Friday is the day of the week that most employees look forward to with most anticipation. We see various TGIF posts and gifs on social media. We love Fridays because they usher in the weekend – a period of rest, repose, and entertainment.
There is nothing wrong with looking forward to Fridays. It is so sweet and refreshing when we can take time out to rest from our labors and enjoy other blessings of life.
However, with some of the disturbing statistics about job dissatisfaction, TGIF may be more than what it appears to be. A poll by Gallup revealed that only 15% of full-time workers in the world are fully engaged in their work, which means 85% of workers are not. In another survey by Harris Interactive Study, only 45% of workers in the US are satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs.
There are many reasons for this, and the majority of them boils down to the work environment and the work culture. In essence, most of the factors are not down to the workers themselves. However, it will be foolhardy to think that none of these is due to the attitude of workers towards work.
Therefore, in a world of rising job dissatisfaction and inflated anticipation of Fridays, how should Christians think about their work? Why do we work? What does our work accomplish? What is our work about? Is there anything more to work than earning a salary so we can buy the things we want or live the life we want?Therefore, in a world of rising job dissatisfaction and inflated anticipation of Fridays, how should Christians think about their work? Why do we work? What does our work accomplish? What is our work about? Click To Tweet
The Creation Mandate
The concept of work and labor in itself is not post-fall. While the fall of man led to the curse of Genesis 3:17-19, work and labor was God’s idea before the fall. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) The purpose of God for man in creation was clear- man was to work the garden and take care of it. It is the glory of man to work and labor. God created us to work and designed that the universe he has made will be the center of our work and productive activities.
However, after the fall of man, God placed a curse on the ground that will affect our work and labor. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil, you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3;17-19)
Our work and labor are now painful toil. The ground now produces thorns and thistles. Famines and droughts now make man’s labor unproductive. Now, we labor at times, and we do not see the fruit. Sometimes, we see the fruits but not in the volume we desire, and many times, even those fruits can be lost.
Moreso, the fact that we live in a fallen world means the sin of man sometimes makes our labor hard and painful. We do not just battle with fallen creation; we battle with the evil and wickedness of fallen humanity.Moreso, the fact that we live in a fallen world means the sin of man sometimes makes our labor hard and painful. We do not just battle with fallen creation; we battle with the evil and wickedness of fallen humanity Click To Tweet
How then do we view our work in a fallen world? What should be our perspective towards the painful toil that God, in judgment, has appointed to us?
The Genius of Luther
Martin Luther, the German reformer, had the most significant impact on the Christian’s view of work.
Luther grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and its entire system. In the medieval world, there was a distinction between secular and sacred work. On the one hand, are the priests and those who minister in the temple and, on the other hand, are the farmers, masons, and blacksmiths, etc. The word “vocation” was used solely for those who engage in religious work, especially religious work in the monastery. The monastic life was seen to offer opportunities to do good works (and thereby completing one’s faith) and get the assurance of salvation. Therefore, people saw those who work in the temples or (especially) in the monasteries as the ones doing spiritual work. Since their work had direct regard to God and his church, they were the ones doing good works, serving God.
It was into this world that Luther came. Luther broke the split between sacred and secular work. He insisted that the man who works within the church or outside the church are doing the Lord’s work. For Luther, every honest work is valuable because, through it, we please God and love our neighbors. What is the greatest commandment? Is it not to love God and our neighbors? Doing good work is not living a secluded life in a monastery but living among people, in your calling/vocation as a means by which you love your neighbor and please God. The Christian life is faith working through love, and through our vocation and calling, we manifest this love.Luther broke the split between sacred and secular work. He insisted that the man who works within the church or outside the church are doing the Lord's work. For Luther, every honest work is valuable because, through it, we please God and love… Click To Tweet
Therefore, for Luther, there is a dignity to every labor because our labors are agents of God’s providential care. Through our work, we clothe the naked; we feed the hungry and heal the sick. As Luther commented, “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid,” “God gives us the wool but not without our labor. If it is on the sheep, it makes no garment.”Therefore, for Luther, there is a dignity to every labor because our labors are agents of God's providential care. Through our work, we clothe the naked; we feed the hungry and heal the sick. Click To Tweet
Luther insisted that there is no hierarchy to our work in terms of dignity or what qualifies as good work. The farmer on the farm is doing God’s work just as the Pastor on the pulpit is doing God’s work.
Why did Luther think this way?
I believe there are biblical foundations to Luther’s thoughts. In Psalms 145, the Psalmist is praising and exalting the Lord for all of his awesome works, the manifestation of his graciousness and compassion (verse 1-6). This compassion of God is towards everything he has made (verse 9). One of the expressions of God’s compassion to all of his creatures is that “the eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (verse 15, 16). The Lord satisfies the desire of every creature. No wonder Jesus reminds us in Mathew 6 that our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothe the lilies of the field. (Mathew 6:25-27). Feeding and clothing are part of those desires of every creature that he satisfies. Paul reminds us in Acts that it is “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)
In Psalms 104, the Lions look to God for their food (verse 21), and all living creatures, large and small, look to God to give them their food in proper time. Psalms 136 also reminds us that he is the one who gives food to every creature (verse 25). The same thought is in Psalms 147:9.
