By / Oct 19

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

How does my faith in Jesus connect with my work life? How does Sunday relate to Monday?  What difference does the gospel make when I’m stocking shelves, turning wrenches, or answering phones?  

These are the types of questions that commonly haunt the everyday, ordinary Christian. For those who are serious and sincere in their faith, but who are not part of a pastoral staff or religious nonprofit, what role do they play in God’s kingdom on a day-to-day basis? Connecting the dots between the Christian faith and missionary work is easy. Connecting the dots for truck drivers and dental assistants is hard.  

In the past 20 years, evangelicals have enjoyed a surge of attention and resources dedicated to addressing this intersection of faith, work, and vocation. Christian foundations, think tanks, Christian centers, seminaries, and denominational networks have dedicated much money and attention toward the development of content (books, documentaries, study Bibles, etc.) to inform the Christian laity about the importance and necessity of their roles as “ministers of reconciliation” regardless of their job titles.  

While these efforts have proven positive for both pulpit and pew, much work remains for the masses. This must not be an occasional conversation in the church. It must be part of every church’s strategy to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12).  

In his commentary on Ephesians, the late John Stott referred to Eph. 4:12 as an “every member ministry.” And, indeed it is.  The “work of the ministry” is not the proprietary business of pastors and missionaries. It is the calling of every Christian to connect Jesus to their work, modeling love for God and neighbor, being salt and light at every time and place, and last but not least, to conduct their work with a love and excellence that proclaims the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  

Every kind of work is a sacred calling 

Gene E. Veith’s book God at Work has quickly become a classic in the Faith and Work titles.  Written in 2002, Veith approaches the conversation employing the Lutheran framework for vocation that emerged amidst the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  

The Reformers, especially Luther, sought to reclaim the notion of calling (vocatio in Latin) for the Christian laity. Veith writes, “In scrutinizing the existing ecclesiastical system in light of the Gospel and the Scriptures, the Reformers insisted that priests and nuns and monastics did not have a special claim to God’s favor, but that laypeople too could live the Christian life to its fullest” (18). This dovetailed nicely with the well-known reformational emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, the doctrine that “all Christians enjoy the same access to Christ and are spiritually equal before Him” (19).  

The “priesthood of all believers,” Veith clarifies, did not turn all Christians into pastors. But it did turn “every kind of work into sacred calling.” Building upon this foundation, Luther and the Reformers recognized multiple callings for every Christian, including the calling to work, family, citizenship, and church.  

“The doctrine of vocation, though it has to do with human work, is essentially about God’s work and how God works in and through our lives.”

Each of these vocational categories receive a chapter in Veith’s book. But, before diving into these, he considers “How God Works through Human Beings,” wherein he employs the Lutheran Two-Kingdom’s model to explain how God works through means. Following Luther, Veith puts forward distinct spiritual and earthly kingdoms in which God uses the spiritual kingdom to restore sinners and to rule in their hearts, equipping them for everlasting life. This finds “tangible expression in the Church” and its activities (29).  

Just as God uses the means of the church to accomplish the purposes of his spiritual kingdom, he also works through means of the earthly kingdom, especially natural law, to accomplish his plans. As well, he works through even the so-called “secular” vocations of people in the earthly kingdom. “That is, He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in His vast design” (30).  

In chapters three through five, Veith addresses “The Purpose of Vocation,” “Finding Your Vocations,” and “Your Calling as a Worker,” respectively. These are among the most helpful and insightful chapters as they crack open the reality of an “every-member-ministry” way of life for all Christians. Veith pulls the conversation off the stage of the extraordinary and into the realm of the everyday, ordinary Christ-follower.  He writes, 

“This means that vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts—the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday—but in the realm of the ordinary.  Whatever we face in the often humdrum present—washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with friends—this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love.” (59) 

This emphasis on the “ordinary” is right and beautiful and has gained greater traction in recent years. An arguable extension of the “faith and work” movement has been the revival of interest in everyday liturgies that see all of life as sacred and holy, purposeful before God despite how extraordinary it may or may not be. Veith goes on to say, “The doctrine of vocation, though it has to do with human work, is essentially about God’s work and how God works in and through our lives” (59). If there were a one-sentence summary to the book, this would be it. He repeats this idea at the end of chapter five, reflecting on those who responded to the planes crashing into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Those responders insisted their bravery was simply, “doing their jobs.” Veith responds with, “That is the doctrine of vocation. Ordinary men and women expressing their love and service to their neighbor, ‘just doing our jobs’” (75).  

