From the beginning God intended human beings to be his junior partners in the work of bringing creation to fulfillment. We are created to work in relationships, relying on God's provision, and respecting God's limits.
We live in a fallen, broken world and we cannot expect life without toil. Nonetheless, God continues to provide for us, and work today is not less important to God’s plan, but more.
God is always at work to restore what was lost in the Fall. In doing so, God uses humanity as his chief instrument. By partnering in God’s work of restoration, we become active participants in our own redemption.
The events of the Tower of Babel suggest that we can't hoard power on our own. When we have power at work, God calls us to disperse, delegate, authorize, and train others.
Abraham provides an example for Godly entrepreneurs. He trusted God and depended every day on God’s guidance and provision. Through him we see that Godly work is willing to depend on God’s guidance and authority and desires to grow widely as a blessing to all the world.
The story of three travelers who visited Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 demonstrates what generous hospitality looked like in the ancient world, and what we can do to practice hospitality in our work today.
Abraham demonstrates godly negotiation twice in Genesis chapters 21-23. In both cases all parties came away with a clear understanding of what belongs to whom, and with good working relationships that benefit everyone involved.
Isaac’s life shows that when it comes to handing down power and fulfilling God’s purposes, both individuals and organizations need to put the truly important ahead of personal preference.
Jacob’s relentless drive to gain benefits for himself at the expense of others reveals how our fears can make us resistant to God’s transforming grace. Wealth without ethics, while enticing, is not the whole story of God’s blessing.
Jacob models for us a truth at the core of our faith: our relationships with God and people are linked. Our reconciliation with God makes possible reconciliation with others. Likewise, in human reconciliation, we come to see and know God better.
No matter what we face at work, we can trust that we belong to the Lord and that he defends the weak. When we truly believe this promise, there is no injustice or difficult situation that can completely squash our dreams.
We may invest in the success of another who rises beyond our reach, only to be discarded when our usefulness has been spent. Does this mean that our work has been for nothing? The story of Joseph while a prisoner in Egypt offers us insight into just such situations.
Of the many lessons about work in the book of Genesis, this one in particular endures. God is capable of working with our faithfulness, mending our weakness, and forgiving our failures. Through his grace, God is able to accomplish what he himself has prepared for all of us who love him.
God’s call to Moses came while Moses was at work. Examining this call narrative and considering its implications for us today is especially instructive in the context of our work.
If we hurt others at work, we must make restitution. The guilt offering in Leviticus reminds us that God's forgiveness is not a replacement for setting things right. For those who have abused others financially, drawing near to God requires a sacrifice.
Leading as God would want you to is a terrifying responsibility. Moses’ leadership faltered in the crucial moment when he stopped trusting God.
The history of the judges shows that God works when he wishes, and how he wishes, and through whom he wishes. He acts according to his plans, not according to our merit or lack thereof. We cannot take credit as if we deserved the blessings of success. Likewise, we cannot stand in judgment ourselves over those whom we deem less deserving of God’s favor, whether they be our coworkers or our leaders.
The book of Ruth tells the extraordinary story of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the life and work of three ordinary people, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. As they work through both economic hardship and prosperity, we see God’s faithfulness create opportunities for fruitful work. Their faithfulness to God brings the blessing of provision and security to each other and the people around them.
The characters' ingenuity in the book of Ruth moves the story towards its happy conclusion. Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth each display ingenuity that honors God and furthers God’s purposes.
Samuel receives one of the few audible calls from God recorded in the Bible. It is interesting to note that Samuel’s call was not a call to a type of work or ministry. Samuel’s audible call from God was to a specific task, namely to tell Eli that God had decided to punish him and his sons. The story of Eli’s sons demonstrates the perils of inherited authority.
From the closing words of the book of Judges and the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, we know that the Israelites are both leaderless and disconnected from God. The closest thing that they have to a national leader is the priest Eli, who with his sons runs the shrine at Shiloh. The Israelites’ political, military, and economic prosperity depends on their faithfulness to God. So the people bring their offerings and sacrifices to God at the shrine, but the priests make a mockery of their interaction with God.
