So many Christians struggle with their relationship with work. Work easily becomes an idol that causes stress, anxiety, and loneliness. In this message on 1 Corinthians 10:31, Pastor David Platt considers how we can use work to glorify God instead of idolizing it. He focuses on five central truths that can allow us to look at work with a new perspective.
- The Character of God
- The Sinfulness of Man
- The Sufficiency of Christ
- The Necessity of Faith
- The Urgency of Eternity
If you have Bible, and I hope you do, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 10. I have been looking very forward to this Sunday, and I have so much I want to say, as is evident in your notes. So, we’re going to dive in quickly, but I just need to apologize from the start today. As I have studied this week, I have been overwhelmed with how needful this word is for our faith family, and I am sorry that I have not addressed the issues we’re about to dive into sooner than this.
The majority of you in this faith family spend a significant portion of your week at a place of work doing a job. I’m including here those of you who may be moms working at home with your children, or men or women working at home for any other reason. Most of you spend hours every week and every month and in all your life doing work. Think about this. If you work 40 hours a week for 40 years of your life, then you will put in over 80,000 hours at a job during your lifetime. If you go to college, then Kindergarten to college is another 15,000 hours preparing to work. Then there’s commuting on top of all that, so that’s a lot of hours.
For many of you, you wonder how all of those hours at work (or preparing for work) fit in with God’s ultimate purpose for your life and God’s ultimate purpose in the world. Your work in sales or as a teacher or as an engineer or whatever you do, what’s the purpose of it all? Is it just to provide a way for food to be on your table, or is there more to it than that? We talk all the time about how God has created you to make His glory known in all nations, but is your job really a part of that plan?
The reality is the majority of you are not pastors and you’re not missionaries; you’re working in a “secular” profession. So does that mean then that you’re relegated to a minor role, a less significant role, in the Great Commission? Or is your job only significant if you have a Bible study with your co-workers on your lunch break, and if you don’t do that, you’re wasting your job? Or do you sometimes think, “I do this job for a living during the weekdays, and then I serve God by doing this or that on the weekends or on certain weeknights.” I have a feeling that’s how many people, particularly in the church, feel about work.
Others of you, because you spend so much time doing your job, sometimes feel controlled by it, and you’re tempted on a daily basis to be consumed by your work and to make an idol of it. So 1 Corinthians 10:31 is appropriate. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Last week, we talked about how we play and watch sports to the glory of God. This week we’re going to talk about work. How do we work—how do you do what you do all day long—to the glory of God? How do you spend those 80,000 hours of your life to the glory of God?
1 Corinthians 10:31 and the Gospel at Work…
Just like everything else in 1 Corinthians, this morning I want to show you how the gospel, how the cross of Christ uniquely affects the way we understand and approach work. The gospel at work. I’m using that language specifically here because, as a picture of how important I believe this is, in late November, we are actually going to have a conference here on a Friday and Saturday (November 22–23), where we help one another in the church think about how the gospel affects the practical day-to-day work we do in our jobs. I believe this is huge, and today I want to invite everyone who has a job, and everyone who’s looking for a job and every college student who’s preparing to get a job to come to this conference.
I, along with another pastor friend of mine named Greg Gilbert, who has recently co-written a book called The Gospel at Work, will speak on Friday night. I just finished reading Greg’s book and am actually writing a foreword for it. It’s one of those books I wish every single member of this church had a copy of. It’s so immensely helpful, and you’ll hear echoes of it throughout this morning. Greg and I will lay some gospel, biblical foundations for understanding work on Friday night, and then Saturday morning through lunch is going to be filled with practical plenaries and breakouts led by those in the working world aimed at equipping you to glorify God in your job, addressing everyone from entrepreneurs to organizational leaders to employees in all types of professions, covering the various challenges that we face when integrating our faith into our work, providing networking opportunities for you to get to know other followers of Christ in the church and in the city who may be in your field of work. This has been a long time coming.
I hope this conference will be hugely helpful. We were actually waiting until today to announce this and open registration for it. For the next week only (so through the end of August), you can register for $39. After that time, the registration costs will start to go up. We want to make this as accessible as possible to you, and I want to encourage you to sign up and be a part of this. It’s easy. Just go to thegospelatwork.com, where you can find out information, and there is a link to register there. We’re actually partnering together with some other like-minded churches who’ve hosted and are hosting similar conferences around North America, and this is something we wanted to provide for our faith family, as well as for anyone else in (or beyond) our city for that matter. So thegospelatwork.com, let me encourage you to register for that this week. Today will be a bit of a preview of what’s to come at that conference.
I want to take the five gospel threads that we have talked about—the character of God, the sinfulness of man, the sufficiency of Christ, and the necessity of faith, and the urgency of eternity—and I want to look at our jobs (our work) through the lens of these threads, through the lens of the gospel. I want to show you how the gospel doesn’t just affect what you do in the church, but the gospel uniquely transforms the way you understand and approach what you do in your work from 9 to 5 or whenever you work.
The Character of God…
So let’s start (and get ready to work; we’re about to kick it Secret Church style), let’s start with the character of God. We’re going to be turning in our Bibles a bit, so go ahead and turn back to the first chapter in the Bible, Genesis 1, where I want to show you how the Bible from the very beginning links work with the nature of God.
Genesis 1–2 shows us that God delights in work. God works, and He enjoys it. Genesis 1–2 describes God’s work in creation, and not coincidentally, it is described in the timeframe of a seven-day work week. I put Psalm 104 in your notes in parentheses there, and I didn’t mean to stop that reference at verse 30, because after talking about all the works that God does in creation, the psalmist says, “May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works” (Psalm 104:30). Proverbs 8 echoes the same language.
