This Sunday, the Three Rivers Grace Church Adult Sunday School class will be starting a series of lessons on the Theology of Work, based primarily, albeit not completely, on Dr. Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor book. For me not long ago, this book represented a paradigm shift in my thinking for not just my own work, but for my understanding of the ramifications of what it means to work within a fallen world and to enjoy and be productive in your work outside or inside the home. More specifically, what is God’s plan for work? For example, am I working too hard and therefore not managing a good work-life balance? If the answer is yes or maybe, it could point to your work partially revealing itself to be an idol. Or, perhaps I am not working hard enough to unleash my God-given potential which causes me to begin to approach the sin of slothfulness. Whether your situation is at or between these two extremes, what exactly does the bible say about work, and how can I contextualize it in my own life?
The Good and Bad of Work
Well, we know some good things about work. We know it was there before the Fall which means that God designed it to be good. We know it develops dignity in us as we are able to support our own families by the work of our own hands. We can advance ahead our community, our culture, and our country through work, and we can be God’s hands in helping others as we do work as a service.
But unfortunately, there are also problems with work. Not everyone sees going to work each day as a blessing. This is because after the Fall, work did not only bear fruit; it sometimes is accompanied by ‘thorns and thistles’. Sometimes, our jobs appear fruitless as the people we are trying to help seem to not be impacted (some social workers burn out from their jobs with this feeling). It can also appear pointless because we do not see our work as impacting the bottom line of our employer, as voiced by some who say “I have a job, but not a career.” Work can be mired down in our own selfishness as we are promoted at our jobs, yet demoted at home in the eyes of our spouse who feels neglected by that same job. But there is hope in reconciling the good parts of work with the inevitable bad parts of work that resulted from the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden. This hope remains the ultimate hope of everything—the Gospel.
The Gospel and Work
The Gospel and work go hand and hand. It puts a new story to work that is different from the one that the world gives us. It begins to help us see ourselves as agents or ambassadors of the Living God of the Universe, who are dispatched to some place at some time to redeem our little worlds. Every problem with work must be confronted with the truth of what Christ did on the Cross and how his final work to redeem us is able to set right what the Fall set wrong. I have personally found a renewed joy in yard work and bathtub cleaning (not that I do not procrastinate doing these tasks). I simply enjoy observing how our yard, when not cultivated, becomes overtaken by weeds. When I get on my knees in our micro-garden and start pulling out those weeds from their roots while trying not to uproot my little girl’s flowers, I just enjoy how God has used weeds which thwart my yard’s fruitfulness to teach me truth. As I pull the weeds and my little girl screams, “Daddy, that’s a flower too!” I marvel at the obvious biblical metaphor that it is difficult to expel the worldly influences from a field which is meant to only be holy. Time just flies by as I labor there on the ground. And on top of that, when I am finished with the yard, I get to enjoy seeing the yard’s new state of flourishing by the work of my hands. I am like a little redeemer, who gets to taste a little bit, I think, of how God felt when in Genesis 1:31, he looked on his new creation and said “it is very good”. How deep are the dimensions of work! Can I perhaps also join God in bringing harmony from chaos in a process at work which others thought was a hopeless, inefficient mess? While I know the missionaries can see their work in redemption, can my garbage men not see their redemptive work too? Surely they must see the beauty of driving down my street littered with trash bags and discarded items, then become more pristine and redeemed as they pass by? The street ahead of them is in shambles but the road behind them is like new. Any Christian who watches garbage men should relish the opportunity to watch them work (and give them a monetary gift during the holidays, with a note perhaps explaining to them how you see the gospel in their awesome work). They’re clear redeemers!
I am simply excited for the simple privilege of seeing how the Gospel can turn the problems with work back into the blessing of work, as it was in the beginning. It is our hope that this Sunday School series on the Theology of Work may help us all bring our work at home or outside the home into a right view; one that is biblical. And may that late Jazz artist John Coltrane’s prayer to God, also bear fruit, in every good endeavor you pursue.