How work shapes us and builds our communities

September 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.

Greg Forster

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 Graduate School. He has a Ph.D. with distinction in political philosophy from Yale University. He is the author of six books, most … 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