Theology of Work and Its Practical Implications
PRAC 495 Senior Project
Presented in Partial Fulfillment for the Bachelor of Science Degree
Carlson Institute for Church Leadership
North Central University
Douglas Woolley, #185058
15 April 2007
Almost every adult works in some way—whether they serve as a doctor, a computer programmer, a teacher, a businessman, a pastor, a janitor, a caretaker of dependents, or a homemaker. Yet, 86% of workers are “not satisfied with their job” and 82% are “unhappy with their work/life balance” according to a news release in 2004 (N. Smith, Introduction xiii). Many workers feel unfulfilled and frustrated in their work, including Christians. Work can be boring, mundane, stressful, and insignificant. Many do not see a bigger purpose for their work than simply earning money or meeting temporal needs of those served. Christians often feel that the majority of their time is wasted on things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of God, and if they really loved God and people, they feel they should dedicate their lives wholeheartedly to God and minister to the spiritual needs of people on a full-time basis.
Most workers do not see a connection between what they do and what they believe God wants done in the world. A theology of work is necessary to see work from God’s perspective and to realize that one’s work is significant to God. Through the years, many have had a misconception that in order for a person to be fully pleasing to God and serving Him, they have to go into full-time Christian work by becoming a monk, a pastor, a missionary, a teacher of the Bible, a worship leader, or by performing some other ministry work. Since most people spend a majority of their waking hours at work, it is critical that Christians see their work as having significance to God and how it can be used to further His purposes on earth, otherwise frustration results. There is a desire among Christians to see their work as service to God and to see their everyday efforts as a godly vocation, a divine calling. A person’s work can become a ministry to God and to others by sharing in word and deed. With proper understanding and attitudes, Christians can live out their faith at work so as to attract others to the God who is loved and served by them. A proper Biblical view of work is needed to guide Christians to proper actions and attitudes toward work.
To develop a good theology of work, three particular areas must be addressed: history, Scripture, and practical application (Ringma). First, the views and attitudes of the past toward work must be considered as they have contributed and shaped modern attitudes toward work. This especially includes learning from the wisdom of church theologians and scholars of the past, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Second, the Scriptural data must be consulted to determine God’s revealed view of work, as well as the comments of contemporary theologians concerning Biblical passages. Third, history and Scriptures must be integrated with the real world to produce practical applications. Within this paper, after reviewing the main literature pertinent to the topic, this writer presents a theology of work and its practical implications by presenting historical views and attitudes toward work, Scriptural data related to work, and practical ways to incorporate faith with work. Practical implications are often derived from insights gained from a Scriptural perspective on work. Tamasy offers such an insight:
Work is sacred. It was ordained by God from the beginning, before the fall of man. After the Fall, it just got tougher, frustrating, exhausting, 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. Our work often provides the opportunities to proclaim Him to a broken, unredeemed world—through our example, as well as by our words. (3)
Annihilationist – a view that sees the current earth being destroyed by God’s judgment in preparation for the creation of a new heaven and a new earth “out of nothing.”
Calling – “to urgently invite someone to accept responsibilities for a particular task, implying a new relationship to the one who does the calling” (Miller, “Sunday-Monday Gap”).
Co-creationism – view that creation was not entirely finished in Gen. 1-2, and humans participate and contribute toward God’s continuous activity of creation.
Creation Mandate – mandate from God to rule over, care for, and serve the rest of God’s creation (Gen. 1:26-30; 2:15). Sometimes it is called the Cultural Mandate.
Cultural Mandate – mandate from God to transform society (Gen. 1-2).
Dominion Theology – belief that the Church will take dominion over all of society prior to Jesus’ return.
Dominionist – one who ascribes to Dominion Theology.
Eschatological – having to do with the last events of time, such as the new heaven and new earth.
Evangelistic Mandate – mandate from God to save souls (Matt. 28:19-20).
Faith at Work Movement – a movement of individuals and groups interested in integrating personal faith with one’s work.
Fulltime Christian Ministry (common definition) – going overseas as a missionary, becoming a minister in the church, or doing something for a Christian organization.
Great Commission – to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ and teach them (Matt. 28:19-20).
Kingdom of God – renewal of all creation by the re-entry of God’s ruling power through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Kingdom Now Theology – belief that the kingdom of God is established during this present era prior to Jesus’ return.
Leisure – free time from work.
Ministry – primarily helping to make faith a way of life for persons, communities, and cultures.
Monasticism – relating to monks, nuns, and monasteries
Pneumatological – having to do with the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit
Providence – God sustaining and guiding humanity.
Reconstructionist – one who ascribes to postmillennialism with emphasis of the Church taking dominion of society and establishing the Kingdom of God prior to Jesus’ return to reign.
Remuneration – payment, wage, salary, or compensation for work done.
Sacred – all Church activities including community service in the name of the church, evangelism, teaching Sunday school, etc. (Helweg).
Secular – anything not directly related to the Church (Helweg).
Stewardship – the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.
Theology of Work – the study of “work” from God’s perspective, especially as shown in the Bible.
Vocation – a calling; God’s call to a particular Christian role; the call of God to His Service; a person’s career or profession.
Work – paid employment; service rendered to another; any productive activity.
Workaholic – “a person whose desire to work is compulsive, excessive, extreme” (Mahaney).
Workplace Leader – “anyone who leads or influences others in the workplace, even if he or she does not have a specific position of authority” (Humpheys 14).
Workplace Ministry – “an intentional focus of equipping men and women in all spheres of work and society to understand and experience their work life as a holy calling from God” (Hillman, God in the Workplace).
Numerous books were purchased by this writer after searching online bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, Christian Book, and Amazon, using search criteria such as “Theology of Work,” “Vocation,” “Workplace Calling,” and “Faith and Work,” “Leisure and Sabbath,” etc. Other relevant books were found on ministry sites such as www.workplaceministry.com and www.FaithandWorkResources.com, which provided book resources for integrating faith and work. Many other books were obtained after reviewing descriptions of over 700 marketplace-faith books in The Marketplace Annotated Bibliography, written by Pete Hammond, R. Paul Stevens & Todd Svanoe. Still other books were purchased after seeing authors quote from particular books.
Of these many purchased books related to the faith-workplace connection, a small percentage of them—perhaps two dozen--had as its focus a theology of work, though many had sections containing some elements of a theology of work. Most of the books emphasized co-creationism, where man is exhorted to participate with God in His continuous work of creation. Although the subject of work has been discussed periodically throughout the centuries, the term “theology of work” first appeared around 1949 (Chenu 4), and the first formal theology of work did not appear until 1950. In the decades following, other significant writings on theology of work appeared.
Dorothy Sayers, an associate of C. S. Lewis, wrote the essay “Why Work?” in her 1949 book, Creed or Chaos?, which was first presented as a speech in England in 1942 (63). Sayers was one of the first to speak and write in modern times about a “right [Biblical] attitude to work” (64) to an intellectual audience. According to Harrison, Sayers has a unique approach to work: “She focuses upon the end (telos) of work, arguing that the purpose of work must be found in the value of its product, which must be of such quality that it glorifies God. As creators, people must make themselves subservient to the work for which they are best suited in order to bring into being that which they were created to create” (240). “Central to Sayers’s theology is the claim that we are called to be co-creators with God. Therefore, work must be understood as a participation in the reign of God and the value of our work defined by the quality of the product” (Harrison 239). Sayers advocates that people must “estimate work not by the money it brings to the producer, but by the worth of the thing that is made” (“Why Work?” 67). The product of work is “the heart of Sayers’s theology of work,” according to Harrison (241).
Josef Pieper’s book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, first published in 1948, uses more philosophical arguments than theological arguments to emphasize that leisure instead of work is the basis for culture as it was for the Greeks, and it has “influenced subsequent theologies of work, especially those which have sought to resist and critique ‘co-creationism’” (Mackenzie 42). Pieper sees leisure as being most meaningful when worshipful celebration is part of it (54).
J. H. Oldham’s book, Work in Modern Society, published in 1950, “probably is the first formal theology of work. . . . Oldham pleads for a lay-developed doctrine of work that will enable the majority of people to experience a genuine vocation to do ordinary kinds of work.” (Hammond, Stevens, and Svanoe 145). Mackenzie affirms the value of this “pioneering work” by saying “there is hardly a theme which has emerged in subsequent theologies of work which was not raised or prefigured in Oldham’s writing” (34). Oldham first presents the realities of work-life in modern society so that a Christian meaning of work can be properly assessed and interpreted within that context (11). With reference to Gen. 1:28, Oldham lays the groundwork for co-creationist thinking: “[Man] is commanded, that is to say, to co-operate with God in the continuance of His work in creation,” and this decree remains even after the Fall (49).
Alan Richardson’s book, The Biblical Doctrine of Work, published in 1952, focuses on the biblical material related to work with no attempt to apply the material to real life situations. Richardson’s book laid the Scriptural groundwork for many others to do a theology of work, “especially in more conservative Protestant circles” (Mackenzie 39). Richardson says that the Bible does not encourage a connection between God’s creative work and human creativity, though he says God did give man dominion over all creatures and creation as described in Gen. 1:28 and Ps. 8:6 (17-18). Instead, he sees work being a “divine ordinance for the life of man” (23).
Karl Barth’s third volume, part 4, of Church Dogmatics, published in 1961, contains a section about “The Active Life” in which he presents a theology of work. He views work as a necessity of life for mankind that has some importance in that it is a command given to man (473), but he rejects co-creationism. Barth cautions against over spiritualizing work and elevating it as worship (Mackenzie 44).
M. D. Chenu’s 1963 book, Theology of Work, originally published in French in 1955, shows “man as collaborator in creation” (23) and gave movement to the “doctrine of cocreation that dominated the theology of work in both Catholic and Protestant traditions for the last half of the twentieth century” (Hammond, Stevens, and Svanoe 54). With the revolutionary “changeover from craft tool to machine” that created different kinds of work, Chenu feels that traditional Biblical images of “potter, blacksmith and peasant” are inadequate and often lead to “resentment against the machine,” and thus a good theology of work must take these new technological innovations and concepts into consideration (8-9).
Edwin Kaiser’s book, Theology of Work, published in 1966, is a full Catholic theology of work, drawing upon history and Catholic documents and advocating work as cooperation with God in his providence.
Gideon Goosen’s book, The Theology of Work, published in 1974, provides a positive view of work after tracing the historical views and attitudes toward work. Work is a God-given task for man to dominate the forces of nature and “collaborate with the Creator in continuing the work of creation,” yet some work is “dehumanizing” and not creative and should not be classified as work, according to Goosen (58). Work produces a service to God and others (58).
Jacques Ellul’s book, The Ethics of Freedom, published in 1976, has a section on “Freedom and Vocation,” in which Ellul claims that the Bible does not speak of work as a vocation (496). As an example, he says that Gen. 1:28, “Replenish the earth, and subdue it,” has no connotation of “divine vocation,” but “we simply have to work—that is all” (496). Furthermore, for Ellul, work “is a result of the Fall” and “has no specific value” and “is a simple necessity” in life (496). He also says, “Work is the painful lot of all men but it is not particularly important” (495). Consequentially, Ellul is opposed to a co-creationist view of work. “Clearly the ongoing battle between co-creationism and Barth and Ellul’s view of work as necessity provides one of the main creative theological tensions in discussions about work and vocation during the last fifty years” (Mackenzie 59).
Paul Marshall’s essay, “Vocation, Work, and Jobs,” was published in 1980 in Labour of Love: Essays on Work. After assessing historical views of work, Marshall describes vocation as a calling to be Christian in all spheres of life and not simply a call to a particular work. Also, one should not be “obsessed with work” but should take a rest, for even God rested (16).
