A Biblical View of Work and Vocation

Last weekend I gave a seminar at our church association’s annual national conference on “Work and Worship: How The Gospel Affects Our Work.” It was similar to my previous two messages, with a few nuances. Listen to it here. The manuscript follows.

## Work and Worship

_How the Gospel Affects Your Work – Faithwalkers, 2013. Part 1 of 2 parts. You can listen to part 2 by my co-pastor Brad Barrett here._

## Intro

My name is Matt Heerema and I am a pastor at Stonebrook Church in Ames, and I also own a web strategy and graphic design business. Underneath all that I am married and have three beautiful daughters, so I guess you could say my life is very, very full. And I love every minute of it. Stress and strain, sweat and tears and all.

Today, my fellow pastor Brad Barrett and I are doing a two part seminar on “Work and Worship: Connecting Sunday AM and Monday AM”, and it’s something I’ve been learning much about over the last several years and it has impacted me profoundly.

About 14 years ago something in my heart and mind clicked about my relationship with God. I had grown up in a Christian household, considered myself a Christian all my life, but I think there was a sense of “well I’m not an atheist or buddhist, so I must be a Christian.” But 14 years ago, through a series of events I came to the realization that if God is real, and He is who He says He is in this book (and those things I was convinced of for many reasons), then that changes everything about the direction and purpose of my life!

If God is God, and Jesus is His son, then my whole life, every moment of it, is His. I must do what He says, and follow Him at every cost. All of my goals, dreams, hopes shifted away from myself and my desires, and my ideas. The Bible says I was given a brand new identity: a child of God: and this shifted the way I saw the world, radically.

I interpreted this as a call into full-time ministry, to pursue becoming a missionary or a pastor. This was the only framework I had for Christian service at the time. So as my college career came to a close, my aim was to become a supported campus missionary through Great Commission Ministries, because, I thought, that was the most spiritual, significant way anyone could serve God.

I would say things like “I want to be freed up to serve God FULL-TIME. I don’t want to have to have a normal job which would mean I would have to sit on the sidelines of God’s service 8 hours a day, with the few exceptions when I might be able to evangelize a coworker or have a Bible study with office-mates.

Later, I came to find out how wrong my line of thinking was.

## The necessity of understanding the design and purpose of work.

Most of us have a hard time understanding how Sunday morning worship connects to our daily work at a desk, on the construction site, in a classroom, in the field, or in the home. 

Could it be that our work at writing code, processing insurance claims, changing diapers, building houses, growing crops, or studying math or biology matter to God?  Or are we simply “out of the game” of kingdom building until the bell rings or the whistle blows when we can get to the “real work”?  

Is there value in my work for God’s kingdom beyond the souls I can evangelize or the money I can earn to donate to the “real work”?

If we don’t get this right then we will sense, as I’m guessing many of us do, a disconnect between our spiritual life and our work life, and we will fall into one of several traps.

If we consider our daily work as eternally meaningless then we might put zero thought and effort into a potential career in the marketplace that could very well be one or five or ten of the talents that our Heavenly Master is entrusting into our care!

Some of us might buy into the World’s system of doing work, according to the world’s philosophies of how to conduct business and treat each-other, and if you are a believer this will likely cause you a great amount of guilt or confusion and distance from God.

Or perhaps you will simply resign yourself to the drudgery of a “meaningless” work life, gritting your teeth against the inherent worldliness and worthlessness of it all.

And in every case we will miss the joy, pleasure, and power we can experience when we realize our daily “mundane” and “secular” tasks can glorify God and expand His kingdom in real and ways.

My goal today is that we’ll learn to be encouraged that our daily tasks, all of them, matter to God and will count for something eternal.

And most of all, because of that, we’ll become equipped to live every moment or our life with a constant awareness of His presence, His help, His concern, and His pleasure with and for our work, and let us do all that we do for His Glory!

In order for this to be the case, it is vitally important that we take a careful look at the scriptures and dispel some wrong-thinking that pervades evangelicalism in the West, stuff that I had been brought up here in this church to believe, not so much by explicit teaching, but more by examples and attitudes.

## A Difficult Concept

Part of the reason this discussion is confusing is because we usually have a wrong idea in our mind when we think of the word “worship.” Worship does not mean music. Christian Worship is a life lived in a way that shows that Jesus is our highest treasure, and that knowing God as our highest goal.

## Premise

My big point today is this: Every task you undertake is a spiritual act of worship. Something being a spiritual act of worship has nothing to do with the category or type of task, but rather any task can be a spiritual act of worship when:

* God is the one calling you to those tasks (Ephesians 2:10)
* You are ultimately working for God in each task (Colossians 3:24)
* God is using your tasks to accomplish His work (Philippians 2:13)

And as we, in faith, apply ourselves to our tasks in light of these things, all our work will be spiritual acts of worship.