The Bible depicts God as a working God who creates and sustains and nurtures and provides, and in the process – follow this – God works for us and He works through us. In other words, in all God is doing in creation, He is providing for us, He is nurturing us, He is sustaining us with His work. Think about it. The only reason that you are breathing at this moment is because God is working for you, and if He were to stop, so would you.
He works for us and, even the good work that we do, is work that He is actually doing through us. In other words, God uses us (works through us) to accomplish His work. I love what Martin Luther said here. Luther said,
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And he does give us our daily bread. [How does He do this though?] He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, [and] the person who prepared our meal.
Luther said, “God could easily give you grain and fruit without [our] plowing and planting, but he does not want to do so.” Instead, He works for us by working through us. Luther said, “God milks the cows through the vocation of the milk maids.”
So God Himself delights in working for us and working through us, and for this reason, God Himself designed our work. Read with me Genesis 1:26. On the sixth day of creation, this is the work God does:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so (Genesis
God created man and told him to work throughout the world. This becomes even clearer in Genesis 2:15, where God puts Adam in the garden. Listen to what the Bible says: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Notice that this is before the fall of man and the entrance of sin into the world. Work was not a product of the fall; instead, work, from the very beginning of history, was part of God’s design for us as a fundamental part of who we are, what it means to be human.
I love what Tim Keller says in another excellent book on work called Every Good Endeavor. He says:
Work is so foundational to our makeup that it is one of the few things we can take in significant doses without harm. Indeed, the Bible does not say we should work one day and rest six, or that work and rest should be balanced evenly—but directs us to the opposite ration. Leisure and pleasure are great goods, but we can only take so much of them. If you ask people in nursing homes or hospitals how they are doing, you will often heart that their main regret is that they wish they had something to do, some way to be useful to others.
Why? Because we were made, designed by God to work. God designed us this way by His grace, for our good, and for His glory. God’s design in our work is gracious. It is a gift to us as we’ve already talked about, as a way for God to provide for us and through us all we need and all we want. Work is designed by God for our good, for the good of humankind, and ultimately, work is designed for God’s glory.
Let me just go ahead and throw out there two passages that we’re going to turn to a little bit later. In Ephesians 6, we are exhorted to serve, to work wholeheartedly, as if we were serving, working for the Lord Himself. Then, Colossians 3 tells us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men … You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians
3:23–24). This is the picture we have in the garden before sin ever entered the world. Work was a joy. There was no mindless or meaningless effort here, no sense of futility, no frustration in work. This was work with God from God for God, all in perfect harmony. See this: Work was part of paradise in the beginning.
1 Corinthians 10:31 and the Sinfulness of Man…
Work is a good, fundamental, significant part of who we are, which leads right into the next truth, where we’re going to talk in just a moment about the sinfulness of man. Keep going here with the picture before sin entered the world, and we see that work is a mark of human dignity. This is huge. Many people, even in the church, or maybe especially in the church, view work as a necessary evil in this world, something we have to endure in order to make money, to get by. Some people have to suffer through menial, unimportant jobs in order to make that money, but it’s just what you have do in this world. And that kind of thinking is totally unbiblical.
According to Scripture, all work is a mark of human dignity. Now, obviously, I would exclude here jobs that are sinful or evil in and of themselves. Some might classify selling drugs or stealing cars as work, but obviously, that is not the kind of work we’re talking about here. Excluding work that in and of itself is immoral (against the law of Christ), all work is a mark of human dignity.
Once we realize the meaning of Genesis 1:26–30 and Psalm 8 that talks about the glory of man made in the image of God to rule and work in the world, we realize that whenever we work, whatever we are doing, we are reflecting the image of a working God, and that brings great dignity to even what some would call the most menial of jobs. We have a tendency to base our dignity upon our occupation—according to how important we (or others) view our occupation—but to do so is not only unbiblical; it’s ungodly. God has created us to work, and all work that displays His character as a working God for people’s good is dignified. Isn’t this most clear in Christ?
Philip Jensen asked the question: “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.”
All work is a mark of human dignity. Just think about what Genesis 1 is saying here! We are stewards of creation. We have been given dominion over the earth as God’s representatives to work in all kinds of ways in it. So we create and we fix, we build and we construct, we serve and we provide, we organize and we improve. With our work, we take care of this good world that God has put us in for the good of people God has put us around.
We are stewards of creation, and we are developers of culture. This command in Genesis 1:28 is quite literally a charge to develop and build a society on earth that reflects God’s glory as our Creator and Sustainer and Provider. We work so that the world and the people in it thrive and flourish as we create things and design things and produce goods and provide services. Keller writes:
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—[in all these things] we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling and subduing…[and] we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development.
This is where we realize that this indeed does involve all of us doing all kinds of different things and different work. If all of us were pastors, that would be a horrible thing for sustenance in the world. Sure, we’d know how to teach the Bible and shepherd the church, but we wouldn’t know how to do anything else. If we were all salesmen and women, we wouldn’t have any products to sell in the first place. If we were all police officers, we’d be safe, but we sure would be hungry. And if we were all lawyers, well, we’d all be in trouble. We need each other, every single one us. In much the same way the body of Christ has different parts, all of which are important, God has created us to work in all kinds of different ways in the world, all of which are important.