Pope John Paul II encyclical letter On Human Work, published in 1981, presents an updated view of work that, according to Ryken, would be favorable to the original Protestants (112). John Paul II presents work as having dignity (23) and as the expression of man, created in God’s image (5). He also promotes co-creationism (MacKenzie 60).
Dorothee Soelle, with Shirley Cloyes, wrote To Work and to Love in 1984, where co-creationism is their framework for their theology of creation (Mackenzie 67). Soelle, with Cloyes, view the first creation as being unfinished and thus creation continues in an on-going process with the help of mankind (37).
Doug Sherman and William Hendricks wrote Your Work Matters to God in 1987. The heart of the book lies in presenting a theology of work, and it shows that secular work also matters to God. Its emphasis is that all work has intrinsic value to God and instrumental value to God in that it is a means to accomplishing things that God wants, such as serving people’s needs (77, 87).
M. Douglas Meeks wrote God the Economist in 1989, arguing that “Economist” is a valid metaphor for the work of the triune God (2, 181). In his chapter on “God and Work” (127-55), Meeks presents a Trinitarian perspective on work (132).
Lee Hardy’s book, The Fabric of This World, published in 1990, attempts to “help revitalize the concept of work as vocation—or calling” (xv). He does this by tracing the concept of vocation throughout history.
Miroslav Volf’s book, Work in the Spirit, published in 1991, is widely acclaimed for articulating a theology of work—one that is both eschatological and pneumatological (79). After presenting a critical assessment of Luther’s concept of vocation (107-09), Volf proposes a theology of charisms, or gifts, which he feels is a “more stable foundation” to “erect a theology of work that is both faithful to the divine revelation and relevant to the modern world of work” (110). As coworkers with God working in the Spirit with gifts from God, man’s current work has value not only in the present world but also in the world to come, according to Volf (123).
Leland Ryken’s book, Redeeming the Time, published in 1995, is an expanded and revised version of his 1987 book, Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective. The new book presents a theology of both work and leisure and how the two belong together. According to Hammond, Stevens and Svanoe, “This is perhaps the best and most integrated approach to daily life to date ” (158).
Gary Badcock’s book, The Way of Life, published in 1998, provides a theology of Christian vocation, described as a way of life of loving God and neighbors (141). Grounding human vocation in doing the will of God, Badcock says “the will of God does not extend down to the details of career choice,” thus liberating people to “live more adventurously . . . in an atmosphere of love” (142). People are called to a life of love and discipleship (141).
R. Paul Stevens’s book, The Other Six Days, published in 1999, presents a biblical perspective on vocation, work, and ministry. Stevens argues for a “people theology” that opposes the clergy-laity division and is for the notion that all are called to minister. Stevens balances both the Great Commission with the Creation Mandate and supports co-creationism (89, 97-98).
Alistair Mackenzie and Wayne Kirland wrote Where’s God on Monday?, published in 2003. They present a theology of work that integrates faith with work in a popular way. Man is born to work as God’s coworkers in line with co-creationism (18-20).
Armand Larive’s book, After Sunday: A Theology of Work, published in 2004, presents a theology of work in line with co-creationism (72-73) and described by “work related characteristics of the Trinity” (Zalot 718) that are initially distinguished in Volf’s book and deepened and extended by Larive (Thompsett 704).
Douglas Schuurman’s book, Vocation, published in 2004, attempts to renew a contemporary Christian doctrine of vocation and reshape it in light of important criticisms (180). Schuurman addresses criticism over the theology of vocation by Badcock, Ellul, and Hauerwas who say religious meaning should not be placed on secular life and by Volf who says that the traditional understanding of vocation is too static (xii).
Darrell Cosden’s book, A Theology of Work, published in 2004, presents dialogues with Jürgen Moltmann and Pope John Paul II to present a definition of work and a theology of work that consists of three dimensions: instrumental, relational, and ontological. Instrumentally, work is a means to provide for humans and to assist in a person’s spiritual growth and sanctification; relationally, work provides self-fulfillment and impacts social relationships and civilization; ontologically, work itself has intrinsic, eternal value to God as an act of worship and a link to the new creation (178-85).
Darrell Cosden’s most recent book, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, published in 2006, emphasizes how present work is linked to the new creation. Ordinary work and things produced by it can be transformed and brought into heaven by God (2). Thus, “all human work (and not just ‘religious work’) has eternal meaning and value” (2).
David Jenson’s book, Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work, published in 2006, “aims to recover a Christian theological vision of ordinary work, a vision that grounds human labor in God’s initiating activity” (x). Human work is meaningful as it responds to God’s work (ix).
Upon further review of the books purchased, most of them fell in the category of popular writings that contained at least some elements of a theology of work, though unusually emphasizing more practical applications or stories or testimonies. Dr. Peter Wagner had read and reviewed over 86 workplace ministry books by 2004, many of which were on this writer’s list, and he states “One theme running through these books, especially the earlier ones, is how to be a good Christian out there in the workplace or in the ‘world.’ A later emphasis comes in defining a Christian’s role in the workplace as ‘ministry’ per se” (qtd. in Hillman, Faith@Work 211-23).
By 2006, Wagner had “purchased and read more than 100 books on the faith-at-work movement,” thus his recent book, The Church in the Workplace, is a reflection of his views after surveying these other writings (9). With this in mind and considering Wagner’s influence in the lives of several influential spokesmen for the movement, such as Os Hillman and Kent Humphreys, his 2006 book is of great importance. His main point is that there are two forms of the one biblical church: “One is the gathering of believers in local church congregations each Sunday. The other is the scattered body of believers throughout the workplace the other six days of the week” (16). Wagner calls congregations the “nuclear church” and calls workplace believers the “extended church,” (110) having built “on the commonly accepted sociological concepts of the nuclear family and the extended family” (16). Each of these churches has a culture of its own and its own set of implied rules or assumptions which can cause misunderstandings if not properly understood. Wagner feels that with proper understanding, appreciation, and support for the extended church, social transformation is possible (110-12).
Os Hillman has been the most prolific writer in the Faith at Work movement. Coupled with his leadership role in the movement as president of two ministries, his writings are of practical importance. In 2000, Hillman published Faith&Work: Do They Mix?, where he contemplates from Scriptures and his own journey how to find purpose and meaning in one’s work and to see work as a divine calling of God to ministry. In 2004, Hillman published Faith@Work which helps both pastors and church leaders understand the Faith at Work movement. In 2005, Hillman published The 9 to 5 Window which gives an updated overview of the Faith at Work movement and thoughts on how to connect a person’s faith to their work life that typically occurs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Kent Humphreys’ book, Lasting Investments guides pastors to practically help their members who are workplace leaders to make an eternal difference in their sphere of influence, using their workplace as a platform for evangelistic and discipleship ministry. Similarly, Humphreys’ latest book, Shepherding Horses, helps pastors to understand the strong self-sufficient workplace leaders, whom he calls “horses,” among the compliant sheep under the shepherd’s care (1- 9).
Similar to Humphreys’ analogy of workplace leaders as “horses,” Linda Rios Brook uses an analogy of colored clothes in a laundry basket with the spiritual colors of church people and calls workplace leaders “the reds” in her book, Front Line Christians in a Bottom-Line World (30-31). “The reds” want to lead (28) and will bleed on all other colors when they are wet by the “river of God,” in an effort “do church” (31, 35-36). Brook makes the point that “the reds” are not fully understood or appreciated and often find the church irrelevant to their daily life, thus they desire to make an impact where they spend most of their time—the workplace—by establishing a non-traditional extended church at the workplace (18-27). While most authors are not as pessimistic about current church environments or motivations to integrate faith at work, Brook demonstrates, as does Humphreys, that there is a need to recognize the unique qualities and desires of workplace leaders and for the nuclear church to equip them as “change agents” for work on the “frontline” (Brook 207).
David Miller’s book, God at Work, published in 2007, is the most recent book to address the Faith at Work movement. It provides a scholarly study of the movement and its history. Additionally, Miller describes four ways to integrate faith and work using an “Integration Box” model consisting of “Four E’s”: Ethics, Evangelism, Experience, and Enrichment (126-42).
Twenty-three scholarly book reviews and articles related to “faith and work or career” or “vocation” were obtained from Southeastern University’s Library via their online subscription service, EBSCO. In addition to various scholarly articles, the authors whose writings were reviewed in connection with a theology of work include the following: D. Michael Bennethum, John C. Haughey, Armand Larive, William C. Placher, Dorothy Sayers, and Miroslav Volf. Furthermore, three short reviews were for Larive and five reviews were for Volf, thus showing one indication of the importance of Volf’s book Work in the Spirit in academe.
Over 70 relevant articles were selected from the Internet and read thoroughly. Many were obtained by performing searches in Google and Yahoo! using phrases such as “Theology of Work,” “Vocation,” “Faith at Work,” “Spirituality of Work Movement,” “Marketplace Calling,” etc. Sometimes one link would lead to a set of insightful articles. Some relevant articles were then found on ministry sites such as www.intheworkplace.com, www.christiansatwork.org.uk, and www.faithatwork.org.nz. All the articles addressed aspects of a theology of work and viewed work itself in a positive Christian way, though two articles had an insightful alternative view in comparison to all the other articles: Carly Friesen in “Labor: Sin or Sacrament?” sees the Apostle Paul as emphasizing the suffering aspect of work, like Augustine and other church Fathers, and thus Paul embraces work not as “honorable” but as a “disgrace” revealing his personal weakness, so Friesen says “The worker may have a sense of dignity in his toil because it is obedience to God in sharing the cross of Christ, but not because work per se is honorable” (5); Otto Helweg in “The Secular and Sacred; Friends or Foes?” sees “full-time Christian service” as the most spiritual calling and that God does not call people to secular tasks, for calling refers to spiritual gifts—not talents--to be used to build up the body of Christ.
Having acquired thirty-seven audio sermons on work, this writer actively listened to them over and over in the car over the past year. The first sermon was obtained on audiocassette after seeing and hearing David Pawson deliver a message, entitled “Work,” in Hong Kong at the Asian Convention for Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International in 1993. Taking more notes during this sermon than any other sermon, this writer believes the message was life altering in giving a new perspective on work that had not been realized before that time by this writer. The message affirmed the value and dignity of work for its own sake and not just for its value in providing opportunities to witness. He encouraged Christians to “see that their daily work is full time Christian service”--that does not need to be justified to God by witnessing at work, though Christians are called to be witnesses (Pawson). Pawson also emphasized the value of manual labor in particular, as the Bible often refers to God working with His hands as did Jesus, many of his disciples, and Paul.
Recently in 2005, this writer found an audiocassette message entitled “Why Work?” by C. J. Mahaney, recorded in 1991. It also proved to be a life changing sermon, giving the following as reasons for working: to love God, to worship God, to serve others, to develop character, to provide for one’s needs, and to earn finances to invest (Mahaney). These two sermons, coupled with reading and studying the book Your Work Matters to God in 2005, provided impetus for this writer’s Senior Project that would commence in 2006. All other sermons were obtained by searching the Internet for “Theology of Work sermons.”
Three excellent sermons were acquired from Gordon Kirk of Lake Avenue Church. The sermons dealt with a Biblical view of employees, management, and work as an aspect of worship. Three more sermons came from Rich Lusk of Trinity Presbyterian Church. These sermons dealt with the connection of God and work, each emphasizing Col. 3:22-24. Ten other sermons came from Dr. Robert S. Rayburn of First Presbyterian Church, addressing such topics as vocation, duties of employees and employers, workaholics, leisure, and retirement. Nineteen sermons came from R. J. Rushdoony, with some focus on social transformation. Five messages came from a one-day workshop taught by Os Hillman, entitled Called to the Workplace. These messages showed how work is meant to be a calling of God and a ministry.
