Work Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Work

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Work is not just something humans do to survive; it's an essential quality of what it means to be human. Without work, we tend to lose our sense of identity. When we almost instinctively ask someone we meet, "What do you do?" the question may represent too narrow a conception of personhood, but it also shows how closely our work is tied to our sense of meaning.

Done rightly, work is purposeful activity that generates useful goods or services.

In Scripture

"God blessed them, and God said to them, `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth'" (Gen. 1:28).

The Creator God is the original worker. The six days of creation represent God's great work, and the seventh day of rest signals God's enjoyment of that work. Jesus also describes God, and himself, as workers in the creation and redemption of the cosmos (John 5:17)

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it" (Gen. 2:15).

Humans, made in the image of God, are also workers. They tend, cultivate, manage, and exploit the material of creation to serve God, themselves, and others. Adam's tending of the garden and his naming of the animals represent the breadth of physical and intellectual human work within the works of God in creation (Gen. 2).

After the fall of humanity, work remains an essential human task, but it is shadowed by pain, difficulty, and setbacks (Gen. 3:17-19).

"But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded" (2 Chron. 15:7).

The wisdom literature of the Bible frequently points to the works of God in creation and redemption, but also to the work of humans to sustain and bless human life. In Proverbs, "wisdom" is pictured as God's companion in the work of creation: "And I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race" (Prov. 8:30, 31).

"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands — O prosper the work of our hands!" (Ps. 90:17).

"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain" (Ps. 127:1).

Psalm 90:17 calls on God to "prosper for us the work of our hands," and Proverbs often warns against laziness and insolence and their resulting poverty (Prov. 12:11, 21:25). Paul also advises that "anyone unwilling to work should not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10).

For the Glory of God For the Christian, work is done for the glory of God and not just for selfish gain. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17). "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." (Col. 3:23, NIV). "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people." (Eph. 6:7, NIV).

"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior" (Prov. 6:10 - 11).

In John's vision of the kingdom, the work of humanity is not overlooked. The glory of the nations and the splendor of the kings will be brought into the city of God (Rev. 21:24-26).

"The appetite of the lazy craves, and gets nothing, while the appetite of the diligent is richly supplied" (Prov. 13:4).

"In all toil there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty" (Prov. 14:23).

"It is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in their toil" (Eccles. 3:13).

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:16).

"Jesus said to them, `My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work'" (John 4:34).

"`You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"'" (Acts 20:34 - 35).

"So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9).

"Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy" (Eph. 4:28).

"Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17).

"Even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right" (2 Thess. 3:10-13).

Points to Ponder

Sin's curse on human work persists in many ways peculiar to modern life. From the meaningless and repetitive grind of industrial manufacturing to the soul-shrinking noise of mass marketing, humans manage to continually invent new ways to melt the nobility out of work.

Work is an important topic in Scripture. The word (or its surrogates such as "labor" and "toil") appears 480 times in the Bible. Right at the front edge of the Bible, after blessing the initial human beings, God tells them to go to work: Fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion.

Work is purposeful activity. Even children do it. They walk the dog to keep him serene. They pick up their room to keep it tidy. They do their homework to get educated.

Madeleine L'Engle "Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it."

To Christians, their main calling is to become a prime citizen of the kingdom of God. Various forms of work fit into their vocation. What we call "getting a job" or "going to work" is only one way of participating in the various interests of the kingdom. Volunteering to teach Sunday School is another. So is stepping into a voting booth and making conscientious choices there. So is deciding whether to marry or to remain single, and, if married, whether to conceive or adopt children, or do both. These are all vocational decisions for a citizen of the kingdom, and some of them are large.

God is a working God, not a leisurely deity. Creative work is God's joy and delight. To be made in God's image is to be made for work. The question is whether human work will participate in God's joy and delight or be drudgery by the sweat of the brow. No one fully realizes that divine joy, but we can experience it more and more as we join in doing God's work, wherever, in the whole breadth of culture, that might be.

How about occupations? To "strive first for the kingdom" in choosing a career, a Christian will ask himself particular questions. Where in the kingdom does God want me to work? Where are the needs great? Where are the workers few? Where are the temptations manageable? With whom would I work? How honest is the work I'm thinking of doing? How necessary and how healthy are the goods or services I would help provide? How smoothly could I combine my proposed career with being a spouse, if that's also my calling, or a parent, or a faithful child of aging parents? How close would I be to a church in which I could give and take nourishment? Is my proposed career inside a system so corrupt that, even with the best intentions, I would end up absorbing a lot more evil than I conquer?

What would my career do for "the least of these"? Placing emphasis where Jesus placed it, a prime citizen will add another question: What would my career do for "the least of these"?

What all of these questions express is an interest in serving the common good. God has ordered human society in such a way that we all depend on each other. Before we give thanks for our daily bread, somebody has to have baked it. In fact, before a slice of honey oatmeal appears on our plate, a number of farmers, millers, bakers, distributors, drivers, grocers, and others have had to work together in order to supply our need. This is a commercial arrangement, but not only a commercial arrangement. As Lee Hardy has written, it's also a social arrangement that expresses and reinforces our dependence on each other. God intends "that human beings should live in a society bound together by common needs and mutual service."

An ordinary occupation done conscientiously builds the kingdom of God. Jesus built the kingdom as a carpenter before he built it as a rabbi. Only a few of us will launch great reform movements, and even fewer of us will do it deliberately. But all of us may offer our gifts and energies to the cause of God's program in the world. When we make this offering by means of an ordinary occupation, we will sometimes feel as if our lives are very ordinary. No matter. An ordinary occupation done conscientiously builds the kingdom of God. Jesus built the kingdom as a carpenter before he built it as a rabbi. And he taught us in the parable of the talents that the question for disciples is not which callings they have, but how faithfully they pursue them.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.