When I ask someone if he/she is a Christian, often the first thing they’ll say is, “I don’t go to church.” Have you heard this? Many people think of the Christian faith primarily in terms of Sunday: “I go to church.” But following Jesus isn’t primarily about Sundays. Jesus changes all of life, including Monday through Saturday. This series, The Other Six Days: how your relationship with Jesus changes Monday-Saturday, will look at how our relationship with Jesus impacts some of the big deals in our lives Monday through Saturday: work, family, friends, and community. Today: Jesus and work.
Jesus is Lord—that was and still is the essential confession of Christians—let’s say it together. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord of everything, not just our spiritual life, our church life, but all of life: our work, our play, our relationships, our money, our sexuality, our politics, our time, the other six days—everything. Jesus is Lord. This is:
The Big Idea: Jesus is Lord of all of life, and that changes everything, including our work.
So how does being a follower of Jesus change our work? Jesus changes the way we see our work and do our work.
- Jesus changes how we see our work.
First, let me remind you that work is not just what we do for money—lots of work is unpaid in the traditional sense.
- If you are a student, your studies are your work.
- If you are a stay at home mom or dad, your children are your work.
- If you are a retiree, your volunteerism is your work.
- And all of us do unpaid work in various ways. No one pays me to make the bed, mow the lawn or pick up the dog poop.
So don’t think of work only in terms of your career or job. All of us work.
How do you see work? Millions of people see it as a curse, a drudgery, a necessary evil, something to avoid or escape. They endure their work and live for the weekends or retirement. But Jesus helps us see our work differently.
- We are designed for work.
In the beginning, there was work. The Bible begins talking about work from the first chapter—that is how important and basic it is. Of all the great faiths and belief systems in the world, only the Bible treats work as part of God’s design for us. In other ancient cultures, work was considered a curse at worst, or a necessary evil at best. But the Bible opens with God working and designing us to work.
Genesis 1:1 (P. 1) In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The Bible opens with God at work. In fact, the author of Genesis portrays creation in the familiar framework of a seven day workweek. God created for six days and then rested on the seventh. And at the end of each creative cycle, God surveyed His work and said, “It is good.” He found pleasure in His work and celebrated its goodness. “I do good work!”
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Notice that God made us in His image—and He is a worker. And then notice the purpose: so that we may rule over the earth. He designed us in His image so that we may work as He worked, to be His co-rulers on earth. This thought is repeated in the next two verses:
Genesis 1:27-28 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
We were created in God’s image, to be like God who works, and then we were given work to do: fill the earth and subdue it and rule over it. This doesn’t mean that we are to exploit the earth for our own selfish purposes; instead, we are God’s co-regents and as His co-rulers, we are to steward and care for His creation.
Genesis 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
God put the man He created in paradise—the Garden of Eden—for a purpose: not only to enjoy it, but “to work it and take care of it.” Human beings were to continue God’s work, developing and caring for what God created.
Work was part of paradise! Work isn’t a necessary evil or punishment—it is part of the blessedness of the Garden. Work is as much a basic human need as food, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality. Without meaningful work, we fail to thrive emotionally, physically and spiritually. We need work to survive and live fully human lives. It is one of the ways we make ourselves useful to others rather than just living a life for ourselves. We were designed to work.
- Work has dignity.
I said earlier that the Bible treats work differently than other ancient traditions. To the ancient Greeks, for example, work was a curse, a demeaning necessity, and nothing else. Because of this, slaves did most of the menial work so the elite could devote themselves to art, philosophy and politics. This kind of thinking has carried over into our culture as well. Many people view work as a necessary evil. The only good work is work that helps us make enough money to support our families and pay others to do menial work so we can play. We believe that lower status or lower paying work is an assault on our dignity.
But work has dignity precisely because it something that God does and because we do it in God’s place as His representatives. Work reflects the image of God in us.
All work has dignity. We tend to think of work as high status or low status, high paying or low paying. But all work has dignity.
ILL: Minister and author Phillip Jensen puts it this way: “If God came into the world, what would he be like? For the ancient Greeks, he might have been a philosopher-king. The ancient Romans might have looked for a just and noble statesman. But how does the God of the Hebrews come into the world? As a carpenter.”
God came into the world as a carpenter; he did manual labor, working with his hands that were no doubt hard and callused. Tim Keller adds:
…in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament we see him as a carpenter. No task is too small … to hold the immense dignity of work given by God. Simple physical labor is God’s work no less than the formulation of theological truth.
Work is actually a form of worship. This idea is found clearly in the New Testament.