Listen to what one author says. I read this and thought, “What a great picture of how important every one of our jobs is.” He writes:
Look at the chair you are lounging in…Could you have made it for yourself? … How would you get, say, the wood? Go and fell a tree? But only after first making the tools for that, and putting together some kind of vehicle to haul the wood, and constructing a mill to do the lumber and roads to drive on from place to place? In short, a lifetime or two to make one chair! … If we…worked not forty but one-hundred-forty hours per week we couldn’t make ourselves from scratch even a fraction of all the goods and services that we [now] call our own. Our paycheck turns out to buy us the use of far more than we could possibly make for ourselves in the time it takes us to earn the check … Work … yields far more in return upon our efforts than our particular jobs put in…
He goes on to say:
Imagine that everyone quits working, right now! What happens? Civilized life quickly melts away. Food vanishes from the shelves, gas dries up at the pumps, streets are no longer patrolled, and fires burn themselves out. Communication and transportation services end, utilities go dead. Those who survive at all are soon huddled around campfires, sleeping in caves, clothed in raw animal hides. The difference between [a wilderness] and culture is simply,
See it: All human work, however lowly the world might deem it to be, is dignified, reflecting the glory of God as our Creator. This is huge for us to make sure that we do not set up some false dichotomy, some artificial distinction between some whose work is more noble than others—pastors more noble than bankers or missionaries more noble than telemarketers.
William Tyndale said, “If we look externally, there is difference between washing dishes and preaching the Word of God, but as touching to please God, there is no difference at all. That’s a biblical view of work, that there’s no difference when done to the honor of the Lord between preaching and washing the dishes.” You say, “Do you really believe that? That preaching and washing the dishes are just as important to the glory of God?” Absolutely, I believe that. You take something like housecleaning and imagine, “What if it wasn’t done?”
Before long, there would be germs all over the house, viruses and infections threatening to make you sick that could eventually kill you. That’s absolutely, fundamentally important. So one writer concludes: “Simple physical labor is God’s work no less than the formulation of theological truth.” All of it noble, all of it dignified, all of it a beautiful part of God’s design for us as workers made in His image, given work by His grace for our good and for His glory.
The problem, however, comes in Genesis 3 when sin enters the world. We see that work has been marred by human depravity, and the disobedience of man directly affects our work. Read what God says starting in Genesis 3:17.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17–19).
We’ve seen all the good that God has designed for work, but we know that good is not what we experience in our work in this world on moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis because of sin in and around us. We shouldn’t be surprised by this once we begin to understand these gospel truths.
We know from God’s Word that, though work was designed to be fulfilling, it is frustrating. In whatever work we do, we want to be fulfilled, we want to have joy, we want to accomplish things, but even on our best days, we are continually plagued by our lack of ability to do everything we want to do, our lack of resources to carry out all that we desire to do, our struggles with co-workers and bosses and employees who have different ideas than we do about how to do this or that. This is in every kind of work—work in the church, work in business, work in medicine, work at school, work at home. Even those who thoroughly enjoy their jobs find themselves frustrated at times in their jobs. Sometimes students have the idea that they want a job that will always fulfill and never frustrate them, and the reality is that job does not exist on this earth. Every job on this earth, along with every part of this earth, has been subjected to frustration (Romans 8) through sin in the world. Though work was designed to be fulfilling, it is frustrating.
Though work was designed to be purposeful, it feels pointless. Ecclesiastes is particularly depressing here. The author starts in Ecclesiastes 1 by saying, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2–3). Then, in Ecclesiastes 2, the author addresses how so many try and try to do something meaningful in the world, but in the end, it’s all for nothing. Ecclesiastes 2:18 says,
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:18–20).
He goes on, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation” (Ecclesiastes 2:22–23). Ecclesiastes is one depressing book, but it’s real. It’s something we can identify with when we have those moments and ask, “What’s the point?” Though work was designed to be purposeful, it feels pointless sometimes.
And though work was designed to be selfless, it becomes selfish. Exhibit A being the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11—workers constructing a building to make a name for themselves, literally to construct an identity for themselves. This is the name of the game in the working world, isn’t it?
It’s the motivation behind cutthroat competition. How can I, how can we advance ourselves at the expense of another? How can I assert myself over and above another? How can I construct an identity for myself around my work? College students, beware the subtle temptation here even to choose a career based on what best boosts your self-image. Beware the subtle lure of selfishness, ladies and gentlemen, this curse of sin that is so common to our culture of work.
When you come down to it – and this is where I was particularly helped by Greg who co wrote the book The Gospel at Work with Sebastian Traeger, who is helping us organize this conference in November – they identify two primary distortions of work that are both celebrated in our culture, and even oftentimes by us as Christians.
One is the idolatry of work where we overvalue work, thinking that it provides ultimate meaning. When you spend thousands upon thousands of hours at work, there is an obvious temptation to be consumed by work and controlled by work in a way that’s not healthy, in a way that we start to look at work as a source of identity and an ultimate sense of meaning.
We wrap ourselves up in our work, and it becomes the primary object of our passions and our energy and our devotion, oftentimes to the exclusion of our families or the church or, most importantly, our intimacy with God. This is particularly dangerous if we’re successful in our job. Just so you know, this is just as much a temptation for me as it is for any other worker in any other job in this room. If we’re not careful, we can end up looking to our job for things that God alone can provide for us: Meaning and joy and identity.
When we idolize or overvalue work, we fail to see God’s limits for our work. Does God want you to have joy in your work? Yes, we’re going to talk about that in a moment. But God has not designed you to give your life over to your work as your source of joy. God has not designed your identity to revolve around what you do as a profession.