Two DVD’s were ordered from available workplace resources for Christians, found on the Internet. Andy Stanley preaches six sermons in the series Taking Care of Business and hones in on the importance of working whole-heartedly unto the Lord. Os Hillman produced a DVD in 2005 entitled God in the Workplace, where he addresses the latest events in the Faith at Work movement and how Christians can make an impact in the workplace with God.
Pete Hammond has stated that publication of books relating to the “faith-workplace connection” grew from 350 titles to 2000 titles from the years 2000 to 2005, with the earliest books being written in the 1930’s. Many of these books focus on “leadership and management” and others speak to “issues faced by all Christian workers” (Hillman, The 9 to 5 Window 84). Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in the number of books focusing on theology of work, but there is still a need for more scholarly writings in this category.
Though there are at least two dozen good books dealing specifically with a theology of work, there is still a need for more academic writing in this field. Considering the importance of the topic and how its implications affect every working person, there should be much more research and writing done in this specific field. This is also evident as different scholars in this field have also stated the need for more academic writings on the theology of work.
In 1955, Chenu wrote in his book Theology of Work, “Today, we are far from having achieved a ‘theology of work’” (2), yet he was pleased that “thoughtful Christians” were moving beyond just a study of “morality of work” that had been prevalent since the nineteenth century and to a necessary “study of work as a subject” itself (2-4).
In 1974, Hiltner expressed the need for a theology of work, “and quickly,” to “take into account the impersonalization, dehumanization, and often degradation” that occurs more often than not (274).
In 1993, Harper said that there were very few who had produced a “definitive” theology of work, but felt that Volf had now filled this void with his Work in the Spirit (386). Two years earlier, in 1991, Volf notes in his book that much more theological reflection takes place on ancient church debates, like transubstantation, than on the matter of work that consumes the lives of most people (69). Along similar lines, in 2004, Chang argues that different theological positions have been explored for other subjects, but the lack of “schools of thought” on the subject of work indicates a sparseness of theological scholarship (2).
In 2003, Lewis, an Episcopal priest, says “even though work plays such a dominant part in the Bible, one is hard-pressed to find much written today about the theology of work” (1).
In 2004, after writing his book on theology of work, Larvine says this topic is not yet well explored or a “mature area of theology” (7).
According to Dr. Peter Wagner, “Os Hillman is arguably the most broadly informed individual in the faith and work movement today. God is using Os to cast the vision for the church and the workplace for this new move of God in the body of Christ” (qtd. in Hillman and Hillman, Called 2). In 2005, Os Hillman acknowledged, “we have to have a good theology of work and this has been lacking, not only in the movement but in our churches” (God in the Workplace).
In 2006, Miller says, “With a few notable exceptions, most theologians do not develop interdisciplinary competence nor seek to understand the complexities of modern global economies and develop a constructive theology of work” (God at Work 101).
In conclusion, it is encouraging to see the growth of the number of “faith and work” books as well as seeing some recently published “theology of work” books; yet there is a clear need for more academic writing in this field, from which practical implications can be drawn and popular writings can be based to meet the real needs of the general public, most of whom work.
The Greeks despised work and viewed it as a curse—an evil to be avoided. Work was considered “beneath the dignity of a free person” (Ryken 71). According to Plato and Aristotle, the highest form of life was the “contemplative life of the mind” (Bryan), so the “elite devoted themselves to the exercise of the mind in art, philosophy, and politics” (Ryken 72). Work distracted people from freely exercising the mind, thus philosophers saw work as demeaning (Friesen). To be in a state where one did not have to work for the necessities of life was highly valued as it allowed one to pursue more worthwhile activities, such as being a politician or a military hero, that helped them become immortalized like the gods (Hardy 8-9). While manual work was devalued, study and contemplation were valued as helping man to ascend to the gods (Goosen 18-20). The Greeks regarded work with one’s head as superior to work using one’s hands. They had an ambition to work as little as possible so as to maximize their leisure pursuits (Pawson). In quest of a life of happiness, Greeks had a lofty view of leisure whose goal was “contemplation and the life of the mind” while the Romans also valued leisure but “preferred active pursuits, including physical fitness and spectator sports” (Ryken 85, 87).
Like the Greeks, Romans despised labor, according to Kaiser, largely due to their desire to be independent from having to work for others--either out of necessity or gain (37). Roman agriculture or farming became associated with slaves, who soon outnumbered freemen, and thus farming was despised along with all kinds of work performed by slaves (Goosen 23). Since slaves did most of the labor, Friesen says, “Labor came to be equated with slavery in the minds of the people” (3). Thus, both Greeks and Romans had a negative view of work, seeing it reserved primarily for slaves.
“Unlike the Greeks, who thought that working for one’s living was beneath the dignity of a gentleman, the Hebrews looked upon daily work as a normal part of the divine ordering of the world, and no man was exempt from it” (Richardson 22). Because Yahweh worked, work in Hebrew culture had value far above work in Greco-Roman culture (Goosen 25). The Old Testament and Hebrew culture did not elevate intellectual work over manual work, and even Rabbis who studied also worked at a trade for financial support (31), like Jesus (Mark 6:3) and Paul (Acts 18:3). Balancing intellectual pursuits with physical skills, almost every Jewish boy was taught how to work with his hands in a trade to support himself financially (Tenney 97).
In New Testament Christianity, work is esteemed further as its primary characters served as manual laborers: Jesus as a carpenter; some disciples as fishermen and a tax collector; and Paul as a tentmaker. Jesus identified with the common worker through his parables. Also, Scriptures commanded diligent work for all able-bodied people and condemned idleness even while hoping for the soon dramatic return of Jesus (Col. 3:23; 2 Thess. 3:10). Christianity “gave slaves and workers value as people who God loved” (Haskins and Smith 11). This positive view of work was the prevailing Christian attitude for the first century after the Apostles.
“Gradually the Church Fathers began to draw more heavily on Greek and Roman motifs in their theology and the more positive view of work gave way to a much lower view” (Mackenzie 184). Ordinary secular work became devalued as it was distinguished from religious work. Eusebius in the fourth century is known to have divided life into two spheres, one indicative of the sacred and the other more secular. Augustine, who emphasized suffering in work as part of the curse (Kaiser 110), distinguished between the “contemplative life” (vita contemplativa) of reflection and religious meditation and the “active life” (vita activa) of common work with a preference for the former as being of a higher order (P. Marshall 7). This crucial distinction and attitude ran throughout the Middle Ages (Higginson).
During the Medieval Period, a two-tiered concept of work developed where life was divided into two spheres: “the sacred spiritual life of contemplation and the secular world of labor,” where contemplative “spiritual” work was considered far superior to physical earthly work. The work of priests, monks and nuns was “spiritual” and of a higher order than ordinary work, and their work could only be entered by a divine calling (L. Smith). “The highest human endeavor was to meditate and lead a solitary life” and thus monasteries were built and supported by the common worker (Bryan). In the eleventh century, celibacy was imposed upon the clergy and thus “the demarcation between priesthood and laity was complete” and rendered ordinary workers as second-class citizens to the clergy who had a higher spiritual status (Mackezie and Kirkland 83). According to Guinness, elevating spiritual work over secular work is a distortion of the truth of calling, which he calls the “Catholic distortion” since it “rose in the Catholic era” (31-32).
In the thirteenth century, “Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, defended the spiritual hierarchy of the Middle Ages with significant implications for the world of work” (Friesen 6-7). Aquinas developed this pyramid hierarchy theory of society using Greek thoughts—writings from Aristotle who built from Plato’s writings (Calhoun 99). Though all work was necessary, Aquinas’s hierarchy of work placed “spiritual works” such as prayer, preaching, and the like in a higher rank than “manual works” which were also ranked according to profession and trade (99). Calhoun says, “This view is reaffirmed and elaborately developed by Antoninus of Florence (A.D. 1486-87)” (99). While acknowledging that all Christians were called in a general sense, only the work of the church was deemed a vocation (103). Vocation in the medieval period “meant being called into the ‘spiritual order’ with its special privilege of greater closeness to God by its abundance of good works” (Oldham 45).
In addition to the dignity given to work with one’s hands during the Renaissance (Ryken 75), the Reformers dramatically developed a very positive view of work. Martin Luther rejected monasticism and the well-established division between “sacred work” and “secular work” (Higginson). The word “vocation” had been used exclusively for a call to monastic life, thus implying that “God did not call other people to their jobs” (Goosen 64) and their work had “little if any spiritual significance” (Nichols 84). “The Reformation made [vocation] a universal term, applicable to all states of life and all kinds of work. All work is regarded as a service to God. In principle, all kinds of work are ‘holy,’ in so far as they are performed in faith and in obedience to God” (Oldham 45). Thus all work, sacred and secular, intellectual and manual, were ways of serving God (Colson and Eckerd 36). Therefore, Luther said that it was not necessary to leave or escape secular work and go into church work to be “pious” or pleasing to God, as was previously thought (Bennethum 52).
According to Goosen, while Luther encouraged staying in the same vocation with no personal ambition, John Calvin provided for the opportunity to change vocations in order to better utilize one’s gifts and talents and to serve neighbors and saw no evil in personal ambition or “moving into better jobs or up the social ladder” (63-64). In favor of capitalism, “Calvin encouraged workers to produce more than they needed so they could give surpluses to those in need” (Colson and Eckerd 37). Calvin had a more positive view of the world and its potential than Luther, so for Calvin, Christ is the “transformer of culture” (Niebuhr 217-18). “Calvin . . . taught that believers are responsible for social transformation, and his followers began to believe that we have a cultural mandate (the mandate to transform society) as well as an evangelistic one (the mandate to save souls)” (Wagner 36).
The Puritans carried the Reformers’ message and are known for their Protestant work ethic. The Puritans were exemplary, according to Packer, in integrating faith into their daily lives—a holistic lifestyle—where all awareness, activity, work and enjoyment had the purpose of honoring and glorifying God (23-24). They emphasized diligence in their work, as stewards of God’s call, whose purpose was to serve God and society (Ryken 109). “The Puritans commended industriousness and profit in moderation” (L. Smith). The Puritan’s Protestant ethic of hard work produced thriving societies and “later fueled the industrial revolution which produced vast increases in invention, productivity, and wealth” (Colson and Eckerd 39).
While diligent hard work remained in the work ethic, the Puritan’s original focus on working unto Christ disappeared and thus a vocation really became just an occupation with no connection to God. Imbelli observes the potential for this oscillation saying: “bringing the religious and secular into close conjunction” by having vocation or calling assimilated to work and occupation “can serve either to enhance the secular or domesticate the religious” (32). During the Reformation, secular occupations were enhanced, but the Enlightenment secularized spiritual callings. This removal of the spiritual from secular work and subsequent elevation of secular work is called the “Protestant distortion” by Guinness (38-39). The eighteenth-century Enlightenment brought a humanistic “ethic of self-interest and expediency,” thus “perverting” the original Protestant ethic “into a creed of personal success” (Ryken 77). In the secularized version of the Protestant work ethic, Lee Smith says “there was no central purpose to glorify God, no concept of stewardship or servant hood, and no moral duty to help the needy.”
The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used machines to increase production, which formed “alienated workers” on an assembly line that continuously focused on a specific task that became monotonous, and they were not able to see how their never-ending work fit into the end-product (Ryken 79). Karl Marx describes such a person as “a cog in the wheel” of economic activity (Goosen 56). Marx encouraged workers to look for personal fulfillment in the work of one’s hands, which eventually led to idolizing work. Marx’s friend and associate Friedrich Engels “increasingly glorified work as an end in itself,” thus “the worker and his work have taken on religious significance” within Marxist countries (Bernbaum and Steer 30). Marxism believed that the working class, by reforming institutions, would redeem society, yet such a system has not succeeded in Communist countries that have tried it (Ryken 80).
