How Can My Work Bring Glory to God? - Radical

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How Can My Work Bring Glory to God?

What motivates you in the work you do? What does the way you work say about you? Who are you ultimately working for? Given the amount of time most people spend working during their lives, those are important questions. In this message from David Platt, we’ll see not only the way work played a role in God’s redemptive purposes in Nehemiah 3, but also the way in which God designed work from the beginning to be for our good and his glory. Though our work is often difficult and unsatisfying due to the effects of sin, knowing Jesus should transform why we work and the way we work.

If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Nehemiah 3. Feel free to use the table of contents if you need to. And as you’re turning, I want to welcome you as we gather together as a church family around God’s Word. Especially for those of you who are visiting with us today, we are really glad you are here.

The majority of you who are members of this church family and spend the majority of your week doing work outside of a church setting, either in an office, at home or at school. Think about it this way. If you work just 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. We have 80 students from Penn State just passing through here today and worshiping with us, so add in kindergarten through college for another 15,000 or so hours preparing to work. Then for many there’s collective hours commuting on top of all that. And I’ve not even mentioned the hours of work you do outside of school or a paid job, like work in your home, or in the community. 

Needless to say, these hours represent a massive portion of your life. So what’s the point of it all? Is it just to provide an income or put food on your table or a roof over your head? Or is there more to it than that? We talk all the time about how you are made to glorify God among all nations. We send each other out every week to be disciple makers of the nations. Yet most of you will leave here today to either go to school or work in a secular profession in the world this week, outside the church. So does that mean you’re not really involved in the work of God for most of your hours this week? Or do you sometimes think, “I do my job, or I go to school, during the weekdays (or whenever that might be), then I serve God outside of that, on weeknights or weekends”? 

Is this the way God views these 100,000 or so hours of your life as something you just have to do before you really do what matters? I don’t think so. But unfortunately, I think many Christians don’t have God’s understanding of their work on a daily basis. Based on Nehemiah 3, I hope that by the Spirit of God that will change today.

Turn back to Nehemiah 2. I want you to circle the word ‘work’ every time you see it in this story of Nehemiah that we’re studying, remembering again that Nehemiah was not a preacher, a prophet, a pastor or a paid church staff member. He was a cupbearer-turned-project-manager for rebuilding walls around Jerusalem, which is the work he’s referring to in these verses. 

Look at Nehemiah 2:16: “The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work —rebuilding the walls. Then verse 18: “And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.”

Then jump past the chapter we’re looking today and look at Nehemiah 4:11, which we’ll study, Lord willing, next week. His enemies start to rise against the rebuilding of the wall, saying, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” Then verse 15: “When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.” Keep going in verses 16 and 17:

From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 

Then verse 19: “And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another.’” Verse 21: “So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out.” 

A few more just to round it out. Look at chapter five, verse 16: “I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.” 

Then chapter six, verse three: “And I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?’” Chapter six, verse nine: “For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’” Finally, Nehemiah 6:16, when it’s all completed: “And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”

Nehemiah is clearly a book in the Bible about God’s people doing work. Now, come back to Nehemiah 3. We’re not going to read the whole chapter—it’s pretty repetitive, but even that is kind of the point. Let me read the first few verses to give the flavor. While we won’t see the word ‘work,’ we will see words that describe the work they were doing, like ‘build’ and ‘repair.’ So let’s circle every time we see one of those two words, ‘build’ or ‘repair,’ starting in Nehemiah 3:1:

1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built. The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired.

I don’t presume that I’m pronouncing all these names correctly. Here’s just a little preacher tip for you: whenever you’re in your church group and you’re supposed to be reading, and you come upon names like this in the Bible, just give it your best shot and keep going. Don’t even stop. Just own it. Act like you know what you’re doing, because nobody in that room is going to say, “Ah, you pronounced Meshezabel wrong.” They’d have to be really bold to do that. You can be like, “Well, then you just be the designated reader every time from now on, since you know how to pronounce the Hebrew names perfectly.” Anyway, just a little side note. 

 Verse five: “And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.” 

So these two words, ‘build’ and ‘repair,’ appear over 40 times in just this chapter. The whole chapter is about how these individual people were working, building and repairing the walls around Jerusalem. And you know what’s interesting? Not one time in the entire chapter do we ever see anyone specified as a builder or a carpenter as their vocation. Instead, we see priests building, including the high priest back up in verse one. We see rulers and officials of all kinds repairing. Merchants from different trades. Let me show you an example in verse eight: “Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.” Here were the goldsmiths and the perfume makers repairing and building. 

