Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Q&A: a brief theology of work

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Theology of work: Why should I bother to work with any excellence at all if all I do is temporal and will all burn in the end? Does God think I am wasting my time? --Miki Anzai

A: Miki, first of all, let me tell you how much I miss you. Ministry with you in Austin was a real privilege. I will never forget your testimony of quitting your job, in lieu of an opportunity to serve on a short term mission trip, trusting that God would line up new employment when you returned. Your investment in the eternal puts your question above in sharp focus. Does our work matter?

I have previously been tempted to start forming my theology of work in Genesis 3 where God announces to Adam,

17 "Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

Sin brought the curse of painful toil, thorns and thistles, and laborious sweat. My conclusion was that work was the curse. People sinned, so God sentenced us to hard labor.

However, Genesis 3 simply declares the new, qualitative aspect of work. In chapter 2, before sin arrived in Eden, God put man in the garden to "work it and take care of it" [v. 15]. Work was a pre-fall design, not a post-fall discipline. I believe that God set Adam to work in the garden as an expression of man made in the image of God [Genesis 1:26-27]. Just as God is creative and productive [expressed in creation], so He made human beings to reflect His creativity and productivity. In other words, work is an opportunity for each of us to express our connection to God Himself.

It's in this realization that work may become worship. Paul writes that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" [Ephesians 2:10]. Of course, the Apostle is referring to the "good works" of Christian virtue and service, not vocational work per se. But, God's "work" in our salvation is intended to reproduce itself in our "working" in a way that pleases God. So, "whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" [1 Corinthians 10:31]. We work with excellence because God is excellent. We work with diligence because God is diligent. We work with perseverance because God perseveres. It's not the work that honors God, but how we work which has possibility of glorifying Him. And, in the end, it matters little whether we dug water wells of built widgets. Our work is a reflection of our Divine design and, therefore, becomes an opportunity to magnify the Lord.

And, worship is never a waste.

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