Since the time of modern industrialization, more and more women have sought work outside the home. Some have done so to acquire needed income, yet others search for a meaningful occupation. Addressing a Women’s Society in 1938, Sayers says, “It is very well to say that woman’s place is in the home—but modern civilization has taken all of these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organized by men at the head of large factories” (“Are Women Human?” 32). Some of those traditional activities that required “head as well as hands” included “spinning, weaving, baking, brewing, distilling, perfumery, preserving, pickling . . . [and being] in command of her own domestic staff” (61-62). Thus, “the home contains much less of interesting activity than it used to contain” (32). In Sayers opinion, “It is perfectly idiotic to take away women’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones” (33) even outside the home. Yet, many mothers stay at home with their kids realizing that it is an important function and responsibility to train and raise them and it can be intellectually stimulating as well.
Although much meaningful work was transferred from the home to the factory as industry grew, Simmons says, “There are modifications [people] make to [their] activities and purchasing habits to restore some of that meaningful activity” (173). For example, instead of purchasing bread and products, one bakes bread and grows food. Also, “there seems to be a revival in recent years of home-based activity and industry” with the ability to telecommute, thanks to the technology of modems and the Internet (Simmons 176). Thus, potentially interesting work can be done at home, and parents who prefer to stay at home with their children have that option.
The value given to secular work has oscillated since the Reformation. Around 1800, the modern missionary movement started with an emphasis on evangelism and the “evangelistic mandate, but not so much the cultural mandate” (Wagner 37). By the end of the 1800s, the “social gospel” was promoted by liberals who went to the “extreme of advocating that [work of] transforming society was all that was necessary and that saving souls was an idea of the past” (37). Bible believing evangelicals reacted to this extreme by going to the other “extreme of rejecting social ministry [work] altogether” (37). In the 1950s and 1960s, Wagner was probably like many other evangelicals when he says, “I was of the persuasion that our task was to save souls, make disciples and multiply churches. Period” (37). In 1974, in Lausanne, Switzerland, the evangelical movement held the International Congress on World Evangelization. “Evangelicals began reconsidering the place of the cultural mandate alongside the evangelistic mandate within the total mission of the church . . . [though] subordinating the cultural mandate to the evangelistic mandate” (37). This was an important shift from an exclusively evangelistic emphasis that many evangelicals had. Thus, secular work was considered important too.
There are two extreme attitudes toward work prevalent in society today: making too little of work and making too much of work, which Pawson calls “immorality” and “idolatry,” respectively. Many view work as a necessary evil, something to be avoided, in order to maximize their leisure time. They want to make as much money as possible while working as little as possible. According to Pawson, this “attitude leads to other forms of immorality of the workplace” such as “the evasion of tax, calling in sick when you are not sick, [and] taking company property home as if it’s your own.” On the opposite extreme, others idolize work and derive their identity and security from their work. They will work long hours and sacrifice other important things such as their family, relationships, and church activities. The Biblical view of work can be seen between these two extremes.
Mark Greene believes that the greatest cultural challenge facing the church today is “SSD Syndrome,” that is the “sacred-secular divide,” “the pervasive belief that some parts of our life are not really important to God--work, school, leisure--but anything to do with prayer, church services, church-based activities is” (“The Great Divide”). With that thinking, holy people go into sacred work while less holy people do secular work and become second-class spiritual workers. Others believe there is no difference in God’s eyes between sacred and secular work, and thus there is no hierarchy of occupations, like full-time Christian work being more spiritual or pleasing to God than secular work. A.W. Tozer believes that all work can be just as sacred as that of a minister, because “it is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act” (127).
Despite verbally acknowledging that their purpose in life is to glorify God, most Christians struggle with the meaning of their ordinary work “in comparison with what they do on Sundays or in activities typically associated with the spiritual, the ministry-oriented, or the ‘eternally’ important” (Roseman). John Beckett in his book, Loving Monday, expresses his work attitude that is common to many Christians:
For years, I thought my involvement in business was a second-class endeavor—necessary to put bread on the table, but somehow less noble than the more sacred pursuits like being a minister or a missionary. The clear impression was that to truly serve God, one must leave business and go into “full-time Christian service.” Over the years, I have met countless other business people who feel the same way. (69)
Attitudes toward work in today’s society vary from hating work to loving work. Those who hate their work often see work as an evil necessity whose main purpose is to acquire money to afford leisure. Many people are aware they are underemployed—where their college degree does not serve them in the job market today (Mahaney). Ryken says that those who are underemployed are quite numerous and represents some of the most dissatisfied workers since they are too highly educated, or too physically able, for their jobs (56).
Current attitudes toward work, says Mahaney, can be seen in some humorous bumper stickers. For example, the phrase “I owe, I owe, so it’s off to work I go” indicates that people only work because they need to pay their bills; they work for materialism and the purchasing of possessions. If they win or inherit a large sum of money, then they would not work. Their purpose is not serving people through their work but making money to afford things and leisure opportunities. Several bumper stickers show people’s dissatisfaction with work and their desire for leisure including “Take this job and shove it,” and “Thank God it’s Friday,” and the phrase “A bad day at golf is better than a good day at work,” and the commercial where a man raises a beer in his leisure and says, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” A fulfilled life is said to be found in the context of leisure, not work. Work is seen as undesirable and unfulfilling, and people long for early retirement. A lottery winner may say, “I never have to work again,” as if that is the goal (Mahaney). Yet, Christians should not reflect these attitudes. There should be a distinct difference in the attitudes and motives and goals of Christians toward work. Work is not just about the paycheck, but it is about serving people and God, who instituted work.
Society and authors often refer to work as “paid employment.” While the Bible addresses this aspect of work, the Bible also uses words for work that encompass broader definitions that embrace dominion over nature, service to others, and all productive activity. Geldard defines work in this broader way as “the investment of one’s energy in dominion over nature and the service of others” (444). Stevens also defines work in a broader way as “purposeful activity involving mental, emotional or physical energy, or all three, whether remunerated or not” (107). As a result, businessmen, manual laborers, homemakers, volunteers offering services, and God are all individuals who work.
God was the first worker who created, designed, fashioned, engineered, molded, and crafted the entire universe. The Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The first two chapters of Genesis show God actively at work, creating all that exists, and His work is characterized as “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Yet God continues to work even after the initial week of creation. Paul acknowledges God in Christ as creator of all and that “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). The psalmist declares that God “who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). And Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). Thus, Paul Minear aptly says, “The God of the Bible is pre-eminently a worker” (44).
God’s activities associated with creating the heavens and the earth and all their hosts are described as His “work” (mela’khah) in Gen. 2:2. This same Hebrew word is used to describe man’s work in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:9-10), thus showing a connection. Throughout the Bible, God describes his initial and ongoing work using images from the world of human work. Robert J. Banks explores sixteen of these in his eight-chapter book, God the Worker, including God as composer and performer, metalworker and potter, garment maker and dresser, gardener and orchardist, farmer and winemaker, shepherd and pastoralist, tentmaker and camper, builder and architect. These images are very helpful in connecting one’s work on earth with the kind of work God does.
God, who works, created man in His image: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ . . . And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26-27). None of the other creatures were made in God’s image. Pope John Paul II says “Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish[es] man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work . . .” (5). With reference to other passages found later in the Bible, the image of God can refer to “righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24) and to beings that are “free, rational, capable of self-appreciation and self-expression, [and] capable of moral and spiritual understanding . . .” (Where We Stand 106). “While [Sayers] accepts that a case may be made for the divine image being found in the ‘immortal soul,’ ‘rationality,’ or ‘self-consciousness’ (all of these quite traditional locations of the Imago Dei), she argues that the author of Genesis had none of these in mind” (Harrison, 251-52). As Sayers mentions in The Mind of the Maker, the main thing known about God in the first 26 verses of Genesis chapter 1 is that God creates, and since verse 27 says man and woman are created in the image of God, then a main characteristic shared by God and humanity is that of being creative, which Sayers calls “the desire and the ability to make things” (22). Clearly mankind does not create things out of nothing, ex nihilo, like God does (Stuart 3). Explaining Sayers’ view, Harrison says, “God retains the capacity to bring into existence from non-existence, while humans can only order that which already possess being” (252). Thus, since creative work is part of God’s nature and character, creative work is also a part of man’s nature and character. Instead of focusing on a creative workmanship connection between God and man, Richardson prefers to focus on work as “a divine ordinance for human life” as shown “all through the Scriptures” (24).
In Gen. 1:28, God commanded Adam and Eve to “fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over” all living things. The words “subdue” and “rule” imply active work and, according to Doorey, “responsible dominion.” Mackenzie and Kirkland say this verse places a stewardship role upon humans who are called to work with God, to further His purposes. “Because of this, the value and significance of our work is directly related to how connected it is with God’s work” (19). The creation mandate to manage the earth’s resources and meet human needs is given in Gen. 1:28. This is further expressed in Gen. 2:15 as “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew word for “cultivate” or “till” is avadh, meaning to work or to serve, and the word “keep” means “taking pains ‘to care for’” (Gilbrant 340). Thus, man came into partnership with God: God planted the garden (Gen. 2:8), and man cultivated it (Gen. 2:15) (Sherman and Hendricks 82). In addition to working in and caring for the garden, man is given the enjoyable intellectual activity of naming the animals (Gen. 2:19). God made woman to help man in his God-given tasks (Gen. 2:18). Commenting on Gen. 2:15-19, “Adam was given work to do, such as cultivating, trimming and caring for the garden (otherwise the garden could have become a jungle). This work would be healthy and also a joy, thus, God made him a responsible being sharing in part of the work of taking care of God’s creation” (Horton 29). The mandate given to man was to share in God’s work and be His coworkers and partners, cooperating with God.
Prior to the Fall, work was enjoyable. To an extreme, French layman Ellul holds that Adam did not really work prior to the Fall, at least not in the current sense of the word: “rather he plays. All is given to him by God” (Mackenzie 57). Although most English versions translate Gen. 2:15 to say that man was put in the garden “to work it and take care of it,” Sailhamer prefers Cassuto’s translation “to worship and to obey” (45). In Hugenberger’s scholarly article on Genesis 2:15, he lists four arguments they use for such a translation; then he provides six detailed arguments against their translation and in favor of the traditional translation by analyzing Hebrew grammar and Biblical references (2-9). Although the nature of work was different prior to the Fall, the Bible shows that man was given responsibility for purposeful active work as a coworker with God.
In addition to the creation narratives affirming the call of God for man to work (Geldard 443), work is shown to be a divine ordinance in many other parts of the Scripture. The fourth commandment recognizes that man’s nature is to work; he is to work six days (Ex. 20:9) and rest on the seventh, and Ps. 104:23 recognizes that man works at his labor until evening. Proverbs is full of exhortations for diligent work and warnings against idleness: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6). Several New Testament Scriptures show work as a moral duty and reveal the attitude a Christian should have in their work: Col. 3:22-4:1; Eph. 6:5-9; 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9; and 1 Pet. 2:18-25. Thus, work is a divine ordinance and command.
As a result of man’s sin, work was distorted in the Fall. God declared in Gen. 3:17-19: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” Commenting on Gen. 3:17-19, Horton says, “God put a curse on the ground (not on Adam). What had been pleasant work would now become toil, often unrewarding, often difficult because of thorns and thistles” (39). The curse came upon the soil, the work field that man is to cultivate, but Goosen says it also affects all kinds of work—mental and physical as seen in Matt. 13:3-23, 24-30; Gal. 4:11; and Is. 43:24 (65-66). “In all work, manual, mental or spiritual, there is [now] an element of drudgery and monotony” (Oldham 50). When verse 19 says, “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” Harrison says, “suddenly, human survival comes to depend upon work and productivity” (255). Furthermore, God evicts man from the Garden of Eden, according to Gen. 3:23, “to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.” Clearly, man had to work hard after the Fall.
