Integrating Faith and Work
This last weekend I had the privilege by God’s grace to teach on the relationship between Faith and Work at a Men’s Retreat. What follows is essentially my presentation notes on the subject. You can go to churchsj.com/media to find the podcast of the seminar.
There is a strong tendency to view the work of a pastor, missionary, Bible scholar, or anyone in “full-time ministry” as more holy then other kinds of work. A result of this is that many people feel their work is primarily secular and while it may pay the bills, give them some personal satisfaction of accomplishment, it does nothing to advance the kingdom apart from witnessing to coworkers. Personally, I have been there because I worked as a engineer for 8 years, have now been a full-time pastor for two years, and for several years did both at the same time. I have struggled with this and have often thought many of these things.
The problem is basically threefold. One the false dichotomy of the sacred and the secular. In reality, there is no such thing. Everyone’s work is reflecting some worldview and “god.” Two, one job is not more holy than another. Manual labor is not more demeaning than intellectual work, a ridiculous and often subconsciously believed assertion. Third, all of these fail to see the radical nature of Christ’s lordship over all things.
So let’s start in the beginning. In Genesis 1:26-31 we learn three things. One, all that God is made is good. Nothing in the universe is innately evil. Evil is in fact the absence of good. The idea that manual labor is less than intellectual shows a failure to apply the goodness of God’s creation to all things. Two, humanity, both male and female, are created in the image of God. These means we are to reflect the God of Bible. As God watches over, sustains, cares for creation, we are to do the same on the earth. Third, God commissions humanity to fill the earth, multiply, and exercise dominion over it. The point is, humanity builds culture and the earth is on a course to be filled with the culture of the kingdom. The drama of this happening is the rest of scripture. The reformers referred to the “dominion” as the cultural mandate. What unfolds after the fall is that man seeks to build a city up to the heavens. Instead of receiving the city of God by his grace coming down from heaven (Rev. 21).
Genesis 2 gives us a more detailed look at God. I must give credit to Tim Keller for this. He has given an excellent sermon on this point. First, the Judeo-Christian worldview is totally unique on this point. Other creation myths have the gods making humans to serve them and feed them because they are lazy. They also have different classes of humans for the different kinds of work. Manual labor is for lesser humans while more enlightened and refined work, particularly religious or intellectual, is for higher order of humans beings. This still plays out very forcefully in the caste system of India and Nepal. It plays out in part in our country by people avoiding work that requires sweating. God does not make humanity to serve him, but to enjoy creation and work it. We reflect God’s goodness by being creators and cultivators (Andy Crouch, Culture Making). God himself does manual labor by fashioning Adam with his own two hands and gets dirty doing it. No other creation myth does this. Furthermore, Adam has a job prior to the fall and its not just praise music and preaching. He is a gardening and biologist. He creates culture by naming the animals and having a family. He cultivates culture by caring for the garden, his family, and his relationship with God. This are intrinsically good things.
Everyone knows what happens next. Humanity rebels and gives into temptation. The result is holistic depravity. Sin has affected everything. It does not make work evil. It means work and its role in our lives is fractured. Work and worship is fractured. Prior to the fall, work and worship were one and the same. Therefore we have these sinful responses to work: 1) the workaholic – we worship work. Our achievement becomes our identity and we value people by their accomplishments. 2) the lazy bum – we think work is sinful. We don’t like doing it and we avoid anything that is difficult and requires… well work. 3) the delusional – you think you are good at something you are not, or you think you are not good at something you are. 4) the oppressor – we abuse work and create injustices. Take advantage of people, seek the most amount of profit to their detriment. 5) The thief and the pimp – we take certain jobs that are inherently sinful. A corruption of our nature, of other people, and work itself. 6) the consumer – you just eat, spend, and measure everything in terms of CPI. You work to accumulate stuff and treasures on earth. Work is not a virtue but a means to an end. 7) the people pleaser – you only work to look good. you only work when someone is watching or when you will get recognition. 8) the unemployed – you can’t find work and are embarrassed and demoralized and its out of your control because of the sins of other people. Work gives us dignity, which means not having it brings shame.
The good news is God redeems work. Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and Paul all had jobs that God used for his purposes and bringing redemption to other people. Moses’ skills learned in running Egypt later become used to build Israel into a nation. Daniel becomes better at what the pagans do then the pagans which gets used to witness in Babylon. Most importantly, Jesus was a carpenter. Jesus’ redemptive work includes work itself. It includes his obedience to the Father to do all he was asked to do. It also includes that his work was both sorrowful and joyful. Redeemed work must include the cross. Work will be painful until Jesus returns, but it doesn’t have to be purposeless anymore.
The clearest passage on work in the NT is Col. 3:22-4:1. How we work is a reflection of how we view our the Lordship of Christ. Your obedience to your boss, the quality of your work, the way you treat your employees or your coworkers is a spiritual activity. There is no such thing as a secular job for the Christian. Your whole life is a living sacrifice, Rom. 12:1-2.
Furthermore, the kingdom of God will be in our resurrected bodies in the new heavens, earth, and New Jerusalem. Andy Crouch in Culture Making makes the argument that the New Jerusalem requires many cultural activities, Rev. 21:15-27. Gem stones require mining, carving, polishing, and all kinds of human activities. The point is, the stain of sin will be removed from our work and cultural goods. Work and worship will be reunited. You will do what you enjoy doing and God will transform the work we do into something for the kingdom. There is no reason to think there will not be computers in the kingdom. The truth is, pastors will be out of job. Carpenters will still have plenty of work to do (Is. 65).
The significance is that a carpenter can be just as called as a missionary. Keller gives three basic questions to ask to discern your calling: 1) What are you good at? 2) Do others recognize that you are good at it (besides your mom)? 3) Do you have the desire to do it? A forth question is whether God has provided the opportunity. The previous three may be met, but injustices or circumstances in society may make it totally unfeasible. Crouch gives an excellent question in discerning it, “where do you experience grace – divine multiplication that far exceeds your efforts?”
Work can be frustrating and difficult. But Jesus Christ had a normal, everyday job and redeemed that too. Work today will contain some pain and frustration. However, like Jesus, we may find our calling where our joy meets the world’s pain. Ultimately, we place our hope in Jesus’ resurrection and the kingdom to come when our perfect jobs will finally come. Until then, we the church are the first fruits of the kingdom and should live like Jesus is Lord over our desks and hammers and homework.