By Steve Sherman, PhD
Assistant Professor, College of Theology
As followers of the Lord, many of our concerns and interests for the New Year are shared with all others on God’s globe, just by virtue of us all being creatures of the Creator. Yet some unique considerations arise (or ought to) because we are Christ-followers—trustees in and disciples of the one who became one of us, showed us God in the flesh, and what true sacrifice looks like. One such consideration relates to our calling and our work.
A few months ago, I shared a piece entitled A Biblical Model of Work, which focused on three important convictions: Work is a creational blessing and mandate; vocation supersedes occupation; and work is but one aspect of personal and communal life. We will look deeper into the first conviction of work as a creational blessing and mandate in this article.
The First Conviction: Work is a Creational Blessing and Mandate
A biblical model or basis for work begins with God’s very own work of creation, especially as it relates to terra firma. As the pinnacle of Yahweh’s created poiema, humans are to reflect the very imago Dei (image of God), and thus as viceroys and cultivators of the earth together we seek to represent wisely the Lord’s own caretaking and “culture-making” activities. God’s command to the first couple involved such responsible, caretaking activities: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Gen. 1:26-28 niv).
Work, therefore, ought to be embraced as intrinsic to the world’s fabric—not a result of the Fall as much popular opinion and practice presumes. Work is inherent to our calling. It provides for human sustenance and flourishing, and it should impart meaning to our lives. In a real way, we are co-creators with God, utilizing the “raw materials” and good gifts from the generous Giver. Culture “is what human beings make of the world. It always bears the stamp of our creativity, our God-given desire to make something more than we were given.”
As Babel demonstrates, human work can become evil and idolatrous—even incurring divine judgment (Gen. 11:1-9). We also must recognize that until the eschaton and because of human disobedience, all work will carry with it signs of the curse, including difficulties and obstructions (see Gen. 3:17-19). Nevertheless, Christians are called to embrace work as initiated by God for human benefit and blessing; thus, we ought to receive it with gratitude, leading to heartfelt worship.
Work for the Sake of Others
In essence—and ideally in practice—various humans work activities are intended for the benefit of one another, although we recognize self-centeredness and ulterior motives functionally distort this goal. Thus, we are given a mandate to work for the sake of others, and this is especially clear in terms of New Covenant teaching. For instance, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Also in the New Testament, it is clear that God intends for all able-bodied people to work: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: ‘Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’” (2 Thess. 3:10).
In the New Year, let us remember and practice the blessing and virtue of work—grounded in the love and generosity of our Creator-Redeemer—while remaining cognizant of the Fall’s continual influence and effects of skewing the beauty and order of cultivating the creation. Thus, may we pray and seek God’s heart that we may live into a creational view of work throughout 2017.
Grace and peace,