Some would contend that work is a result of the Fall and part of the curse. To substantiate this argument, some have argued that man did not really work prior to the fall, but played as Ellul says (Mackenzie 57), or he worshipped and obeyed as Sailhamer and Cassuto believe (Sailhamer 45). Therefore, according to Ellul, work is a consequence of the Fall (496) and thus has no intrinsic value and cannot be regarded as a vocation or a calling of God. Yet, almost all English versions and theologians properly translate the early Genesis verses to say that man was working prior to the Fall. According to Bystrom, “It is important to emphasize the dignity of work today because many believe Christianity teaches that it is the penalty for sin or God’s retaliation for our rebellion. . . . Most biblical exegetes acknowledge that work is not the legacy of the Fall, only its character as toil” (168, 172). Man worked prior to the Fall, and God continues to require man to work after the Fall, though the task became more difficult. Also, according to Kirkland, the Fall doesn’t change the Creation Mandate; instead, it adds to humans’ role as coworkers, and now mankind assists God in his redeeming work, which includes the restoration of creation to God’s original intention.
In spite of man’s rebellion, the divine ordinance for man to work still stands and will continue to stand to the end of history (Richardson 28-29). The fourth commandment about honoring the Sabbath also says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Ex. 20:9). Richardson says, “This text should not be taken in a woodenly literalistic way as a condemnation of the five-day week; but it does surely mean that an honest week’s work is every man’s duty” (29).
As centuries have passed, types of work have changed and made work a bit easier. Although a Utopia will not be established by means of technological or socio-political advances, Richardson says “It is not wrong to attempt by means of technological or other improvements to reduce the sheer drudgery of labour; surely the contrary is true, that it is our Christian duty to remove in any way we can ‘the curse of Adam’, to eradicate the ‘thorns and thistles’ and to wipe off the ‘sweat’ from the face of man” (28). Though the curse will not be fully removed until after Jesus returns, Christ’s death on the cross affects every area of life; because of His redemption, “work as a blessing prevails over work as a curse” (Isaac 186). Gordon Kirk says, “Work can be redeemed, even in the fallen world. Anything that helps us overcome the effects of the pain, the hardship, the difficulty, is part of this redemption. Work itself retains some of the quality of the curse, but the attitude of the worker [in Christ] can transform the work” (“Our Work”). Mahaney agrees that transforming one’s attitude will transform one’s job that may be boring and repetitious, and he says that one’s attitude is transformed by understanding the transcendent God who created people and His gift of work and His command to work and its purposes.
Many theologians would say that the purpose of life is to glorify God, in essence to please Him, for all things were created according to God’s will and for His pleasure and glory (Rev. 4:11). The Apostle Paul says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). For activity to be glorifying to God, it must be in obedience to either a command or request of God or at least not be immoral to God. Work has Biblical precedence as a divine command and ordinance for mankind (Gen. 1:26, 2:15, 3:23; Eph. 4:28, 6:5-7; Col. 3:23-24; etc.). Thus, work is an activity of life that is to be done for the purpose of glorifying and pleasing God. Rick Warren believes that everything including work can be done to the glory of God “By doing everything as if you were doing it for Jesus and by carrying on a continual conversation with him while you do it. . . . Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence” (67). For the Bible says to workers, “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17) and “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23). Furthermore Peter encourages people to work to glorify God, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 4:10-11). Although some activities and work would be morally unacceptable to God, such as stealing or prostitution, almost all work in society is legitimate in God’s eyes as it meets the needs of families and society or maintains His creation.
The Bible says that people are to work to meet personal needs. Paul says, in 1 Thess. 4:11-12, to work so as to “not be in any need,” and thus be able to purchase the necessities of life and to pay any bills consistently on time. Lee Smith warns, “Of course it is necessary to distinguish between actual needs and selfish desires. It is easy for us to fall to the temptation of materialism, greed and the selfish satisfaction of our appetites.” Laboring hard enables one to have money to pay for daily “bread” (Prov. 12:11) or meals (Prov. 16:26) and “not be a burden” to others (2 Thess. 3:7-8). To avoid poverty, one must labor (Prov. 14:23).
Another purpose for working is to meet the needs of one’s family. A person responsible for a household has an obligation to provide for them, thus the scriptures exhorting one to work to meet personal needs extends to meeting the family’s needs. In 1 Tim. 5:8, Paul says, “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” In Mark 7:11, Jesus says it is wrong for a man to set aside money to God, as a “Corban,” that is needed by his aged parents since God desires him to obey the commandment to honor father and mother (7:10). Also, 1 Tim. 3:3-4 says that it is important to be “free from the love of money” and to manage one’s household well. Those who have responsibility for a family are required to work for money to meet the needs of the family and not lavish it on himself; he must be a good manager of the limited money or resources for the well being of the whole family.
Working provides resources for one to help others in need. Paul encourages a person to labor “in order that he may have something to share with him who has need” (Eph. 4:28). While the Bible is not against a person prospering as a result of being successful at work, it does warn that wealth and riches should not be one’s goal or motive in working (1 Tim. 5:6-10; Prov. 23:4). Instead, one should be content with and enjoy God’s blessings and also share generously to those in need.
Society is dependent upon goods and services being exchanged by those who work. In God’s providence of sustaining creation (Is. 42:5-6; Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17; 2 Pet. 3:7; Matt. 6:33; Rom. 8:28), He meets the needs of society--Christians and non-Christians--as each person works in his/her particular field for the common good. Paul exhorts people to “do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:9-10). Paul strongly reprimands able-bodied Christian members of society who act like “busybodies” and refuse to work: “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10-12). According to Hillman, “There is value in secular work simply because it meets needs found in society. God created mankind with many different gifts and talents to serve the multifaceted needs of human beings” (Faith@Work 44). “Work in the Christian view is inseparable from service to our fellow-men,” for man lives in community and not in isolation and thus has responsibility for his neighbor (Oldham 51). To love one’s neighbor, as God requires, one must serve his neighbor through work. “Work has a Christian meaning only if the occupation is one by which society is truly served. . . . From the point of view of service to one’s fellows[,] manual and spiritual work are on the same level” (Oldham 51). Through work, God wants to meet the various needs of people, both physical and spiritual, both temporal and eternal. Even if the product of the work is temporal, those who benefit from it are eternal (Sherman and Hendricks 53). Stuart makes the point that human needs are also met indirectly by caring for God’s creation, and not raping the earth, as it is important for human survival (4-5). Christians should view their daily work of serving others in society as an expression of loving their neighbors, for love meets practical needs (Pawson; Hardy 174).
Prior to His ascension, Jesus gave the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). This task is facilitated by work in two ways: a means to make and give finances toward evangelism and a means of engaging in personal evangelism. First, work provides a means of making money to finance those in vocational ministry who spend their time preaching the gospel with little or no remuneration (Phil. 1:3-5; Phil. 4:15-16). Lee Smith says, “Compensating those who give their lives to evangelism and the spiritual nurture of Christians is clearly valid and expected in the New Testament” (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:3-14; Gal. 6:6; 3 John 5-8). A partnership forms in the holy work of spreading the gospel when gospel workers are supported by other workers. Freeing others for gospel work is a great reason to work, according to Davidson.
Second, work can be a means to evangelizing—both in action and in word. According to Mark Greene, “The workplace is the one place where Christians can’t avoid contact with non-Christians,” and it is the place where non-Christians can really see the difference that Christ makes in a Christian’s life over a period of twenty to fifty hours a week for several years (Thank God its Monday 15). According to 1 Thess. 4:12, work is a good testimony toward nonbelievers who expect believers to also support themselves and their own families by the work of their own hands. By honoring a boss and working hard for him, one can be a good witness for God (1 Tim. 6:1). Moreover, Paul says, “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:9-10). Performing work, and performing it well and with respect for the boss and coworkers, can be a good witness for Jesus. Yet, no action in itself can really be interpreted as a witness for Jesus without some measure of verbal witness.
Work can be seen as a platform for verbal evangelism; coworkers, customers, and clients are considered a mission field. It’s hard to be a good verbal witness for Christ if one is not already a good worker that has earned the respect of others. To have spiritual influence in the workplace, Peel and Larimore say Christians must demonstrate competence, character, and consideration prior to courageously engaging in wise communication (64-74). Christians should “always be ready” to give an answer to those who ask about their faith (1 Pet. 3:15).
Some authors caution against seeing the workplace “only” as a context of winning people to Christ, as if the work itself does not matter to God; life and work are broader than just evangelism, and work has intrinsic value (Sherman and Hendricks 66-72; Roseman). Why should working people receive the gospel? Many would say “to be saved and go to heaven.” Yet, according to Rayburn, God also desires the gospel to restore mankind to the spiritual condition that enables them to fulfill their original purpose as given in the Creation Mandate. Thus, the Great Commission does not replace the Creation Mandate; instead it enables mankind to fulfill the Creation Mandate (“Series Introduction: No. 3”).
Work is a gift from God and should bring personal fulfillment. Haywood takes this further saying, “Work is necessary for fulfillment” and “may be a basic right of a human being,” instead of a curse, since the institution of work preceded the Fall (299). Nevertheless, reality is that not everyone enjoys their work, nor is everyone using all the talents God gave them to perform the type of work they are doing. Due to the Fall, work is often frustrating and boring. Nevertheless, King Solomon says that work is a gift from God (Eccles. 2:24, 3:13, 5:18-19) and can be seen as good by putting work in its proper perspective. Lee Smith provides such a perspective: “Using our God-given abilities and opportunities to be useful and to accomplish tasks is rightly satisfying. Work meets needs for self-esteem and a sense of personal worth. There is a sense of satisfaction found in constructive work to meet our needs, help others and support the work of the ministry locally and globally.” Thus joy and satisfaction should come from working. Furthermore, Solomon says, “And I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot” (Eccles. 3:22).
For many there is an unconscious hierarchy of occupations that are more spiritual or more pleasing to God than others. Church ministry is clearly an important work for which some are designed. With consideration for the Protestant ethic that declared the “sanctity of all legitimate work in the world, no matter how common,” Ryken says, “no vocation, including church work, is regarded as more ‘spiritual’ or more pleasing to God than other types of work” (214). The Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney issued a resolution 50/95 stating that everyday work is just as valuable to God as vocational ministry:
This Synod recognizes, encourages and supports the roles of Godly men and women in their everyday work vocation - as distinct from ordained or full-time ministry - and affirms its belief that such work of service in and to the world, done in the name of the Lord Jesus and by God's enabling, is true and laudable service rendered to God Himself by those whose vocation and ministry it is, and is no less acceptable to Him than the Ministry of the Word.
Moreover, Wallis says that Larry Peabody’s book, Serving Christ in the Workplace, “proves that there is no scriptural authority for the belief that serving God in business is any less spiritual than serving God in full-time ministry” (8). According to Hillman, all occupations are equal: “The key is to be in the place where God has called you and to live for the glory of God in that place” (The 9 to 5 Window 20).
During the Medieval period, a vocation was seen exclusively as a divine call to religious work, or the monastic life. Against this background and in protest of it, Martin Luther formalized and popularized the concept of vocation in which there is no division in the eyes of God between sacred and secular positions or occupations and that God calls people to all kinds of tasks in the world (Ryken 76). To Luther, all work and all of life were considered a vocation, a calling from God to express faith and love in serving others. Anyone could have an occupation, but according to Luther, only Christians could have a vocation—spiritual work--that involved worshiping God and lovingly serving one’s neighbors for his sake (Haskins and Smith 13). Thus, for Luther, monastic work was evil since it did not lovingly serve others, only self (Wingren 2), but an executioner was not evil since it was a means of maintaining order in society (Friesen). Work was only good if it served neighbors, which thus served God (Lusk). Luther’s concept of vocation invested significance and dignity in everyday work (Higginson).
