5 reasons why our work matters to God

Believing in the dignity at our desks

September 2, 2019

“Pastor, my dream is to one day save enough money so I can quit my job and do real Kingdom work.”

This is a sentiment I’ve heard many times over the course of my ministry. One the one hand, it makes me rejoice to see followers of Jesus so committed to seeing the gospel spread around the world that they’d give up wealth and their career ambitions to make it happen. I love to see people say yes to God’s call. 

And at the same time, I cringe at the false dichotomy I hear it in statements like this. As if “real Kingdom work” only takes place when one is volunteering at church or getting a paycheck from a 501(c)3 organization. I think the reason many of our people think this way is because we pastors have taught them to think this way. 

I’ve mostly been employed by distinctly Christian organizations. So it hasn’t been too hard to find meaning in what I do. I can point to a mission statement on the wall or find joy in the stories of lives changed. But, sadly, for those who work for typical employers—this is most of the church—it is a struggle to see the connection between their worship on Sunday and their labors on Monday. 

Of course we know that work is important because it provides income to support our families, provides funds to help give toward Christian mission, and becomes a theater by which we can demonstrate and share the gospel. But could it be that what we spend the majority of our lives doing—in cubicles and cars, scaffolds and stations, airports and aisles—has important, eternal significance? 

I think it does. But more importantly, the Bible says our work matters to God. And I’d like to show you five reasons why: 

1. Work is an essential part of our humanity. 

Genesis 1 and 2 make the case that, unlike the rest of creation, humans were created in the image of God. This doesn’t just mean we are valuable and have inherent worth—it does—but it means that we were created to, in some ways, reflect our creator. One of the most important ways we do this is in the way that we work. 

God is a working, creating God (John 5:17). As his image-bearers, our mandate is to subdue the earth and fill it with his glory (Gen. 1:27). God has given us the raw materials in his creation, and it is our duty to use them to image him by creating things ourselves. When we create, we reflect the glory of the creator. 

Of course, in a fallen world, our work is more difficult. The ground that once freely yielded to the hoe and the plow, now fights back with weeds and thorns. But while the curse may make our work harder, more futile, and sometimes dispiriting, it doesn’t diminish the importance of the work itself. God cares about the work we do. 

2. Work is how we love our neighbors.

Beside glorifying God, our work also is a way we love our neighbors as ourselves. The products we make with our hands help people flourish. Consider the engineers who design our infrastructure, the designers who create new life-saving medical products, or the artists who beautify our public spaces. Or consider the plumbers, electricians, and other tradesman who make our systems work in both our homes and places of business or the sales people who introduce new products to new markets. From the most menial data entry to the most visible CEOs, work, when done with excellence and integrity, helps our communities flourish. 

Work can, we know, also do the opposite. Sometimes work, rather than help people flourish, exploits and assaults their dignity. Consider the way Pharaoh, greedy and bigoted, pressed the Hebrew people to produce. He ratcheted up their expected output and made their means of production more difficult. He didn’t see his employees as people, but as numbers on a balance sheet, cogs in a cruel wheel of greed. Sadly, too often our work is more like Egypt than Eden. 

Still, for those caught in a stifling 9-to-5 grind, we can find meaning in the seemingly meaningless by doing well whatever work we are given (Col. 3:23). We should do this, not to please an unappeasable boss, but to glorify God and help our neighbors. 

3. Work now is an internship for eternity. 

If work was given as a good gift by God to his image-bearers before the Fall, then it means we our work will not stop when we die, but will only be just beginning. The Kingdom of God has dawned in Christ and, when he returns, will be fully consummated. This means our giftings, our callings, our duties will carry on into the new Jerusalem, where we will rule and reign with him. 

Sadly we tend to think of heaven as only spiritual, as a kind of eternal soul sleep or a never-ending hymn sing in the clouds. But the future Kingdom of God will be even more real than this fallen world. And our lives now are only preparing us for what we will be doing in eternity. 

Russell Moore says it best: “Our jobs—whether preaching the gospel or loading docks or picking avocados or writing legislation or herding goats—aren’t accidental. Our lives now are shaping us and preparing us for a future rule, and that includes the honing of a conscience and a sense of wisdom and prudence and justice.”

This is good news. Imagine fulfilling our callings and exercising our giftedness without the weight of the Fall? Imagine our ability to create without frustration, fatigue, and false motives?  

4. Work is a visible sign of God’s renewing work in the world.

Our work not only prepares us for eternity, it shows the watching world a glimpse of eternity. If the Church is the outpost of the Kingdom of God, then the way we work, with excellence—renewing, restoring, building—shows the world what the future Kingdom will look like. Every broken bone set, every new and innovative piece of technology, every piece of art, in some way, points toward a better world to come. 

It’s true that, at the end age of the age, much of what we have built will be destroyed, though not in a fire of destruction, but in a fire of refinement. God will put everything created through a refining process, filtering out the works that are destructive, impure, and unfit for the New Jerusalem. What is excellent and beautiful will remain, polished and perfected for eternity. 

So as we work, we work not only for ourselves. We work for others. We, by our commitment to doing good, image the world to come and invite those far from God to ask questions, to inquire, and ultimately, to find rest in Jesus. 

5. Work is a part of discipleship. 

Lastly, our work is an essential part of our discipleship. When most of us think about discipleship, we think about the spiritual disciplines and evangelism. These are an essential part of growing in Christ, but given how intimately work is embedded in our identity as image-bearers, we should also think about our work as part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This is why Paul often talked to the churches about their work. Few, if any, of his original readers would be involved in “full-time Christian ministry.” Most would be making a living in some fashion. So he embedded in his letters application toward their daily vocations. 

The gospel changes the way we see our work. It adds a newfound significance. It elevates us from hum drum, cynical employees to servants of the King. Every day may not feel like heaven, but every day at the job matters in heaven. 

This is why it is important for pastors to constantly season their preaching and teaching with application toward the average working man. This is where pastors need to get out of their religious ivory tower and imagine life for the person who makes sales calls, bakes cookies, or works the night shift at the hospital. Too often we assume our people are as cloistered with books and Bibles as we are, and our sermons fail to connect with where the average person is. But if we are going to disciple well, we must disciple our people in the way that they do their jobs. 

This article originally appeared in Facts & Trends

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