—our position, our pay, and our perks.

Our jobs define who we are. In God’s economy, though, things look very different. Work is a central vehicle through which we can express the three purposes of a wise builder that we looked at in the previous chapter. Work is a platform for living out the others centered lives we were designed to live, bringing glory to God, loving others, and making a difference in the world.

Let’s take a closer look at work through adult eyes first, and then we’ll explore ways to teach our children how to work well.

Glorifying God Through Our Work

What exactly is Christian work? Is it only the work done by someone in full-time ministry, such as a pastor or missionary? Dorothy Sayers, a British writer and theologian, defined it in this wonderfully simple way: “The only Christian work is good work well done.” In other words, as long as the product or service at the heart of our work isn’t at odds with God’s purposes, the Christian’s work can encompass a wide variety of jobs.

What matters is the excellence with which we do our work, as Martin Luther King Jr. said so powerfully in a 1967 speech to students at a junior high school in Philadelphia: Even if it falls [to] your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

Doing our jobs well means so many things. It means doing them with skill and care, with a good
attitude and a desire to honor God. And it means working with humility, holding your job with
gratitude to the One who gave the work to you: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

Today there’s a lot of talk about “building your personal brand.” It’s true that it can be good stewardship to be intentional about strengthening our résumés and managing our careers. However, we would be wise to remember that our work isn’t about drawing attention to ourselves but drawing attention to God.

How differently we might work some days if we remembered more often that the quality of our
work—our attitude toward it and the motivation behind it—could show others who God is.

Loving People Through Our Work

When I think back on various jobs I’ve had, my fondest memories aren’t of the projects I’ve been involved in. They’re of the people I worked with. I remember one person I reported to who would introduce me to others by saying, “This is Matt. He works with me.” Not for me, but with me. Such a seemingly small thing, yet it made a big difference. I remember another one who was incredibly smart and good at what he did, yet very humble and completely without pretense. He valued his team before he valued productivity. We knew that he cared about us, which is why we worked so well together and, yes, got a lot of work done.

Our work provides countless opportunities to love people. Everyone has something going on beneath the surface of what we can see. We would be wise to remember this the next time a customer complains or a coworker seems uncharacteristically quiet. Something deeper might be going on there, and the wise and godly worker is always sensitive to that possibility, responding with kindness. Yes, we have jobs to do, but how we interact with the people in our midst while doing our jobs matters even more.

Making a Difference Through Our Work

In Jeremiah, we read these instructions from God: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Christians are also in exile. This world is not our home; our “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). And yet, while we are here, we are to seek the good of our communities. For some of us, our work may directly enhance the well-being of our communities, as is true for police officers and plumbers, doctors and day care workers.

For all of us, the fruits of our labor can be used for the good of those around us. For example, by spending money locally, we provide for the livelihoods of local business owners and their employees. A healthy, biblical view of work is not one where we seek primarily to profit from our work but to provide from it. It’s how God lovingly designed us to live. In seeking the welfare of our communities, we find our welfare.

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