August 2, 2020 | From Stephen McDowell
God has commissioned us to disciple nations. Thankfully, He has given us everything we need to fulfill this mission, though we must labor and develop our talents and abilities in Him to properly accomplish our calling.
By His common and extraordinary grace, God has given to man marvelous biblical resources to effect transformation in the earth. Those resources include:
- We are made in the image of God with a body, mind, and spirit, having the ability to think, to create, and to develop new things for the betterment of man and the advancement of God’s kingdom.
- God put natural resources in the earth for us to use and develop in accordance with the Creator’s standards as a means for taking dominion over the earth.
- We have spiritual endowment from God to grow to maturity.
- We have access to God’s supernatural power to experience mighty signs and wonders, both personal and national.
Paul writes that “His power [energy] … mightily works within me.” (Col. 1:29). This energy is the most powerful force in the universe. The spiritual resources He has given us include: salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, Christian community, and calling or vocation. Understanding our calling or vocation (that is, having a biblical view of work) is essential to fulfill our biblical mission. Os Guinness explains calling as:
The truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.
Our primary calling is to follow Christ in all things. We also have a secondary calling to our human family, to the church, to our community, and to our vocation. Part of the mission of the family and the church is to equip people to fulfill their calling. Puritan William Perkins explains:
A vocation or calling is a certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God, for the common good….Every person of every degree, state, or condition without exception must have some personal and particular calling to walk in. The main end of our lives…is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings….The true end of our lives is to do service to God in serving of man.
Our calling to advance God’s kingdom by serving God and man will be carried out in all spheres of life — in the church, media, government, family, marketplace, education, and science. Understanding the biblical doctrine of work is central to fulfilling our mission in the earth.
Biblical Doctrine of Work
Work is not merely the job we hold to earn an income. Work is “all our productive daily activities – job, family and relationships, and community involvement – that help bring about the Kingdom of God.” “Work is simply all human activity that sustains and improves the world.” This includes my job, raising my family, ministry work, tending my lawn, community service, etc. It is the means by which we occupy the earth until He returns (Luke 19:13).
We are called to work. We are first called to be – to demonstrate His character. Then we are called to do – to fulfill our divine vocation, our life purpose.
The Bible teaches that there is not any one vocation that is any more spiritual than any other. To be called as a pastor or missionary is not more valuable than to be called as a doctor, teacher, carpenter, or farmer. As long as each vocation is done in a biblical manner with God’s purposes in mind, they have equal value in God’s mind. Martin Luther wrote:
the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going through her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.
While we need a biblical view of work, much of Western civilization has embraced pagan and eastern ideas about work, thinking that the ultimate goal in life is to cease working and have time for leisure or meditation. This view says that leisure is good and work is bad, that one’s goal is to live a life of ease or the solitude of a “holy man” (think of the depiction of a mystic sitting on a mountain dispensing wisdom to the pilgrim). Such worldviews teach that the higher you go, the less work you do (when, in realty, the higher you go the more work you do). Therefore, retirement from work is the “higher life.” People pursue a life of leisure, not only seeking to retire early, but hoping to by-pass work and get rich through whatever means they can – winning the lottery, theft, fraud etc. Many think we work only that we may live. The biblical view is that we live to work to the glory of God.
The Bible and Work
Work in various forms is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible. God is a God of work. He is first seen as the Creator in Genesis 1. In fact, His Creation reveals who He is (Rom. 1:20). God created man in His image, which includes man being a worker. Being able to work is a gift of God. God gave man the physical and mental abilities necessary to work.
God also gave man a mandate to work. He placed him in the garden and told him to work, to cultivate the garden. Adam was to take the natural resources God had made and through his labor rearrange them, and order them to bring about usefulness for man. Through work we fulfill the purposes of God and reflect the nature and character of God. Hence, we are to glorify God and love our neighbor through work.
In the Old Testament the Jews saw work as part of God’s creation and calling. Jewish teachers had a trade that they used to support themselves, even while they taught others. Paul was a tent maker. The disciples were fishermen. While the Bible teaches it is right to support those who labor in teaching the Word, Paul often used his trade to support himself. Paul commanded Christians to continue in their work and work well (Col. 3:23-24; 1 Thess. 2:9; 1 Thess. 4:11-12).
Early Christians had this positive view of work, and they understood their work was the means of taking dominion over the creation. However, as the church backslid, many Christians began to embrace the Greek view of work; that is, laboring with your hands was for slaves or common man. The church began to embrace a pagan philosophy of work, which promoted the ideology of the secular/sacred distinction: those involved in “sacred things” did the important work of God, while all other work was secular and not as important. Thus, to have a “calling” in medieval times referred only to work in the church. Thankfully, God used the Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin, and many others) to restore a biblical view of work.
Since the United States was primarily founded by Bible-believing Protestants, early Americans had a biblical view of work. This understanding was essential for the great advancement and prosperity that came to America. Sadly, the biblical doctrine of work is being lost in America today. Why is this occurring? One reason is that the church has failed to teach the entire Great Commission. The cultural mandate has been ignored by much of the church.
At the same time false ideas in economics (Marxism), government (socialism), and education (the state is in charge) began to grow and affect work, economics, and business as well as the government’s role in these things. We must restore the biblical doctrine of work. It begins with each one of us.
Work Is a Holy Calling
Work is included in the fundamental principles of life that God revealed to man in the Ten Commandments. “Six days you shall work,” God says in the Fourth Commandment. Here again, work is all our productive activities – job, family, relationships, and community involvement – that help bring about the kingdom of God. The type of labor or product of your labor is no more valuable than any other in God’s eyes. Significance is not found in the kind of work you do.
Our work is a part of our calling and is a primary way we will extend God’s kingdom on the earth. Work is not merely a secular activity that is unimportant in God’s purposes, nor is it a necessary evil that we must endure to obtain the necessities of life. God commissioned work before the fall and shows us by His example how we should view work.
God loves to work, and so should we! Wherever He is, there is work. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). When we work we are imitating God.
Heaven is not a place where we sit around the pool all day and drink lemonade. We will be working, and we will love it. Jesus taught in the parable of the talents (Luke 19:11-27) that those who faithfully use and multiply the skills and abilities God has given them will be put in charge of cities, now, but more so in the life to come. Work gives us the skills we need to govern well.
God has been working from the beginning of the creation. We first know of Him as the Creator. Paul writes in Romans: “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom. 1:20).
We gain insight into God’s nature, power, and attributes through everything He created. We see who He is through His work. Likewise, what is inside each of us is revealed through our work. Author Dennis Peacocke writes:
Work is the incarnation of my intangible “soul” out into God’s Cosmos….Work allows what is inside of me to be revealed in the outside world. That is why God created the concept of work and loves it so much, because what is inside God is so spectacular it must be externally revealed. It is through His work that we see who He is!….No wonder so many people hate work: It is revealing externally what is inside of them.
The Bible teaches that what is inside of us will come out in our words, attitudes, and actions. This is most evident in our place of work and, consequently, the real you can be seen by your boss, co-workers, or employees more easily than by your pastor. You are at church a few hours a week and are on your best behavior. You are at work 40 or more hours a week where your true character is more likely to be expressed. What an opportunity Christians have to minister to those at work!
While we witness for God at work, work is intended for much more than this. Work is central to our mission on earth. It is through work that we will disciple nations, fulfill the dominion or cultural mandate, extend Christ’s kingdom, and occupy until He comes.
What do you think about this correlation between the cultural mandate and our work.