“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.