This past Sunday in my message I spoke to the fact that part of our function as image bearers—created in the image of God—was to participate in work, or in culture making. When God provides Adam and Eve with their tasks, one of them included “subduing” the earth as they were being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. “Subdue” is a very strong word signifying that humans are to take the raw materials of the world and with intensity and intentionality cultivate. This function of cultivation—subduing the earth—mirrors and reflects what God did earlier in the Genesis narrative. He takes the shell and framework of the created order that he created, namely the heavens and earth, and begins to bring shape, clarity, definition, and filling to it. In other words, God goes to work. His workweek consisted of a six-day workweek with a rest on the seventh. In addition, after each day of work he declared what he had done, good; and on the final day of work, he looked around at the completed canvas and declared it very good.
I believe that the creation account including God’s creation of the created order as well as God’s creation of man in his image and providing them functions brings great clarity and understanding to our work/vocation today. Our work is a function, a task, by which we as image bearers of God reflect the goodness and glory of God. It is a way in which we are distinct and special from all other creatures and aspects of his creation. In addition, our vocational function is good. Work is not evil; work is not a result of the fall, or the sin of man. Work originated with God and existed prior to the fall. Therefore, we can rest assure that what we do vocationally and culturally is inherently good. With our work and vocationally being inherently good as well as a function of imaging God, work therefore should be meaningful, purposeful, satisfying, and fulfilling. Furthermore, our work should be done with the perspective of how it benefits and blesses others. In other words, our work should be exercised for God’s glory and the world’s good.
But how can we know that we our honoring and glorifying the Lord with our work, or with our vocation? In other words, how can we know that we are imaging God in our work? I think there are at least six ways we honor and glorify God in our work and vocation.
1) In order to honor and glorify God in our work we must guard against entering into a vocation or work, or guard against going to work simply for a paycheck. While I completely understand that we must provide financially for our needs and the needs of our family, this cannot be the fixed object by which our work and what we do revolves. If so, we have made an idol out of both work and money. We are worshipping the work for what it provides, while at the same time worshipping the money by which we earn. I believe that in order to honor and glorify God with and in our work (even if it is not our first choice), our central purpose—the fixed object of which our work and money revolve—must be the glory of God. We must work unto and for him, thus working in a manner that both pleases and honors him. Therefore, work is so much more than a paycheck, or something that we have to do to make a living. It is something that has great dignity and value. As Tim Keller has written, “We were built for work and the dignity it gives us as human beings, regardless of its status or pay. . . . And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.”
2) Having a passion for what we do is another way we can honor and glorify God in our work. How one’s love and passion are displayed stems from the desire to enhance what you do and make it better. In other words, you want what you do to be done with excellence. When it comes to God’s work in creation, he didn’t withhold his best. He brought creation into existence and went to work making it better, more functional, more harmonious, and more beautiful. You could say that God enhanced creation and made it better. Thus, his desire to enhance and make it better stemmed from his love and passion for the created order. When we think of how many hours we spend at our work or vocation, which can be in the upper range of 60-70+ hours, I pray that it is something we love doing. [I am well aware of the fact there may be a season, or seasons, in one’s life where they have to work in a job they may not necessarily would have chosen, but does so in order to provide, or in order to get to where they believe God wants them to be. In fact, there may be people that feel stuck in a job they would not prefer.] Even still, I believe we should approach our work with a love and passion, which leads to our work being done with excellence. If we don’t have a passion, a love for what we do, or for the very essence of work itself, it will be difficult (although not impossible) to approach our work with excellence as well as a desire to enhance it—thereby reflecting the goodness and dignity of work.
3) Giving our best is another way in which we can honor and glorify the Lord in our work. If we don’t approach our work with the intention of giving our best, or giving our all, then we fail at reflecting the Lord. Not only does the Lord give his best in his creation, but he also gave all in the work of redemption. Not only does giving our best (our all) glorify God, but giving our best also honors our vocation as well as our employer. When it comes to our work our expectations should be higher on our self than any other person would put on us. This means even if we have a bad boss or leader over us, we give our best to the Lord. As Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “Slaves (or servants), 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” (Col 3:22-24).
4) Seeing how our work helps, benefits, and blesses others enables us to honor and glorify the Lord. This idea stems from the purpose of our existence—for God’s glory and the world’s good. Therefore, we should see how our work does good in and for the world. From construction to counseling, from dentistry to doorman, from stay-at-home-mom to salesman, we should see how our work and our vocation blesses, benefits, and helps others. As we remember the good our work does in and for the world it gives us the perspective that we are not serving ourselves but rather the Lord and others. Take a second and think about how your work and vocation blesses others.
5) Looking for ways we can manifest and advance the gospel in our work and vocation can also enable us to honor and glorify the Lord. Manifesting the gospel in our work and vocation means that we look for ways to be redemptive and distinct in our work. In other words, we are looking for ways that the gospel should change our work and/or our work habits. Advancing the gospel in our work and vocation means that we are looking for ways to share the gospel with those God places around us. This allows us to see that we do not have to be in “vocational ministry,” nor do we have to go on a “mission trip” to live a life on mission. God has intentionally and purposely gifted us talents as well as planted us where we are to live a life that manifests and advances the gospel. It is absolutely false and a lie that God cannot use you to advance his mission in the world there in the workplace, or the marketplace. There is no such thing as the dichotomy between the sacred and secular. God is just as alive and active in the workplace as he is in our corporate worship services, community projects, and structured mission trips.
6) Living in a state of gratitude and thanksgiving for our talents and gifts, as well as our work, allows us to bring honor and glory to God. James writes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” I would contend that “every good gift and every perfect gift” would include our work, talents, and gifts that God has granted us. Therefore, as we work in the world for the glory of God and the good of others we are constantly thanking and praising God for his gifts and talents he has bestowed on us.
For extra reading on Work and Vocational Calling see:
– Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012.
– Gene Edward Veith Jr., God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002.
– Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008.
– R. Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing, 1999.
– Mark L. Russell, The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission. Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2010.