Following dedicated chapters on the callings to family, citizenship, and church, Veith offers three short but important chapters on the “Ethics of Vocation,” “Bearing the Cross in Vocation,” and the conclusion, “Resting in Vocation.”  In a particularly poignant section in the “Ethics of Vocation” chapter, Veith discusses “sinning against vocation.” Despite the deluge of resources on faith, work, and vocation in the past decade, the notion of “sinning against vocation” remains largely left out and underdeveloped. Veith suggests that one way to look at sin is as a “violation of one’s calling.” “Since the purpose of vocation . . . is to love and serve one’s neighbor, failure to do so is a sin against one’s vocation” (135).  

Reflections for today

I have three brief reflections on the book.  

First, while Veith is a top-shelf academic and intellect, perhaps the greatest feature of God at Work is its accessibility. In keeping with the Reformers’ intention of reclaiming Christian vocation/calling for the laity, Veith’s book is written and organized brilliantly for the thoughtful layperson, the trained pastor, or theologian—and everyone in between. 

Second, while I remain unconvinced of the two-kingdoms approach to God’s world, the four-fold approach to vocation (work, family, citizenship, and church) remains foundational for my own thinking, teaching, and preaching on calling. Veith’s explanations and insights on these areas of Christian calling remain among the best in the literature, informed by the primary and secondary sources but distilled for all audiences. 

Finally, while tempted to mention again the great emphasis on the “ordinary” noted above, I’ll refrain in favor of a deep appreciation for the final chapter on “Resting in Vocation.” By this, Veith means both contentment in one’s calling and the importance of Sabbath as part of our calling in Christ. As a friend once said to me, “Rest takes work.” Indeed, it does, and Veith does not neglect to remind us of this in the final pages of his book. Doubtless, anyone who reads God at Work would wish for more than eight pages dedicated to the importance of rest. Nonetheless, Veith leaves the reader with plenty to consider for all of life, working and resting.  

Veith’s God at Work made a deep impact upon its release in 2002 and continues to occupy an important place in the ongoing conversation on faith, work, and vocation. Veith’s book was one of the first I read on the topic as a college student transitioning to seminary. The writing was simple, but the ideas were new and profound for me at that time, and they remain organizing principles for how I understand and live into my own callings every day. May God at Work remain not only on the shelves of those teaching and preaching about Christian vocation; but may it find its way to the bedside table of all Christians that each may become a mature and ministering worker of God. 

By / Sep 3

Daniel Patterson shares how Christians can avoid making productivity an idol.

By / Sep 4
By / Jul 2

In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, Paul makes five explicit references to Christ in five verses.Thus, as with marriage (Eph. 5:22–33) and parenting (Eph. 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.

Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and bondservants in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue to speak to marketplace Christians today. Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week.

Here are the last three of seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office. You can read the first four here.

5. Christ is your coach.

Not only does Christ oversee our labors, he also teaches us how to “work” as he worked. First of all, he liberated us from having to render service to the Lord by accomplishing a work we never could achieve. By dying on the cross, Christ paid the full price for our sins and in his resurrection, he is now building a temple for his people to dwell with his Father (Eph. 2:19–22). This is the work he does, and one we cannot do.

But in watching him work, we learn how me might imitate his craftsmanship. In fact, this is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10. For those who have been saved by faith and not by works (2:8–9), the Father has prepared good works for his new creations to walk in (v. 10). For some these works will include labors in the church, but many good works will be done “outside of church.” Still, it is in the church where disciples learn from Christ and his people how to work.

And thus, we find Paul giving a how-to in verses 6–8. In three consecutive participles (italicized, Paul says “doing the will of God from the heart”; “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man”; and “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.”) In these three verses, Paul teaches Christ’s disciples how to work like Christ.

First, he calls us to learn the will of the Lord. Because Christ is the perfect example of God’s will, this instruction leads people to watch the Lord in his work. It is in this way that we can say Christ is our “coach,” “mentor,” or “teacher.” To be sure, the Lord doesn’t teach us medicine or metallurgy, but he does teach us principles of mercy and justice, wisdom, and goodness. These impact every area of work and therefore apply to all people, regardless of calling.

For Paul, working unto the Lord—whether as a bondservant or a master—was a call to do everything with an eye to the Lord, an awareness of his presence, and a passion to bring glory to God.

Second, by learning from Christ, we learn how to have a good will in serving the Lord. Just as Christ did everything in service to his heavenly Father, so must we. And we learn how to do that by looking to Christ. Hence, one of the most important habits a Christian can cultivate for “success” in their vocation is the study of God’s Word, especially the person and work of Christ. Only those who know Christ and his ways can render service with a good will.

