November 25, 2020

God at Work (Part 1): The Purpose of Work

God at Work (Part 1): The Purpose of Work

Ryan Shuy

7 Minute Read

1. Why consider the purpose of work?

Before making a big life investment, it is crucial that we clearly understand its purpose. In the case of work, we spend more than half our waking week – time and energy – on it. Our work is often a major factor in our life decisions and goals. Work promises many of the rewards we now crave, such as reputation, riches, and relationships. But our work often brings challenges too, since the culture and beliefs of our workplace frequently differ from the teachings of the Bible. However, our work gives us many opportunities to engage with the world and proclaim the gospel. Thus, it is crucial that we clearly consider what God says about our work.

In the summary below, we draw out some of the key points of William Taylor’s book, Revolutionary Work. The book is worth reading in full. His sermon series with the same title can also be accessed here.

2. What does God say about work?

1. Work is good

Firstly, the Bible teaches us that work is good. Humanity is designed to work, reflecting God’s image. In Genesis 1:26-31 and 2:4-17, God entrusts humanity the responsibility of ruling and subduing creation under his authority. God’s intention is that humanity will enjoy the fruit of their work, feeding themselves from creation. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and 1 Timothy 5:8 remind us that this responsibility of working to feed ourselves and provide for our family continues.

Thus, work is necessary. We are not to remain idle and burden others. Paul puts it bluntly in 2 Thessalonians 1:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”.

There is also equal dignity in all areas of work. God has entrusted all work in creation to humanity and no area is more valuable than another. Thus, there must be no snobbery in our attitude to work.

2. Work is grim

Secondly, the Bible teaches us that work is grim. Humanity’s rejection of God means that our work is now cursed under God’s judgement. Genesis 3 and Ecclesiastes 1-2 describe how work in this fallen world is now painful, frustrating, tiring and ultimately futile because of wickedness and death.

Thus, we need to be realistic about work in this world. We mustn’t be overly ambitious in our work, thinking that we can ‘change the world’ or ‘leave a legacy’. Such attempts will ultimately be futile. In a fallen world, we will never achieve what work was intended for. Work is no longer a progression to make the world a better place (as in Genesis 1-2) but is a preservation of a fallen and increasingly broken world.

Secondly, we shouldn’t seek lasting satisfaction in our work. Constantly changing jobs in search of job satisfaction will ultimately prove futile. Despite what we are led to believe, we will never be truly satisfied or fulfil our potential through our work.

3. Work is redeemed

Thirdly, the Bible teaches us that work is redeemed. Because of Christ’s death, those who follow Christ instead of living for this sinful world, will not perish but have eternal life (John 1:12; 3:16-21; 6:26-40; 12:25-26). Through Christ’s death, there is now new hope for our work.

  • A new identity at work

Having been redeemed by Christ, we are given a new identity with him in God’s family, in which godliness and obedience to God’s word matter the most.

In John 15:1-17, Jesus teaches us to follow him by regularly listening to his words in the Bible. This has implications not only for our work, but also for loving one another as God’s family, and engaging in his mission of bringing people to eternal life. In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus instructs us to lay up treasures in heaven not on earth, because ultimately our treasure is where our heart is. We can only serve one master: either God or money. In Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-4:1, we are instructed to work sincerely for the Lord, looking forward to our future heavenly reward. In 1 Peter 2:12-25 and 3:14-17, we are commanded to submit to every human institution that God has put in place and endure unjust suffering at work as we follow our Lord’s example.

What do these passages teach us about godliness at work?

Firstly, godliness at work means regularly listening to Jesus’ words in the Bible. This includes working sincerely for him, loving our church family and engaging in gospel witness.

Secondly, godliness at work doesn’t mean being an over-achiever. Accomplishments at work aren’t required by Jesus and may or may not be the outcome of working sincerely for him. Conversely, our desire for over-achievement often leads to compromises in following Jesus as we prioritise work over listening to his word. If we are able to excel in our work during normal working hours without compromising following Jesus, this is something that we can thank God for. But excelling at work is not a mark of godliness.

Thirdly, godliness at work is about seeking a heavenly reward rather than present material rewards. Worldly success and the approval of people will ultimately count for nothing in eternity. We are to live distinctly holy lives, not seeking to fit in with everyone else who follow their own ambitions instead of Christ. This will often expose the sinfulness of others, and we should expect to suffer (2 Timothy 3:12).

Fourthly, godliness at work doesn’t mean being called to a specific kind of work. God calls us to be Christians and to live holy lives wherever we are and whatever job we have. In the Bible, Christians are never called to a specific area of work.

  • A new mission for work

Not only does Christ redeem us for a new identity in Christ, he also redeems us for a new mission: to engage in the work of gospel witness.

In John 4:27-42 and 14:12, we learn that we are not only engage in work to feed ourselves, but also in God’s redeeming work of bringing people from death to life through the gospel. There are various ways we can engage in this redeeming work. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Paul explains that we partake in the work by giving money to support gospel witness. In Ephesians 4:11, we can help to equip God’s people for witness through faithful Bible teaching. Finally, in 2 Peter 3:9-13 and Revelation 21:1-4, we are reminded that apart from those saved by Christ, nothing else in this creation will last. At the final judgement, this world will pass away and be burned up, to be replaced by a new creation.

Thus, we need to align our lives to this new gospel mission. Instead of asking questions about personal advancement and worldly ambition, concerned with raising our salaries and climbing the career ladder, we should be asking ourselves how and where we can be the best witness for Christ.

Anyone who follows Christ can witness for him. Don’t wait to be established in a senior position in your company before you start. You can start testifying to Christ now, like the Samaritan woman did to her village (John 4:28-30, 39-42). We also can testify to Christ to everyone without exclusion, as everyone in this world is hurting under God’s judgement and needs the hope Jesus brings. God may bring someone to eternal life we didn’t expect, just like the Samaritans.

Look out for Part 2, where we will consider how these theological truths may work out in practice in our workplaces.

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Ryan Shuy is a member of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, primarily serving the international workers. He works as an actuary for 4 days a week and enjoys a day off to study at Cornhill Training Course. He thanks God for the privilege of great Bible learning where he’s at now and looks forward to bringing these back home in the future

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