When we fail to see God’s limits for our work, we find ourselves resisting rest; we resist rest. We can’t put our work aside. We can’t put our phone down. We’re always checking emails, always making calls. Like we talked about last week, our thoughts are always going to this or that at the office. We’re consumed with our work, and so we see rest almost as an enemy, as an impediment to us being able to work more and accomplish more.
I am guilty here, and this is the wake-up call that I am thankful my precious wife gave me in my work, when she said, “David, you don’t sleep, you don’t eat some meals because you’re working. There’s always more and more and more that you see needs to be done in the church, and so you don’t stop.” And she was right. I was idolizing my job in a way that I’m guessing many of you are idolizing your job. It’s what we do when we overvalue work.
There’s an opposite end of the spectrum here, and some of you are already thinking it, “Well, we don’t want to be lazy and not work hard.” And you’re exactly right. The other distortion of work is idleness in work where we undervalue work, thinking that it has little to no meaning. Now this plays out in a couple of different ways.
For some, this plays out in outright laziness. There are people in this room who have the ability to work 40-50 hours a week and are not working. I want to be sensitive here to the man or woman who, even this last week or this last month, may have lost your job, quite unexpectedly, and others of you who are suffering from some kind of disability that is keeping you from working right now. The last thing I want is for you to feel beat down for laziness. At the same time, though, there are others in this room who have the ability to work and the opportunity to work and yet the ratio that we talked about between leisure and work is completely out of proportion in your life.
In Exodus 20, which I put in parentheses earlier in your notes, we are commanded to work six days and rest one day, and some are nowhere close to that. With all due respect, your life looks like Proverbs 6—“a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” (Proverbs 6:10)—and you’re a sluggard. Ephesians 4:28 says, “You need to work, to labor, to do honest work with your hands, so you may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Your undervalue of work is totally selfish. Paul goes even farther than this when he rails on freeloaders in 2 Thessalonians, where all these people were quitting their jobs, saying, “Why work if Jesus is going to come back any day?” Paul writes a letter to them and says, “Get a job.” He says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” In other words, no one who has the ability and opportunity to work should be living—literally mooching—off others’ hard work and the fruit of others’ labors. The Bible commands that such people do work and earn a living. There’s laziness included here, but when we talk idleness in work, undervaluing work, we’re also talking about the tendency to work but to see little to no meaning in that work. So whether we’re lazy (not working) or simply working to get by, doing our work as drudgery, both are problems, because we are failing to see God’s purposes for our work. We either don’t work, or we work but don’t care at all about or work and view it as merely a means to an end that you have to endure. The result is a whole host of emotions that you identify with work: Joylessness, complaining, discontentment, dissatisfaction, discouragement, dreading Monday morning. In the middle of it all, we lose sight of God’s purpose for our work—for even the most menial of jobs you might think—and the dignity God has designed for them and the purpose God has for your good, others’ good, and His glory in them.
When we fail to see these purposes, we dishonor God. And do you know what we do? In our country and our culture, so many people regard work as something to be avoided or endured until the next opportunity for recreation, just get through the week, and ultimately just get through your life, where we prioritize retirement. In one sense, we prioritize rest. Our work is something we endure until we get to the weekend. Then, in a larger sense, work is something we endure until we can finally attain the goal of not having to work, and we retire—a concept that is totally unbiblical. People ask me, “What do you mean when you say that retirement is unbiblical?” And I say, “I mean it’s not in the Bible!” It’s not a biblical idea at all.
Now I want to be clear. I’m not talking here about those who are physically unable to work, and I’m not talking here about those who retire from a job in order to be able to do work that doesn’t require a salary. There are many people across this faith family who, past a certain age, are no longer employed on a payroll somewhere, but are working to the glory of God in this city and around the world in all kinds of different ways, and that’s great;
that’s biblical. Work is biblical.
But this idea that we have in American culture that the goal of our life is to get to the point where we can just rest is not biblical. It’s not human. It’s not what God has designed for us. We even say, “I can’t wait to rest in heaven,” but even that’s not true. We’re going to talk about this, but there will be work in heaven. You might hear that and throw your arms up, thinking, “So, it’s never going to end?” That’s where we realize we’re missing the point: God has created us to work by His grace, for our good, and for His glory. Work is a good gift from a gracious God that we will enjoy for all of eternity, and we must not buy into the lie that our culture sells that work is to be avoided, to be endured because we have to do it. No,
work is a fundamental part of God’s good design for us, and God desires to save us from an unbiblical view of work and redeem us for a satisfying life of work.
The Sufficiency of Christ…
This is where the sufficiency of Christ meets us where we are, and the cross of Christ completely transforms the way we view work in three main ways that I put in your notes. How does Jesus’ life, death on the cross for our sins, resurrection from the grave in victory over sin, ascension to heaven where He waits to return for His church – how does His work transform our work? Here’s how.
Number one, Christ’s work has secured our salvation (freeing us to rest in His work as the only superior work). Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This is huge, and this is why Martin Luther, for example, was so passionate about all work (not just church work) being equally pleasing and honoring to God. For Luther, it all went back to his discovery of the reality that we are justified before God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Think about it. If our works—specifically our religious works—earn us particular favor before God, then it only makes sense that the clergy, the popes and the priests, do the most noble work and have the most favor before God, and everyone else is second class in that sense. But, Luther realized, if we are accepted before God based solely on faith in the finished work of Christ, then there is no work we can do that can increase our status before God. Christ, at the cross, has secured our salvation, and we are free to rest in His work as the only superior work.