Third, our motivation to do the will of the Lord, in the ways of the Lord, is increased by looking to the future reward promised to those who work by faith in Christ. Indeed, faith impels Christ’s followers to labor in love; however, hope is also needed to grant endurance in good works. As various vocations put into practice love of neighbor, difficulties will mount. In response, how will the Christian press on without growing discouraged or turning from the Lord’s ways? The answer Paul gives is to keep looking to the future reward. By sowing good seeds in the hope of future reward, the follower of Christ looks forward to a harvest that goes beyond company goals. This is what empowers God’s people to endure. And again, no one has modeled this better than Christ.

For all these reasons, Christ’s servant leadership and humble obedience models for all Christians how to work for God’s glory. Therefore, we should look to him and learn how Christ’s attitudes and actions inform our vocation.

6. Christ, not your career, is the source of your value and worth.

In Ephesians 6:9, Paul turns from bondservants to masters. Again, he puts Christ at the center of his instructions. Importantly, Paul uses the same perfect participle (knowing) in both verses to address bondservants (v. 8) and masters (v. 9). And in between Paul says the reward from Christ is irrespective of the workers class: “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”

With an economic valuation that comes from heaven (see v. 9), he encourages masters and bondservants that their eternal rewards are not dependent on their earthly standing. Rather, the reward comes from Christ who looks at the heart. Moreover, by saying in v. 9, “Masters, do the same to them,” he stresses the reciprocal nature of masters and bondservants.

In principle, then, Paul teaches the value of work is based on someone’s relation to Christ and eternity, not to his income, education, or competence. To be clear, those things are not unimportant, for each of them come with a particular stewardship to glorify God. But ultimately, one’s value in Christ’s eyes is not based on his or her work; it is based upon their standing in Christ. “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” is the uniform praise God gives to his children regardless of their earthly standing.

7. Christ is the ultimate motivation for work.

Finally, we return to the first point, because Paul comes to it again with masters. The ultimate motivation for work is the glory of God. And we see this point in verse 9 when Paul says, “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

Again, these words are meant to humble masters and to prevent the abuse of their power. Like bondservants, they too are to use their position to reflect God’s character. Only in this case, their position of authority requires their humility to look like kind-hearted service to those under their care. Why? Because they too are servants under the wise and loving care of Christ, their master in heaven.

In this way, Paul concludes this section like he began, with a Christ-centered motivation for masters to glorify God with their lives and their livelihoods.

Remembering Christ’s perfect attendance

Paul finishes his instruction about submission (going back to Eph. 5:21) by stressing the fact that God in heaven is looking down on all actions and attitudes of his people. And he calls masters (and all of us) to attend to this fact: God is always present.

Enthroned in heaven with all creation under his feet, Christ is never absent from the world and its various markets. And while false motives and unjust practices abound in the world, God is calling Christians to do more than bring Jesus to work. He is calling Christians to realize he is already there. As “little Christs” (i.e., Christians), we are to see him in our daily workspaces so that we might work to reflect his ever-present glory.

Indeed, for Paul, who at times worked in the marketplace to provide for himself, such service included far more than just making money for ministry or being a witness to co-workers—although both of those motives also exist. For Paul, working unto the Lord—whether as a bondservant or a master—was a call to do everything with an eye to the Lord, an awareness of his presence, and a passion to bring glory to God.

Such a motive should grip all of Christ’s followers today, too. Though the economic systems of the West are far different from first-century Ephesus, these inspired words abide the test of time. There continue to be occupations of authority and others of submission, and usually they are an admixture of the two. Thus, we can apply Paul’s words today, because they are centered on Christ and the calling of disciples to work as unto the Lord, by remembering his perfect presence and imitating his humble service to the Father’s glory.

This article originally appeared here.

By / Jun 25

In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, Paul makes five explicit references to Christ in five verses.Thus, as with marriage (Eph. 5:22–33) and parenting (Eph. 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.

Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and bondservants in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue to speak to marketplace Christians today. Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week.

Here are the first four of seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office.

1. Christ is the ultimate motivation for work.

In verses 5–8, Paul addresses bondservants (ESV), and he calls them to “obey” their earthly masters (“masters according to the flesh”). Why? For the sake of Christ. Verse 5 reads, “Obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ.” Paul explains that in obeying earthly masters, those in the service of another are evidencing their commitment to Christ.

There are many ways this teaching has and can be abused by those in authority, but in the original context, Paul is urging Christians to respect and obey their “employers” for the sake of Christ. This is the ultimate motivation for the worker, and as we’ll see, for the master/employer. Money, fame, pleasure, pride, prestige, power—none of these can be ultimate motivators. Neither can goodness, justice, love, or anything else be the ultimate motivation. In Christ, the Spirit-filled believer will long to glorify Christ, and as Paul says in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Every other motivation must be tempered by and trained to serve the first priority—to serve others as the Lord.

