Dorothy Sayers was an amazing person. Living in the early years of the 1900’s, she was a successful writer in a number of fields, including the writing of essays which is our interest today. She was also one of the first female graduates of Oxford.
One of the topics she dealt with in her essays was the relationship between work and the Christian faith. She wrote a famous essay called “Why Work?” [see: faith-at-work.net/Docs/WhyWork.pdf]. In that article she argues for the integrity and sacredness of work, meaning that work should be done for what it is in itself. The term she used was “serve the work.” To have any other aim for work, from her point of view, would be to both distract from the purpose of work and detract from the worth of the work. She specifically states that the aim of work should not be to serve the community which would “falsify the work.”
The view of work today is often stated in a way that sets it in contrast to the view of Sayers. It might even be described as a “serve the community” view, Here work is seen as service to people – suppliers, laborers, customers, other stakeholders – and the social/relational aspect of work is the focus. It is an approach which seeks to obey the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is not to say that the actual work is unimportant for, if the product or service is inferior, there would be no ongoing social/relational aspect to cultivate.
However, as much as the wording of the views might suggest contrast, these views are not mutually exclusive. The goal of both points of view is human flourishing to the glory of God. Both would agree that work is a “good” and was present in the Garden before the Fall of Man. Both views would also agree that work is a way that we fulfill the Cultural Mandate. In fact, though they appear to be in contrast, each plays into the other (though if there is a “primary” view only one of them can be that view).
The “serve the work” view would imply that work done well according to this view would actually lead to greater service to those in the community who are related to that work. Attention to the excellence and quality of the work benefits all who participate in the provision of that product or service. This attention and quality also benefits all who find the product or service personally useful.
The “serve the community” view would imply that the community is best served when the product of service provided is of top quality – a goal which can only be achieved by attention to excellence. Again, as mentioned above, both workers and customers benefit so the goal of serving the community is accomplished without sacrificing the quality of products or services.
The personal value to you as you think about these things is to recognize that your work is one of the ways that you respond to God’s calling in your life. It is a way of finding your place as you participate in God’s design and plan for His world.
What do you think?