You get to verse 12 and it says, “Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.” It wasn’t just these individuals; it was them and their families. It was men and women from all kinds of backgrounds and places, representing all the people of God. In fact, there’s only one group of people among God’s people that this chapter says refused to participate. Look back in verse five: “their nobles”—basically the aristocrats among the Tekoites believed this work was beneath them. But everybody else worked. All kinds of people with all kinds of gifts, working together to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. All kinds of people doing all kinds of things, to use the language of Nehemiah 2:18, to do this “good work.” 

So as I was studying this passage this week, praying and just thinking about what God is saying to his people today through it, my mind immediately went to all the names of different people from different backgrounds with different jobs who are a part of this church and part of this church family. 

By the way, if you are a part of this church family, but you’ve never taken the step to put your name down as a member of this church family, saying, “I’m committed to being in the body of Christ here,” I want to encourage you to do that as soon as possible. Followers of Jesus belong to local churches, which to be sure, means so much more than having your name on a list somewhere. It does involve having your name on a list of people who’ve explicitly said, “We’re committed to being a church together.” Just like all these names of God’s people mattered in Nehemiah 3, your name really matters as a member of a local church, the body of Christ, an expression of the global body of Christ.

Specifically today, I hope every member of this body hears God affirming the work you do, not just in the church but in the world, amidst all the hours that you work in all the different ways that you work, for his glory. 

Part of me wishes I had a lot more time to dive in depth into a biblical understanding of work, but I do want to hit the highlights in light of this picture in Nehemiah 3. I want to show you the foundational understanding of work that is underneath all of this in the Bible. Some of this may seem obvious, but I really want to encourage you to let it soak in and affect the way you view the work that you specifically do. To be clear, by ‘work,’ I certainly mean any job—assuming it’s not a sinful job—any job at all, or school, or work you do in your home, for your family, including raising kids. I think of how Forbes consistently writes that a stay-at-home parent has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. So if that’s you, don’t for a second underestimate the work you’re doing on a daily and nightly basis. We’re talking about work that you do in any way, anything that’s not rest.

God delights in work. God is working all the time, for us and in us.

I want to remind you, biblically from God’s Word, that first and foremost God himself delights in work. God enjoys work. The Bible begins with God working. The first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning God created…” It’s no coincidence that God’s work in creation is described in the timeframe of a seven-day work week. Psalm 104:31 says God rejoices in his works, in creating, sustaining, providing, protecting, leading and guiding. 

Think about it. God is working all the time, for us and through us. It’s pretty awesome to think about this. The only reason your heart is beating and your lungs are breathing right now is because God is working for you. Just think about that. You’re not telling your heart to beat right now or your lungs to breathe. God is doing that. If he were to stop working, so would you. Even the good work that we do is God working through us, right? 

So when we ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread,” how does God answer that? By his work in and through them, farmers plant and harvest grain, the bakers make bread, then other people deliver and sell it to us. God chooses to work through our work. Think about Nehemiah 3. God had power to speak and the walls around Jerusalem were be rebuilt. But he didn’t do the physical work. Instead, he gave his people the ability to work and rebuild those walls. 

God designed us to work.

Which means God designed us to work. Isn’t it interesting that as soon as God makes man and woman in the Bible, he calls them to work. This is in Genesis 1:26-30. And Genesis 2:15 puts it this way: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden…”—to do what? “To work it and keep it.” Keep in mind, this is before sin even came into the world. So work is not a result of sin—it’s a part of the beauty of creation from the very beginning, a part of what it means to be human. 

I love what Tim Keller wrote in his excellent book on work, called Every Good Endeavor:

Work is so foundational to our makeup that it’s one of the few things that 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 it directs us to the opposite ratio. 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’re doing, you will often hear that their main regret is that they wish they had something to do, some way to be useful to others. 

This is so important because so many people, especially in the church, work almost like it’s a necessary evil in this world, something we have to endure in order to make an income to get by. Some people have to suffer through menial, unimportant jobs in order to make that income; it’s just what you have to do. And school is the same—it’s what you have to do. That kind of thinking is totally unbiblical, because work is actually a part of God’s innate and good design for our lives. It’s a mark of human dignity. When we’re working, we’re reflecting the image of a working God, which brings divine dignity even to what some would call menial jobs. Jesus himself made this clear. 

Philip Jensen asked the question, “If God came into the world, what would he be like? For the ancient Greeks, he might have a been philosopher king. The ancient Romans might have looked for a just and noble statesman. But how does the God of Hebrews come into the world? As a carpenter.” God has designed the world to work around men and women made in his image, working with all kinds of dignity in all kinds of work. Again in the words of Tim Keller:

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.

We see this from the very beginning of Bible and realize it’s a really good thing that most of us have different jobs, specifically that most of us are not on staff at the church. If all of us were pastors or church staff members, it would be a horrible thing for sustenance in the world. We might know how to teach the Bible and shepherd the church, but we wouldn’t know how to do anything else. Or if we were all salespeople, we would have no products to sell. If we were all police officers, we’d be safe  but we’d also be hungry. If we were all lawyers, well, we’d all be in trouble.