2. Christ is your vocational supervisor.

If Christ is your motivation, he is also your supervisor. As verse 6 puts it, the disciple of Christ does not work “by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers.” As Galatians 1:10 indicates, such workers cannot serve Christ. Why? Because their man-centered devotion will ultimately lead them away from the Lord.

Built into this instruction is the reality that in our fallen world, every worker will be confronted with decisions that will demand them to answer this question: Will they serve God? Or will they serve man? As Jesus says, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). In context, Jesus is talking about God and money, and Paul seems to be making a similar point. Every worker will be working to please God or themselves or some other human supervisor.

Therefore, we learn from Paul that no matter the company, institution, office, etc., the Lord claims precedent over them all. And Christians bought by Christ’s blood are not first and foremost slaves of their earthly master; they are slaves of Christ. And thus, what he says matters most. This, of course, does not mean that Christ permits workers to reject the authority of their earthly supervisors. Just the reverse, his oversight motivates us to humbly respect and obey our earthly “lords.” This is why Paul uses the word “obey” when speaking to servants.

3. Christ and his Word is your standard.

If Christ’s supervisory role calls us to affirm our allegiance to him, it also beckons us to work with diligence, skill, and honesty. In truth, our earthly masters may not see our dishonesty, and others may not care. As long as pragmatism reigns, there will be many work environs where productivity, not integrity, is prized.

But unrighteousness cloaked by effectiveness is not what pleases the Lord. As the Proverbs speak so often about hard work, honest scales, and righteous speech, the Lord longs for his sons and daughters to do more than get the work done. He longs for them to reflect his character in their carpentry—whatever their vocation may be.

In Ephesians 6:6 Paul calls for Christ’s disciples to do the will of God from the heart. In other words, work for the Christian is not just a means to some spiritual end (e.g., evangelism, money for the church, etc.). Work is a context—perhaps the most enduring context—Christians put God’s will into practice. Therefore, with respect to speech, decision-making, work relationships, etc., God’s Word—not man’s praise—is the standard by which our labors are judged.

4. Christ’s name is on your contract.

If Christ is our motivation, supervisor, and standard, it is not surprising he is also the one who “hires us.” This doesn’t deny the people and companies who sign our contracts, but it does recognize (1) the sovereignty of God in preparing us and placing us in our current occupations and (2) the sovereignty of God to lead, guide, and direct us in our vocations.

In fact, Paul’s words do more than draw the implicit connection between God’s sovereign rule and man’s work. He actually says that in fulfilling our calling, we are to “render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (v. 7). This does not deny the human element in any vocation, but it does heighten the calling to serve God. He is our Lord and thus all that we say and do, is because of him, for him, and by him—by the Spirit of Christ (see Eph. 5:15–21).

Once again, Paul’s point of view is radical. It grates against any sense of self-achievement and crushes the desire to boast in one’s resume, education, or accomplishments (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7). To the self-confident, sought-after contractor, this way of thinking is repulsive. But to the Lord who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34), this exactly what he wants. He’s not looking for high-end employees to boost his lagging company; he’s looking for children who seek their Father’s glory alone.

Paul, therefore, reminds us who ultimately signs our contract—it is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. To work with wisdom and grace, we must acknowledge him. The alternative is to look upon the work of our hands like Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4) and invite God’s judgment.

Stay tuned for the second part of this article next week. This article originally appeared here.

By / Apr 23

George Jetson and his family lived in a future with flying cars, a household robot, and other high-tech luxuries. The Jetsons originally premiered in 1962 as a sci-fi fantasy cartoon produced by Hanna-Barbera and relaunched in the late ’80s. The Jetsons lived a fairly simple life in the sky with all of the things that we thought the future would hold. Even with all of the luxuries and gadgets that made life easier, George often complained about his job because it consisted of pushing a button repeatedly on the RUDI (Referential Universal Digital Indexer) computer for one hour a day, twice a week. It was too much work for George and his Space Age peers.

In the Jetsons, many of the common jobs that we have today were replaced by computers and robots, leaving humans with little work to do. Is this what the future holds for us as technology continues to revolutionize the workplace? While it might seem laughable to think about computers taking over our work, this concept is a serious consideration for many in the technology field.

We don’t have flying cars or household robots, but we do have self-driving cars that are being tested. Some of us even own a personal robot that is tasked with the chore of cleaning our homes. Technology is growing at such an exponential rate that many technologists are starting to worry about and plan for how these advancements will affect our society at large, specifically as more and more of our jobs become automated. Automation is not a future sci-fi idea but a reality in today’s workplace. The future is here, and we, as the church, need to think critically about the impact that these technologies will have on our lives, especially on our work.

