It’s Labor Day and perhaps a good time to ask the question, why do you work? There can be two extremes in answering that question. There are those who see work as a necessary evil. They work because they have to. Work is a means to an end. “I work because I have to pay my bills.” Or “I work because I want to be able to pay for the things I want out of life.” Or “I work because some day I want to retire.” For these people, work has little intrinsic value. It’s something they do because of something else they want. Some of these people, of course, aren’t neutral about their job; they HATE their job. Like the David Allan Coe song from 1978, Take This Job and Shove It, they loathe their work. Tim J. McGuire, former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune once said in a speech: “Work is brutal. Work is a four-letter word. Most people don’t think that work could possibly have anything to do with spirituality. They assume that these two worlds cannot mesh.”
The other extreme sees their jobs and their work as central to their worth and identity as a person. Not only do they love their work, their work is everything to them; it’s their religion. One study showed that Americans work an average of 49 1/2 weeks a year, more than any other developed nation. My oldest daughter used to work for Facebook. It was great because you could eat three very nice meals a day there; they would even do your dry-cleaning. All this for free! But after awhile she realized part of the deal was you never needed to go home! For some, work is an obsession.
God is the One who invented work. When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them work to do. He told them to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 2:28). Before sin ever entered the world, there was work in paradise. The Bible also hints strongly there will be work in heaven. But work isn’t everything. God also instituted the Sabbath; a day of rest. Life is to be lived in a sacred rhythm of rest and work.
How do we capture God’s purpose for our work? How can work become for us more than just a necessary evil? How can our work take on it’s rightful place in our lives? I believe the answer to that question lies in the whole idea of what the Bible calls our calling. We need to understand how our jobs connect with our calling. Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, “Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk… Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.” Paul calls our job the place “the Lord has assigned to each one.” He says, “Wherever you were at when Christ called you, that’s your assignment.” Then in v. 20 he says something very surprising. The word translated “condition” is actually the same word he uses in the rest of the passage for “calling.” It should read like this: “Each man must remain in that calling in which he was called.” You see, our jobs are a calling. You might say, there is Calling with a big “C” and calling with a small “c.” Calling with a big “C” is the same for every believer; we are called into a relationship with Christ. Calling with a small “c” is a little different for every believer. Our different jobs are a kind of calling; they are an assignment from God. This is where the word “vocation” comes in. We use that to speak of our careers, but the word comes from the Latin root which means “to call.” We each have a vocational calling. Our vocation is the unique place God has called us to live out the implications of our big “C” calling.
Paul gives us a a very strong hint of what that might mean later in v. 24 when he says, “Each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” Those two words, “with God” make all the difference in the world. The idea seems to be that, whatever our work is, God is not only right there with us, but we do our work for Him; he is the One we are to please. In Colossians, Paul put it this way, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23-24). Paul says do you work as if it were an act of worship. What difference would it make if you did your job every day before an audience of One?
It would make a difference in how we work. When we are doing our work for God we strive for excellence in all that we do. Sweeping floors, pounding nails, pulling teeth, fixing computers will be done with diligence and conscientiousness. It should never be said of Christian workers that they are halfhearted, chronically late, irresponsible, whiny, and “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”
Working for God should also make a difference in who we are. This goes beyond just being good workers. The idea here is being people of Christlike character in the marketplace. We should be marked by integrity. We should be known as people who don’t shade the truth to make the deal. Expense accounts are not padded. Petty cash is not pilfered. That’s only the start. We should actually model a lifestyle that is directly opposed to the typical standard. The typical marketplace mentality centers on the bottom line: profits, quotas, sales reports, balance sheets and getting ahead of our co-workers. Yet, we should be people marked by compassion, servanthood, putting people above the bottom line. Its so easy to slip into self-centeredness. When you go to work tomorrow, who do you need to reach out to? Who needs your encouragement? Who needs you to listen?
Being Christlike also means being vulnerable — admitting when you make a mistake. As followers of Christ we are going to blow it at times. We will lose our tempers, say something unkind, fall into gossip, or just fail to do a good job. We should be known as people who refuse to shift blame or rationalize, but who say, “I’m sorry. I blew it. I shouldn’t have said that. I was wrong.” We can also be vulnerable by just being honest when we’re struggling with something. We don’t have to be “Joe Christian” with a plastic smile. We need to be human, sincere and transparent.
Finally, working before an audience of One should make a difference in what we say. Once we earn credibility in how we work and who we are, then we’ve earned the right to share Christ with our co-workers. I like what Bill Hybels says about this, “Jesus never commanded us to engage in theological debates with strangers, flaunt four-inch crosses and Jesus stickers, or throw our Christian catch phrases. But he did tell us to live and work in such a way that when the Holy Spirit orchestrates opportunities to speak about God, we will have earned the right.”
At the end us his life Jesus prayed something to his Father we would all want to be able to pray. He said, “Father, I have finished the work you have given me to do.” That work was his calling to be obedient to his Father in everything, including the work of dying on the cross. Jesus finished his work; he fulfilled his calling. But sometimes we forget that for twenty-plus years that obedience found expression in climbing out of the sack six days a week to make plows and repair broken furniture. When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and began to teach in the synagogue like he was a rabbi, his old buddies came by to see him and said, “Is this not the carpenter?” We forget that for most of his life he was the carpenter; it was only the last three years of his life that he was a preacher. But whether he was at the workbench pounding nails or in the synagogue preaching, he did his work before an audience of One; what drove him was His call to live for the Father. And at the end of his day his reward was to hear his Father say, “Well done! Well done in your calling. Well done in your job.” Would that be what he could say to each of us?