Later Reformers and Puritans believed in a double calling: a general calling to individual salvation and a particular calling to work. Ryken lists many examples of calling to salvation: 1 Tim. 6:12; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:9; Col. 3:15; and 1 Cor. 1:2 (192). The particular call involves serving neighbors with one’s gifts (Bryan). The call to a specific religious task or office has much Scriptural support: Is. 6:1-10; Amos 7:15; Num. 18:1-7; 2 Tim. 1:11; Acts 16:10; Eph. 4:11; and 1 Cor. 12:28 (Ryken 193). According to Anglican Church Dioceses of Sydney, the implication of 1 Cor. 7:20 is that a Christian man or woman should remain in their secular estate and current occupation unless God calls them to “a distinct apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic or teaching task,” which should not be entered into volitionally just because it may be seen as having a greater impact for salvation of others than one’s current work. All are called to share the Word and the gospel to others (Matt. 28:19-20), but some among Jesus’ disciples are called to do this kind of work full time; While on earth, Jesus “chose” certain individuals among a larger body of disciples to go out and preach (Mark 1:17, 2:14, 3:13; Luke 10:1; John 15:16)—not every beloved disciple was sent out. God clearly calls some to work in a career or task that is “specifically religious or church-related” (Ryken 193). However, there has been much disagreement over the centuries as to whether God calls people to other kinds of work and occupations, typically labeled as secular (193). Prior to the Reformation, only those who left their everyday work and entered church or monastery work were considered to have a calling from God or a vocation. The Reformation extended this concept of vocation to include all occupations and related activities (193).
Referencing the Greek word for calling, klēsis, found in 1 Cor. 7:20, the Reformers, Luther and Calvin, were the first to use the Latin term vocatio and the German term Beruf to express men’s everyday tasks and stations (Richardson 38). Luther interpreted klēsis as “one’s outer status or occupation” (Wingren 1). Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:20, “Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called.” The Reformers interpreted Paul’s words as referring to one’s external situation or condition, not one’s inner spiritual life, and thus “new Christians should not abandon their family situations or occupations” (Ryken 195). Some would say that this verse indicates that “Christians are to remain in the Christian life and that it has nothing to do with occupation,” yet Ryken disagrees and says that the context shows that “Paul is raising the issue of how conversion should affect one’s everyday life” (195). Gordon Fee comments, “The call to Christ has created such a change in one’s essential relationship (with God) that one does not need to seek change in other relationships (with people). These latter are transformed and given new meaning by the former” (307). Thus, for Luther, one did not need to leave his particular work upon receiving Christ to find work that would please God: “the order of stations in the earthy kingdom has been instituted by God himself as a way of seeing that the needs of humanity are met on a day-to-day basis” (Hardy 47). Serving neighbor was, in essence, serving God and pleasing to Him. In conclusion, according to Lee Smith, the implications of verses 1 Cor. 7:20 and 7:24 “are that every believer has a calling, not just those who are in vocational ‘full-time Christian ministry’ and that no calling is better or higher than another in the eyes of God.”
In opposition to Luther’s interpretation of vocation, klēsis, as “signifying one’s outer status or occupation” (Wingren 1), Richardson says, klēsis, or calling, in the New Testament “means God’s call to repentance and faith and to a life of fellowship and service in the Church” (35). To interpret calling in the way Luther does would mean that Paul used klēsis “in a sense used nowhere else in his or any other Greek writings” (P. Marshall 13). Additionally, Richardson says that the Bible does not record a person ever being “called to an earthly profession or trade by God”; instead, those whom God calls are to work within the Church and thus they become Christian workers regardless of their secular occupation (35). Richardson says that 1 Cor. 7:20 “does not bid the Christian to remain in the secular ‘calling’ (e.g., that of a slave) in which he was when he became a believer but to remain faithful to the calling of God” (36). According to Ellul, “Jesus never calls upon anyone to work. On the contrary, he constantly takes the men he calls away from their work, e.g., Peter, James, Levi, the man in the parable who wants to try out his oxen, and so forth” (496). Barth agrees (472). Ellul says that “the call of God . . . is always a summons to the specific service of God” such as a prophet or apostle or king (495). Additionally, “He is called to serve God by some exceptional act and without even realizing that he is doing it in God’s service, e.g. the king of Syria, the king of Assyria, or Cyrus” (495). Ellul denies that work is a vocation in the traditional sense of the word. For Ellul, work “offers the possibility of sustaining life, of upholding the world, and of a continuation of history. . . . And this is God’s will. At this level then, if at this level alone, we have vocation. God calls us to work (of any kind) in order to keep going this world which he has not yet decided to stop and judge” (506-07). In summary, many exegetes believe Luther misinterpreted 1 Cor. 7:20, the main text used to support his concept of vocation (Volf 109).
Yet, Luther’s idea of vocation belongs more to his “wider theological logic than to his specific interpretation” of 1 Cor. 7:17-24 (Cosden, Heavenly Good 41), and thus vocation is also expressed in the Bible through “the priesthood of all believers,” through references to God’s servants, and through providence, without using the term “calling.” The base for Luther’s doctrine of vocation lies strongly upon his theology of “the priesthood of all believers” in 1 Peter 2:9. Luther’s emphasis that all believers are priests unto God meant all Christians in all occupations held as high a spiritual office as a priest, bishop, or the pope (McGregor 4). Thus in God’s eyes, there is no difference in status between laity and clergy, between secular and sacred jobs, for all workers are called to minister unto God.
Ryken believes that “the Bible supports the idea that ordinary occupations and tasks are something to which God calls people, even though the phraseology is not always specifically that of calling” and gives the following as examples: Moses as leader in Ex. 3-4, David as king in Ps. 78:70-71, Saul as king in 1 Sam. 15:17, and Bezalel as craftsman and other occupations in Ex. 31:1-6 (194). Placher says that Col. 3:23 “does not use the word ‘call,’ but it certainly invites Christians to think of any task as work done in the Lord’s service” (5). According to Ryken, “An office or task does not have to be termed a calling in order to be regarded as such” (194).
In God’s providence, He bestows upon people aptitudes and then guides them into particular occupations in the world to ensure society is supplied with food, clothing, and shelter; Ryken says these are also “callings from God” (194). In the Reformed concept of work as vocation, “God Himself carries on his creative activity in this world” through the work people are called to do (Hardy xiv-xvii). “God’s providence is seen as the force that arranged circumstances in such a way that a person has a particular work. God also equips a person with the necessary talents and abilities to perform the work. In fact, the original Protestants made this one of the tests to know whether one was in the right calling” (Ryken 200). Thus, daily work has spiritual significance and dignity as the worker partners with God in caring for humans according to God’s providence.
From a historical and cultural context, until the mid-twentieth century, most people had a limited choice for a career (McGregor 6), and they usually entered the occupation of their parents to maintain stability in society. In Paul’s day, it appears some new Christians may have wanted to change their occupational status and other circumstances to serve the Lord better, but Luther insisted—upon the authority of Paul in 1 Cor. 7:20--that one did not have to leave their occupation to serve Christ. According to Pawson, “Provided that your job is not immoral or illegal, you are already in his calling; if He wants you to change jobs, He’ll tell you.” If a change of work is necessary, it should not be motivated out of selfishness but by the leading of the Lord, and thus the new work should be regarded as a calling of God as well. As a person matures in the Christian faith, he “may very well receive another calling to somewhere else” (Veith 162).
Calvin, like Luther, believed 1 Cor. 7:20 encouraged Christians to be content with their station in life and not to be eager to change their work situation without proper reason (Higginson). However, Calvin had a more dynamic view and felt that it was appropriate to change vocations to fully utilize one’s gifts and talents to serve others more effectively. The Puritans had a practical method for determining if a person was in the right calling—by checking “if God had clearly equipped him or her for the work” through gifts and talents and abilities (Haskins & Smith 14-15). The Puritans spoke of vocation in terms of gifts and service for church work and worldly work, yet Volf does not acknowledge this early historical aspect when presenting his “new” theology of work based on gifts for service instead of vocation.
Volf presents important critiques of Luther’s concept of vocation (107-09). Higginson summarizes Volf’s critiques into two main criticisms: First, Luther’s vocation does not address the problem of human alienation or the dehumanizing ways work is done, like assembly line work that is mindless and repetitive; Second, Luther’s vocation is too static in requiring workers to remain in their occupation, normally throughout a lifetime. In the first criticism, since many people hate their job, feel exploited, and are underpaid, they feel their work is dehumanizing and alienating and could not have originated from God as a calling (Oppenheimer). Surveying thirty-one Protestant and Catholic congregations, Davidson and Caddell found that workers who had more benefits, such as full-time employment, job security, and higher pay, were more inclined to think of their work as a calling (145). In the second criticism, Volf emphasizes that Paul was writing 1 Cor. 7:20 in the context of crisis with the thought that Jesus could return very soon; therefore, under these conditions, Paul recommends being content in their occupation as slaves or in their singleness (Higginson). Considering the current mobile society where most people do not keep a single job for a lifetime and normally switch jobs multiple times, a new view of work is needed that remains true to the Bible and to the real world. Volf desires to replace the concept of vocation with the concept of charism, or gift, since he believes it is more in line with the New Testament.
Ideally, work should utilize people’s gifts and talents given by God, especially if they are in God’s appointed work, though Scripture does not guarantee full use of gifts and talents in their work. For the Calvinists, vocation is derived from one’s gifts that are to be used for the benefit of neighbors. Thus, finding a station in life where these gifts and talents can be employed for neighbor’s benefit should be a priority for a Christian (Hardy 66). According to Sayers, work should encompass “the full expression of the worker’s faculties, . . . and [be] the medium in which he offers himself to God,” and then “work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do” (“Why Work?” 73). Furthermore, Sayers advocates the principle that “every man should do the work for which he is fitted by nature” (74) and not ask of employment “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?” (71). Thus, Sayers emphasizes an integrated life: By using the talents given by God, a “worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade—not outside it” (78). People will make their greatest contribution as they work in a field that “corresponds to the way God has designed [them]” (Sherman and Douglas 143).
Even though “nowhere in the New Testament does God send a special anointing on people for secular tasks” (Helweg) and even though “the New Testament passages about gifts and their exercise are restricted to discussions of the church” (Hardy 63), many believe these gifts can be used in the real work world. For many years Wagner believed that spiritual gifts were to be used within the context of the Body of Christ, or basically the local church and its outreach programs. Now, however, he believes they can be used in the marketplace (107). Silvoso explains that the spiritual gifts in Mark 16:17-18 “primarily [apply] to ministry in the marketplace” since the “entire world, the totality of creation, must be the focus of the mission entrusted to us, not just a church building or a gathering of believers” (34). Volf also “asserts that charisms (Spirit gifts) include more than ecclesiastical activities” and gives as examples the gift of evangelist (Eph. 4:11) and the gift of giving to the poor (122). Volf reasons that the church is currently in the “age of the eschatological Spirit”; therefore, Spirit enablement for skillful work is the inheritance of all believers, which was only given occasionally in the Old Testament, as for Bezalel and David (Ex. 31:2-3; 1 Chron. 28:11-12) (122).