Colossians 3:17 (P. 1017) And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Whatever you do—whether it’s brain surgery or mowing the lawn—do it in the name of Jesus, that is, as His representative and for Him. Let your work be worship. And to slaves, Paul wrote:
Colossians 3:23 (P. 1017) Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
Slaves didn’t get to choose their work; they did what they were told. That’s true for many of us—we’re hired and supervised and do what we’re told. But even then, our work has dignity and can be done for the Lord. Work is worship.
ILL: I was at a youth retreat and we were wrapping up the final session. We were meeting in the dining hall, so some of our leaders were in the kitchen cleaning up while the rest of us were singing. During one song, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life,” we sang, “I lift my hands up.” John, who was washing dishes and singing along, stopped washing and lifted his hands. Then he realized that he was “lifting his hands to the Lord” by washing the dishes too—so he kept singing, but started washing again. He told me later that for the first time he realized that manual labor can be worship too.
All work inherently has dignity because God works, and we are made in His image to work with Him.
Are there any exceptions to this? Yes. Some work is harmful and does not lead to human flourishing. For example, dealing drugs, creating or selling porn, pimping women and children—these only harm people and bring no glory to God or dignity to the worker.
- Work is cultivation.
Let’s review two verses.
Genesis 1:28 (P. 1) God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God told the first humans to fill the earth, subdue it and rule over it. This is before the fall, before human sin spoiled creation. Even in its original unfallen state, God made the world to need work. God made the world, said it was good, and then told us to go to work and make it better.
Genesis 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
The garden was paradise—and even paradise needed care and cultivation to unlock its potential. We were made for this work—to be God’s co-rulers in His creation, working with God to fill and cultivate the earth.
Some scholars call this “the cultural mandate.” God wanted to fill the earth not just with individuals, but with human society. He made it our job to build and cultivate this society. We were intended to be God’s partners and stewards in managing His creation for His purposes and for human flourishing. The world is to be cultivated like a garden. Our work is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.
This is thinking Christianly about your work—connecting your work to God’s work of forming, filling and subduing. All good work is culture-making. All good work contributes to human flourishing, both individually and as a culture or society.
ILL: Let’s take an example that often gets a bad rap: used car salesman. I’ve been a used car salesman! Many years ago, when we adopted our first two children, Andy and Jeff, we didn’t have money to pay for the adoptions, so I sold cars on the side. Bill Kafflen and I started a dealership—H&R Enterprises—it stood for Holy Roller Enterprises. We were only in business for a couple years and figured out that we didn’t know what we were doing, and got out before we lost our shorts!
How does a used car salesman add to God’s purpose of subduing the earth, or creating culture and human flourishing? They are a vital part of our transportation system, helping people get around. This is essential both for jobs and our economy (helping people get to work), and also for relationships and human thriving (helping us get together). A good salesman will serve his customers by helping them find reliable transportation that they can afford. In these ways and others, used car salespeople are adding to culture and human thriving.
I encourage you to think about your work—paid and unpaid—how are you partnering with God in cultivation, making the world a better place, and serving others?
- Work as service.
1 Corinthians 7:17 (P. 984) Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.
In this chapter, Paul is writing to answer the Corinthians’ questions about marriage and singleness. He lays down this principle: live as a believer in whatever situation you were assigned and called to. Are you married or single? Live as a believer in that state. Are you free or a slave? Live as a believer in that state. Notice the words “assigned” and “called.” The idea is that God has assigned us work to do, and called us to that work.
We use the word “vocation” but have lost its original meaning. “Vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, “to call.” A vocation is a calling, but something can only be a calling if someone else calls you to do it, and you do it for their sake, not your own. Tim Keller says, “Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others. And that is exactly how the Bible teaches us to view work.”
Do you see your work as God’s assignment to serve others?
Paul uses these words “calling” and “assignment,” yet Paul is not referring just to church ministries, but to common social and economic tasks—what some people would call “secular jobs”—and names them God’s callings and assignments.
Video: Dallas the Barber
This revolutionary way of looking at work gives all work an exalted purpose: to honor God by loving your neighbors and serving them through your work. Our work becomes worship; our work is another way to fulfill the great commandment of loving God and our neighbor. Work becomes an act of love to God and to neighbor.
This is revolutionary. When you see this, then you don’t think of Sunday as the day of worship, and the rest of the week as work-days. Every day is a day of worship. Your work is worship. Your work is a way of loving God and people. This means that we love God by doing our very best, whatever our work is. Look again at:
Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
Whatever you do—whatever the task, no matter how exalted or how menial—do it with all your heart. You’re doing it for the Lord—give Him your very best!
ILL: I first realized this as a junior in high school. I was riding the pine on our basketball team—and we weren’t very good. It was discouraging. I found myself not caring, not hustling at practice when the coach was looking the other way, not giving my best. What was the point? One day before a game, I was in the locker room getting ready, and I pulled out my pocket New Testament and read this verse. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for the coach.” I realized that my attitude and actions were not honoring God or serving our team. I decided that I was going to give my very best every moment, whether the coach was watching or not—because I was doing it for God.
