Few things define and shape us more than the work we do. Work is how we make a living, and to a large degree how we make a life. Work is where many of our skills and talents are developed and sharpened. Many of our most important relationships are formed and forged in the context of our work. Yet whether we are a carpenter, a teacher, a physician, a corporate executive, a caregiver, or a small business owner, we all struggle with the inevitable difficulties and frustrations of work.
After a long day at the office, or on our way home from the tiring clamor of the workshop, we often face melancholy in our moments of reflection. Whether we have achieved the pinnacle of career success or have experienced the deep valleys of job failure, a sense of emptiness may haunt us.
Is there more to life than this? Does my work really matter? How can I better connect my work with gospel faith?
The good news is that the Bible speaks a great deal not only about our worship on Sunday but also about our work on Monday. From Genesis to Revelation, three transforming truths emerge that help us close the Sunday-to-Monday gap.
1. You were created to work.
First, we were created with work in view. In Genesis 1, we meet our Creator God as one who works: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We also discover as humans that we have been crafted in a working God’s image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Being an image-bearer means many things, yet an essential aspect of image-bearing is expressed in and through the work we do each day. God’s creation design for human work is evident in the creation mandate: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Gen. 1:28). This command reflects his design and desire that we would be “fruitful.” The original Hebrew word for “fruitful” suggests the idea of both procreativity and productivity. The foundation of our creation design and calling is to be productive in our work. This truth is reinforced when Adam is placed in the garden with a twofold vocational job description: to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). When we work, we live into God’s design as his image-bearers.
Though our present work is a mixed bag of the good and the bad, the fulfilling and the frustrating, work was an integral part of God’s design even before sin and death intruded. Being a human is more than being a worker, but work is at the heart of our place and purpose within creation. Work as designed in creation must be seen as contribution and not merely compensation. From cradle to grave, God designed us to contribute to God’s world and the common good—whether or not we receive a paycheck. The biblical definition of work is far more comprehensive than an economic transaction.
Work as designed in creation must be seen as contribution and not merely compensation. . . . The biblical definition of work is far more comprehensive than an economic transaction.
Throughout Genesis we observe God-designed work and worship as a seamless fabric of faithfulness, not separated or fragmented. In God’s original design there is no Sunday-to-Monday gap. All of life is to be an act of worship. We are not to worship our work, but work is one of the primary ways we worship God. Yet each day as we do our work, we realize the work we do now is not what it ought to be. The integrated design we observe in Genesis 1 and 2 is followed by the massive disintegration of that design in Genesis 3. Sin and brokenness slither into God’s good world, vandalizing and distorting all aspects of the work of our hands. Now Adam has to deal with thorns and thistles, and sadly we do too.
2. You work for God’s glory.
The second transforming truth about work is that in Christ we are redeemed and empowered to work for the glory of God and the common good. The gospel shines the light of truth and grace, redeeming not only us the workers but also the actual work we do and the workplace we inhabit. We tend to forget that the majority of time Jesus spent on this sin-ravaged planet was in a carpenter’s shop, working in obscurity with sawdust on his hands and sweat on his brow. Biblical scholars often refer to the time period of Jesus from age 12 to 30 as the hidden years. While the Gospel writers don’t tell us much about these years, we must not see them as irrelevant to Jesus’s mission.
Mark points to the ordinary nature of Jesus’s hidden years, noting the revealing response of the hometown residents: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3). Jesus’s journey to a blood-stained cross to bear our sin and satisfy the wrath of a holy God was certainly the central focus of his life. Still, we must not merely jump from Christ’s cradle to the cross and forget the carpenter shop. The important truth that the incarnate Son of God spent so much time working with his hands speaks to the centrality of work in our human design. Jesus, the Nazarene day laborer, affirms the dignity of our work.
We must not merely jump from Christ’s cradle to the cross and forget the carpenter shop.
Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformers saw faithful vocational stewardship through the lens of Jesus’s teaching on the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37–39). Loving our neighbor rightly was understood first and foremost as doing our work rightly. We must realize that the work we’re called to do—whatever it may be—is a vital aspect of loving God and loving neighbor. Jesus the carpenter, who embraced neighborly love and worked faithfully, invites us to take on his easy yoke and learn from him (Matt. 11:28–30).
Jesus wants to join you in your work, teach you in your work, and form you into greater Christlikeness in and through your work. Will you become his on-the-job apprentice?
3. Your work is worship.
A third transforming truth is that we are to worship God in and through our work. Our work matters, but it can matter too much. What God designed as an act of worship can morph into an idol. Work idolatry often evidences itself when we find our identity in our work rather than in our relationship with Christ. Work idolatry is also exposed when we live overextended, exhausted, stress-filled lives that fail to embrace regular rhythms of rest. The apostle Paul, who calls us to a new life of gospel faith, also speaks of how faith in Christ transforms our work into God-honoring, Christ-exalting worship. He urges us to do our work well for God’s glory: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).
Our work matters more than we often realize. The work we are called to do is a primary means of our worship and a significant contributor to our spiritual formation. Faithfulness in our vocational stewardship also prepares us for the work we will one day do in the new heavens and new earth. In his parable of the talents, Jesus praises the money managers who were faithful in their work: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master!” (Matt. 25:23). The work we do now prepares us for the work we will do forever.
The work we do now prepares us for the work we will do forever.
God cares a great deal about your work. How about you? Are you increasingly seeing your work as God sees it? What does faithful stewardship in your vocation look like? Are you being slothful or diligent? Has work become an idol in your life? Or are you seeing your work and workplace as a primary place for your spiritual formation and gospel mission? What steps do you need to take to embrace a more seamless gospel faith that narrows the Sunday-to-Monday gap? Your work really does matter.
Editors’ note: This is an excerpt from the new ESV Men’s Devotional Bible (Crossway, 2015).