Today we will be continuing with our discussion about how work can be more than just work. In today’s part we will be discussing good work and engaging in it with joy.
If you missed Part 1 of the series, you can read it here. In part 1 we discussed our busy society and our search for answers.
The huge assumption is that work is bad and leisure is good. Our only hope for a transformed vision for vocation, work, and career is to engage our world with a theological vision for good work. We need to redeem the very idea of work.
The revolutionary message of the bible is that work is good. Central to the biblical description of the formation of the first man and woman is the mandate they received to till the earth and name the animals.
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
They were created to work, and their work was meaningful. God made them workers so that they could be co-creators with Him. Not creators in the sense that they are creators of the earth, but that their work was a part of God’s continual re-creation, and as such it was important, significant, and valued by God.
With the Fall and with sin, work becomes toil. A crucial part of the Christian mission in the wold is to seek and declare a recovery of meaningful and joyful work. Work is a central expression of what it means to be a Christian believer. It is a critical part of our spirituality.
I think that R. C. Sproul, theologian, writer, and pastor, said it very well when he said, “For a work to be considered good it must not only conform outwardly to the law of God, but it must be motivated inwardly by a sincere love for God.”
Let’s take a moment to pause here and ask ourselves a few questions. Do I consider my work good? Why or why not? What might need to change so that I can more consistently consider my work good?
Many people live with the longing to be released from work, looking forward to retirement. While retirement does mark an important transition, our ultimate joy is not to be released from work. Jesus promised His followers that if they were diligent and careful in small things, they would be rewarded with more work to do. We can find this very clearly in the bible in the following verse:
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
The prophet Isaiah spoke of the new heavens and the new earth as a time when we would build houses, plant vineyards, and enjoy the work of our hands. We see this in the following passage found in the book of Isaiah:
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
This passage should give us all hope that the work we do and the work we will do in the future will have great meaning. We will not be just punching the clock in heaven. Our work will be fulfilling and bring us great joy.
One of the most powerful depictions of good work found in the bible, can be found in Proverbs 31. Proverbs assumes and demonstrates that we are not wise unless and until we are wise in our work. This theme of good work as the sphere in which we live in wisdom is found throughout this book of the bible, but it is particularly instructive to consider the theological vision of work found in Proverbs 31. Let’s take a look at this book.
31 The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.
2 Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!
Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
3 Do not spend your strength on women,
your vigor on those who ruin kings.
4 It is not for kings, Lemuel—
it is not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
6 Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
7 Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Many people think of Proverbs 31 as the celebration of a woman and a wife. And it is. But implicit in this celebration is the affirmation of work as something that we, both men and women, engage in with energy, passion, joy, and diligence.
Richard Baxter, British church leader, theologian, and hymn writer, has the following quote when discussing this topic. “Choose not that in which you may be most rich or honorable in the world; but that in which you may do most good, and best escape sinning.
To end today’s blog, I have another exercise for you to engage in if you so choose. Look back through Proverbs 31 and look for specific insights and character traits that will help you engage your own work with energy, passion, joy, and diligence.