“The works of His hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” (Ps 111:7)
“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue helping him.” (Heb 6:10)
In today’s culture people have a tendency to separate work into differing levels of importance with some vocations being considered more acceptable than others. Some even take a superior attitude and consider certain types of work to be beneath them.
These attitudes can carry over into the Christian worldview. Some believe that a church pastor has a more spiritual vocation or is closer to God than say a missionary or a church administrative assistant. An even wider gap can be seen between what is considered secular work verses work that is part of some type of ministry or is considered spiritual work.
A sense of higher purpose in a vocation has also been lost to most people. This is true in both the secular world and at least to some extent in the Christian world. Basically, the idea is that any sort of work, or at least certain types of work, have been reduced to a utilitarian function: a means of acquiring some sort of benefit from the world, whether it is material gain or a sense of self-fulfillment. That one’s vocation no longer has any sort of transcendent purpose as a means of serving God, much less our fellow man.
But is it true that there is no higher purpose in work? And, is there a difference between secular work and a Christian vocation?
Here are a few things to consider:
Scripture tells us that God Himself has worked. “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had done” (Gen 2: 1-2). Right from the beginning God sets an example in performing work.
After He finished the creation, one of the first things God does is put man in the Garden of Eden in order to “tend and keep it” (Gen 2:15). We can see God places a level of importance to our work with that being one of the first things He instructs man to do.
Generally, there is not much said about this topic but, have you ever given much thought to the fact that Jesus had a vocation before His ministry? That’s right, He was a carpenter! In fact, when you think about it, He was a carpenter far longer than He spent in His ministry here on earth.
Let’s put this in perspective. Formal school for Jewish boys in Jesus’ time started at about 5 years old. This was a half day of school, usually 6 day a week. When not in school, it was not uncommon for them to spend time learning a trade from their father. Knowing this we can see that it is possible that Jesus started learning how to be a carpenter as early as 5 years old.
Even in today’s apprenticeships, a person will spend several months if not a few years just watching the teacher and learning basics before they are even allowed to do any work. When they do start work they are usually closely monitored by their teacher until they show a certain level of proficiency in their work. Allowing for a few years of this, Jesus could have started doing basic carpentry between 8 and 10 years old. With Jesus starting His ministry at 30 years old, we can see that he was a carpenter for upwards of 20 years. This example from the life of Jesus helps point to there being importance to the work we perform in this world.
Jesus gives us another example of work. Specifically work that some might consider demeaning. In John 13:1-17 we find the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet after the Passover Dinner. The dusty and dirty conditions encountered while travelling necessitated the need for foot washing. In those times the foot washing was normally performed by the lowliest of menial servants. It was only in a very rare exception, and then as a mark of great love, that a peer would wash another’s feet. In doing this, Jesus served as a model of Christian humility and taught us a lesson in selfless service.
We also find that the Holy Spirit has responsibilities as well. Here are just a few examples: He teaches us and helps us remember what Jesus told us (Jn 14:26), He reveals truth to us (Jn 16: 13-14), convicts us of our sins (Jn 16:8), and He helps us when we don’t know how or what to pray, even interceding for us and praying for us (Rom 8:26-27).
There are many other examples and commands related to work in the bible but I wanted specifically mention some that are tied to each person of God. Being as we are made in God’s image we are called to reflect His character in all we do. This would include our work.
Actually, the idea of a separation of work between the secular and the spiritual is nothing new. The early church had to define a biblical view of work in contrast to the influence of the Greek culture which denigrated manual labor. Paul also addressed the importance of work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and 1 Timothy 5:8.
During the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote, “When we carry out our vocation in obedience to God’s commands, then God Himself works through us to His purposes.” In this he is referring to all legitimate work, not just spiritual vocations. Luther specifically rejected the idea that the clergy were engaged in holier work than those not necessarily considered holy, such as tradesmen and farmers saying, “Seemingly secular works are a worship of God and an obedience well pleasing to God.”
Church pastor, corporate CEO, ditch digger, teacher, banker, theologian, farmer, administrative assistant, architect, homemaker, truck driver, missionary, auto mechanic, chef, volunteer, doctor, manager, soldier, butcher, journalist, coat room attendant, realtor, maid, dentist, social worker, engineer, flight attendant, evangelist, gardener, police officer, laboratory technician, payroll clerk, sailor, surgeon, computer programmer, tour guide, barber, used car salesman, nurse, counselor, mortician, fitness trainer, cashier, janitor, bus driver, coal miner, inspector, plumber.
I cannot say I have seen or heard anything that says God sees a difference in these various professions. On the other hand, we see all sorts of differences between them (or the numerous others not listed). Whether its salary, benefits, location, title, how it makes us feel, or we put some kind of label on the position, it is too easy to look at all the differences. Not that some of these things are not important, sometimes it is even necessary to take them into consideration when we look at what we do for work, but we tend to put too much emphasis on these things.
This has recently all been brought into sharp reality for me. A couple months ago, I lost my job due to a contract change. As I have been looking for new work I have had to do the normal evaluations you need to do when looking for work: what I am qualified to do, what I might like to do, salary, location, position, etc., etc., etc. Along the way, I have also found I need to put thought into how I look at jobs I may apply for.
When we break it down, whether we are answering a call in our life, or just trying to make end meet in our day-to-day struggles, it isn’t what we do that is the most important thing. Nor is it important that the work is done in the Christian or secular arena. It’s our attitude toward that work that is important. Are we doing the best we can? Are we setting a good example to those around us? Are our actions bringing glory to God like they should?
Examples of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all performing work lends dignity to the work of their hands, no matter how lowly that work may seem to our eyes.
This dignity should be reflected in the work of our hands as well.