## The problem is dualistic thinking.

But we don’t think like this, do we? There is a division in our minds between spiritual activities and our every day work. I want to show you where this came from so we can understand why we think like we do, and we can examine the consequences of those ideas.

So, we need a brief lesson in the history of Western thought. Hang with me here.

### The Greeks

Greek philosophers, most notably Aristotle, reasoned that highest form of humanity is contemplation, debate, and teaching things like politics and philosophy, because everything else we do, all the physical work, is just like the animals: working to eat, eating to live, reproducing, and dying. So, of course, the more time you spend in pure contemplation, the more human you are. For Aristotle and those who followed, the most virtuous and highest humans were those who spent nearly all their time in contemplation.

They had a problem though, that every mother in the room will recognize instantly: someone had to grow and make the food, clean up, and generally keep order. Their solution to this economic problem? Slavery. In fact their reasoning around this was so complex and thorough that they actually convinced themselves that some humans were actually designed by nature to be slaves. They were less human.

You see the inherent problem with dualism? Yes? Well what does this have to do with us?
This pattern of thinking is rampant in evangelical Christianity, including our circles.

### Eusebius

This pagan way of thinking, (which totally ignores the fact that there is vastly more to our work than simple provision of our physical needs), wormed it’s way into the Christian church early on, and was most clearly articulated by a man named Eusebius a Roman historian and Bishop of the church in Caesarea in the early 300s AD. And the way of thinking he articulated has been infecting the church, ever since.

Eusebius and others were infected with this dualistic thinking as well, but with a “Christianized” spin. In other words, just like Aristotle, those that held this view believed that there are some things you can do which are “more Spiritual”, and so the best and highest Christians are those that spend all of their time doing these things, which they label “the service of God” (meaning prayer, fasting, studying the bible, preaching, evangelizing, etc).

He had the same problem as Aristotle, however, because very very few Christians could pursue this “level” of “spirituality”, someone had to provide for the community! His solution: “laypeople.” His thought process was so thorough that he actually reasoned that God had created some people as “lower class Christians”, bound to be less spiritual.

What nonsense!

The idea of a “higher calling” is a false idea. And the proof is that if every Christian were obedient to this “higher calling” then the economy would collapse.

## A Biblical View

The Biblical view stands in vast contrast to the idea that work is a necessary evil. The Biblical view is that work is something God Himself does and something we do on this planet as His representatives.

### Creation

Please open your Bibles to Genesis 1. The very beginning of the book and we will draw this theme out.

In the beginning, God worked.

> Genesis 1:1–2 (ESV)
> In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God spent six days bringing form to the formless, and filling the void. He made light and separated it from the dark. He separated the water from the heavens, and the sea from the dry land. Then he filled the land with plants, the heavens with lights, the sky with birds, the sea with fish, and the dry land with animals, and then…

> Genesis 1:26–31 (ESV)
> Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

> So God created man in his own image,
> in the image of God he created him;
> male and female he created them.

> And God blessed them. And God said to them, “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.”

The crown jewel of God’s work was man (and woman), made in God’s own image.

### Why God Created

Genesis 2, backs up into the sixth day of creation and pinpoints the location on Earth where God bent down into the dust and got his hands dirty, forming man.

Here we see that God created a garden in the middle of a typical mid-eastern desert, perfectly fit for human thriving: Fruit trees, rivers, gold and precious jewels were all there for Adam’s use. (And by the way, all these things show up later in the story, in the tabernacle God commands Moses to build.)

Obviously we recognize Eden as paradise, as perfection! No pain, everything we need at ready reach, meaningful work, no sin, no corruption. How do you improve on this? You expand it! Adam was given the most significant possible job to do: guard and expand the Garden of Eden.

But it is not simply the expansion of utopia that makes this job so significant and so wonderful. It is that God’s image will be filling the Earth that is the wonderful thing.

### The purpose of work: Glorify God by promoting human thriving.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says to “do everything you do to the Glory of God.” We were created to glorify God, our purpose is to Glorify God. The purpose of work is to Glorify God. That is, to help others to clearly see, and to see more clearly for ourselves, who God is, and what He is like. We do this by:

“Being fruitful and multiplying, filling the earth and subduing it, and having dominion over it”, that is to say: by expanding Eden. In other words, we work toward human thriving, in every possible way.

We are more than just spiritual beings, we are also physical beings. We have social, economic (physical), and spiritual needs, so we work to help others thrive spiritually, economically, and socially.