We need each other. Every one of our jobs matters. In a similar way to how 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. See this in God’s Word. Human work, however lowly the world might deem it to be or even you might sometimes think it is, it’s dignified because it reflects the glory of God our creator. This is so big, especially in the church, so we don’t set up some artificial distinction between some whose work is more dignified than others’. Like pastors are more dignified than accountants? Or missionaries more noble than telemarketers? 

William Tyndale said, “If we look externally, there’s a difference between washing dishes and preaching the Word of God. But as touching to please God, there is no difference at all.” That’s the biblical view of work—there is no difference between preaching and washing the dishes when done to the honor of the Lord.

Do you really believe that preaching and washing dishes are just as important to the glory of God? I believe that. Take something like housecleaning. Just imagine if it’s not done. Before long there are germs all over the house. There would be viruses and infections threatening to make you sick and eventually kill you. Housecleaning is pretty important. Work, no matter what kind it is, in and of itself is dignified. It’s a beautiful part of God’s design for us as workers made in his image. Which is why we see in Nehemiah 3 priests, officials, merchants, goldsmiths and perfume makers all doing good work to God’s glory.

Sin distorts our work.

Now, the problem is sin that distorts our work and we also see this from the beginning of the Bible. Right after man and woman sin, God says, “Work is going to be burdensome.” Then the rest of the Bible, as well as our lives, testifies to the frustrations of every kind of work in this fallen world. Work is often filled with struggles and feels pointless. Just read Ecclesiastes 2:22-23to get a picture of this: “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). 

The word ‘vexation’ literally means anger. Has anyone ever been angry in your work? Or frustrated in your work? Well, that’s the result of sin in the world. Sin distorts our understanding and experience of work, including the way it plays out. Instead of working for the good of others and the glory of God, we can so often work selfishly or with no regard for God’s glory. Sometimes we even work in ways that are harmful to others. Or often our sinfulness leads us to overwork, to the point that we can’t put it aside. We can’t put the phone down. We’re always checking on something. We’re always working. We’re consumed by our work, to the point that we see rest as weakness, as the enemy of productivity. We fail to remember that God has commanded us to rest, to put work completely aside for regular periods of time. Or we can take leisure to the extreme, not working to the point of laziness, which God also warns against in his Word. Or we can just undervalue the work we do, thinking, “I just have to trudge through this, even though it doesn’t really matter.” However God says our work does matter. 

Jesus transforms our work.

Going beyond Nehemiah, I want you to see specifically where the Bible is pointing. I want you to see how Jesus transforms our work, our understanding, our concept of work, and also how we are to work. Let’s think about how the gospel of Jesus—the good news of Jesus—transforms work.

First and foremost, the gospel fundamentally frees us from trying to work in order to earn God’s favor. This is massive because every major religion in the world is based on what you do to get to God or the gods. In Islam it’s Five Pillars. In Buddhism, it’s an Eightfold Path. In Hinduism, it’s multitudes of rituals to appease millions of gods. However, Jesus comes on the scene and says, “No. I have done the work for you.” You don’t have to work your way to God and life. You actually can’t! You have sin in your life that keeps you from God; sin that you cannot erase or overcome on your own, no matter how much good work you try to do. 

“The whole reason I came,” Jesus says, “is to pay the price for your sin on a cross and conquer it by rising from the grave in victory over sin and death, so that anyone, anywhere, who trusts in me and in what I have done for you will be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God for all of eternity.” This is by faith, not by works. So if you’ve never put your faith in Jesus and been freed from trying to work your way to God, let today be the day when you say, “Jesus, I trust in you and your work for me to be forgiven of my sin and restored to relationship with you.” When you do that, and for all who have placed your faith in Jesus, think about how this transforms your view of work. This is so big. 

In the Protestant Reformation it was being highlighted that salvation was by grace through faith in Jesus, not by works. If our works—specifically our religious works—can earn us particular favor before God, then it only makes sense that church leaders have the most favor before God and everybody else is kind of second class in that sense. But that is not true. No matter what our job is, we all come to God the same way—through faith in Jesus. I come to God through faith in Jesus; you come to God through faith in Jesus. This means we’re all priests with access to God through Jesus, no matter what kind of work we do. I don’t have special access because I’m a pastor. Jesus alone has made access possible for each of us as God’s people. 

Martin Luther put it this way:

It is pure invention that popes, 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. All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate. There is no difference among them except that of vocation. We are all consecrated priests. A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, yet they are all alike consecrated priests to God. 

