A Christian attitude toward work is an assurance that no matter what we are doing, we are doing it for God. His work can be done through nearly any kind of job. When speaking about the biblical meaning of work, it can be easy to slip into the thought that work must be enjoyable. But that’s often not the case.
As someone who has held both mundane, bottom-of-the-wish-list jobs and jobs that I’ve found enjoyable and fulfilling, I have found the Bible’ teaching about work to be an encouragement in each situation.
Due to the Fall, humankind is bound to struggle for sustenance or to “work,” in the bad sense of the word. God tells Adam in Genesis 3:19:
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
However, at the same time, Paul assures us in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Because of Christ, our toil is not the end of the story.
Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul discusses the struggle that goes on between the old creation and the new. We are meant for a “heavenly dwelling,” so we “groan,” as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:2.
There may be times or even lifetimes of toil in regard to work, but we have the assurance that in Christ all will be made right.
I feel I must say that I am writing this as someone who has lived both a young and a very comfortable life by nearly any standard, especially when examined in an historical context. Were I born in a different country 300 years ago, I would most likely not being doing what I am doing now.
Would I have enjoyed whatever I would have ended up doing 300 years ago? Perhaps. But regardless, I would have assurance in Christ, that no matter what I was doing, I could do it for him as part of his grand plan of redemption.
It is accepted “common wisdom” to understand that a vocation one enjoys is more fulfilling. Or at least it is much easier for that vocation to feel fulfilling. Also, we are generally better at a job we are passionate about and enjoy doing.
Few times in human history have granted as much opportunity to choose vocations as the period we live in here in America or in some other, mostly Western, countries. In America, that freedom has been granted by the amazing institutional and political framework our country was founded on.
Political liberty and economic freedom allow for a flourishing economy and, in a flourishing economy, we are able to choose between different careers and jobs. In a constrained economy such choice is not always possible.
A free economy allows us to more readily align our vocations with our passions. But regardless of the environment, whether free or more constrained, we as Christians are assured that as new creations we are participating in God’s work of reconciliation and restoration. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 reminds us:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
The work we do gives us a chance to partake in reweaving God’s shalom. Regardless of whether or not our work fulfills us, our jobs still play a role in God’s larger plan of restoration. Cornelius Plantinga, in his book, Engaging God’s World, suggests that as Christians, what we are doing when we work is:
. . .[ preparing] to add [our] own contribution to the supreme reformation project, which is God’s restoration of all things that have been corrupted by evil. The Old Testament word for this restoration of peace, justice, and harmony is shalom; the New Testament phrase for it is ‘the coming of the kingdom.’
God uses our work as evidence pointing to the coming reality of his kingdom, when all things will be renewed.
There is richness in a biblical view of work because no matter our circumstances, we have hope and encouragement that what we are doing as Christians can have ultimate meaning.