Do you remember your first job? I do. It was the winter of my 9th grade year, and I worked in the storage warehouse of a large company that employed many electricians. I remember how my hands froze as I sorted tiny electrical components into small boxes for easy access, and I remember how my scrawny muscles struggled to remove the casing from leftover copper wire so that it could be recycled. I remember how I looked at the clock every three minutes and how many times I chose to leave early.
It would be an understatement to say that I didn’t understand the nature of work very much back then. I knew that I liked getting a paycheck, but that was the only purpose of work that I could perceive. Many people just put in the time necessary to get to the weekend or earn their vacation days. We sometimes view work as a “necessary evil” that gets in the way of the good things in life.
But God has a greater vision for our work. God created work before mankind fell into sin, and as we learned in Question 5 of the New City Catechism, it is part of what he created as “very good.” We must learn to think broadly about all that God intends for our work rather than settling for a one-dimensional idea of its benefits. Our work, paid or unpaid, in every sphere of life, has at least five purposes:
5 Ways God Uses Our Work:
1. God uses our work to sanctify us.
God’s original intention for our work was so that we could participate in his mission to fill the earth with his glory and so that we could reflect his character as a worker. After creating for five days, God created male and female in his own image, giving them the command, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). Because God was the original Worker, he gave those created in his image the mandate to work. The fall into sin frustrated our relationship with work as it became toil, and as the thorns and thistles of the ground began to war against us. However, the fundamental nature of work remained “good.” God uses the frustrations of our work, which are part of the sufferings of this present age, to prepare us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (see 2 Cor. 4:17). As we learn to work in the power of God, he forms us into the image of his Son who finished the work of redemption on our behalf.
2. God uses our work to supply our needs.
While our work must be about more than a paycheck, the economic benefits of work should not be overlooked. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they should “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11–12, ESV). While God is the one who gives us our daily bread, he typically uses the work of our hands (and/or minds) as the means. This is not always the case, as there are times when our need is greater than our ability to meet it (see next point), but the scriptures are clear that God wants us to use our abilities to supply our needs. This may occur through non-monetary ways as well. For example, the work of children to help with household chores contributes greatly to the needs of the whole family and helps to create a sustainable and thriving home environment.
3. God uses our work to serve others.
We are not to think of ourselves as the sole beneficiaries of our work. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28, ESV). Often our work produces income that can be used to take care of others whose needs are greater than they can manage on their own. Beyond that, our work itself usually will serve someone in some way, by either directly or indirectly meeting a basic need or enhancing the quality and beauty of life. When we work with a servant’s heart and contribute to our field with excellence, God uses our work to serve the people around us. This is true whether our work comes with a paycheck or not.
4. God uses our work to spread the gospel.
Work puts us in relationship with others, thus creating gospel opportunities. The gospel should be on display in the motivation for our work and in the excellence of our service. Beyond that, the gospel must be declared clearly and boldly to those with whom we work. Our work is an opportunity to, ““Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6, ESV). We must see our workplace relationships as people who need to hear the good news of Jesus. This is not to say that we should use paid hours to have lengthy conversations about the gospel, though interrupting the regularly scheduled program of work for the most important news in the Universe is not always a bad idea. This is to say that we must learn to see those with whom we work as people made in the image of God, lost in their sin without Jesus, and desperately in need of him as the source and goal of all life.
5. God uses our work to support the mission.
Paul often did not ask for financial support from the new churches he was starting. Instead, mature churches he had already planted supported him in the work. A good example of this is the ongoing ministry partnership between the Philippian church and the Apostle Paul. In Acts 16 we read of Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman from Philippi, who used her resources to house and feed Paul and his team. Some 13 years later, we read in Paul’s letter to this church that they were valuable partners to him in ministry “from the first day until now” (see Phil. 1:5). The fact is that ministry often requires physical resources, and God uses the work of his people to provide those resources. Sometimes this happens through direct work for the church, and sometimes it happens through financial support of the church and/or partner churches (this is what we are doing through our Christmas Giving Project to raise support for a new church plant in Santiago, Spain).
I am sure this list is not exhaustive, but it does help us begin to expand our thinking about God’s purposes for our work. In all of these ways and more, we see that our work is part of God’s bigger agenda to put his glory on display as we work through him and for him. Our work is about God building and purifying a people for himself through the gospel, and that people is called his church. For the believer, no work is secular, since it is all set apart for him, as part of his greater calling on our lives.
How have you seen God use your work in these ways? In which of these ways do you need to grow in your understanding of work? Are there any other ways you think God wants to use your work?
The Gospel at Work (book) by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gibert
"The Doctrine of Vocation" (article) by Gene Edward Vieth