So Luther wrote:
It is pure invention that Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the “spiritual estate” while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the “temporal estate.” This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy. Yet no one need be intimidated by it, and that for this reason: all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office (vocation)…We are all consecrated priests, [2 Peter says] – “You are [all] a royal priesthood” (2 Pet. 2:9).
He continues, “A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests, and everyone by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other.” Yes! The work of Christ on the cross secures our salvation, freeing us to rest in His work on our behalf.
Keep going here. Christ’s work has not only secured our salvation; see how Christ’s work hits right at the core of our sinful views of work and sinful approaches to work. On one hand, Christ’s work has secured our satisfaction (freeing us from the idolatry of work). In Christ, through Christ, you have been reconciled to God. You have found ultimate meaning in God. Your ultimate source of joy is not what you do, but who you know. Your identity is not your profession; your identity is in Christ. In these ways, in Christ, you are free from looking to your job to find what Christ has already purchased for you: Ultimate joy and meaning and satisfaction in Him.
Gilbert and Traeger write: “Christ’s work provides an anchor for your soul. Without it, it’s inevitable that you’ll be blown around like a leaf by the winds of stock market gyrations, temporary successes and failures, performance reports, bosses who do or don’t treat you well, and your own desires, whether they are met or not.” But Christ saves you to free you from that kind of life!
Will you experience frustration, discouragement, and despair at work? Sure, you will. It’s the reality of work in a sinful world. But just as soon as you do, those realities will only remind you that work is not your source of meaning and joy and satisfaction; Christ is. He alone can provide what your soul most needs and what your soul most desires.
Then, keep going here. Christ’s work has also secured our significance (freeing us from idleness in work). Christ infuses significance and meaning and purpose into, as we’ve mentioned, even the most menial of tasks and jobs. It’s as if Jesus addresses the speaker in Ecclesiastes and says, “You’re right. Your work is pointless if this world is all there is to it, but there is more than you see under the sun. There is a God who loves you and has designed you and your work for His glory, and I have made a way for you to experience His eternal purpose in your day-to-day job.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 and the Necessity of Faith…
Which then leads to the necessity of faith. So you put your faith in Christ. You turn from your sin and yourself, and you trust in Him as your Savior, and you follow Him as your Lord. Now see how following Christ as Lord totally transforms your work.
Followers of Christ, by grace through faith in Christ, we are free to worship God wholeheartedly as we work. I mentioned Ephesians 6 earlier. Turn there real quickly with me. Let me just mention real quickly that the two passages we’re about to read in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3 are both addressing bondservants and masters, and some translations use the word “slaves” here. We don’t have time to go into an entire discussion on slavery in the first century and differences with how that relates to slavery in American history or slavery around the world today, for that matter, and how the Bible addresses slavery, but let me just suffice to say that if bondservants here in these two texts are told to find satisfaction and meaning in their work, how much more should this be said of every follower of Christ in their work? So with that comparison, even, listen to the words of Ephesians 6:5–9.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him (Ephesians 6:5–9).
Then, turn two books over to Colossians 3:22, where Paul writes a similar exhortation there.
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:22–24).
Do you see what the Bible is saying here to followers of Christ? It’s saying the same thing that 1 Corinthians 10 is saying. In everything you do, including your work, you are worshiping to the glory of God. Worship is not just singing; worship is working. Think about it. When you work, no matter what you do, who are you ultimately working for? Colossians 3:23, “For the Lord”! Colossians 3:24, “You are serving the Lord Christ”! No matter what job you are in, no matter what work you do, you are not ultimately working for this boss or that employer. You are working for God! And that changes how you work.
Talk about meaning in work, purpose in work, motivation for work, the importance of work. Now you realize that what you do 9-5 every day is not “secular work”, and what you do when you serve in the church on Sunday is “spiritual work.” No, it’s all work to the glory of God—every bit of it. See this; realize this. When you are writing a memo at your desk, when you are talking on the phone with a customer, when you are preparing a lesson for your class, when you are selling an item, serving some food, making a decision, managing a company, placing an order, hammering a nail, fixing a leak, performing a surgery, whatever you do, you are worshiping God as you work! You are literally serving the Lord Christ. Discipleship to Jesus is not just what you do when you have a Bible study or you serve at the soup kitchen. Yes, it’s that, and it’s every other detail of your life on a daily basis. It’s all discipleship to Jesus.
Now think about it, and this is where I just want to give you practical exhortations then, based on this biblical reality. We are free to worship God, to love God wholeheartedly as we work, so work competently (with excellence at your job). What greater motivation do we need to work well, even when nobody is looking, or when we think nobody even cares? We work hard and we work well because God is looking, and God cares about every single thing we’re doing. We don’t worship God through shoddy, lousy work. So whether you are a student at school, an employee, a boss, whatever, work hard with competency, with excellence. Why? Because you are serving Jesus Himself in your job!
Work honorably (with integrity). Worship God through holy work, work that’s ethical, that doesn’t cut corners, that doesn’t make compromises, that doesn’t fudge balance sheets or skimp time cards. We compete, yes, but not in the way the world competes in a cutthroat, do whatever it takes, end justifies the means mentality. We are all tempted in all of our work to do that work according to the ways of the world, but don’t do it. Ephesians 6:6 says we work according to the will of God.
Work honorably (with integrity), and work humbly (with respect). There is exhortation in both of these passages that is applicable both to employers (bosses) and employees. Employees who work for a boss—even if your boss is unfair, demanding, demeaning—how can you respect that boss? You’re ultimately a bondservant of Christ, and you honor the authority He has placed in your life. You pray for that boss, you serve and encourage that boss, and you work for that boss, not with begrudging resignation, but with a sincere heart (Ephesians 6), obviously not doing anything sinful that he/she might ask you to do, but humbly honoring and respecting him/her.
