This weekend is the unofficial end of summer with the Labor Day holiday in America, when the United States seeks to honor and recognize the American Labor movement and its contribution to the development of the United States. In line with this topic, here is a Langstaff Letter on “work.”
There is a story told about the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (see photo above), an architectural masterpiece designed by the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren. On one occasion, as he was inspecting the cathedral as it was being built, he came across some workmen cutting the stone ready to be placed in the edifice. When he asked the first man, ‘What are you doing?’ The man simply replied, ‘I’m cutting stone for a living.’ Moving on, he asked the second man, ‘What are you doing?’ The reply this time was, ‘I’m helping to build an archway for the cathedral.’ Finally, he asked the third man, ‘What are you doing?’ This time the man replied, ‘I am helping build a cathedral for the glory of my God.’
For the first man, his work was a job. For the second man, his work was an art. But the third man saw his work as a calling from God. Those three answers reflect the three basic ideas people have about work. Each has its roots in scripture.
WORK AS A JOB TO EARN A LIVING
Behind this is the idea that work originated as a result of the Fall, and as a result, man had to not only work but work hard by the sweat of his brow.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” – Genesis 3:17&19 (NASB)
No, the fall did not create work, but it did take a certain amount of joy out of it and turned it into toil. It became a burden for many instead of a blessing. This first one is a negative concept of work.
WORK AS A DIVINE JOB DESCRIPTION
So we go back further to the creation of man in Genesis 1 and 2. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and cultivate it.” – Genesis 2:15 (NASB).
Man was not created to sit around, doing nothing, enjoying the world God had made. No, God put him into the garden to work, to cultivate the ground. Beyond that, he was commanded to subdue the earth and take dominion over the world. So man was given a job description. He was created to work. The second one is a positive concept of work. But there is more.
WORK AS A CHARACTERISTIC OF GOD HIMSELF
The first words of the Bible declare, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1:1 (NASB) So began creation. Genesis 2:12 (NASB) gives us the end of creation, “And on the seventh day, God ended His work (emphasis mine) which He had done.” So, God works. God is a worker. He even did manual work when He made man out of the dust of the earth. The book of Psalms reflects the same idea, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers” (Psalm 8:3, NASB). Likewise, Jesus, the Son of God, was a worker. Prior to His ministry at 30 years of age, he worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s carpenter shop. He also declared, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17, NASB). In John 9:4, he stated, “I glorified You on the earth [by accomplishing the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4, NASB). This gives us the highest view of work. It is a reflection of God’s character.
WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM ALL THIS?
Simple! God is a working God who creates things; if we want to be more like Him, we need to be a worker like Him. So one could see work as a calling: a God-given job or purpose. What is our attitude towards work? If we see work as a result of the Fall, we will see it negatively, only as a necessary evil. If we see work as part of man’s original job description, then we will see it as noble and thus in a positive light. But if we see work as originating with God, we will make it a way to bring glory to God and do it as unto Him. ‘Whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not to man.’ – Colossians 3:25 Our attitude will make all the difference. In his book All In, Mark Batterson writes about Johann Sebastian Bach’s motivation.
“Before Bach started scoring a sheet of music, he would scrawl J.J. – Jesu, juva – at the very top. It was the simplest of prayers: Jesus, help me. Then, at the completion of every composition, Bach inscribed three letters in the margin of his music: SDG. Those three letters stood for the Latin phrase, Soli Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone. Soli Deo Gloria was one of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation, but Bach personalized it. His life was a unique translation of that singular motive. So is yours. No one can glorify God like you or for you. Your life is an original score. Imagine if filmmakers and politicians, and entrepreneurs followed suit. What kind of cultural impact would we have on scripts and bills and business plans originated as prayers? Imagine students scribbling SDG on their essays for A.P. American History, mechanics etching SDG on mufflers and motors, or doctors scrawling SDG on their prescriptions. It is not about what you do. It’s about why you do what you do. Ultimately, it’s about who you do it for. In God’s kingdom, it’s our motivations that matter most.”
WORK AS WORSHIP
C. Peter Wagner (2006), in his book ‘The Church and the Workplace,’ has some insights about work as worship.
“I like the way that Robert Tamasy puts it: ‘Work is sacred. It was ordained by God from the beginning before the fall of man. After the fall, it just got rougher, frustrating, exhausting, and sometimes even boring. But work pursued with excellence and integrity is still pleasing to God, a way of honoring Him by serving in the unique ways He has equipped us.’ Now, let’s kick this up another notch. Work can even be regarded as a form of worship. I know that some who read this will suspect that I may be going too far, but first consider what Mark Greene says about this: ‘Work is ordained by God. And it should be dedicated to God. . . The Hebrew word for work is Avodah, the same word for worship. “Service” captures the flavor best. Work is a seven-letter word – service – to God and people” (p. 18).
C. Peter Wagner (2006) goes on to write: “The other day in church, I was singing Matt Redman’s song ‘Let Everything That Has Breath.’ When we came to the line ‘I will worship You with every breath,’ I got to thinking about the premise behind that line. Part of worship is obviously singing songs like this one in church on Sunday, no question. However, that is not all worship is. If we really believe that we can worship God with every breath, wouldn’t we be worshipping God with every breath at work? I can remember how relieved I was when the Holy Spirit gave me this thought. Why? Because, to be honest, I enjoy working even more than I enjoy singing” (p. 18).
ONE LAST THOUGHT
We need to believe that God wants to bless us in our work. 3 John 2 declares, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” (and that includes work.) Faith teacher Fred Price comments on this passage, stating, “It is clear God wants His children to prosper. However prosperity should not be an end in itself. It ought to result in a quality of life, commitment, dedication and action that is in line with God’s word.” I believe God wants us to prosper in our work, whatever that may be, and our attitude to work will make all the difference. So let us do everything for the glory of God and make it a form of worship to Him!
Wagner, C. P. (2006). The Church in the Workplace: How God’s People Can Transform Society. United States: Gospel Light.