### Fall

Back to Genesis. All is well and good in the happy garden. And then, trouble. Turn to Genesis 3. The Serpent, Satan shows up, and rather than guarding the garden against him, Eve decides to have a conversation with him. He twists God’s words around and confuses her, which opens the door for her to consider disobeying God. and she ends up violating the one and only restriction God placed on them.

Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command by deciding to work for their own glory, they wanted to be “wise” and be the ones defining Good and Evil, rather than submitting to their loving Creator’s definitions. And in their sin, we recognize our own, don’t we. Our hearts and minds are warped exactly the same way. We would all have committed the exact same sin in their situation.

As a result of this rebellion, the man and woman became cursed, and the ground itself became cursed.

> Genesis 3:16–19 (ESV)
> 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
>
> 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

### Six results of the rebellion

Notice how these curses directly target man’s work. Our task has not changed, but the parameters have all changed!

**1. Multiplication is painful.**
The very act of being fruitful and multiplying is now painful and in some cases dangerous.

**2. Strife between husband and wife.**
The order between man and wife and their roles in the work God has assigned them has now become a massive point of tension.

**3. Work is now filled with trouble.**
Subduing the earth is now a difficult task, because the ground fights back! “…thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”

**4. Work is now compulsory.**
What was once a freely offered act of worship is now a compulsory act of survival. “..by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread…”

**5. We are now mortal.**
This lifetime is cut short. Sickness, disease, violence, freak accidents, or simply old age, end our individual lifespans in the span of a few short decades. This hampers our ability to acquire knowledge, wisdom, and skill that might otherwise be possible.

**6. We all exhibit the same rebellion Adam and Eve did.**
All humans from then on, with the exception of Jesus, exhibit sin and rebellion against authority, especially God’s. We all seek, like Adam and Eve, to make our own definitions of right and wrong, good and evil. The bloodline is now tainted. We are a fallen race of rebels.

So each one of us is guilty and deserving of these curses.

Adam and Eve knew they were guilty and deserving of death. It’s why they hid themselves in the Garden when God came looking for them. In the same way, we all know we are guilty and deserving of death before God as well.

So we work really hard to either try and do enough good to offset our bad, or we work really hard to be holy enough or significant enough, or powerful enough on our own that God will want us back, or we work really hard to deny that there is a God, and that all this religious stuff is just made up niceties.


No such luck. No amount of work will ever make up for that guilt. No amount of work can ever measure up to God’s righteous standard. But there is good news.

### Redemption

**Jesus our Model (prophet)**
Jesus, the son of God, was born into the world as a man into the family of a… Prophet? No. Priest? No. King? No. Philosopher? No. Wealthy merchant? No. He was born to Mary and Joseph, a carpenter, a manual laborer. Think about that for a moment.

Unlike any other human being Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to his heavenly father, which apparently involved several decades of work in Joseph’s trade. He then went on to fulfill his unique task with a three year teaching ministry where he reminded us of and clarified God’s charge on our life.

> Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
> In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
>
> John 13:34 (ESV)
> A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

He reminded us that the purpose of all our work is to Glorify God, and he clarified that this looks most specifically like self-sacrificing love for the good of those who do not deserve it.

**Jesus our Savior (priest)**
The book of Hebrews tells us that in his life, Jesus experienced every temptation and weakness we do.  He is able to faithfully relate and sympathize to our human experience. Because of this, He like Adam, is our perfect representative, making Him the perfect high priest to give us help in our times of need, because He perfectly represents us, and because He himself is sinless, He was the perfect sacrifice, able to pay for the sins of the entire world. By allowing himself to be killed on a Roman cross, he paid the penalty we owe for our idolatry and rebellion against God’s design for our life and work.

**Jesus our Lord (king)**
So, Jesus’s perfect obedience meant that He was righteous. Jesus’s perfect sacrifice paid the debt of sin, which means that ALL THE WORK TO RESTORE OUR BROKEN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD HAS BEEN DONE.

Which means that for anyone who stops trying to do it on their own and trust in Jesus’s work, to anyone who submits to Jesus as Lord, God will consider their debt paid, and not only that, but also count Jesus’ righteousness to us!

And this changes everything. This the thing that clicked for me 14 years ago. He gets it all.

### Restoration

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave three days later. He came back to physical life! He ate fish, he let people touch him, he spoke to hundreds of people. And then he ascended into heaven still in his physical body, however that worked, where he is currently ruling over all creation until the exact right moment when he will come back to restore all things.

See this remarkable passage about that day:

> Isaiah 65:17–23 (ESV)
>
> “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.
>
> No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
>
> They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
>
> They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.