If you’re a boss, manager, an employer, you are exhorted here to remember that you answer to a higher authority—God Himself—and your example of leadership is a Savior King who stooped to wash His disciples’ feet before He laid down His life in love for them. This is the pattern for how you are to lead—as a servant.
Work humbly (with respect). And finally, work eagerly (with joy). Even amidst a world where work is frustrating, Colossians 3 says, “Work heartily.” Philippians 2:14 is a command we all need to hear in our work: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14–15).
The workplace can be the most fertile ground for grumbling and complaining. Everyone can find something to complain about at work (and some more than others), but hear this: It doesn’t honor God, whom you are serving, to grumble or complain, so don’t do it. Resist the ever-present temptation to complain about work. How do you resist? How do you fight the urge to complain about how this person or that facet of your work is particularly frustrating? You fight that urge with faith in Christ, who has called you to find your joy, not in this person or that facet of your work, but in Him.
Listen to Philippians 2. When you don’t complain, listen to this: The Bible says you will shine as lights (like stars) in the world. It sticks out in this world of work when you don’t complain, and you work eagerly with joy. And that joy is no longer dependent upon the circumstances of your work. I find Gilbert and Traeger particularly helpful here. Tying this back to sin’s distortion of our work, they ask:
Do you ever experience satisfaction or enjoyment in your work? If not, it might be worth thinking about why you don’t. Do you lack enjoyment in your job because you idolize it, expecting it to do things for you that only Jesus can do? Or is it because you’ve lost sight of the purposes for which God has called you to work in the first place, and you’ve become idle in your work? You don’t necessarily have to enjoy the mechanics of what you do in order to find a measure of enjoyment and satisfaction in your work. Maybe your job is cleaning on the grease pits in a hydraulics factory and you work in a non-air
conditioned metal warehouse in the brutal 110-degree heat of East Texas. Hardly anyone can be expected to enjoy the mechanics of that particular job. Yet if this describes your work, you can still find satisfaction and enjoyment in it by doing your job well and knowing you are doing it for the King’s glory and as an expression of love for him.”
Christian, you are free to worship God wholeheartedly as you work, and we are free to love others selflessly in our work. Worship is an expression of our love for God and our love for others. In fact, work is one of the clearest expressions of our love for others. Think about all the ways that faith in Christ frees us to love others selflessly in and through our work.
Work enables you to provide for your family. We’ve talked about how the purpose of work is greater than just putting food on the table, but that’s certainly part of it. First Timothy 5:8 makes clear that any Christian who doesn’t provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever. Men and women, as long as you are able, work to provide for your family. This is one way we can serve others selflessly in our work.
Second, serve your co-workers and customers. Doesn’t it seem like everyone in the working world is driven by an agenda and that agenda is almost always selfish in nature? How much does it stick out to approach work with the agenda of serving the people around you, whether you work with or for them? How can you work in a way that you are looking out for the good of others around you in your work—even (or especially!) if they’re tough to work with? Doesn’t the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ self-sacrifice for undeserving sinners, transform the way you approach that co-worker that, in your flesh, you can’t stand? How can you show the grace and generosity of Christ to them?
Provide for your family, serve your co-workers and customers, better our world. Now I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it hits at part of God’s purpose for your work in the world. Going back to Genesis 1, God created the world and said that it was good and commissioned us to care for it as good and to develop culture for His glory. All that we do, all of our jobs and all of our tasks, are pieces of that plan. To go back to the guy in the grease pits of the hydraulics factory, this is a guy who is serving with his life (hours every week) in what many would call a “menial task”, so that that factory can run so that it could serve society in the important ways that it does.
Our jobs are a hugely important avenue for loving people in the world through all the different kinds of things we do. You know there’s that old cliché that nobody gets to the end of their life and wishes they’d spent more time at the office. And to a certain extent, that’s true. If we’re not careful, though, we’ll devalue what we’ve done at the office. Even if it’s been a lifetime—40 years of doing a desk job in whatever field—that time at the office has been extremely valuable when it’s been spent serving the Lord and, literally, filling a void for the good of society and culture in the world. Sure, it was one small piece of the puzzle, but who of us is so arrogant to think that our piece of that puzzle is that big in the first place? In Christ, we’re free to do what we do on a daily basis in our work to better the world around us. Tim Keller writes, “There may be no better way to love your neighbor, whether you are writing parking tickets, software, or books, than simply to do your work.”
And then to care for the needy. Ephesians 4:28: “Labor, doing honest work with [your] own hands, so that [you] may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Again, to not work when you can work is to live in selfishness, not only feeding off of others’ work, but neglecting the opportunity you have to help people in need. And so is selfishness working and keeping all that you earn to yourself, when you have been given much in order that you may be able to give much.
We are free to love others selflessly in and through our work, and finally, we are free to trust God completely with our work. For how many of us can work be a source of worry and anxiety? “What’s going to happen in the economy or the market? What’s this boss or that employee going to decide to do that will affect me? If this or that happens, could I lose my job?” This is where Proverbs 16 is so helpful because, amidst exhortations to work hard and wisely, there are exhortations to trust God in the middle of it all.
Be confident in His reign. He is sovereign over all things, and though that is no excuse for a lack of responsibility and/or competency in our jobs, we commit our work to the Lord (Proverbs 16:3–4). We work hard and we work well, and we trust in His purposes. Trust God completely with your work.
