WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND?
Written by Doug Ponder on November 3, 2013
In the Beginning Was Work
Because God created all things, his word to us in the Scriptures is relevant to every area of life. This is even true when it comes to something as routine and mundane as work. And that’s good news, since over 70% of Americans “hate” or “strongly dislike” their jobs. God has something to say about that. In fact, the Bible begins talking about work as soon as it begins talking about anything—that’s how important it is to God. Work is basically the second thing that God tells us about what it means to be human (Genesis 1:28). (The first is that we are made in his image, cf. Gen. 1:26-27.)
Actually, work began with God. God “labored” to create, and he delighted in the finished product. “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” (Gen. 2:2-3).
Then God commissioned workers to carry on his plan under his blessing and on his behalf. “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” (Gen. 1:28). “So the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15).
A Blessing, Not a Curse
Do you realize that this means? The world began with human beings working in paradise.
That is remarkably different from how we view work. We work hard in order to never have to do it again (retirement). And we use hard labor as a form of punishment (chain gangs and prison inmates). Even workaholics, who may seem like they want to do nothing but work, will still tell you that they are driven by something else (money, fame, a sense of fulfillment).
Work so often feels like a curse, but it’s not. It’s part of God’s design for human life. It’s as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, and friendship. In fact, studies repeatedly show that without meaningful work, people suffer emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The loss of work is harmful to us because we were designed for fruitful labor. It helps us discover part of what it means to be a human made in the image of God. It also helps us understand our own abilities and gifts. And it’s even one of the primary ways that God uses us to bless other people.
Not only that, but God actually designed the world so that our efforts would benefit others. For example, almost all of us eat food that we do not grow, delivered on trucks that we do not drive, put on shelves that we did not stock, and purchased at a register that we did not tend. God uses our work to bless the world.
Turning Work into a Curse
Instead of experiencing work as a blessing, most of us turn it into a curse. Specifically, we tend either to demonize or to idolize work. We demonize work when we say we’re “working for the weekend” or that it’s “just something to pay the bills,” as if it were something dreadful that we must endure but would rather not.
The other tendency is to idolize work. This happens when you make it exclusively about you, instead of others or especially God. For example, many people may love their jobs because it gives them more money, more comfort, more status, more kout, more power, more influence, etc. People like this are driven to work endlessly because it makes them feel better about themselves, but in the end it will drive them to despair. They will never be able to work enough. They will never obtain enough money, power, fame, influence, comfort, or security.
Both of these tendencies, to demonize and to idolize work, are actually just symptoms of a deeper problem. Something is wrong—we see the effects and feel the symptoms everywhere—but we don’t know the cause. Some of us blame other people. Some of us blame our circumstances. Some of us blame our past. Most of us try to ignore the problem, turning to entertainment to distract us from discomfort or doing good things makes us feel good about ourselves for a little while.
None of those get to the root of the problem, however, because the problem is actually us. We have rebelled against God—not only at the beginning of the human story, but every day since then. We are disconnected from our Creator, and that has affected every area of life, including work. But the good news is that Jesus forgives us of our rebellion against God, and he gives us new hearts with desires to please God instead of rebel against him.
Through Jesus Work Becomes a Blessing Again
This is how Jesus does it: he reconnects us to God. The Bible’s word for this is “reconciliation,” which is like when two people stop fighting and come to peace again. Only God did not do anything wrong. We are the one who have turned our backs on him, stranded ourselves without him, and set ourselves against him. Yet Jesus is acted between God and us, making peace by the blood of his cross. He offered his life for ours, so that in him we could be forgiven, redeemed, reconciled to God and renewed by his Spirit.
You see, Jesus didn’t die just to snatch us away from here. He died to restore us to the purpose for which we were created. In other words, Jesus died to create a new people who live and work for him (Titus 2:14; Eph. 2:8-10). That is the good news of the gospel, that though this world is broken and affected by sin in all sorts of ways, God is making everything right through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And God begins this renewal in us as we trust in him, and he then works through us by his Spirit.
So instead of trying to find fulfillment in your job—idolizing work—you find consider what you have in Jesus superior to anything an earthly job might bring you. And instead of demonizing work, you are reminded that it is actually a gift from God. Yes, it’s hard sometimes because of our sin, but through Scripture, prayer, and the power of the Spirit, God continues to renew our hearts and transform our minds, changing you from the inside-out. He gives you a desire to fulfill your work as an act of worship that honors God and blesses others. That’s your new motive for every worthwhile task: honor God, bless others, provide for yourself.
Thus the gospel free us to fulfill what God says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for people, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.