A Brief Theology of Work

What comes to mind when you think of God and your work? 

Here are a few truths to consider.

God is a Worker

The first appearance of God in the Bible is as a worker. Genesis 2:1-3; Psalm 19:1. Not only is creation the work of his hands but it tells us something of his nature. The creation is a constant declaration of the reality of a God who is creative and glorious.

But God’s work in relation to creation was not completed after the sixth day. The Lord Jesus, having created, has an ongoing work of upholding the creation—Colossians 1:16-17.  This sustaining work provides for the needs of his creation and fulfills the purposes of the Lord in the world.

God Created People as Workers

In those same opening passages of Genesis, man is created. He is both created in God’s image and is given work to do as that image—Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15. Man’s work is an imitation of God’s work, participation in God’s creation and creativity.

Being created in God’s image as a worker has a number of specific implications:

  1. It gives work intrinsic value as a gift of God—Ecclesiastes. 3:12-13. Since work was instituted before the fall, it is intrinsically good. As we work, we express our true humanness. That is why laziness is destructive; it works against fulfilling our calling as a people who are to image their God.
  1. Work is a means of glorifying God—Deuteronomy 6:5; I Corinthians 10:31. Since all legitimate work is an extension of God’s work, work done well honors him. It also means that there is no such thing as a hierarchy of spiritually important work. All legitimate work done well has spiritual significance. So we don’t work at our jobs to give us money and time to do the really important work (for example, work in the church). Your job is the important work.
  1. Work enables you to fulfill your calling to serve other people—Matthew 22:37-39; I Timothy 5:8. Almost every job provides either a service or a product to other people, sometimes the two are combined.

Think about what it takes for you to have bread on your kitchen table. The farmer plants, grows, and harvests; there are those who transport the product; refining mill workers who turn wheat into bread; packing plant workers; dock workers to load; shipping to store; dock workers to unload; stock workers and cashiers at store. Then add all the workers who contributed to you being able to get to the store (road workers, auto workers) not to mention what it takes to have a table inside of a house/apartment on which to eat the bread. It takes a community of people acting for others for you to have a loaf of bread on your kitchen table.

Sin Impacts Man as a Worker

Living in the time between the creation and the consummation, the fall impacts our work. This also has implications:

  1. Because of sin, none of our work completely fulfills God’s intention. All jobs have their futile aspects and we can become frustrated with both circumstances and with people, other sinners, in our work.
  1. In a fallen world, there is no equality of work—some jobs are fulfilling, others are not. Work is not a result of the curse but it is affected by it.
  1. Sin makes work harder so that working can sometimes be a form of struggle.
  1. The connection between the work we do and how it contributes to God’s work is not always obvious. We may believe it intellectually and abstractly but have a hard time making the connection really and concretely.

So work in a fallen world is both a satisfying blessing and a frustrating challenge. This is the human condition. We can’t retreat from the fallen condition of the world or the sin of ourselves and other people. The challenge is to be faithful in our calling to do what God has called us to do and to recognize the glory in the grind.

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About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
This entry was posted in Vocation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Brief Theology of Work

  1. cl mareydt says:

    Reblogged this on inspirational author – c. l. mareydt and commented:
    Good timing on your post – would like to see more ppl keeping their mind on this kind of work … & the works of God …

  2. Excellent post. The use of our time and our work are intricately related, and the best use of our time is to employ it to do what God wants us to do during the hours appointed. The introduction of sin into this world indeed makes work challenging, for sin compels us to make use of our time in wasteful ways. Thank you for this enlightening post, John.

  3. John H. Harbison says:

    Thanks for your encouragaing comment, Dee. I look forward to the time when all things will be made new and we will work unhindered and unburdened in the light of the glory of God.

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