Integrating Faith and Work
[I recently finished reading Tim Keller’s excellent book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), as well as Wayne Grudem’s short but insightful volume, Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003). Following are some insights I gleaned from both books regarding the goodness of labor, business, and how to integrate our faith with our work.] Continue reading . . .
[I recently finished reading Tim Keller’s excellent book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), as well as Wayne Grudem’s short but insightful volume, Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003). Following are some insights I gleaned from both books regarding the goodness of labor, business, and how to integrate our faith with our work.]
Tim Keller has rightly observed that because humans are created in the image of God we have an instinctive inclination toward work. We are by nature inclined to be productive, to invent, to create, to innovate, and to be active in countless ways. Work, therefore, is by definition the imitation of God himself. God isn’t simply powerful. Power is not merely an attribute that sits dormant in the divine being. Power is known by its products. God exerts himself to create and renew and orchestrate and providentially govern all things. For us, then, work is as much a fundamental human need as sex, food, thinking, beauty, friendship, etc.
Genesis 2:1-3, 15 speaks of God’s creative effort as “work”. Thus, for both God and mankind (Gen. 1:28; 2:15), work is something that preceded the Fall. Work is not a curse but it does lie under the curse. Work is thus marked by frustration, occasional failure, the resistance of the environment/nature to our efforts to subdue and reshape it, physical exhaustion and pain, envy, conflict, etc.
“God worked for the sheer joy of it” (Keller, 34). He looked on the work of his hands and said, “Good!” He then commissions humans to carry on what he began. God has infused the natural creation with resources and materials that when properly used can yield things like electricity, refrigeration, communication, etc.
The underlying assumption is that work has inherent, intrinsic dignity. Pain and frustration were added to mankind’s work because of the fall, but work itself is always viewed as divinely ordained. All work is sacred! All work is an act of obedience to God. Thus all work is, in a manner of speaking, worship. This applies to the farmer no less than to the factory worker, to the baker no less than to the banker, to the plumber no less than to the philosopher. Never buy into the lie that merely providing a service is of less value than creating a product.
Many of you consider what I do for a living (as senior pastor of a local church) to be sacred, while what you do is secular. Nonsense! Martin Luther responded to this idea as follows:
“It is pure invention [fiction] that Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the ‘spiritual estate’ while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the ‘temporal estate.’ This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy. Yet no one need be intimidated by it, and that for this reason: all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office” (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, cited by Keller, 68).
In Ephesians 6:6 Paul describes the person who works as “doing the will of God from the heart,” and in Colossians 3:23 he says, “Whatever you do [in terms of your job or your work], work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” That’s right: whether you dig a ditch so that a sewer line can be installed or preach a sermon on a Sunday or change a diaper on a Wednesday or argue a case in a court of law or sell a burger on Friday, all work is to be done for the Lord as an act of obedience and worship unto him. No one said it better than Luther:
“Our natural reason . . . takes a look at married life . . . and says, ‘alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed . . ., labor at my trade?’ What then does the Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. . . . When a father goes ahead and washes diapers . . . God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling – not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith” (from the Estate of Marriage).
Keller also points out that some churches still assume that the “more important” work is done in the counseling session or from the pulpit. To the extent that they celebrate “faith and work” integration, churches often emphasize non-profit over for-profit work. If a lawyer really wants to glorify God with his/her work, so it is argued, they should focus on ending the trafficking of persons, not on drafting contracts or conducting negotiations.
This, too, is a false hierarchy. When God became incarnate, he chose to come as a carpenter (or artisan), not as a philosopher-king or as a just and noble statesman. In first-century Palestine, no one put carpentry at the top of any hierarchy. Like other boys in his day, he probably began apprenticing with his father at the age of 12, which means he likely spent 18 years working at his father’s shop, “completing projects and handling finances—negotiating bids, securing supplies, and contributing to family living expenses” (Klaus Issler).
He did this, of course, without elevating the for-profit sector in which he worked as “more important” than the public or non-profit sectors. In fact, he acknowledged the legitimacy of the government (Matt. 22:20-22; cf. Luke 19:2-10) and received private donations from others, as many pastors do, during his public ministry (Luke 8:3). In all things, his mission was always the same—to accomplish the Father's will by serving his people.
To be continued . . .