According to Hillman, the five-fold gifts of Ephesians 4:11-13 does not apply only to full-time vocational ministers. “Nowhere does the scripture indicate that these gifts and callings are vocational. The five-fold gifts operate in the workplace to prepare God’s people. We need to see all of these gifts and callings operational in the workplace” (Are You a Biblical Worker? 7). Hammon makes the following comparisons: apostles are like founders, prophets are like strategists, evangelists are like sales managers, teachers are like trainers, and pastors are like local business managers (269-70). Some ministry leaders have been calling for a restoration of the apostolic and prophetic offices for today, with an emphasis on the need for marketplace apostles, whom Wagner characterizes as having “extraordinary authority” in comparison to others in the body of Christ (117). Taken to a further extreme, some ministry leaders would say that societal transformation is limited in effectiveness until workplace apostles are set in place and properly recognized (Wagner 111-12, 163; Marshall with Walker 70; Hillman, The 9 to 5 Window 147; Hammon 251; Brook 180-81). Yet, the Assemblies of God--representative of many other Christian groups with similar views on this topic—builds a case and declares, “Since the New Testament does not provide guidance for the appointment of future apostles, such contemporary offices are not essential to the health and growth of the church nor its apostolic nature” (Where We Stand 294-95). Many groups do not recognize contemporary offices of apostle and prophet of Eph. 4:11; however, many would acknowledge that believers do “exercise the ministry function of apostles and prophets” (298). Most groups would not object to believers functioning as an apostle in the sense of establishing new churches or works in unreached areas and most Pentecostals and Charismatics do not object to the ongoing gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1), especially when it is used to encourage or comfort (1 Cor. 14:3) (298).
Volf is in favor of replacing the concept of work as a vocation with the concept of work as a charism, or gift (Oppenheimer). A weakness of Luther’s concept of vocation is that working people are trapped in the station or work they are in because it is their vocation, or calling from God. By associating “calling” with gifts instead of a static occupation, there is no issue with changing jobs or careers since one’s gifts of the Spirit can still be used faithfully in accordance with one’s calling. Even when unemployed, people could still use their gifts to serve family, society, and volunteer groups (Zabocki).
According to Hillman, the biggest temptation for a successful workplace minister is pride. Workers should never forget that “God gives us the skill, the intelligence, the resources, the energy, the drive and the opportunities to accomplish something” (The 9 to 5 Window 134). Deut. 8:17 warns, “You may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth,’” but one should never forget that it is God who gives the power to produce wealth (8:18). If one prospers from the work of their hands, it is ultimately due to the blessing of the Lord (Deut. 16:15, 24:19, 28:12; Ps. 90:17).
Scriptures are clear in stating that laziness and idleness are sins (Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10-13; Prov. 21:25), and Christians have a responsibility to warn, rebuke, and instruct those who are unruly, idle, or lazy (1 Thess. 5:14). It was sinful or “folly” to be idle between daybreak and sunset (Richardson 53). According to Pawson, since laziness is a sin, “then unemployment is an evil and Christians should be fighting unemployment” since it is a “dehumanizing experience” for a person to be out of work who wants to work. Almost one out of every twenty proverbs between 10:1 and 22:6 deal with the problem of laziness or the virtue of diligence—eighteen proverbs in all (Hohne and Payne). Some Scriptures that contrast those who are lazy and sluggards with those who are desirably diligent include: Prov. 6:6-11, 10:4, 12:24, 12:27, 13:4.
A Christian’s work is to be characterized by diligence and excellence. Writing in the first century in a culture where approximately 60 million people, or one-third of the population of the Roman Empire, were slaves (Rossier 165), the Apostle Paul references these servants or workers using the Greek word douloi. According to Richardson, “’Workers’ is perhaps the best modern rendering of douloi, even though it does not carry with it the suggestion of being tied to one’s occupation and to one’s employer” (41). Paul writes:
[Workers], in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external [eye-pleasing] service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Col. 3:22-24)
Paul reiterates this same message in the parallel passage of Eph. 6:5-8. To Pawson, the worst job in the world is being a slave, “with no pay, no free time,” “no hope of changing jobs” or “advancing their career.” Yet, Paul addresses them and all workers saying to work whole heartily because Jesus is their boss now. With ultimate respect for the Lord, Christians who work “heartily” unto Him will be inevitably working with diligence and excellence.
With reference to working “whole-heartedly to the Lord” in Col. 3:23-24, Andy Stanley says that from God’s perspective, “What you do is not as important as how you do it.” Too often people are focusing on where they can work next and how much they can make there, but God is interested in how a person works in the job they currently have and whether they work whole-heartedly and with diligence. Stanley asks a few probing questions, “What would it look like tomorrow if you went to work and for one day you decided to do your work for the Lord and not for [your human boss]? What would it look like if you did your work with all your heart for the Lord? What would you have to change?” To get some specific thoughts in the minds of his listeners, Stanley poses further questions to help determine areas needed for change, “What wouldn’t you say? What would you do? Where wouldn’t you go? What would happen at lunch? What time would you get there? How quickly would you respond?” Stanley advises people to pray for help in working hard today in whatever place they are and to pray for help in leaving the thought of a job promotion or a career change to God, for God will be pleased and also bless a person who works whole-heartedly and diligently unto Him.
Paul says to workers, don’t be an eye-pleaser (Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:22). Kirk says an eye-pleaser is one who gives “minimum performance, unless someone is watching.” Kirk exhorts, “Don’t work hard only when your boss is watching and then slack off when she or he isn’t looking. Work hard and with passion all the time, as if you’re working for Christ.” True character is shown in what people do when they think no one else is looking (“Encouragement to Employees”). Furthermore, Eccles. 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might” and 2 Tim. 2:15 encourages workman to “be diligent.” Proverbs indicates that diligence in work is a great virtue (16:3; 23:4; 31:10-31). Closely tied to diligence is excellence, for work done with diligence unto the Lord is often done with excellence.
God does all things with excellence (Gen. 1-2; Ps. 8; Ps. 150:2) and it matters to Him that people also do their work with excellence (Col. 3:23-24; Eccles. 9:10; Heb. 11:4; 1 Cor. 12:31; Prov. 22:29; Dan. 6:3). Bezalel is described in Ex. 31:1-6 as a man filled with the Spirit of God who did excellent work for God. In the same manner, Christians ought to do all their work with excellence as the Spirit of God certainly resides and operates in them. Daniel and his friends also did work with excellence to such an extent that the king exclaimed that they were ten times better than all others (Dan. 1:19-20). Daniel had distinguished himself with exceptional qualities and attitudes yet he would not compromise with idolatry (Dan. 6:1-3). Joseph was an excellent worker with a great attitude, yet he would not compromise with immorality, and God promoted him. An excellent attitude is desired (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:23-24). Excellence takes hard work.
Hillman makes a good point in The 9 to 5 Window of why it is necessary to work with excellence in serving others:
One of the easiest ways to discredit Christ in the workplace is for Christians to do inferior work. In order to earn respect, our work should stand apart because we do our work unto the Lord (see Col. 3:17). Doing quality work will not be the primary means of winning others to Christ, but doing poor-quality work can disqualify us very quickly from ever having the opportunity to present Christ in a positive light. (52)
“Work well done, whether that of rulers of that of slaves, is service rendered to God; and this is true of the work of Christians and non-Christians alike. The difference between the two is that Christians are aware of this truth, and they will accordingly strive to work more diligently and more faithfully—‘as unto the Lord’” (Richardson 64). The Lord himself will reward workers with an inheritance in His new creation when they work faithfully and passionately unto Him (Col. 3:24) with excellence. The worker can be filled with joy in knowing he is serving Christ.
Work is redeemed for the Christian and changed from drudgery to joy. “When a man turns to Christ in repentance and faith, his whole life is sanctified, including his life as a worker. What had formerly been done as sheer necessity, or perhaps out of a sense of duty, or even as a means of self-expression and fulfillment, is now done ‘unto the Lord’, and becomes joyous and free service and the source of deep satisfaction” (Richardson 49). Scriptures say that a Christian should be joyful in all circumstances of life (Phil. 4:4) including their work (Eccles. 3:22).
From a basis of joy, a Christian strengthened by Christ can be content with their work-- instead of complaining--by imitating the attitude exhibited by Paul (Phil. 4:11-12) and by not striving for an abundance of wealth (2 Tim. 6:6-8; Prov. 23:4). Recognizing one’s vocation, or call of God to a work or task, helps a person accept the drudgery of one’s work or task more easily. Acknowledging God’s providence, the Reformers stressed that Scripture encourages contentment in one’s work arena in which one has been called by God (1 Cor. 7:20) as all legitimate work can be done unto Christ. If God wants to change a person’s work, God can lead and guide that person as such. Also, while it is important to have goals in work-life, Lee Smith says, contentment comes as people “realize that none of us ever accomplishes all that we desire and then accept that reality.”
Workers are to be submissive and obedient to their bosses (Col. 3:22; Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18-25), faithful to their assignments (Prov. 25:13), trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:2) and honest--not one to steal (Titus 2:10), respectful of their bosses (1 Tim. 6:1-2) and not argumentative with them (Titus 2:9). Kirk describes an obedient worker as one who exhibits a “can do” attitude even when given a tough responsibility (“Encouragement to Employees”). While not approving of slavery, Paul reminds Christians that they will receive a permanent reward from Jesus if they are working for His glory (Col. 3:24). The difficulties that a Christian experiences in work during their brief time on earth will be eclipsed by their eternal reward to come (Col. 3:24; Eph. 6:8; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; Rossier 279).
Scripture opposes employers who “oppress the wage earner in his wages” (Mal. 3:5). Schultz comments on these “defrauders” saying, “They were people who cheated hired workers by paying less than the agreed-upon wage, or by paying a nonliving wage to people who were so desperate that they would work for any price” (631). Employers were not to delay payment to workers, but were to pay on schedule as expected so that the employees could buy their daily necessities (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14-15; James 5:4). Even the Apostle Paul took issue with the Corinthian church for not providing material compensation for his spiritual ministry to them, yet all workers are worthy of compensation (1 Cor. 9:6-12). Jesus said, a “laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7), and thus employers are to give a fair wage to their workers (Col. 4:1) and treat their employees justly (Col. 4:1; Eph. 6:9) and in the same way they would like to be treated, for employers have a boss in heaven as a follower of Jesus (Eph. 6:9).
A workaholic is a person who works too much, perhaps compulsively, and often sees leisure as unnecessary. Determining if one is working too much varies according to cultures and situations but should be considered against the negative effects of long hours (Table 1) and the neglect of other necessary priorities. Although a 40-hour workweek may be a norm in today’s society, in an agrarian economy during Biblical times, six days of work could equate to an 80-hour week (Sherman and Hendricks 207). According to Mahaney, workaholics “neglect the more important matters and priorities such as family, relationships, [and] involvement in the church.” For some, work has become an idol. Bernbaum and Steer explain this further:
Scripture often defines such idolatry as an excessive concern for acquiring material possessions. The vanity of accumulating wealth (see Eccles. 2:4-11; 5:10) is a manifestation of idolizing work. In our own day this aspect of idolatry is coupled with the assessment of a person’s social status on the basis of that person’s job. This in turn cultivates attitudes of pride, envy, and insecurity. (3)
People often ask a new acquaintance the question “What do you do for a living?” In Western culture in particular, this common question shows the priority and preoccupation people have with a person’s job or career: “one’s profession has become a primary criteria for assessing the worth and value of an individual. ‘You are what you do’ is a common phrase. . . . This is not a Biblical criteria for personal value or worth” (Mahaney). Yet many people feel prideful or worthless depending upon the kind of work they do and how society values that kind of work. In some areas, being a housewife or a stay-at-home mom is looked down upon in comparison to being an important professional who makes money. For others, if they lose their job, they feel they have no value anymore and don’t know who they are—they have drawn their identity and security from what they do. Mahaney explains where one should find their identity:
We find our identity as Christians and our security in the character of God and the person of Jesus Christ and His finished work on our behalf. We find our identity and security in the fact that we have been made in the image of God . . . that we have been relationally reconciled to God through what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf on the cross.
For Pawson, a Christian’s identity is found in being a child of God by adoption.
