work life series: the goodness, purpose, and dignity of work
Owen Lee | SEPTEMBER 10, 2019 | 5 MIN READ
If we are employed, then work is the sphere in which we spend the most of our waking hours. We can spend 8, 10, or even 12 hours every day at our workplace. College and graduate students, as well as stay-at-home parents, are in similar situations, spending a majority of their time in classrooms or with their children.
People who are working tend to view work in one of two ways. One view of work is too low. This is when people see work as a necessary evil: It’s something they have to do in order to make a living and survive.
The other view of work is too high. This is when people see work as the source of their identity, and their work is what makes them important and significant.
As Christ-followers, we need a view of work that is neither too low nor too high. We need a view of work that is biblical. So how can we do that? We must start by affirming the glory of work, and we will do that by considering 3 things.
The Goodness of Work
First of all, the Bible tells us that work is a good thing. We see in the book of Genesis that work was part of Paradise, as Adam and Eve were called to cultivate the Garden of Eden before the Fall! And that means that work is good!
In fact, we are designed to work because we are designed after a God who works. We know God worked to create the world, and God continues to work by governing the world He has created. And Genesis tells us that we, as human beings, are created in the image of God. And that means that we were created to reflect and imitate a God who works. Just as planes are designed to fly, so humans beings are designed to work.
This means that work is as much a basic human need as food, friendship, beauty, and love. We don’t just need the money from work to survive. We need the work itself to thrive as human beings. Without meaningful work, we all sense significant inner loss and emptiness.
In fact, people who can’t work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to feel emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy. Because God created and designed us to work, work is not only good, but it is also good for us. We will only feel truly free and fulfilled when we work.
The Purpose of Work
So, what are the purposes of work? As Christ-followers, what should be our motivations for doing our work? Let me give you 5 purposes and motivations for work.
1. We work to love and serve the Lord Jesus.
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:38).
So before anything else, we love and serve God in and through our jobs.
In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.”
Your job is not just a way to make money. Your job is the way that you render service to the Lord Jesus Himself! If you’re a Christian, you don’t just work for your boss. You ultimately work for Jesus, your Lord.
2. We work to love and serve our neighbors.
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Just as our love for God should motivate us to do our work well, so should our love for other people. God, in His sovereign wisdom, has chosen to order the world in such a way that we need one another, and we need one another to do our respective jobs.
In fact, the primary way that we love and serve our neighbors and contribute to the flourishing of society is by simply doing our jobs. When we do our jobs — as teachers, doctors, police officers, politicians, construction workers, gardeners, cooks, waitresses — we contribute to the complex process of providing some good, service, or experience that promotes the common good and human flourishing.
Doing our work is the way in which we make ourselves useful to others and the way in which others make themselves useful to us. In other words, there is no better way to love and serve your neighbor than to simply do your work, and to do it well.
3. We work to reflect the God who creates, cultivates, and restores.
God is a God who brings order out of chaos, beauty out of ugliness, and restores broken people, places, and things. As God’s image-bearers, we are called to reflect that activity of God. Our work may include:
Creating something that is useful or beautiful.
Healing broken bodies or fixing broken systems
Seeking justice for the oppressed or bringing oppressors to justice.
Feeding, educating, or entertaining people.
Providing goods, services, or experiences that help or thrill people.
We reflect and imitate God when our work helps to bring order, beauty, justice, repair, and joy into the world.
4. We work to make money.
Let’s be clear: As Christ-followers, the purpose of work is not to make money so that we can hoard it, or just spend it on ourselves. We want to make money, so that we can provide for our families and to share with those in need. It honors Christ when a Christian works hard to provide for his or her family and to be a blessing to others.
We honor Jesus by our providing for our needs and then having enough left over to provide for the needs of others and to support the work of the church. Therefore, you can work with all your heart in a job that simply provides, even if it might not be the most personally fulfilling job you can imagine or the most financially lucrative job out there.
5. We work to adorn the Gospel.
In Titus 2:9-10, the Apostle Paul talks about how workers are to do their work with diligence and honesty so that their conduct can make the doctrine of our God attractive. When we work with diligence and integrity, and when we treat those that we work with and for with respect and kindness, we adorn the Gospel that we profess.
That’s because how we work and how we conduct ourselves when we are at work can either adorn or undermine the Gospel. There’s nothing more damaging to the cause of the Gospel in the workplace than when a Christian posts Bible verses on their walls and plays Christian music on their playlist but does sloppy work, cheats and cuts corners, misses deadlines, creates more work for others because they are irresponsible, treats his or her co-workers rudely, and steals office supplies.
Instead, you are a beautiful and powerful witness for Christ when you do your job well with all your heart, when you do your job with integrity and enthusiasm, and as you treat your bosses, your co-workers, and your clients with respect and kindness.
Be the kind of employee that every employer would want to hire, that every co-worker would want to work with and be on the same team with, and every customer and client feels that you have served them well. That’s how you adorn the Gospel with your work —when you do your work well.
The Dignity of (ALL) Work
Our culture values some types of work over other types of work. Work that requires a greater skill set, that requires more training and education, and that pays more is given a higher status than those that pay less or require less skill.
We overvalue the work of doctors, engineers and lawyers, while we undervalue the work of gardeners, house-cleaners, and cashiers.
But the biblical view of these matters is utterly different. The Bible not only affirms the dignity of work, but the dignity of all work
Pastor Tim Keller said, “Work of all kinds, whether with hands or mind, evidences our dignity as human beings—because it reflects the image of God the Creator in us.”
So, no matter what you do, no matter who much or how little you get paid, whether you perform surgeries or bag groceries, do your job with pride!
Your work has dignity because you do it — you, an image-bearer of God — and you do it to serve other image-bearers of God! Your work, no matter what it is, has great dignity, so take great pride and joy in your work.
When it comes to your work, what matters is not so much what you do, but who you do it for. You do it for Jesus.
Whether you heal people, build roads, close big deals, clean houses, or bag groceries at Trader Joe’s, your work has dignity and value, because you do it for Jesus, and you do it serve image-bearers of God.
So whether it’s thrilling or tedious, whether it pays well or not, whether it’s socially respected or not, do your work for Jesus, and do your work with all of your heart.
Owen Lee serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Central Presbyterian Church in Centreville, VA. He received his BA in Rhetoric at U.C. Berkeley and his M.Div at Westminster Seminary, CA. Before his call to serve as the Senior Pastor of Christ Central in 2012, he served as the English Ministry Pastor of New Life Mission Church in Fullerton, CA from 2000 to 2002, and then as the church-planting pastor of New Life Mission Church in Burbank, CA from 2002 to 2011. He is married to Margaret, and they have 3 children together- Abby, Caleb, and Lizzy.