What is Artificial Intelligence and automation?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging field of technology defined as non-biological intelligence, where a computer system is programmed to accomplish a stated goal based on a set of algorithms or computer formulas. Commonly known examples are Apple’s Siri, Google Home, and Amazon’s Alexa. AI is also used in many distinct fields for an array of purposes. From home automation to image recognition software, AI inhabits a vast landscape and is being used more frequently to automate certain tasks or jobs. Automation is the process in which a goal is accomplished through the use of AI without the need for a manual intervention from human beings.

Think about the emerging concept of the internet of things (IoT). IoT consists of web-connected devices, commonly known as “smart” devices. I have equipped my home as a version of a smart home with certain automation tools that make life easier for my family. From turning on our porch light at sunset to adjusting the temperature based on the occupancy of the house, automation accomplishes pre-set goals without the need for me to tell the system what to do in that moment. I set it and forget it. The AI runs without my help all day and night, monitoring things and completing tasks on my behalf.

Work and AI

So how will AI and automation affect our work? This is a hotly debated question among leading theorists and researchers, but most technologists predict a massive shift in our economy and jobs in the semi-near future. Lower-skilled jobs or ones that require repetitive tasks are being replaced as we speak, and some predict that even higher-skilled jobs will be replaced by AI and machines within the next 20–100 years.

AI is already replacing some jobs we perform because it can be cheaper, quicker, and more accurate. Jobs ranging from manufacturing to data processing are being replaced daily by new technologies using various forms of AI. For example, our factories used to be full of people who worked long and hard hours. Production used to require a high level of human interaction, providing many job opportunities. But today, fewer workers are employed because of the use of industrial robots and computer systems. These have made manufacturing cheaper, faster, and in many ways, safer because they help eliminate human error and fatigue.

In addition, many jobs that were thought to be off limits to AI and technology are now open to automation because of ever-improving technology. Many jobs, such as warehouse workers, cashier clerks, cooks, and drivers, are predicted to be partially if not fully automated in the near future. For example, French officials have already constructed a subway line in Paris that operates without a human driver in the train. An AI interface manages the workflow for multiple trains that operate on the single line of the transit system. This AI system is monitored by one central human controller who can intervene in the case of an emergency or system malfunction. What once took the direct human involvement of many is now being shifted to a single operator.

Certain jobs might not be fully automated in the near future, but many of the tasks that accompany that job will be. Examples included data processing for paralegals, bookkeepers, tax accountants, and personal assistants. Today, you can sign up for an AI personal assistant called Amy/Andrew Ingram (AI) through the company x.Ai. It will help automate your schedule and book appointments for a small monthly rate. This AI assistant doesn’t require breaks, overtime pay, and never asks for a raise (unless the company decides to charge more for their services), making it more appealing than its human counterpart.

The church's response

The church must respond and think critically about the rise of AI because it will have a massive impact on our lives and those in the communities around us. From job loss to retraining, most of our people are seeing these effects now or will experience them soon, no matter how old or experienced they may be. It is not a question of “if,” but “when?” So, here are two ways we can begin to prepare.

First, we must train the next generation to think critically about what professions they choose to pursue. While a complete AI takeover of the workforce is not likely imminent or even possible at this point, many of the jobs that are currently available might not exist in the near future, or will look very different. We can join the next generation in learning about these changes in order to set them (and ourselves) up for future success. Many schools and colleges are now providing programs and degrees in technology-related fields, such as computer programming, computer development, and mechatronics. The need for these types of jobs will continue to grow as technology becomes more thoroughly integrated into our lives.

Max Tegmark, author of Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, gives three questions that I believe are helpful to think about when we talk to our kids about their future careers:[1]

  1. Does it require interacting with people and using social intelligence?
  2. Does it involve creativity and coming up with clever solutions?
  3. Does it require working in an unpredictable environment?

Tegmark’s questions are helpful because they show that there are certain tasks that AI is not able to perform at this point. The level of intelligence needed to replace humans in these things is probably many generations away, if possible at all.

We were given the ability and desire to work by God before the fall, which means work is not a by-product of sin but part of the Imago Dei.

Second, the church must help cast a vision for work that is more than a means to an end. It is an essential part of what it means to be human. We were given the ability and desire to work by God before the fall, which means work is not a by-product of sin but part of the Imago Dei (image of God).

In a technological age, we might be tempted to seek AI-based machines to work for us so that we have more time for leisure and play. In fact, there has been a rise of robots that take on our chores. From robot vacuums to lawn mowers, these devices can perform tasks for us, saving time and money. But there are downsides that come along with all the benefits of these advancements.

