For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Christian Perspective on Work

After I committed my life to Christ during university,  I was hungry and devoured the Bible and read dozens of books on following Christ. I wanted to succeed as a Christian and be as useful as possible in the kingdom of God. I was inspired by the biographies that I read and wanted to be like those great heroes of the faith. Passionate to follow Christ, I was ready to risk everything for the gospel. While my passion has not waned since those days, my understanding of what being a radical follower of Christ has changed because the Lord ripped a deeply embedded lie out of my life.

You see, while I would not have admitted it, I believed that those who were really used by God were full-time Christian workers. They were pastors and missionaries who did not have time for "secular" employment. Even as I write those words I cringe at their absurdity. This lie was fed by the fact that none of the books that I read were written by mechanics, executives, or bus drivers. They were all written by, or about pastors and missionaries.

To pull this false idea out of my life the Lord led me into the marketplace. I spent most of the first fifteen years of my working life in the insurance and investment world. I started in an entry-level clerical job, moved into management, and eventually opened a consulting business. I discovered that often there seemed to be little immediate connection between what I was dealing with at work and the preaching that I heard on Sunday mornings. The preaching that I heard was good, but it was apparent that the preacher had not spent much time in my work environment.

I found that I needed to dig into the Scriptures for myself in order to truly understand how following Jesus related to my work life. Over the course of this year, I intend to share some of the things that I learned during those years. Hopefully, it will be informative, challenging, and liberating for the majority of you, who are not pastors or missionaries. 

Work and the Curse
It is a sentiment widely held by people: work is the result of the fall. When the alarm clock goes off and it is time to start another day of work it is easy to understand the thought. But is work the result of the curse? Most people seem to think of the Garden of Eden as an endless Club Med vacation. Perfect weather, delicious food, great scenery...and no work! But is that what the Bible says?

In Genesis 1, God makes humankind in his image. He tells the man and woman, "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" (Genesis 1:28). The image is of the world being a wild and untamed place that needed to be brought into subjection. Far from being a vacation, this would take time and would involve effort. And God declared that it was very good! (Genesis 1:31).

In Genesis 2, we read the details of the creation of Adam and Eve. It begins in Genesis 2:5 with a land that lacked "bushes and small plants of the field." These two terms specifically refer to cultivated plants. Why were there no cultivated plants? Because there was no one to cultivate them! So God planted a garden, formed man and put him in it "to work it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). Mankind was given the responsibility of working the land (to subdue and have dominion over it) and to keep watch over it.

Subduing the land, having dominion over the animals, cultivating the land, and keeping watch over creation sounds like a lot of work!

We must begin understanding our jobs as something that has been given to us by God. We were never intended to sit on the couch watching reruns on television. We are created and designed to work.

How Does the Fall Impact Work?

Thorns and Thistles
The most obvious result of the fall relating to work is the curse of the ground. Prior to the fall, the land had been abundant and easily cultivated. Work was relatively easy. After the fall, Adam was told that working the ground would be painful. It is a rich Hebrew word which means pain, toil, and hardship. Thorns and thistles would always seem to grow faster than beans and carrots. The piece of bread would only be produced with much sweat (Genesis 3:17-19).

The image of the world before the fall is one of untamed abundance. After the fall, food would only come through lots of hard work. Implied in this picture is the idea that without the hard work there would be no bread. If abundance marked the world before the fall, scarcity was the picture of life after the fall.

Relationship Issues
Not only was the ground cursed as a result of the fall, but relationships were severely affected. Adam blamed Eve for their sin (Genesis 3:12). One of their sons murdered his brother (Genesis 4:8). It quickly becomes evident that sin has completely pervaded the hearts of everyone (Genesis 6:5). The pages of the Bible are filled with stories of murder, rape, theft, and deceit. If working the land wasn't hard enough, now the wickedness of others threatens to rob us of the bread we labored so long to produce!

The Gospel
Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin. Those that repent and believe in him are born again, receive eternal life, and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within. This results in a transformed life that is perhaps no more better demonstrated than in Ephesians 4:28: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing something useful with his own hands so that he may have something to share with those in need." The selfish thief turned into a benevolent worker!

Modern Life
But there is something beyond the transformed life that catches my eye in this verse. Paul tells the thief to "do something useful" so that he has something to share. That is an important concept in our age. For most of human existence, working the land has been the most common job. As recently as 200 years ago, 90% of people worked on farms. The biblical idea of working being the cultivation of the land was immediately transferable to daily life. Today almost no one works on farms. For example, in the United States, only 2% of the people are professional farmers!

Next time you are tired of staring at the computer
screen, remember that you could have spent your
day staring at the rear end of a horse!
The productivity of farmers has resulted in many people needing to find work that is not agricultural in nature. That's where the idea of "doing something useful" fits into the picture. As followers of Christ, we are called to work, doing something good and useful that will not only provide for ourselves (earning our bread) but be a blessing to others. The variety of occupations that are now available that will be a benefit to others is almost limitless.

It is important to make the connection between how we spend our working days and the benefit we are providing to others. Sometimes this link can be difficult to see. My first job was as a health insurance claims examiner. As I sat at my desk in my first job entering claims into the computer for payment, it was easy to feel like I was a nameless worker who made little difference in people's lives. I needed to take a bigger view: the company I was working for was a mechanism that helped people pay for medical care that was otherwise catastrophically expensive. That was a good thing that helped lots of people. As I focused on the good that we were doing as a company, I discovered that my attitude at work improved.

Those who have been born again by the Spirit seek to live life by the principles that Jesus taught us. And that begins with the very idea that work itself is not a bad thing. It is a good thing that we were created to do for the glory of God. As we walk in obedience to him, we will spend most of our lives working. Good work, done to the glory of God, is holy and deeply spiritual.

Remember that when the alarm clock goes off tomorrow morning!

The next article in this series is found here.

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