Be confident in His reign, and be responsible with your rest. Rest from hard work is one of the greatest evidences that we are trusting God. When we put down the phone, put aside the email, and take time to stop thinking about work, to tune our attention to other things – when we do this, we are saying, “Work does not control or consume me, and ultimately, this world is just fine without me working all the time.” Overworking is a clear sign of pride, and we need rest (sleep and recreation) to remind us that we’re not the ones who keep the world running; God is.
He even gave us that pattern of rest on the seventh day. At night, when I go home, pastoral work is not on my mind. I put the phone and email and work aside, and I play with my kids, I spend time with my wife, I read a book, I watch the Braves, whatever it is. I try to do the same thing one day every week—totally uninterrupted, totally detached from work. Obviously, emergencies come up here and there, but they are the exception. I’m convinced, based on the pattern of my Creator, that I’m a better worker, a better pastor because of it. And so will you be.
Be responsible with your rest, and be focused on His reward. One of the things I love most about Colossians 3:24. “…work heartily for the Lord, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (Colossians 3:23–24). See it. In Christ, who has secured your salvation, satisfaction, and significance, you are free from the seemingly endless effort to attain more and more and more rewards on this earth. Not that rewards on this earth are bad and should not be celebrated. It’s not a bad thing to receive recognition for good, competent, hard work. That’s a good thing that glorifies God. But that’s just it:
God and His glory are your ultimate reward. So keep your eyes fixed there.
The Urgency of Eternity…
Which leads to the last thread of the gospel: The urgency of eternity. How does the reality of heaven and hell affect the way we work on earth? Well, on one hand, Christian, we are looking forward to a new earth where everyone and everything will work perfectly. We saw from the beginning of the Bible that work was a part of paradise, and we see in the end of the Bible that work will be a part of the new heaven and the new earth, where we will serve God and enjoy God. We’re not going to sit around on clouds in boring, endless daydreaming.
We’ll work, but imagine it: We’ll work with complete delight and joy and meaning. No frustration, no futility, nothing to complain or grumble about, but in perfect harmony with God and with each other.
I don’t know what this will look like, but I do know this: It will be good. So don’t long for heaven as just a place of rest. Yes, of rest from sin and suffering, for these will be no more. And yes, of rest and relaxation, for leisure will certainly be there also. But it will not be a place of rest from work when God has designed our very makeup as men and women who work in a way that reflects His work by His grace, for our good, and for His glory.
As we are looking forward to a new earth where everyone and everything will work perfectly, we are living now for the sake of eternity. Approach your work, your job, with an eternal perspective. In that, I want to challenge you, encourage you, in two particular ways. One, work hard to adorn the gospel of God. Titus 2:9–10, again, paralleling the language of Ephesians and Colossians, says, “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all
good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9– 10). What great language! Paul says, “Work in such a way that you adorn, that you attract people to the doctrine, the truth, the love of God our Savior.”
When we work in the ways we just discussed, we will draw attention to God as good and gracious and glorious. When we work hard, when we work well, when we work eagerly and respectfully and selflessly, in all these ways, we will show the gospel as attractive. The opposite is also true. When we don’t work hard, when we don’t work well, when we’re not joyful and respectful, and we’re selfish, grumbling and complaining, then we repel people away from the gospel. You can have a Bible study every morning with your co-workers and share the gospel verbally with every person in your office, but if you are the lazy one around the office who never gets things in on time and others have to cover for you, or you’re the first one to complain when the slightest thing goes wrong, or you’re just plain unpleasant to work with, you are going to repel people away from the gospel. So work hard in all these ways, by the grace of God, to adorn the gospel of God in your work.
Work hard to adorn the gospel of God, and work strategically to advance the mission of God. This is where we come back to the glorious reality in God’s design that we are not all pastors, and we don’t all “work for the church.” God is accomplishing a mission in the world, and He is doing it by deploying His people as salt and light in all kinds of vocations and all kinds of domains, so that the gospel penetrates every facet of society and culture.
So wherever you work, as you work to God’s glory, build meaningful relationships with the people around you. C.S. Lewis talked about how your vocation creates a web of relationships into which we can speak the gospel. Every single person with a job in this room has a web of relationships that God has given you to be cultivated, so don’t miss the opportunity there. Don’t just clock in, do your work, clock out, and go home. No, that’s what you’d do if this was just a job for you, but this is an opportunity for you to love people and to invest your life in people. As you do, this is an opportunity to weave gospel threads. So don’t just think, “Well, I’ll witness by working hard.” Yes, do that, but at some point in your relationships with people, talk about who God is, who we are, who Jesus is, what He has done, and how He changes everything for all of eternity in our lives. What a tragedy to work with or next to someone for a week, a month, a year, or 40 years, and never speak of the gospel that has saved you and can save them.
Do you see it? This is how the gospel spreads! You look at the book of Acts, and God used non-vocational ministers—not the apostles, but those with “secular” jobs—to get the gospel to places around the world that the apostles never went. Of the three great church planting centers of the ancient world (Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome), as far as we know, none of them were founded by apostles. Each of them was founded by workers in other vocations who refused to separate their vocation from their ultimate commission to make disciples. This is my prayer for the men and women, for the students of this faith family, for kids in this faith family, that we would all, every single one of us, see work in this way—as a means to glorify God. That we would do our work well in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of fields, with all kinds of marketable skills, and that God would scatter us here in Birmingham and then from Birmingham throughout North America and beyond North America to the nations. That He would scatter us as workers in all kinds of jobs, committed to making disciples of Jesus wherever He leads us.
