We started our series on work last night with David helpfully opening up Genesis 1-3 for us. I was particularly pleased with how the discussion panel worked afterwards with plenty of godly wisdom being brought out in response to the sermon.
When I was putting the series together in the summer I read Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavour. As he talks about work he considers it in the light of God’s creation, the Fall and the Gospel- pretty much the way we are structuring our series. I probably already had this framework in mind but there were a number of new reflections for which I was grateful.
His material on creation seeks to raise work from the mundane. It is a massive privilege that is given to us by God as we seek to imitate the One in whose image we have been made. It seems to me that it would be helpful for all of us to ask these questions of the work that we do- in what way are we reflecting the character of God and in what ways are we doing His work in sustaining the world? There are all kinds of answers to this. Keller quotes the craftsmen who says simply, “God doesn’t make junk, I don’t make junk.” Luther is cited who picks up the way in which God works through the humblest profession- “God milks the cows through the vocation of the milk maids.” God could do all things on our own but He chooses to give us the dignity of involvement in His creation as we reflect the fact that He works. Think about different roles in life- isn’t the cleaner reflecting a God who makes things in an orderly way? Isn’t the mother caring for a child reflective of our Father in Heaven? Isn’t the person seeking to grow the economy reflective of a God who provides work for His creatures? Because all human beings are made in the image of God we shouldn’t be surprised to see some of these good things coming from the non-Christian world. Sadly though not everybody will be motivated by seeking to reflect God. But the Christian should be and it would probably give us a greater sense of appreciation of the work God has provided for us if we considered how we were reflecting God’s image in all that we do. As an example, it was lovely to hear last night on the panel that one person’s ambition was to see people- many of whom were disabled or facing other suffering-and treat them as God does.
Keller goes on to be realistic about the impact of the Fall on the world of work- “You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation.” I’ll talk about this on Sunday evening as we look at Ecclesiates together.
Perhaps the most helpful thing about the book, though, was the examination of how the Gospel changes our approach to work. In some cases the worldview that the Gospel gives us helps us in our work. I found the example of journalism particularly helpful here. Keller notes that in journalism there is often the tendency to criticise harshly or praise inordinately. He writes this, “Without an understanding of the Gospel we will be demonizing something that isn’t bad enough to explain the mess we are in and we will be idolizing something that isn’t good enough to get us out of it…I would argue that the Gospel worldview- which does not demonize or idolize anything in creation- can uniquely equip a journalist to be even handed and open minded in his or her reporting and writing.”
Above all else though, it is in our inner motivations that we can get work wrong- and it is here that we need the antidote of the Gospel. So often we seek to prove ourselves through our work seeing to find our identity therein. We are crushed when we are not praised or are overlooked for promotion. We are tempted simply to work harder as a result. Even as a pastor I can find it very easy to get into the comparison game- are my contemporaries more successful, leading bigger churches etc. than I am? That way selfish ambition, seeing people as instruments to your success, burn out (“Many people are trying to get a sense of self through productivity and success but that burns them out.”) and more lies. It is pretty fatal. By contrast the Christian finds their identity and security in the love and acceptance that flows from Christ. From that position it is possible to work hard without idolizing work and to love people. Here is how Keller puts it:
“The Christian worker…who has experienced God’s grace is free to honour God, love neighbours and serve the common good through work…You are loved ceaselessly so you can work tirelessly in response to a quiet inner fullness.”
Of course there will be frustrations at work but we often make them worse because we are looking to work to provide with an identity and purpose that it was never meant to have. Instead- we need to look to God and see work as an attempt to reflect something of what He is like and look to the Gospel which means that we work from a position of complete acceptance and security.