I took that attitude with me to work—my summer jobs as a pump jockey at a gas station, or bucking bales for local farmers, or painting dorms at my college. I took that attitude with me to school—because as a student, that was my work, my job—so I gave my best because I was doing it for the Lord.
What is your work? Whatever it is, do it with all your heart for the Lord. You are called! Give your best to the One who called you.
- Jesus changes how we do our work.
When we see our work differently, as God sees, we will begin to do our work differently. Here are four ways Jesus followers do their work.
- Character: we work with integrity.
The law of the jungle dominates the American workplace. Many of you face difficult ethical decisions on your job every week, decisions relating to hiring practices, pricing, advertising, pollution control, financial management, and the lies individuals feel they are forced to tell. Christians need to live with ethical distinction in these and other areas.
Deuteronomy 25:15-16 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.
The Lord detests anyone who deals dishonestly. Strong language!
ILL: The great Babe Ruth was once called out on strikes by umpire Babe Pinelli. Ruth protested the called third strike by using a populist argument; he argued from raw numbers to moral weight. “There’s 40,000 people here who know that last one was a ball, tomato head.” Pinelli replied with measured stateliness: “Maybe so, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”
Sometimes we are pressed by the weight of popular opinion, but we know that in the end, only one opinion counts. Morals aren’t decided by the majority, but by God.
A good rule of thumb is: Never do anything that you wouldn’t be proud to tell your children; never do anything that you wouldn’t want God to see. If it’s questionable, don’t do it.
- Effort: we do our best.
We’ve been saying that work is worship, that our work should be done to serve the Lord.
Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Whatever you do, do your best, because you are doing it for the Lord. Whatever you do. Remember this was written to slaves, who were often required to do the most menial tasks. They were to do them with all their hearts for the Lord. Do your best, because you are doing it for Jesus, whatever you do.
ILL: When I graduated from college, I was involved in a youth ministry that demanded most of my time, but paid nothing. It was very difficult to find a job where I could work a few hours each afternoon. I was praying one day, and an idea popped into my mind. I jumped on my bike and rode to Campus Shoe Shop, near my college, where a friend of mine had once worked. I mentioned my friend’s name, and when it got an enthusiastic response, I asked if they had any openings. They looked at each other with astonishment, and then said, “Our help quit yesterday, and we were saying last night that we wished we could find a nice young man from the Bible College.” I was hired on the spot; I put on an apron, and went to work for Vic and Pearl at the Campus Shoe Shop, finishing shoes—that’s a fancy way of saying that I shined shoes. It was perfect: I worked a few hours each afternoon, leaving me free for my morning and evening work with students, and I was still working with soles!
I was determined to work hard and do my best for the Lord and my employer. Vic paid me by the hour. I worked hard to master the skills of shoe repair, and soon became quite proficient. The faster I got, the more he paid me. I worked there for 15 months before I went on staff at a church. In that time, Vic gave me 5 raises; I never asked for one.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. What do you do? I doubt that it is more mundane that polishing shoes! Whatever you do, you can do it for the Lord! It matters to Him. Do your best.
- Relationships: we treat people well.
Have you ever known an honest, hard-working individual who was difficult or impossible to get along with? To live Christianly in the marketplace, you must treat others well. Don’t be a butthead!
One thing that everyone expects from Christians is that they treat others well. After all, everyone knows the Golden Rule: Matthew 7:12 Do to others what you would have them do to you. They know that is what Jesus taught, and what we believe, so they expect us to treat them well.
So how do you want to be treated?
- with respect.
- with kindness.
- with patience.
Treat others the way you want to be treated. We believe that the great commandment is to love God and love people. Loving people is more important than making a profit. I realize that a business has to make a profit or it will cease to exist. But we cannot make profits our single and highest priority or we will use people rather than love them.
Treat people well.
- Witness: we represent Jesus well.
I have placed this last for a reason. Unless you are living with integrity, doing your best, and treating people well, you won’t have much to say about Jesus to those you work with, or you may say it and they won’t hear it. You have got to be the good news so that you can share the good news.
ILL: When I started working at Vic and Pearl’s, they knew I was a Christian, and a pastor. The first few weeks, they made nervous jokes about me preaching to them! I laughed along with them, but I didn’t preach. I worked hard, did my best, was honest and treated them well, and after a few weeks, they began to ask me questions about my relationship with Jesus and my ministry. We had many hours of wonderful and candid conversations about the Lord, which they started by asking me questions.
People are hungry to know God. And they aren’t afraid to talk about it if they feel like you’re the genuine article. That is why you have to be the good news before you can share the good news.
Live with integrity.
Do your best.
Treat others well.
When you do that, you’ll represent Jesus well.