Growing up, I was taught the value of hard work and discipline through mowing our lawn. Mowing over one acre of land was a shared chore between my sister and me. While I would have loved a Jetson-like robot to do my work, I learned about perseverance, the value of hard work, and developing a strong work ethic through the sweat and labor. Simply automating our jobs and life for the sake of leisure misses a crucial aspect of human dignity. We were created to work, not just to provide for ourselves, but to grow us and help us become more like Christ. Work is part of our sanctification, and without it, we will actually become less human.

As the church living in the age of technology and AI, let us commit to casting the vision that work is a good part of creation, and technology can aid us in that calling. New technologies will continue to come and may even perform certain things better than we can, but technology will not and cannot change what it means for us to be a human created in the image of God. We have a choice about the type of future we will inhabit. We need to cherish work rather than teach the next generation that button pushing is beneath us and that life is about procuring leisure with our flying cars, household robots, and high-tech luxuries.  

This article is from Light Magazine. You can read it for free here.

Notes

  1. ^ Max Tegmark, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), 121.
By / Apr 16

A friend sat across from me and said, “I know my job is good work, but I’m just not passionate about it. I know I’m called to this other kind of work, and I’m wondering when God will let me actually do it.” I remembered myself, 10 years earlier, sitting with a mentor and saying the same words to her: Will God ever let me make a living doing what I love instead of this grind?

This grind for me, in that season, was office work, answering phones, typing emails, editing documents, setting up rooms for meetings, making coffee, and spending hours on the phone with customer service reps when our printer was on the blink. It felt meaningless to me, a waste of my degrees (English and Fine Arts), and not at all good. I knew on the surface the work was good, and I believed in the organization for which I worked, but the work itself felt monotonous. I believed the lies that if God really loved me or if I was really a faithful Christian or if someone would just notice my gifts, I wouldn’t be stuck. I blamed God, myself, and others for the reality that my passions didn’t pay.

God’s mercy to me in that season was that my discontent with life actually led me to realize I did not understand the fullness of the gospel. It was the reality that God is a worker that began to unveil my eyes to the gospel.

After leaving my passionless job and the shred of faith I thought I had, I landed in north Texas at a church where one of my first interactions was at a women’s Bible study. My first night there the teacher taught on Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created. ” I’m not sure I heard anything else that night, only that God was Creator, and he created. Something about this concept of him shook me that night. God was the first worker, he created work and called it good, and any gifts I had were only because of and for him. Whether anyone noticed my gifts or passions, I was still imaging him simply because I was created by him. And that was enough.

God is always at work

God, more than any human he ever created, knows what it means to work, create, wait patiently for fruit, to say the same things repeatedly, and to see his work desecrated by others. God knows what it is like to care intensely about something and see it mistreated or misunderstood. Our Creator is not like the old clockmaker, precise with his creation, but stepping away as soon as it works on its own. Our Father is not an idle God, twiddling his thumbs on his throne far away.

Our God is intricately involved in our work because it is primarily his work. He is accomplishing all he said he would accomplish, even in what seems weak or foolish to us. Our Father is never a distant or cruel or punitive manager. Christ is never a disobedient or arrogant servant. The Spirit is always at work within the children of God.

All God does is good, therefore work is good

God designed man to work, tend, keep, and have dominion over the wildness of the garden as a picture of what he was doing with man, beckoning them into fullness of life in him (Gen. 2). Yet, if we’re not attentive to what God is doing, we can begin to believe all work is a post-fall aberration. We begin to believe it diverges from our desire to dwell in a perpetual Sabbath, Eden as we envision it, void of drudgery, toil, and sweat, or anything that doesn’t bring us immediate joy. While it is true that there is an element of hardship to our work that’s born of the fall, it is not true that all work is meaningless unless it is easy, desirable, what we feel called to do, or want to do.

It can be tempting to look at the fruitlessness of our work today—the emails that keep coming, the diapers that need to be changed, the folks who need counseling, the policies that never seem to change—and to think none of this is producing something, but it isn’t true. The goodness of work is not in the production of the work itself or what it accomplishes, but in what it is producing in us and in others (Rom. 5:3-4). We do not work for work’s sake; we work for God. All work is good if it is done for the glory of God, even monotonous, rote, messy work.

God made you to work and called you good

God called man very good in the creation narrative, not because of anything man had accomplished or would accomplish, but because all God created was called good, and man was the chief good of creation. Even as the capstone of creation, though, man was still fallible, and sin entered the world. Therefore, there is an element of our work that is broken, but the essence of our work is still good. It is still—even in seemingly pointless endeavors—participating in the redemptive work of the kingdom of God.

All God does is good, therefore work is good

When we live quiet lives and work with our hands (I Thess. 4:11), we are imaging a beautiful attribute of God, his faithfulness. It is easy to be faithful when what we’re doing is exciting or seen by others, but that is not faithfulness as much as it is attentiveness. Faithfulness is continuing in the work of our hands when there are no accolades or affirmations.