There are many institutional and workplace situations where leadership must admit to people's poor choices, yet at the same time try to provide opportunities for growth and grace. In our fallen world, our aspiration is to love God and treat other people as God commands.
In God's upside-down kingdom, the last or the overlooked may end up being the best choice. What would it take for us to learn to see our leaders through God’s eyes?
In 1 Samuel 24-25, Abigail resolves a life-threatening crisis by dressing a major rebuke in a respectful dialogue. The incident shows that you don’t have to have authority status to be called to exercise influence. It also demonstrates that showing respect, even while making a pointed criticism, provides a model for challenging authority.
The Bible regards David as the model king of Israel, and the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles describe his many successes. Yet even David, "a man after God's own heart," abuses his power and acts faithlessly at times.
In calling on Esther to use her position to save the Jewish people, Esther's cousin Mordecai entreats her, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Despite past misuse of our positions or God-given abilities, we can all choose to begin using them for God's purposes today.
The cause of Job's suffering is a mystery. Indeed, it may be the greatest mystery of faith. Why does God allow people he loves to suffer?
Proverbs 31 describes wisdom personified as the "valiant woman." The valiant woman functions as an affirmation of the dignity of every person’s work.
Having declared his theme that toil is vanity in Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, the Teacher nonetheless proceeds to explore various possibilities for trying to live life well. He considers, among other things, achievement, pleasure, wealth, and finding joy in God’s gifts. In some of these he does find a certain value, yet nothing seems permanent, and the characteristic conclusion in each section is that work comes to a chasing after wind.
Work is an essential element of family life. Yet work must always serve — and never crowd out — the most fundamental element of a marriage: love.
The Prophet Isaiah received a vision of God — of his great power, his glorious majesty, and his purifying holiness. When we glimpse who God is in Scripture, it can cleanse away our inflated self-importance and the insufficiency of our lip-service in worship. But it also can give us a clear picture of what is truly valuable in this life.
As servants of the Servant of the Lord, we may not receive the acclaim we desire. Rewards may be deferred. But we know that God is our Judge. Isaiah put it this way: “For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)
God enjoys the creative roles his people play as they endeavor to excel at what they do under God’s covenant. “They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit!” (Isaiah 65:21). The problems arise when we try to overturn the Creator/creature distinction by replacing God’s values and provision with our own values and unchecked ambition. This happens when we compartmentalize our work as a secular affair that seems to have nothing to do with the kingdom of God.
In Jeremiah chapter 29, the prophet explains God’s intention for his people’s work. The people Israel should work not only to benefit themselves, but to bless and serve the communities around them.
After refusing to worship a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel's friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego expect to be punished, but they stay true to their beliefs anyway. To them being faithful to God was the right thing to do, whether or not it was path to success. In this they are indeed models for us.
The purpose of a call from God is to serve other people. When God calls Jonah, it is for the benefit of Nineveh. When Jonah rejects God’s guidance, not only do the people he was called to serve languish, but the people surrounding him suffer. If we accept that we are all called to serve God in our work, then we recognize that failing to serve God in our work also diminishes our communities. The more powerful our gifts and talents, the greater the harm we are apt to do if we reject God’s guidance.
As Christians, we stand with one foot in the human world, where our work may be subject to ungodly expectations, and at the same time we are subjects of God's kingdom, committed to his values and expectations. In telling the story of Jesus, Matthew shows us how to navigate the human world until God’s Kingdom is fully realized on earth.
As we step into God’s kingdom in our places of work, we hope to become more like those named as blessed—more meek, more merciful, more hungry for righteousness, more apt to make peace, and so on!
At work, we make snap judgments because we lack the time or inclination to collect true information. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount tells us that these judgments are not merely an inevitable byproduct of working with others, but an important moral issue.
Through Jesus' yoke, we feel his pull, his guidance, his direction. Far from being a burden on us, Jesus describes this type of work as restful.
Jesus gives us a template for dealing with someone who has wronged us. He lays out a process that begins with seeking one-on-one to be reconciled. Often, attentive listening leads to the discovery of a mutually acceptable resolution. If it doesn’t, then the others with the appropriate skills and authority are asked to get involved.
