5 important attitudes to embrace at work

March 31, 2015

American Christians have a rather uneasy relationship with work. On Sunday, the lay person hears an impassioned message about sacrifice, self-denial, and the mission of God. He might be treated to a stirring testimony of a wealthy CEO who gave up a promising career to enter “full-time” ministry.

Then, Monday morning happens. He takes his place on the factory line, at a desk, in a garage or behind the wheel. The guilt and shame surge up inside of him, for he thinks that if he were truly committed to Jesus, if he were part of the A-team of Christians in the world, he wouldn't get a check from a “secular” corporation or small business, but from a Christian company such as a church or a parachurch organization.

I've lived on both sides of this secular-sacred divide. My dad is a plumber. He's a committed husband and father who's given himself in service to his church. But still he's … just a plumber. He's not a pastor or missionary or worship leader. At times, I've felt that Dad was made to feel as if he were on God's junior varsity. As if his entrance into glory won't be met with the same applause as those who delivered the sermons on Sunday.

I'm also a pastor and have had to guard against unwittingly shaming the hardworking lay people I serve, simply because I'm privileged to work, full-time, in the business of church. Some pastors might consider themselves more dedicated and more like Jesus than those who sling it in the real world, getting their hands dirty in jobs that seem less than sacred. Although the pastoral and missionary callings are sober, serious endeavors, they don't ascribe any more glory to the sinners who occupy them. Moreover, if faithfulness is God's measure of success, everywhere you serve is God's theater.

This divide between secular and sacred is an unhealthy one. I believe it stems from an incomplete theology of vocation. So I offer five important attitudes when it comes to the arena in which we spend the majority of our lives: the workplace.

1. Recognize the sacred gift of work.

We tend to think of work as a punishment, as a curse laid on us in a fallen world. But this contradicts the high view of work given in the opening pages of Scripture. Work shows up as part of God's creative process. Genesis 2:2 reminds us that God “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” If all of God's creative acts are considered “work,” then one could deduce that work existed even before the creation of man and woman.

What's more, God, in creating Adam and Eve in his own image, gave them important tasks. Adam was to “work and watch over” the beautiful Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). Rather than a punishment, work was a gift of grace from God to man, the opportunity to imitate God's creative acts by subduing creation.

Work only became difficult when sin entered the world. Now rather than being an endless source of worship and creativity, work is toil. The earth, now touched by sin and death, would fight back (Gen. 3:17-19). But work itself isn't a result of the curse of sin; it's a gift from God. For this reason, Scripture counsels us against the sin of laziness (Prov. 21:25-26). To eschew hard work is to be unlike God, who took pleasure in his work as Creator (Gen. 1:31).

2. Remove the divide between secular and sacred work.

Many Christians hold a distinction between “secular” and “sacred” work. Work may seem useful for providing for our families, tithing a portion of our income, and serving as an opportunity for evangelism, but it's often hard for us to see value in the actual work being done. So those who flip hamburgers or drive 18-wheelers may not seem as useful to the kingdom in the eyes of some as those who work full-time for a church or Christian organization. But Scripture doesn't offer such a workplace distinction because in God's economy all work brings glory to him.

Creation was given to man to subdue, so every act of creation is a testament to the Creator. Tim Keller, author of Every Good Endeavor (Dutton Adult), writes, “We're continuing God's work of forming, filling, and subduing. Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and 'unfold' creation beyond where it was when we found it, we're following God's pattern of creative cultural development.” In his letter to the Colossians, Paul quotes King Solomon's advice: “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).

We may be called to the mission field or to the pulpit or to the post office. Wherever our gifts and opportunities lead us is where God designed us to serve him, fulfilling the tasks he ordained before the world began (Eph. 3:9-10).

Work is an act of worship for the Creator who gave us hands and feet and minds to be employed for his service.

That's why there's no such thing as sacred or secular work. It's all work on the grand canvas of God's creation. I love Abraham Kuyper's quote: “In the total expanse of human life, there's not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, 'That is mine!'”

3. Revive a healthy work-life balance.

Since creation, God instituted patterns for healthy rhythms of work and rest. God worked six days and rested on the seventh. This pattern was enforced as law for the nation of Israel as a way of relaxing the body and soul and reminding the Jewish people of their humanity and need for God. Today, followers of Jesus are no longer under the rigid enforcement of Sabbath law, but its principles should still govern the relationship between work and rest.

Humans are given to two extremes that violate Sabbath rhythms. There's the inclination to avoid work and pursue pleasure. And there's the temptation to eschew rest entirely, yielding to pressure to be all about work and no play.

Scripture reminds us of the importance of rest. Jesus, in his full humanity, took periodic moments for rest of body and soul and counseled his disciples to do the same (Mark 6:30-32). Resting from our labors revives and refreshes the soul – it reminds us we are human and not God. A restless life is a sign that work, a gift from God, has supplanted him as the god. Be intentional about building regular times for rest, good sleep and periodic vacations into your schedule. The psalmist wrote about God's understanding of our humanity: “He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14).

4. Resist the lust for materialism.

There may be no greater temptation for American Christians than that of materialism. It's problematic because, though it's easy to spot someone else's greed, it's difficult to find our own.

Scripture is clear that wealth isn't, in and of itself, evil. Some of God's greatest men (Job, Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, Solomon) were men of means. Yet we know of the inherent dangers that prosperity can bring. Heed Paul's warning to young Timothy: “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

Greed, however, isn't a sin reserved for the rich. It isn't measured by the size of one's pocketbook. It's a matter of the heart. Materialism shows up in people of all income levels. And it's easier to judge others for perceived greed than to spot the cancer in our souls.

The cure for materialism is to re-orient one's gaze from money and toward the giver of good gifts. The gospel applied in liberal doses can convert greed into contentment and materialism into generosity.

5. Remember your real identity.

When meeting someone for the first time, the first question typically asked is, “What do you do for a living?” We're most often identified by our vocation. As Christians, we must rest in our identity as God's chosen, redeemed children rather than the identity assigned to us by how we make a living.

This is especially important during seasons of extended unemployment and advanced age. In today's struggling economy, there are many longtime workers who find themselves out of a job and seemingly without purpose. Some have been forced into the humility of taking jobs well below their training and pay grade. It can be embarrassing to explain this situation to family and friends.

But the gospel gives the Christian an identity beyond what he does with his hands. Work is a sacred gift from God, but it shouldn't be the object of worship. If one is Christ's, he or she has a higher identity. Like Paul who, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, was faced with the indignity of imprisonment, beatings, and betrayal, one can say with a heart full of joy, “Because of [Christ] I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3:8-9). No negative evaluation from a boss and no hotly competitive workplace environment have the power to shape one's worth in God's eyes. He loves us and has secured our eternal destiny.

This isn't all Scripture says about work but may it start us on the path to seeing our work as a God-ordained opportunity to bring him glory and contribute to the flourishing of his creation. Because God isn't only concerned with what happens on Sundays. He's also Lord over the other six days of the week.

This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine. A previously published version of this article can be read here.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24