Work: Series Introduction 3

We concluded last time, having argued from Scripture, that work is holy—all kinds of work, all manner of occupations—and that in doing one’s work as unto the Lord one is serving him. This understanding of a Christian’s vocation has often been lost to the Christian mind, especially as a result of the creation of a dichotomy between the spiritual realm and the secular realm. It has often been thought that “spiritual” work is holy – the work of ministers, monks, and nuns, or the spiritual work of laymen that they perform in their spare time (worship, evangelism, etc.) – but ordinary occupations belong to the secular sphere in which work has no spiritual meaning or importance. One does spiritual work to serve the Lord; one does secular work to eat. The Reformation rejected that dichotomy and in Reformed Protestantism in particular the argument was made that work – work like Adam’s as a farmer and the Lord’s as a carpenter – is also to be service to God.

It is not only that a carpenter must be honest and fair, must give value for money and treat his customers with respect. That is, it is no only that one’s work must be done in a Christian manner. It is much more than that. The Bible’s view is that God loves carpentry and that he is served and honored by good carpentry. God loves sheep – he made them after all – and he is served when shepherds care for sheep wisely and well. God loves children and they are all his and he cares how they are educated. God loves software – he is a creator and loves creative effort, and is pleased when fine products are created. God loves clothing and is served when someone makes fine clothes that are pleasing to look at. In doing our work, as Milton said, we are to be doing it before “our great taskmaster’s eye.” But that means not only that we are to be honest, loving, and kind. It also means that we are to do our work – the actual work itself – so as to please God. You remember the line from the film Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell, explaining his compulsion to train for his running career, tells his sister, “God made me fast; and when I run I feel his pleasure.” He also says that if he doesn’t train faithfully to do what God has called him to do, “I treat him with contempt.”

Well, precisely the same thing can be said by a Christian software engineer: “When I create a good program, I feel his pleasure.” Or by a Christian carpenter: “When I leave a wall that I know is not true, when I have not done work that is as fine as it ought to be, I treat HIM with contempt.” And so for the doctor, the lawyer, the teacher, the real estate agent, the clerk, and the homemaker. “When I do my work as it ought to be done I feel his pleasure!” That is the Puritan work ethic and that is, I’m convinced, as I argued last time, the biblical work ethic. It is not at all only that we should not lie, cheat, or steal on the job. It is that to be sure; but it is also that we do our work for the Lord and as unto him. The work itself is holy and we are ministers of God when we do it. I am a preaching minister; others of you are teaching ministers, carpentry ministers, others homemaking ministers or computer ministers – because we are all serving God directly and doing the work, by his providence, he has called us to do. He calls everyone to work for him; he assigns us jobs to perform. He is our boss, as it were, and we work for him!

Read the whole thing…

Scripture: Genesis 1, 12, 2
Topics: Theology of Work, Work and Worship
Church: First Presbyterian Church, Tacoma

About the Author

Rev. Dr. Robert Rayburn serves as senior pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Tacoma, WA.