September 23-24, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
God and Your Work
#1—God’s Plan for Your Work
Introduction and offering:
ILL: Many years ago, I was getting after our teenage son, Jeff, for not completing a chore. He got upset and yelled, “You don’t get it, Dad. I don’t like to work.” Oh… that’s good to know.
Let’s be honest—how many of you ever feel that way? There are some things I’d rather not do. But the reality is that we were made to work, and without work, we fail to become the people God intended us to be. God has a plan for your work.
There are subjects that I return to regularly because they are of such universal importance: sex, relationships, marriage, sex, money, forgiveness, sex…and work. The gospel—God’s good news of abundant life in Jesus—the gospel is good news for all of life. It is good news for our relationships, for our marriages, for how we live as sexual creatures, and what we do with money. And it is good news for how and why we work. Most of us will spend the majority of our adult waking hours working. What good news does God have for us about our work?
Because this is universally important, every few years I do a series of talks on what God has to say about our work. For this series, I’m borrowing heavily from Tim Keller’s brilliant book, Every Good Endeavor. Tim is the recently retired pastor of Redeemer Church in Manhattan, New York. Some of you will recognize his name because we used his book, The Meaning of Marriage a few years ago for a marriage series. The guy is scary smart! Every Good Endeavor is one of the best books I’ve ever read on a Christian view of work. Every chapter is worth an entire sermon or more—and we’ll be covering four chapters per sermon. So if you want to go deeper, get the book and read it. You won’t regret it.
I’m praying that you will gain a Christian perspective on work in general and your work in particular, and that you will throw yourself into your work with a fresh sense of calling and purpose and joy.
- The design for work.
In the beginning…there was work. Let’s read the Scripture.
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The Bible opens with God creating—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 2:1–3 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
All through the rest of the Bible, this story of God working and resting will be the basis not only for our resting on the Sabbath (the seventh day), but also for our work. God worked, so we work. God worked, and He created us to work as well.
Genesis 1:26–28 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:
27 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, created 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.
ILL: Think of an entrepreneur who creates a great business. Eventually, he passes the business on to his son. What does he hope the son will do? “Work it and take care of it.” He hopes the son will continue to build the business, to develop what his father started and make it even better. He doesn’t pass it on so that his son can kill it, exploit it or ruin it, but so he can make it better.
In the same way, God created a beautiful world, and then passed it on to us “to work it and take care of it”—to develop it and care for it, not to abuse and exploit it.
In the beginning, there was work. The Bible begins talking about work from the first chapter—that is how important and basic it is. And 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.
Did you notice that the first human beings were given work to do in paradise? 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.
So on the one hand, the Bible teaches that we are designed to work, that it is an essential part of a meaningful life. But on the other hand, the Bible is clear that work is not all there is to life. You will not have a meaningful life without work, but you cannot say that your work is the meaning of your life. To make work your life is to make it an idol. Your relationship with God is the most important thing about you and it keeps all the other things from becoming idols and becoming addicting and distorted. Your identity is ultimately in Jesus, not in your work.
ILL: We tend to identify ourselves by our work. I’m Pastor Joe. When I meet you the first time, I’ll probably ask, “What do you do?” We find identity in our work. But what happens when I’m no longer the pastor here? Who am I then? What happens if you lose your job, or your kids grow up? Who are you then?
My friend Bob Hasty was a pastor in Mill Creek, Washington; then he resigned and moved to California. A new pastor came to Mill Creek, and Bob was surprised at how quickly people forgot him. He said, “They went from ‘boo-hoo’ to ‘Bob Who’ in 30 days.” Ouch. That could hurt.
In the final analysis, my identity isn’t in my work, but in Jesus. Who am I? I am a deeply loved, completely accepted, fully forgiven child of God.
You were designed to work. It is a gift from God and is one thing that gives our life purpose. But it must be subservient to God, who alone is our life.
- The dignity of work.
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.
Genesis 1:26–28 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.” 27 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.”
Notice the connection: we are made in the image of God so that we may rule, fill the earth and subdue it. We are made in God’s image so that we may continue His work on earth. Work has dignity because God works, and when we work, we are doing a God-like thing.
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 a vessel 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.
Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Carmelite monk who is known for practicing the presence of God in everyday life, remained a kitchen servant all his life, referring to himself as the “lord of all pots and pans.” He famously said: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” While others were engaged in contemplation, he was washing dishes, but he considered washing dishes an act of worship, a form of prayer.
This idea that work is worship, that we are offering our best to God, is found in the New Testament too.
Colossians 3:17 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 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 simple 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. And that leads me to our last two points about the purpose of work.
- Work as cultivation.
Let’s review two verses.
Genesis 1:28 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.”
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.” Here’s the idea. 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. Keller explains:
Farming takes the physical material of soil and seed and produces food. Music takes the physics of sound and rearranges it into something beautiful and thrilling that brings meaning to life. When we take fabric and make a piece of clothing, when we push a broom and clean up a room, when we use technology to harness the forces of electricity, when we take an unformed, naïve human mind and teach it a subject, when we teach a couple how to resolve their relational disputes, when we take simple materials and turn them into a poignant work of art— we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling, and subduing. So whether splicing a gene or doing brain surgery or collecting the rubbish or painting a picture, our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world. In this way we connect our work to God’s work.
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? Which leads to our last point:
- Work as service.
1 Corinthians 7:17 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. 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.
For centuries, we used “calling” only of church ministries—nothing else. Martin Luther, in the Reformation, challenged this error, and taught that not just church ministries, but every good endeavor, every legitimate work is a calling from God and exists to serve others. He rejected the spiritual-secular dichotomy, and called it “pure fiction” that only church work was God’s work, spiritual work.
ILL: When I was in high school, my zeal at times outpaced my wisdom—I said and did some really stupid things. Well-intentioned, but stupid. Once, I taught our youth group that if you were serious about Jesus, you would be a pastor or missionary or some other form of full time ministry. No serious Christian could do secular work! I couldn’t understand why everyone was so riled up.
I came to see the error of my ways. God calls people into every kind of work—every good work that is needed for human society and human beings to flourish. God wants and needs people in every endeavor, every job or form of work, to get His work done in the world. This is one of the reasons why I regularly do a series on work: I want you to think Christianly; I want you to see yourself as called and assigned by God to do His work right where you are. We need Christian teachers and police officers and nurses and contractors and salesmen and artists and baristas and politicians and stay at home parents on and on. I encourage you to see your work as God’s calling to serve others right where you are. Dorothy Sayers wrote:
The essential [modern] heresy . . . being that work is not the expression of man’s creative energy in the service of Society, but only something one does in order to obtain money and leisure.
There is more to your work than just something you do to get money and have fun. It is a calling and assignment from God—you are working for Him to achieve His purposes in the world. 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 understand 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? I wasn’t going to play anyway, and we were terrible! 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, whether I ever played 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.
You are deeply loved, completely accepted, and fully forgiven by God. We don’t work to earn God’s love. We happily give our best because we are so deeply loved. So the gospel transforms the way we work and think about our work.
Keller, Timothy. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (p. 49). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
ibid. p. 49.
 ibid. pg. 59, 61
 ibid, pg. 66
 ibid, pg. 74