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is unique to Matthew’s Gospel. The owner of a vineyard hires day laborers at various times throughout the day, but the owner pays everyone a full day’s wage. It is an example of God's generosity, and a promise that in God's kingdom, we will all find adequate work.
To love a neighbor, as yourself, may require taking risks that loom large when undertaken only for the benefit of someone else and perhaps that is why Jesus joins “love your neighbor as yourself” with “love the Lord” in what is called the “greatest” commandment.
The meaning of the parable of the talents extends far beyond financial investments. God has given each person a wide variety of gifts, and he expects us to employ those gifts in his service.
Jesus’ passion is God’s gut-wrenching intervention in the grit and grime of our ragged lives and work. In it, Jesus took the reality of human work – both the good and the harrowing – and not only participated in it, but used it to make something new.
The Gospel of Matthew teaches us that the Christian way is to put our entire life, including our work life, at the service of God’s kingdom, which Christ is bringing to earth even now. Christians should rightly be engaged in creating structures that reflect the kingdom of God in all realms of life, the workplace included.
How can you follow God's call in your current job? Luke chapters 2-4 invite us to understand God’s intent for specific work, not only for work in general.
The majestic opening of John’s Gospel which starts with the words “in the beginning” shows the limitless scope of the Word’s work. The Word is the definitive self-expression of God, the one through whom God created all things in the beginning.
The story of the woman at the well illustrates someone's inability to move from the everyday work of drawing water to Jesus’ pronouncements on the life-giving power of his word. This motif permeates the Gospel: the crowds repeatedly show an inability to transcend everyday concerns and address the spiritual aspects of life. They do not see how Jesus can offer them his body as bread.
John’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand echoes many of the themes we saw in the wedding feast at Cana. Again, Jesus works to sustain life in the present world, even as the sign points toward the ultimate life he alone can offer. John 6:27-29, however, poses a particular challenge for the theology of work.
In John Chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples see a man born blind. The disciples look on him as a case study on the sources of sin. They wonder who sinned to land the man in this predicament. Jesus looks on the man with compassion and works to remedy his condition.
When Jesus washes his disciples feet, he sets an example we are meant to follow, so far as we are able. This attitude of humble service should accompany all we do because doing so brings us tangibly face to face with the reality that godly work is performed for the benefit of others.
Jesus’ self-sacrifice would extract many forms of cost. It would cost him his death, of course, but also excruciating pain. It cost him the heartbreak of seeing his disciples (except John) desert him and his mother bereft of him. It cost him the shame of being misunderstood and wrongly blamed. These costs were unavoidable if he was to do the work God set before him.
The final chapter of John provides an opportunity to reflect not so much on work itself, but on the identity of the worker. By God’s grace, as we work, we become living parables of the love and glory of God.
The Acts of the Apostles depicts the early church working hard to grow itself and serve others in the face of opposition, shortages of people and money, government bureaucracy, internal strife, and even the forces of nature. Their work shows similarities to what Christians face in non-church-related workplaces today.
The first intra-group dispute in the early Christian community occurs between the Greek-speaking Jews who have returned to Jerusalem from one of the many Diaspora communities in the Roman Empire, and the Hebrews from the historic land of Israel. It takes very little social imagination to see what is happening in this situation. In a community that sees itself as the fulfillment of Israel’s covenant with God, members who are more prototypically Israelite are receiving more of the group’s resources than the others. This sort of situation happens regularly in our world.
Paul’s identity fundamentally changes when he encounters the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. When he meets Jesus, Pauls’ world is turned upside down.
Acts 13:1-3 shows the Christian community trying to discern how the Spirit is leading them toward witness. Paul and Barnabas are singled out to work as traveling evangelists and healers. What is remarkable is that this discernment is accomplished communally. The Christian community, rather than the individual, is best able to discern the vocations of its individual members.
In the latter half of Acts, Paul, his companions, and various Christian communities come into conflict with those who wield local economic and civic power. After run-ins with the men and women of Antioch, Iconium, Philippi, and Thessalonica, Paul comes into conflict with the silversmiths’ guild of Ephesians. The conflicts culminate with Paul’s trial for disturbing the peace in Jerusalem, which occupies the final eight chapters of Acts.