The Bible is crystal clear that we will live in a physical place, called the new earth, for the rest of eternity. It is clear that we will have jobs to do, live in cities, build houses, plant vineyards, eat fruit. Understanding this changed everything for me. To be honest, I found heaven to be boring, an eternity gathered around a throne, singing the same song over and over. I comforted myself with the thought that “it will be more amazing than I can possibly imagine so maybe that amazement will last forever” but if I was really honest, even with the realization that my fallen mind can’t comprehend how wonderful sitting around on clouds singing songs will be, something about that picture seemed off.

But this picture… Can you imagine an eternity of productive and creative work with no effects of the fall?

What inventions will minds, unhindered by sin, selfishness, pride, flawed logic, and physical misfires be able to come up with? What will teams of people, all working together in unity with no thought of self-aggrandizement be able to build, all to Glorify their great Creator and King? I have a hunch that the vastness of space, the intricacy of every star and planet in the universe, will not be wasted. That God fully intends for us to explore and discover, and understand more about Him.

Jesus’ parable of the talents gives us a clue that people will rule over cities. Revelation 21 mentions kings coming into the New Jerusalem, bringing their glory with them to offer to God.

We all connect with the frustration of our political situations don’t we? Whatever your party affiliation, it always seems like, with only a few exceptions, the wrong people are in charge! In a new world where sin is not in the picture, this will no longer be the case. We will see the rulers of these cities and say “Yes! HE is the right man for the job! God was so wise to put him in charge over here. I am so glad I am under him!”

**Our destiny:**
An eternity of fulfilling, fruitful, futility free work, in a sinless new Heavens and Earth, to the Glory of God!

## Implications and Applications

When we understand this biblical picture of the nature of work, our whole orientation toward it shifts.

### God calls us to all kinds of tasks

Every task is a spiritual act of worship because God calls you to it.

The idea of God’s call on our life is one we are all fascinated with. It can be well articulated this way:

* The Primary Call – God calls us to salvation and relationship
* The Secondary Call – all we do in response to this.

> Matthew 22:35–40 (ESV)
> And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

God’s call to salvation and relationship results in a life lived to the end of loving your neighbor. Ephesians 2:10 says that God created us for good works, and these good works include all kinds of work. Understood rightly, you can say that these good works are about loving your neighbor.

Jesus called his disciples away from their marketplace work as fishermen, etc., but did not give a general call for all people to give up their marketplace work to follow him, nor did the apostles give some sort of call to leave all “worldly” occupations behind. To the contrary, we see Jesus using illustrations from the marketplace and everyday work, and we see the apostles giving instruction in how to conduct yourself in your work, and exhorting Christians to work with their hands.

We go wrong, when we absolutize one type of task over another. Because God will not call us to contradictory tasks. For example: take two important tasks in my life: providing for the physical needs of my family, and my involvement in The Great Commission, the spreading the news about Jesus. I cannot rank these two. They are not in conflict. God has called me to work toward both.

I have to pray and think hard to plan my days, and in faith make decisions moment by moment to make sure I am being effective with both, but I cannot make a blanket statement that one is higher than the other.

### We work for the Lord Christ

He is the one you are ultimately serving in your task

> Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV)
> Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

This brings dignity and humility to all work, high and low. It removes pride and boasting from high profile, high prestige jobs, brings dignity to the messiest, most menial tasks. And vice versa.

Think of the implications of this for a minute… The Lord Christ is the one you are actually doing the task for. So, if I am building God’s Web site… how am I going to go about my work? If I am building God’s apartment complex, if I am farming God’s land, if I am cleaning God’s house, if I am doing God’s laundry, how am I going to go about my tasks?? With extreme excellence! With care and precision, with careful research, and with joy!

So, this truth, that we are working FOR God, makes it a little clearer how our tasks are an act of worship. All tasks are a spiritual act of worship to our God because He is the one that is calling us to them. And because we work for God in them. And also because He is working in and through your tasks to carry out His work!

### He is working in you to work for Him

> Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
> “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The implications of this passage for your entire life are mountainous, but for our purposes today, Martin Luther commented on this verse in this context more eloquently than I ever could have, so I’m just going to quote him.

> Martin Luther (From “Exposition of Psalm 147”)
> 
“What is our work in field and garden, in town and house, in battling and in ruling, to God, but the child’s play , through which He bestows His gifts on the land, in the house, and everywhere? Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden, although He does all things. If Gideon had not obeyed and gone to battle with Midian, the Midianites would never have been conquered, although God could, of course, have conquered them without Gideon. He could also give you corn and fruit without your ploughing and planting, but that is not His will…
>
> …God is the giver of all good gifts; but you must fall to, and take the bull by the horns, which means you must work to give God an occasion and a mask.”