40 Hours a Week: The Bible and Work

Note: During Wednesday nights this summer, Heritage will be studying the topic of faith and work in our adult Bible study.  

When I was a kid, my family made a big move from Massachusetts to Florida. My dad had left a promising career as a packing engineer for companies like General Electric and Black & Decker. My mom also left her career as a rising sales and marketing associate for Playtex. They left these jobs to pursue full-time vocational ministry, first as missionaries and then my dad later as a pastor. Through no fault of my parents, I grew up sincerely believing that if one loved Jesus with all their heart, a career as a missionary to a third world country was the highest pinnacle of a Christian “job.” My parents left every measure of worldly success behind to follow the Lord’s calling on their lives…wouldn’t I need to one day as well?

I continued to wrestle with a biblical view of vocation throughout college and after I entered the workplace. My questions continued to mount:

- Did the work I do have value to God’s kingdom?

- Was the work I was doing even worth doing at all?

- Was there a difference between “secular” and “sacred” work?

- Did God’s word have anything to say to the average 40+ hr/week worker?

Last year, I began reading a series of books on the topic of faith and work, one being Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor. Keller is an exemplary guide through the key scripture passages which speak keenly to a biblical theology of work. In sum, he frames God’s purpose for human work and outlines key “extremes” Christians should avoid as we invest our 40+ hours a week in the workplace. This book aided me immensely in understanding God’s good design for work in our lives. Here are three important takeaways from Every Good Endeavor:

  1. A biblical understanding of work helps us understand WHY we work.

    The truth of God as the ultimate “maker” pervades scripture out of the gate in Genesis 1 and 2.  Historical orthodoxy picks up on this in the opening line of the Apostle’s Creed “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Human beings are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26,27) and one of the main ways we “image bear” is through work; like our Heavenly Father worked to create the heavens, earth, and all created things. As Dorothy Sayers comments in Letters to a Diminished Church, “(A) characteristic common to God and to man is apparently the desire and ability to make things.”

    When we design buildings, write lesson plans, or approve a loan for a new small business we are being like our Father as he intended us to be (Genesis 1:28).  Keller ads “According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives.” (24) Work itself is not a necessary evil, a burden to be belabored by day after day. It is a good gift from God, given to us to mirror our heavenly Father.
  2.  A biblical understanding of work saves us from despair and cautions us in our expectations.

    God’s command to rule and subdue the earth was given in Genesis 1:28, before the Fall. The entrance of sin into God’s creation marred everything, from human hearts to the act of work itself. Now work would be toilsome, difficult- fruit would still come, but not without much sweat and labor. (Genesis 3:16-19). Is not Genesis 3 such a remarkably true assessment of the human condition? Many of us have a love/hate relationship with our work. We chose careers because we genuinely enjoy medicine, design, business, or education. We desire to be mothers and fathers because we genuinely want to love children. However, we blow up in frustration when a project is derailed at work. We come home complaining night after night that our boss doesn’t understand how difficult our job is and needs a reality check. We grow impatient with children who never seem to learn from their mistakes.

    Thankfully, as Christians our ultimate hope and satisfaction rests in Jesus Christ our Savior, not in our job.  Keller points out:

    “If you make work the purpose of your life….you create an idol that rivals God. Your relationship with God is the most important foundation of your life, and indeed it keeps all other factor- work, friendships, family, leisure…- from becoming so important to you that they become addicting and distorting. (27)” 

    In many ways, we are what we love. If we ultimately crave accolades from our boss and the next promotion, we “distort” God’s good purpose for work in our lives. A biblical understanding of work saves us from the futility of work while cautioning where we place our ultimate joy and satisfaction.
  3. A biblical understanding of work helps us have a right view of God and ourselves:

    As a typical, “type A” first-born beset with pride, I tend to think I’m the best at everything I set my mind to.  I look down on others who haven’t “worked as hard as I have” and my unredeemed humanness constantly battles for personal glory, academic achievements, and career success. I was stopped dead in my tracks when I read this line in Every Good Endeavor:

    “You have worked with talents you did not earn, they were given to you. You went through doors of opportunity you did not produce; they were opened for you. Therefore everything you have is a matter of grace…” (120).

    Even the very best fruits of my labor are ultimately good gifts of grace from God, not simply products of my own effort. This is illustrated in scripture during the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 31 and 35. God lifts the veil behind the source of all human talent and effort. In speaking of the craftsmen who would construct the Tabernacle in which God would dwell it states “God has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done…” (Exodus 35:35). The best, most talented craftsmen humbly receives his ability not ultimately from years and years of effort, but from God. This is important because it frees us from our joy terminating on our abilities and instead encourages us to “ keep rolling the praise back up to God” (as Matt Chandler likes to say).

Truly, God has given us “all things which pertain to life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3) in the knowledge of Christ.. If you have ever wondered how the bible applies to your 40+ hours a week, come join us in the HBC adult summer series on faith and work. All are welcome!