Connecting God's Word With Our Work
There is a story about a crew of medieval stonemasons working on a new building project. A curious visitor asks what they’re doing and receives vastly different replies. “I’m cutting a stone,” says one. “I’m making a living,” answers another. However, a third responds, “I’m building a cathedral for God and for his people.” All three masons were doing the same job, but they certainly had very different habitudes.
Job satisfaction isn’t necessarily found in a specific kind of work. In fact, the only way to find job satisfaction is to connect God’s work in the world with our work in the world. It took me quite a while to learn how to do exactly that. I grew up under a pastor who believe in working hard but who didn’t help me connect my Sunday work with my Monday work. If anything, he left me with the impression that the really important work was done by pastors and missionaries. So I was surprised the first time I read the following:
“A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another...”
- Martin Luther
Where did Luther get such notions, I wondered. The answer is that he read the whole of Scripture to discern what it said about work.
Part One: The Creation Mandate (or the Cultural Mandate)
We are dipping back into Genesis 1 and 2 today.
Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Genesis 1:31-2:3 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Genesis 2:15-18 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
There is a great tendency for us to divide the world into two spheres—the spiritual world, which we often refer to as good, and the material world, which we often see as bad. This is very, very bad theology. First because the material world was created by GOD and not Satan, and second because the spiritual or unseen world is comprised of both good and bad elements—never forget that Satan and his minions are part of a real, spiritual world.
It is essential that we recognize that all things come to us from God. Everything he has provided is for our enjoyment and should call us to praise Him. The Psalmist writes, “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1). Paul quotes from this Psalm when, in 1 Corinthians 10, he defends the enjoyment of all kinds of food and drink! Likewise, when I thank the Lord for coffee, baseball, cookouts, and music in my prayers on Sunday mornings, I am being very intentional. I am trying to help you integrate your faith with all of your life! I want you to connect God with food, and work, and play, and sex, and drink, and entertainment. I want you to give him thanks for everything and to enjoy him IN everything.
The expressions “secular” and “sacred” can be very misleading. It is very difficult to consistently divide the world into those categories. Consider this question: Does plowing the ground God created glorify him or does preaching a sermon to his creatures glorify him? The answer is YES! In equal measure, yes!
“It is pure invention that Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the ‘spiritual estate’ [read: spiritual class] while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the ‘temporal state’ [read: earthly class]. This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy…All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office. As St Peter says, “You are a royal priesthood and spiritual realm” (I Peter 2:9). The Apocalypse [Revelation] says, ‘Thou has made us to be kings and priests by thy blood.’
- Martin Luther, Luther’s Works
We are all engaged in spiritual work; we are all priests before God in his world. C. S. Lewis said much the same. “...The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman [house cleaner], become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord.’"
Many, many, many Christians (and non-Christians) have totally misread the Genesis narrative. They think that God created this beautiful world and once he did it was finished—It’s done, no one touch anything! All Adam and Eve had to do was sit around in the shade and drink Summer Shandy. However, there are several expression in the narrative that form the core of the creation mandate (or cultural mandate):
- “Fill it [up]” (Genesis 1:28)
- “Subdue it/rule over it” (Genesis 1:26, 28)
- “Cultivate it/care for it” (Genesis 2:15)
When God created the world, it was good and beautiful! But it was also empty, wild, and barren. So God made us, in his image and therefore creative and capable, and sent us out to make the world a better place. To fill it, rule over it, cultivate it, and care for it. The growth and development of civilization and culture and cities in his beautiful world was God’s dream from the very beginning.
Let’s be clear. We are neither to leave the land alone nor are we to relentlessly destroy it. On the contrary, the creation mandate means that we carefully take the resources God has placed in the world and use them to make it an awesome place. One of the most beautiful places I have ever golfed is Arcadia Bluffs in northern Michigan. It is just gorgeous. And it is beautiful because the developers took a stunning piece of real estate that sits high above the shores of Lake Michigan and they “developed” it. Their work didn’t ruin the land; they took the wild beauty and tamed it.
Part Two: YOUR CREATION MANDATE
“Why didn’t God just name the animals himself? He was clearly capable. Yet he invites us to continue his work of developing creation, to develop all the capacities of human and physical nature to build a civilization that glorifies him. Through our work we bring order out of chaos, create new entities, exploit the patterns of creation, and interweave the human community. So whether splicing a gene or doing brain surgery or collecting the rubbish or paint a picture our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world. In this way, we connect our work to God’s work.”
- Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor
God put creative, capable beings on his world and let them carry on the work of filling up creation and making it better for His glory. I love how Martin Luther interpreted this reality: “The people who do the simplest work are the fingers of God.” When we begin to see our work and ourselves as God does, our work takes on renewed meaning. We are able to connect our work with God’s work. We do not work primarily for money, but rather we work to use the abilities God has given us to make this world better and to serve those around us.
Take for example someone who is in charge of a company’s human resources. This person could say, “Another day of sorting through resumes, doing interviews, managing employee benefits, and revising employee policies….Ugh!” Or the person could say, “Another day of helping my company hire the best possible people so that we can serve our customer well. If I do my job well, this company will be a better place to work, and my employer and our customers will be happier!” Almost any job can be viewed as way to fulfill the mandate God has given us. Lawyers protect rights and pursue justice. Personal assistants help their boss become better organized so that he or she can serve the organization better. Car dealers and mechanics make transportation safe and enjoyable. Architects and engineers design things to make places and things more efficient. Physical therapists get people back to a better place so they can enjoy their lives again.
When you meet someone that gets this, it’s such a delight. Some years ago, my wife, youngest son, and I were taking the train from the center of Barcelona to the airport to catch a flight; however, we were lost and running out of time. We got off a train in the middle of nowhere, in a not-so-nice suburb of Barcelona. We approached the ticket booth to ask for help. The man behind the counter put aside his work, made a call about the next train, called over another agent to take his place, and came out to personally escort us to the correct platform. He showed us where to wait, explained when the train would arrive, and assured us that everything would be fine. That man understood that his job was more than ticket selling. His job was to help people get where they needed to go.
When a pastor does his work to increase the joy of God’s people, or when a public servant does his job for the good of the city or the county or the country, or when an executive does his job to serve customers and employees and the company vision, each one is doing God’s work, whether they realize it or not.
We were created to “contribute to the general advantage,” as John Calvin put it. When we as Christians leave the place of worship to go out and do our work well, which makes our cities and communities and companies better places, we are the “fingers of God” doing what we have been called to do.