We can begin to believe simply because we’re passionate about something or feel a certain inclination toward it, God means it for us now or in the future, but God’s Word never promises this. Over and over God tells his children to be faithful, work hard, trust him, and empty ourselves. We’re reminded in Scripture of men and women who worked a very long time and never saw what actually was promised to them (Heb. 11).

When we believe a desire for a vocation means we will get to do it all our life, we’ve made the passion for the thing our idol. How much better to trust the work of our hands to the Creator of all, knowing he takes what is a formless void and makes it all beautiful in his time? Our work is good because, when all was still a formless void, God was preparing us for good works (Eph. 2:10).

God gave you your passions and your work for today

What are we to do when that which we’re passionate about doesn’t provide a living wage and isn’t something we get to spend much time doing? Simply put—we can be faithful with what we can do now to hone in on the gifts God has given us, instead of burying them as the unfaithful servant did in Matthew 25. Some of the servants were given more talents, others fewer, but all were given the opportunity to be faithful—even the one with the least. What are some ways God might have you be faithful today with what you have in your hand right now?

There are things we can do to kindle the sparks of joy we find in our God-given passions: host an art night at church, submit a poem to a literary magazine, take family photos for some friends, practice hospitality in our homes, serve our churches in lay ministry, tutor students in biology. Keep your appetite whetted for the beauty you find in your passions, even if they don’t pay. God is your provider, for both your daily bread and for the vocation you desire.

What my mentor said to me, and what I said to my friend that day in the coffee shop, was that God had not called us to anything that wasn’t the best for us today. Our work was good as we did it unto God. Our desire for work we were passionate about was good too, but not if it eclipsed our trust in God’s goodness for each day.

This quote from Martin Luther helps remind me weekly of the same truth, "What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow."

Proverbs 18:16 says, “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before kings.” Whatever your gifts and passions are, it is God who gave them to you and who designed them to make a way for you. I beg you to trust him with the timing and the way. Until then, continue on in today’s good works which were prepared for you before the foundation of the world.   

This article is from Light Magazine. You can read it for free here

By / Feb 20
By / Sep 1

“Our kids need to go in the ministry. People are dying and going to Hell. Let the world provide the doctors and lawyers and carpenters. We need laborers in the field.”

This was the message I heard, growing up, over and over again. The pastor was well-meaning. His desire was to see the church committed to reaching the world with the gospel. But while I’m grateful for the evangelistic impulse it created in me, this paltry doctrine of vocation did much damage. It crippled the ability of young men to discover their God-given gifts and talents and leverage them in the marketplace for the glory of God. The only “real” calling for a young man is the ministry, whether as a pastor or a missionary. My childhood church was an extreme outlier on this issue, I realize, but this kind of weak theology of work did pervade the Church for several generations.

Which is why I’m grateful for the emerging, healthy, robust faith and work movement in the Church.  In the last few years, many terrific books have been written that offer a more robust, gospel-rich view of life and vocation, one that encompasses all God intended when He reached into the dust to create humankind. The Genesis mandate to subdue the earth, to create, to innovate, has been redeemed anew by Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that the gospel restores us to the joyful work God created us to perform.

At its best, a robust faith and work movement removes the kind of class system that often exists in churches, where the pastors and church leaders are held up as the spiritual varsity team and those who slug it out from Monday thru Friday are sort of useful witnesses, sources of tithing income, and faithful providers, but are not nearly the heroes who draw a check from a Christian 501(c)3. Churches who embrace a biblical worldview understand that God is empowering people to apply the gospel in the marketplace.

If we are not careful we can create a kind of second class system by elevating those whose vocations seem more praiseworthy.

But if we are not careful we can create a kind of second class system by elevating those whose vocations seem more praiseworthy—white collars or creative such as artists, engineers, lawyers, and CEOs—over and above the blue collar, “dirty jobs” professions that so employ so many of our people. It’s easy to fall into this trap only because white collar professions and creative endeavors seem more visible and are more easily held up as examples of gospel innovation in the marketplace. But I also wonder if we’ve not subconsciously imbibed the disdain our culture has for so-called blue collar professions.

Previous generations held up the trades—plumbers, electricians, line workers, factory foremen, and retail managers—as worthy vocations. Today someone who works as a bricklayer or roofer or some other blue-collar profession are often looked on as sad cases. We wonder, privately, where the wrong turn happened. How could a smart, capable person end up in such an ignoble career? Where’s the future in that?

But we forget that our society runs on the strength of those who build and maintain our infrastructure, who go to work every day and build things with their hands.