Acts chapters 26-28 contains one of the Bible’s most stirring demonstrations of leadership. Paul’s courage, suffering, respect, and concern for others remain as much of an example for us today as they did when these chapters were written.
Although God does not give most people a direct, individual, unmistakable call to a particular job or profession, God does give guidance to people in less dramatic forms, including Bible study, prayer, Christian community and individual reflection.
It is no coincidence that the concept of calling is front and center in the beginning of 1 Corinthians. Paul states in the very first verse that he was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1). Likewise, the Corinthian believers are “called” along with “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The basis of our calling is not individual satisfaction, but the work we are meant to accomplish in community.
By the grace of God, different people are able to play different roles in the world’s workplaces. But specialization at times leads to interpersonal or interdepartmental factionalism. If Christians believe what Paul says about the God-given nature of different roles, perhaps we can take the lead in bridging dysfunctional divides in our organizations.
In answering the question, “What should believers who are slaves do if they have the chance to gain freedom?” Paul makes an important statement about calling and work.
In regards to spiritual gifts, the most important question is not who, where, what, or how we exercise the giftings of God’s Spirit. The most important question is why we employ the gifts. The answer is for love.
In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, Paul conducts a lengthy discussion of the resurrection, and he applies his conclusions directly to our work.
As Paul moves into the body of his second letter to the Corinthians, he addresses the complaint that he had not been open and honest with them. Although he promised to visit Corinth again, Paul had backed out twice. Was Paul being insincere or speaking out of both sides of his mouth?
The question of being mismatched (literally unequally yoked) with non-Christians has implications for working relationships.
In urging the Corinthian believers to give generously, Paul is aware that he must address a very human concern in a world of limited resources. Some of his hearers must have been thinking, “If I give as altruistically as Paul is urging me to give, there may not be enough to meet my own needs.” Making use of an extended agricultural metaphor, Paul assures them that in God’s economy things work differently.
We often think of the fruit of the Spirit in the context of church life. But when we apply these qualities to our work, it can give us a fresh perspective to bring God’s presence into our places of work.
What makes your work worthy of a godly calling? Paul gives three criteria for worthiness: 1) harmony, 2) lack of selfish ambition, and 3) concern for others.
In God’s kingdom, our work and prayer are not two separate activities that need to be balanced, but two aspects of the same activity. When we work in Jesus’ name, we work to accomplish the work God wants accomplished.
When we lead out of concern for building relationship and character, when we are willing to see potential and create space for growth and change in another, and when we are willing to sacrifice in the process, we are serving in our leadership, following not only the model of Paul’s request to Philemon but the example of the Lord.
The book of Hebrews offers practical help for overcoming evil at work, cultivating a life-giving attitude toward money, and finding faithfulness in workplaces where Christ’s love is in short supply.
2 John ends with John writing that he wishes to continue the conversation in person. In the time of the early church, just as today, the wrong medium for a particular communication could easily lead to misunderstanding, which is failure to transmit the truth. And the wrong medium could also get in the way of showing love.
The book of Revelation provides some of the keenest insights in Scripture concerning the “big picture” of work. Yet it is a tough nut to crack, not only because of its intrinsic difficulty but because of the myriad interpretations that have grown up around the book.
John’s vision in chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation is in essence a visualization of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Through Jesus’ faithful witness and sacrificial death, God’s kingdom will come in the visible world.
The most important insights into the big picture of work come in the concluding chapters of Revelation, where the worldly city Babylon is set against God’s city, the New Jerusalem. The introductions of the cities in Revelation 17 verse 1 and Revelation 21 verse 9 are set in clear parallel: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters.” And “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.”
Babylon and her minions come to a terrifying end as a consequence of their idolatry and wickedness—including their economic practices, as we have seen in earlier sessions in this series. It might seem that any participation in the world economy—or even any local economy—must be so fraught with idolatry that the only solution is to withdraw completely and live alone in the wilderness. But Revelation offers an alternative vision of life together: the New Jerusalem.