Do you realize (we talk about this all the time) there are 6,000 people groups in the world who have yet to be reached with the gospel? Many, if not most, of those people groups are difficult to reach and extremely difficult for a missionary to reach. You don’t go into Saudi Arabia under a Christian missionary visa. You don’t get into Saudi Arabia, saying, “I want to be a missionary in order to convert Muslims to Christianity.” Missionaries, in that sense, can’t get into Saudi Arabia. But you know what? There are scores of opportunities for followers of Christ in fields of business to get into Saudi Arabia, to travel there periodically, or to move there and to work there, and in so doing, to bring the gospel there.
Do you realize there are about 6 million Americans living abroad right now, and estimates are that over one million of those are evangelical Christians, followers of Jesus? Do we realize what a missions force this can be in the world? This is why, even when we talk about missions, the last thing I want you to think is, “Okay, I need to leave my work, my job, my skills, my education behind.” No, it’s, “Is there a way that my work, my job, my skills, my education could be used to make the gospel known among one of the neediest places in the entire world?”
I desire for our entire congregation to begin to think like that. How can your job, how can your work, how can your skills – college students, what degree can you get that will open doors for you around the world? We should all begin to train our children to think this way, to work hard in school – why? So they can get a good job and make good money and coast out a comfortable life in a Christian setting? Or so that they can be ready to go to people and peoples around the world with their skills and their training and their degrees and make the gospel known among people who’ve never, ever heard it before?
If we really want to reach all peoples in the world with the gospel, it’s going to happen on the wings of workers, men and women with jobs, who don’t automatically assume that they should teach or program computers or manage or do accounting or do sales or practice medicine in Birmingham, or even in America, but workers who default to the fact that if there are people groups in North America and around the world that have never even heard the gospel, then maybe God has given us a job and skills that can be used to reach them. What if God has designed the globalization of today’s marketplaces for the spread of His gospel through the sending of His people as workers around the world for the glory of His name? Church at Brook Hills, let’s get in on what God is doing, not by leaving your jobs, but by leveraging your jobs to engage unreached peoples around the world.
I want to introduce you to a sister in our faith family whom today we are sending out in this very way. Jenny is a physical therapist who has been glorifying God through her work here in Birmingham, and now an opportunity has opened up that she has pursued to work in East Asia among unreached peoples for the spread of gospel through her work. I cannot wait for you to meet this sister in Christ via video, then for her and Jonathan to come up here, and for us to gather around and pray for her. As you watch this, as we pray for her, I just challenge you to think, “Could this be you?” Why would this not be you?
My prayer, literally, is that in the days to come, hundreds of people will see their jobs and hear God’s call in the way Jenny is about to share with us.
The Gospel at Work…
The Character of God…
- God delights in work. (Gen. 1–2; Ps. 104:10–30; Prov. 8:27–31; Jn. 16:8–11)
- He works for us and He works through us.
- God designed our work. (Gen. 1:26–30; 2:15–17; Ex. 20:9)
- By His grace, for our good, and for His glory.
The Sinfulness of Man…
- Work is a mark of human dignity. (Gen. 1:26–30; Ps. 8).
- We are stewards of creation.
- We are developers of culture.
- Work has been marred by human depravity. (Gen. 3:16–19)
- Though work was designed to be fulfilling, it is frustrating. (Rom. 8:20–22)
- Though work was designed to be purposeful, it feels pointless. (Eccl. 1:2–3; 2:18–26)
- Though work was designed to be selfless, it becomes selfish. (Gen. 11:1–4)
- Two primary distortions of work:
- The idolatry of work… (Ex. 20:3–5; Ez. 14:3–7; Prov. 23:4; Mk. 10:17–31)
- We overvalue work, thinking that it provides ultimate meaning.
- We fail to see God’s limits for our work.
- We resist rest.
- Idleness in work… (Prov. 6:6–11; Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:6–15)
- We undervalue work, thinking that it has little to no meaning.
- We fail to see God’s purposes for our work.
- We prioritize retirement.
- The idolatry of work… (Ex. 20:3–5; Ez. 14:3–7; Prov. 23:4; Mk. 10:17–31)
The Sufficiency of Christ…
- (Mat. 11:28–30; Rom. 3:21–30; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:3–14)
- Christ’s work has secured our salvation (freeing us to rest in His work as the only superior work).
- Christ’s work has secured our satisfaction (freeing us from the idolatry of work).
- Christ’s work has secured our significance (freeing us from idleness in work).
The Necessity of Faith…
- We are free to worship God wholeheartedly as we work. (Mat. 22:37–38; Eph. 6:5–9; Col. 3:22–24)
- Work competently (with excellence).
- Work honorably (with integrity).
- Work humbly (with respect)
- .Work eagerly (with joy).
- We are free to love others selflessly in our work. (Mat. 22:39–40:1 Thess. 4:9–11)
- Provide for your family.
- Serve your co–workers and customers.
- Better our world.
- Care for the needy.
- We are free to trust God completely with our work. (Prov. 16; Rom. 8:28–30)
- Be confident in His reign. Be responsible with your rest.
- Be focused on His reward.
The Urgency of Eternity…
- We are looking forward to a new earth…
- Where everyone and everything will work perfectly. (1 Cor. 15; Rev. 21)
- We are living now for the sake of eternity…
- Work hard to adorn the gospel of God. (Titus 2:9–10)
- Work strategically to advance the mission of God. (Mat. 28:18–20) Build meaningful relationships.
- Weave gospel threads.
- Engage unreached peoples.