I think, for instance, of my Uncle Jim, who just retired from the Post Office after over 40 years of faithful service. This was a tiring, grueling profession. He had to get that mail delivered on his route regardless of weather. So in the winter, he trudged through snow and ice. In the summer, he endured a hot, non-air-conditioned truck. He’s dodged dangerous dogs and angry neighbors. And yet every day he showed up, every year, for over four decades. He didn’t do it because he heard a powerful presentation of Kyperian worldview. He probably couldn’t pick Tim Keller out of a lineup. He simply fulfilled his mission because it was the right thing to do and he did it well to the glory of God.

I hope our faith and work theology works for Uncle Jim, not just for the artists and painters and poets. I pray that the postman of the next generation might deliver mail with a bit more bounce in their step, because they know that despite the cultural fascination with white collar work, those who labor in the trenches of our less flashy professions do work as important as anyone else.

This article originally appeared here.

By / Jun 26

I love getting things done. I feel accomplished checking off boxes on my to-do list. I’m satisfied with finishing even small tasks, like washing a few dishes in the sink. There’s something gratifying about laying my head on my pillow, knowing it was a productive day.  

Our ideas of a productive day might be different, but it’s undeniable that we, as a culture, love seeing results for our work. We like the politician who promises us they’ll get things done for us; projects and goals are only deemed successful if we achieve the end result; and we go to college so we can get a good paying job that will help us climb the corporate ladder. Nothing is wrong with these scenarios, but they’re all forms of our culture’s tendency to place a greater importance on “doing.”

“So, what do you do?”

When you meet someone for the first time, you might ask them, “So, what do you do?” We tend to identify someone by the things they do. We classify and place value on different occupations, salaries and outward talents and skills. Even our college education system has become more concerned with career goals than about the idea of what an educated person is.

Pragmatism can’t be the only measurement of worth and value that we use.

Much of this mentality has to do with the American-grown philosophy of pragmatism. There is a large breadth to this philosophy, but I’m using it in the sense of practicality. To be pragmatic means that the practicality of ideas, policies and proposals is the only criteria of merit and is what makes a principle usable. I’m a practical person, and I know there’s nothing wrong with that, but pragmatism can’t be the only measurement of worth and value that we use.

In The Consequences of Ideas, R.C. Sproul tells a story about attending parents’ night at his daughter’s public school. The principal explained the school’s philosophy of education by detailing the daily schedule. He explained the educational purpose behind every activity, even assembling puzzles. When he asked if anyone had any questions, Sproul asked, “Why did you select the particular purposes you have chosen? What is the ultimate purpose you use to decide which particular purposes you select? In other words, what kind of child are you trying to produce and why?” Sproul sums it up like this, “There were purposes without purpose, truth without truth.”  

What’s the purpose behind my doing?

Sproul’s question about his daughter’s education helps us ask ourselves, “What is behind all my ‘doing’?” All the activity, work, lists, all that has to get done must have a greater purpose. Jesus answers this well in Luke 10:38-42 when Martha “was distracted with much serving,” and Jesus tells her that her sister Mary “has chosen the good portion.” Martha was busy with “doing,” while Mary was content with “being.”  

By “being,” I don’t mean our culture’s version, which stems more from New Age philosophies. Instead, I’m referring to who God has made us at our very core. He has made us for himself. Mary was keyed into this as she sat at Jesus’ feet. Mary cared more about the kind of person she wanted to be, rather than all the things she had to do. Like Sproul said, all of our purposes need a larger purpose. Mary knew that larger purpose.

In a culture that places a greater emphasis on doing over being, it’s important that we value who we are becoming. All of our doing must flow out of our being in Christ. But we usually care more about the end than the means. The measure of our worth and value must not ultimately be about what we’ve accomplished, but about character, integrity, humility and growth in godliness. God cares about our final end, but he knows the only way we’ll get there is through his means of shaping and molding us into the likeness of Christ.

The means of our work are of utmost importance to God, because it shows the true character of a person. For example, I love getting things done so much that sometimes I’ll get angry at my family if they get in the way, I’ll become anxious like Martha, or I’ll have bad attitudes along the way. I might get everything done, but I’ve shown who I really am in the process and have not glorified God in my work. God uses the means to show us our true selves and our need of him in order to make us who he wants us to be.

In her blog post titled, Doing Vs. Being, in the Huffington Post, Mary Pritchard says this: “Society praises those who do: It’s more about what you accomplish than who you are as a person.” Jesus’ response is, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [accomplishes everything] and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

We can do all we want, even good things, but when we skip over our heart, soul and mind in the process, our actions become worthless. Our “doing” must come out of who we are in Christ. And when this is in place, we can say with the psalmist, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psa. 90:17).