However, if God provides for every living creature, how does he do it? For the sake of space, let us focus on how he satisfies the desire of every man.
God shows us kindness “by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:17). However, God does this work not through extraordinary means but ordinary means. God did provide manna from heaven and multiplied five loaves and two fishes to feed a minimum of five thousand people. However, God does not satisfy the desires of every human being through manna and multiplied bread but through ordinary means. One of those means is rain, but another essential part is the man who works and labors.God shows us kindness “by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:17). However, God does this work not through extraordinary means but ordinary means Click To Tweet
No wonder Luther insists that it is God milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid. God provides food for every single human being every single day. How does he do it? He does it through the work of the farmer who plants and harvests, the wholesalers and retailers who get the food to us, the storekeeper who manages the warehouse, the accountant who keeps the records, and the driver who supplies the retailer, etc. We could go on.God provides food for every single human being every single day. How does he do it? He does it through the work of the farmer who plants and harvests, the wholesalers and retailers who get the food to us, the storekeeper who manages the… Click To Tweet
Does this, however, mean that only those who work in the food industry do valuable work? Far from it. God does not just give food to us; he supplies every desire (good) of his creatures. It is God working through the farmer who harvests the cotton, wool, silk, and leather, etc. God is working through the tailors who fashion the materials into clothes. God satisfies our desire for shelter by working through the builders and all those who support them through accounting, marketing, sales, and other support services.
Whatever honest work you do, God is working through you to sustain the universe in his providential care. Keeping the records and balancing the books may be insignificant to you but recognize that God is working through you to maintain the company that produces goods and services through which God sustains his creatures. If you work in HR, it is God working in you to recruit workers and provide the right working conditions for these workers to produce the goods and services. If you work in marketing and sales, God works through you to satisfy the desires of his creatures. Whether your work has a direct or indirect impact on the final product of the company, it is God working through you to satisfy the desires of every living creature.Whatever honest work you do, God is working through you to sustain the universe in his providential care. Keeping the records and balancing the books may be insignificant to you but recognize that God is working through you to maintain the… Click To Tweet
As an electrician, God is working through you to provide comfortable shelter for individuals or organizations. It is the same with the plumber and the carpenter.
If you start seeing your work through these lenses, you will stop thinking that your work is all about you.
Loving our Neighbors
Luther insisted that every work is valuable because, through it, we obey the command to love our neighbors. Your work does not only offer you opportunities to meet with people and show them love or witness to them. This is not the point he was making. The point is your work in and of itself can be an expression of love for your neighbors. God satisfies the desires of your neighbors (neighbor here does not mean people living in the same neighborhoods) through your work.
When you do your work faithfully, it is a way (not the only way) to love your neighbors. What will happen if the storekeeper does not work faithfully and the produce becomes bad? What happens if the man at the border becomes unfaithful and allows counterfeit products? What happens if the HR recruits unqualified candidates or introduces policies that make workers unproductive? What happens if the security man leaves his duty post? What happens if the builder (or carpenter or plumber or electrician) does a lousy job?
If we are unfaithful in our work, we are despising our neighbors and showing contempt for the Lord who made them.If we are unfaithful in our work, we are despising our neighbors and showing contempt for the Lord who made them. Click To Tweet
Every Single Work
Your work is valuable, not because of the status that society attaches to it. Whether you are the CEO of a company or the cleaner, God is working through you to satisfy the desires of every creature.Your work is valuable, not because of the status that society attaches to it. Whether you are the CEO of a company or the cleaner, God is working through you to satisfy the desires of every creature. Click To Tweet
We live in a world where we think the value of our existence is in our ability to do the big things – be the founder of a tech startup, start the next Amazon or Apple, become the CEO of a Forbes 500 company, etc. There is an uneasiness and a sense of dissatisfaction that plagues many of us today. We think our work is not valuable except we are doing big work in a big place. The problem is two-fold. First, we despise those who can’t do those big thinks. We mock them as under-achievers. Second, we live under constant pressure and anxiety. In such a life, there is nothing like contentment. It makes no sense except it is Chevron (fill in the gap)
However, while aspiring higher itself is not wrong (more about this in the second part), it is wrong if the reason for the aspiration is a feeling or belief that your current work is not valuable or anything below the Co-founder of XXX or the CEO of YYY is rubbish. We must not call rubbish what God has called valuable.
Another Martin Luther (King Jr) possibly recognized the thoughts of Luther (the German reformer) when he insisted that if a man is called to be a street sweeper he should do it like Michelangelo painted, Beethoven composed music and Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should do it this way, recognizing that his work is valuable because God is using it to sustain the universe (as means of his providential care). He should work with all his might because through that work, he can love his neighbors (the second greatest commandment).
Like the sweeper, your work is valuable. Like the sweeper, all work is valuable. Therefore, embrace your calling/vocation, working faithfully and diligently, and never look down on any man’s honest work.
I recognize that there are many loose ends we still need to tie up. Perhaps, you have questions yet unanswered. Well, there is a concluding part to the article. Watch out for it.
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