Yes! No matter what job you have, if you are a follower of Jesus, you have access to God through the work of Jesus. This means you’re now free from work that’s trying to earn favor with God. To take this a step further, you’re free to work with dignity, in all kinds of ways, that are good for you and good for the world and glorifying to God. 

That’s what Colossians 3:23-24 is saying: “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.” Do you see this? Whatever job you’re in, you’re not ultimately working for this boss or that company. You’re working to please Jesus—and that transforms your work. 

Talk about meaning in work and purpose, in work and motivation for work, in the value of your work. Now you realize that what you do from 9:00 to 5:00 every day is not secular work, What you do when you serve at church on Sunday is not spiritual. Going to school is not outside of those options. No, it’s all work to the glory of Jesus—every bit of it. This changes everything. 

Some friends of mine, Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger, wrote an excellent book entitled The Gospel at Work. I wrote the foreword for it because it’s so helpful. At one point they write, “Do you ever experience satisfaction or enjoyment in your work? If not, if you struggle with that, it might be worth thinking about why you don’t.” They talk about how everything changes when you’re in Jesus and you’re working, serving him through your work. They write:

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 the grease pits in a hydraulic factory, working in a non-air-conditioned metal warehouse in the brutal 110-degree heat of east Texas. Hardly anybody 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’re doing it for the King’s glory and as an expression of love for him.

Do you realize this? When you are writing a memo at your desk, when you’re talking on the phone with a customer, when you are preparing a lesson for your class, when you’re studying for an exam or writing a paper, when you’re selling a product or serving some food or changing a diaper or making a decision or managing a company or a household, hammering a nail, fixing a leak, performing a surgery—whatever you do, you are worshipping 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 at your school or workplace, or when you serve in the soup kitchen. Yes, those tasks but also whatever you do on a daily basis. It’s all discipleship to Jesus. So think about how this changes everything. 

Now you serve Jesus every day within your work with excellence, whatever that work is, because you’re doing it for him with honesty and integrity. You’re doing it for him with joy that reflects his joy. With respect and kindness toward others around you in your work that reflects his character. As a servant to customers, coworkers, classmates and kids, loving others as yourself, as the Spirit of Jesus in you empowers you to do. And yes, you’re looking for opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus through your work, wherever he leads you in the world. It’s all bringing glory to Jesus.

Your good work, day in and day out, brings great glory to God.

The good work you do day in and day out as a follower of Jesus—in your home, at your job, in your school, in our city, in the church, in the world, as a single, as a spouse, as a parent, as a student, as an employer, as an employee, as a retiree who’s free to work without pay—brings great glory to God.

Based on what we’re seeing in Nehemiah 3, I want to be clear here. I don’t just mean with good work that is big, flashy and extravagant; I mean all work, whatever you do—whether you’re paid to do it or you’re not paid to do it, whether others see it or no one but God sees it. God delights in and God has designed you to do various kinds of work. Jesus has come to totally transform you, so that you might do this good work to the glory of God. 

So here’s how I want to close. I am inviting and challenging you to respond in three ways. First, I want to invite you to hear and feel God’s affirmation of the good work you’re doing every day. I want to invite you just to pause and receive from God, from his Spirit, through his Word, affirmation of the good work you are doing. Not just the person in front of you or beside you—but you, right where you’re sitting. Day in and day out, even if you’re in a hydraulics factory. What you’re doing day in and day out, by God’s good design, for God’s great glory, through your life is for his glory.

Second, prayerfully ask God about any ways he may be leading you to work differently for his glory. This could go in so many different directions, but let’s just think about it. Maybe God is calling you to be content in the work you are doing, not looking to other things that you could be doing, but to be content and even joyful in your current work as you’re serving Jesus. Or maybe there’s a way in which God may be leading you to work with more humility, integrity, kindness or excellence. Have you grown half-hearted in your work?

Or maybe you need to make some changes to stop overworking. Surely in this fast-paced culture we’re living in, God by his Spirit is saying to some brothers and sisters right now to put it down and rest, according to his good commands for your life. 

Or maybe God is calling you to start work, or maybe there’s different work that God may be calling you to do—maybe work in the church or in the world. Just ask, “God, are you leading me to work differently in any way for your glory?” 

Here’s why it’s important to do the first step first, because sometimes we have a tendency to jump from one thing to the next, because we’re not satisfied in our work. Let’s make sure that first and foremost we’re satisfied in Jesus, that we’re not looking to work for satisfaction in a way that only Jesus can provide. Then in the process, let’s make sure we make any changes in work because he’s leading us to do that. In which case brothers and sisters can be really helpful counselors for us. So seek that counsel.

In the process, thirdly, pray that God would be glorified in the good work he has called you to do. Let’s make this our constant Nehemiah-3-like prayer as a church family, on a daily basis: “God, help us glorify you in whatever work we do.” 

David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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