Article

How work shapes us and builds our communities

Sep 3, 2018

People [usually] grasp that God cares about their work and then ask: So what does that mean for me? How do I figure out what God wants me to do in my work? How do I handle struggles and disappointments?

Jesus will give you grace and power to face whatever his calling requires you to face. You may be called to spend most of your work doing tasks you dislike; Jesus will give you grace and power for that. You may be called to work for an arrogant, domineering boss; Jesus will give you grace and power for that. You may be called to work alongside dishonest, backbiting co-workers; Jesus will give you grace and power for that. You may be called to lose your job and have to find another opportunity to use your gifts productively; Jesus will give you grace and power for that.  

On the other hand, you may be blessed with amazing opportunities. You may well have everything going for you. If so, Jesus will give you grace and power to take full advantage of those opportunities for his kingdom. The more God invests in you, the more return on investment he expects you to be striving to give him.

Know who you are in Christ and who you are in the world

[But], only the gospel can empower you to work while removing the burden of earning from your work. In our vocations, God calls us to get out of our comfort zones, working hard to accomplish his purposes. But we rest on God’s saving grace in the cross and the empty tomb of Christ for our standing and favor with God. We are not earning our place in the glorious kingdom whose purposes we work so hard to advance.

That is why the high and holy calling of God is a blessing for us and not a curse. We know who we are in Christ. We know that God gives us this high calling because he loves us, because he has already adopted us as his children and secured a place in his kingdom for us. There is no chance we will lose our real and ultimate blessing, however weak or deficient we may sometimes be in our vocations here.  

We aren’t earning in the kingdom; we’re learning in the kingdom. We are not just taking care of God’s world in our vocations. We are learning how to be God’s children. God is using our callings to shape us into the kind of people he wants his children to be. That’s one reason it’s sometimes quite difficult!

But you don’t leave behind your natural human identity and relationships when you embrace your gospel identity and your relationship with Christ. Even after he became the world’s greatest missionary, Paul continued to claim both his Jewish identity and his identity as a Roman citizen. He had relationships with people that helped make him the person he was; Jesus didn’t replace those relationships. He suffused them with his grace and power to Paul.  

In the same way, you are more than just a Christian. You are many other things as well—perhaps a husband or wife, perhaps a mother or father, perhaps an employee or student, perhaps a co-worker, perhaps a citizen. Hopefully you are a church member. And whatever else you are, you are certainly a neighbor to all those God brings into your life! The intersection between our gospel identity and our natural identities—our relationship with Christ and our relationships with those around us—is where we find most of the challenges and opportunities of our vocations.

In my case, I’m called to be a good husband and father and church member; a good employee to my supervisors and to the school that employs me, as well as a good employer to those I supervise; a good craftsman to those who receive the services I provide (including you); a good citizen to my city, state and country; and much else besides. These identities reveal to me much of my calling from God.

See the big picture, but don’t “despise small things”

[R]elationships are [central] to God’s design for us as human beings and the way we follow his calling in our lives. God made us to be relational—“it is not good that man should be alone” is the only “not good” pronounced before the fall. We are made male and female in the image of God, made from the beginning to be fellow workers and family members, so we could show the world through our relationships with one another what the divine nature looks like: the holy love of three persons for each other, together forever as one God.  

No one works alone. Your work is extensively bound up with the work of all the people around you—the boss you work for, the co-workers you work with, the customers you serve, the household your work supports, the people you buy things from using the money you make in your job. And all their work is in turn bound up with the work of thousands of others. Ultimately, your work is interdependent with the work of millions around the world.  

Suppose you work on an assembly line making a part that goes into the braking system of a car. If all you see is the machine you operate on the assembly line and your paycheck, you’re missing the big picture. You are making cars safer, saving lives. You serve the customer (drivers) and your community, making God’s world more like what he wants it to be. That’s your first contribution to the big picture.  

Now go a step further. Why does your company pay you to operate that machine on the assembly line? Because customers want cars to be safer, so they’re willing to pay a little more for better brakes—including that little part you make. The company pays you because your work creates value for it.  

Now keep going. The paycheck you make for creating value for your employer supports your household. The goods and services you purchase with that paycheck allow other workers to do their work, serving the world in all their various ways and supporting their own households.  

Maybe you don’t get a paycheck for doing your job. You could be a homemaker or a retiree. All the same things still apply to you, though—you do work (in the home, volunteering, etc.) that serves people and makes the world a better place. Your work contributes to the well-being of your household and community, and helps other people do their work. You’re no less a part of God’s big picture. The paychecks are not the point; they’re just useful tools for keeping things going.  

“[T]he big picture” is not something that happens apart from the ordinary tasks of everyday life. Those mundane tasks are precisely where the big picture happens. That’s why the Bible is constantly stressing faithfulness and conscientiousness in performing our routine duties. That’s where God paints the big picture.   

Zechariah rebukes “whoever has despised the day of small things.” He tells them they will change their tune when they realize that the “eyes of the Lord . . . range through the whole earth.” Even on the assembly line, or in the kitchen at home, or in the cab of a truck, or in an office cubicle!  

This modified excerpt was taken from The Gospel For Life series, The Gospel & Work, edited by Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker. GREG FORSTER serves as the director of the Oikonomia Network at the Center for Transformational Churches, and is a visiting assistant professor of faith and culture at Trinity International University.