The highest value in life should be a person’s relationship with God and the identity this gives them in being God’s children and new creatures in Christ (Bryan). According to Ryken, the most important thing in life is not work but faithfulness to God (192). God is to be our master, not our work or money (Matt. 6:24). Matt. 6:33 says to “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.” According to Lee Smith, “If our work gets between us and our relationship with God, our relationship with our spouse and children, or our willingness to serve Christ and His church, it has become an idol. This is a constant temptation many people face, since traditionally hard work has been commended in the Christian community. Knowing where the line is between diligence and an idolatrous compulsion to work is not always easy to distinguish.” However, Mahaney says it is possible to pursue excellence in a career and “have a profession without it becoming an obsession.” To accomplish this, balance in life is needed.
To implement a balanced life, Pat Gelsinger advises people to set a personal mission statement based on one’s values and suggests that the highest value or priority should be God, followed by family, followed by one’s work (121-22). Similarly, Engstrom and Juro give three broad levels of priorities: first, commitment to God in Christ; second, commitment to the Body of Christ--the church, encompassing possibly a spouse, then immediate family, then extended family; and third, commitment to work in the world (198-99). With these priorities as a basis, to get out of the “work trap” they say that goals need to be set or readjusted such as reading God’s Word and praying, spending quality time with family, spending time in church, spending time in leisure, serving others in some kind of need, planning goals each week, and serving diligently at one’s job (192-95). A workaholic often misses or simply does not enjoy special moments that cannot be repeated—celebrating an anniversary, a birth, a birthday, a child’s baseball game, etc. —but “one of the special privileges in life is spending precious moments with those who love us dearly, our spouses, children, close friends” (203).
God Himself rested after working six days (Gen. 2:2), thus forming an example for man to follow (Ex. 20:11). The fourth commandment says to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8) and not do any work on that day (Ex. 20:10) but “rest” (Deut. 5:14). Additionally, Ryken says that God rested after each individual day of creation, as He “contemplated and (we infer) enjoyed what he had created, pronouncing it ‘good’” (165). God has given mankind regular rhythms of work/rest: working during the day and resting at night; working six days of the week and having a Sabbath rest on the seventh, to recuperate one’s body and mind and to realign with the Creator and His Creation (Mackenzie and Kirkland 60). In the Old Testament, God had also given other rest days for annual feasts. Rest from work is different than leisure.
Leisure, according to Ryken, encompasses three aspects: “time free from constraints of obligation or necessity”; activities regarded as leisure; and a sense of satisfaction, enrichment, or celebration. Mackenzie and Kirkland distinguish between rest and leisure saying that rest is the Biblical opposite of work, whereas leisure “has as its goal personal enjoyment—which may well be a by-product of rest, but not its purpose” (53). For example, one may visit theme parks in one’s leisure and have fun and yet not be rested by the activities. Restful activities are necessary and may include such reading, walking, praying, or gardening; but there is nothing wrong with enjoying leisure activities in moderation. According to Ryken, “The accounts that the Bible gives us of God’s creation of the world and Jesus’ life and personality suggest that God is playful as well as serious. And if he made a world in which Wisdom and Leviathan can play [Prov. 8:30-31; Ps. 104:26], his human creatures may do the same” (171).
Sayers observes that people too often try to rush through their workday or workweek in anticipation of their leisure, yet leisure should be looked upon “as the period of changed rhythm that refresh[es] us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work” (“Why Work?” 75). Richardson says, “The hours of daylight were the hours of labour for all workers (cf. Ps. 104:22f.; John 9:4), whose only leisure-time was during the hours of darkness. The general standpoint of the Bible is that it is ‘folly’ (i.e., sinful) to be idle between daybreak and sunset. A six- or an eight-hour day was not [envisioned],” thus, Richardson says not much guidance is given in the Bible on how to use leisure (53); Ryken disagrees and reasons from the Bible for leisure (189). Rest will also be a facet of eternal life (Rev. 14:13).
Retiring from paid work is especially acceptable for older people who are no longer able to adequately perform the duties of one’s paid work—in which case it is ethically appropriate to retire. Rayburn says Eccles. 12:1-5 gives a realistic description of old age and its consequences and uses 1 Tim. 5:4 to show that there are stages of life, with an implication that retirement is one of those stages where parents no longer have paid employment (“Retirement”). Retirement should not be for the purpose of self-indulgence or play, for this is difficult to justify Biblically, but retirement may properly produce self-fulfillment (Rayburn “Retirement”). Retirement should enable one the freedom for other kinds of service. Regardless of whether one works for money or not or is retired, one should always be serving God and people, as an appropriate obligation, for as long as one is physically and mentally able. Thus, while it is acceptable to retire from work including vocational ministry, one is not permitted to retire from serving Christ and His people, for Christ’s sake (L. Smith). Although the Bible does not speak of an age in which to retire, there is one exception to this given to the Levites and priests to retire from their particular functions at the age of 50 (Num. 4:3, 23). The implication from this verse is that there may be appropriate age limits set for some kinds of work, like pilots, due to physical or mental limitations that come with old age. Thus, while it may be permissible for some companies to insist on retirement at a particular age for appropriate reasons, for a person who is willing and able to perform one’s work functions, there is no Biblical requirement for mandatory retirement at a particular age. Once retired, a whole new world of enjoyable service begins.
God is in the process of redeeming not just souls but all of creation. As Mackenzie and Kirkland say, “He intends to transform and redeem everything and everyone—all that he brought into being” (28) as mentioned in Paul’s letters to the Romans (8:18-23), Ephesians (1:9-12), and the Colossians (1:15-20). An overall theme in Colossians, according to Lusk, is the preeminence of Christ and that God is reconciling all things to Himself through Jesus (Col. 1:20), and the latter part of the letter shows some of the areas to be reconciled: husbands and wives (3:18-19), children and parents (3:20-21), employees and employers (3:22-25, 4:1). God has committed Himself to saving the whole creation and is interested in working toward that end even now (Lusk). Thus, man cooperates in God’s work when he helps to redeem and transform creation. “Everything we do to counter or reverse the effects of the Fall is a participation in God’s redeeming and transforming work and looks forward to the completion of that work” (Mackenzie and Kirkland 28). Whether man’s work is viewed as helping to form the “final” Kingdom or not is influenced by one’s view of the goodness of the current world, eschatology, and the new earth to come.
If one views the world as good, then the potential exists for man to achieve dominion by working hard and ruling and subduing the earth as was originally commanded. Psalms 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Additionally, a good world opens the possibility of helping to establish the final Kingdom on this earth through human work. Alternatively, others view the earth as Adam’s fallen world and thus people will never be able to fully rule and subdue the earth and achieve dominion as Adam was commanded (Hohne and Payne). Not even the great and wise King Solomon could fully exercise dominion in a lasting way, as he also lived under the curse in a fallen creation under judgment. Solomon describes work as frustrating and futile, though it is a gift that can be enjoyed as well (Hohne and Payne). In its present condition, the world does not seem conducive for man to build gradually the final Kingdom without revolutionary changes accompanying the dramatic return of Christ.
Christian missions has as “its purpose to transform reality around it,” according to missions expert David Bosch (xv). Depending upon one’s view of eschatology, the object emphasized for “transforming” varies: premillennialists emphasize saving the individual soul—focusing on the personal--transforming the individual; and postmillennialists emphasize saving society—focusing on the social--transforming society (Miller, God at Work 24-25). Theologians have developed three main eschatological views: a-millennialism, supported mostly by historic Protestants and Catholics; post-millennialism, supported by some Evangelicals and Charismatics, mainline and liberal Protestants, and ecumenical groups such as National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches; and pre-millennialism, supported by most Baptists, Holiness groups, and Pentecostals along with conservative Evangelicals (Hammon 410; Bosch 315; Miller, God at Work 26). Most premillennialists “saw little hope for society before Christ returned to set up his kingdom” (Bosch 318); therefore the Social Gospel and social transformation seemed futile and unwarranted. Their emphasis has been on personal salvation and often includes transformation of personal behaviors. “Post-millennialists believe that the Saints, empowered by the Holy Spirit, will bring in the great harvest and build the Kingdom, preparing the way for Jesus’ glorious return” (Hammon 227).
According to Miller, premillenialists have increasingly “moved toward a hybrid position, gradually accepting the importance of saving society, as well as souls” (God at Work 41). Evangelicals have had to struggle between the two biblical mandates of evangelization in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) and social concern in the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39). While evangelization has had priority over the years, consensus has been reached at the 1974 Lausanne conference and ultimately at the 1983 Word Evangelical Fellowship for Evangelicals to include both evangelism and social transformation in its church mission statement (Miller 42). Thus, humans participate in God’s work as they serve both souls and society. Most within the differing millennial views “believe that God will establish a new Earth surrounded by Heaven where the Saints will work, rule and live with Christ forever [Isa. 65:17-25]” (Hammon 227).
Scripture is clear that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1; 2 Pet. 3:13; Is. 65:17, 66:22), but there are two theories as to how this will come about. Walvoord holds that “the present earth and heaven are destroyed and will be replaced by the new heaven and new earth” (305) by an “act of new creation” and not by renovation (311). J. D. Pentecost also holds this view (561). The alternative theory, held by Hoyt, is that God will form a new heaven and earth by a “change or rearrangement” of materials in the present heaven and earth (224). Criswell also holds this view and says “this earth is our home forever and forever into the ages of ages” (106), since the new heaven and new earth will be the same heaven and earth as now but will be “redeemed,” “regenerated,” “renovated” (106-07), “remade, washed, cleansed and purified” (112). Analogous to the previous findings, McDearmid says, “The scholars I have consulted are about equally divided between the two theories” (181).
Whether or not the current earth will remain throughout eternity is crucial in the thinking of recent theological developments concerning work by Volf, Goosen, and Cosden, who argue that work has eternal value as a means of establishing the new creation. “If the world will be annihilated and a new one created ex nihilo, then mundane work has only earthly significance,” according to Volf, and “human work is devoid of direct ultimate significance” (89). Instead, Volf argues for the eschatological transformation of the world, where many human works will be “cleansed from impurity, perfected, and transfigured to become a part of God’s new creation” (91). Goosen reiterates, “Positive and redeemed work will continue into eternity (not just any work)” (75).
In addition to the immaterial soul being redeemed, so will material bodies and the physical creation, as a corollary to the Incarnation that established the goodness and importance of material creation (Roseman). According to Goosen, “Just as the material world shared in man’s Fall, so too it is called to participate in the new heaven and new earth” (74). Creation groans in anticipation (Rom 8:22) of being reconciled and transformed (Col. 1:20) into the new creation. According to Volf and his graduate school mentor Jürgen Moltmann, the new creation should always be the concern of the Christian faith that is insistently eschatological (Oppenheimer).
Cosden in The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work strongly believes that all work and the things produced by work “can be transformed and carried over by God into heaven” (2). Furthermore, “Ordinary work affects and in some ways actually adds to (though it does not cause, determine or bring about) the ultimate shape of eternity--the new creation” (2). According to Cosden, Christians should value what God values, which are those things that He will save eternally (33). Arguing on the basis of Jesus’ Resurrection, Cosden says that, in addition to people, human work and the material creation are to be part of God’s salvation (53). Some may feel that work is exerted and then gone for ever, but just as “God can raise and transform the dead,” he can also “raise and transform all present and even past (decayed and gone) earthly realities” from work, which he then purifies and integrates into the fabric of the new creation (114-15). Thus, a transformational view of creation is required for the theologies presented by Volf, Goosen, and Cosden; if the old earth is destroyed and the new earth is created “from nothing,” as in the annihilationist view, then the notion of work having a contribution in the new creation becomes invalid.
Although there is a sense in which work ends when this life ends (Rev. 14:13, John 9:4), there will also be work in eternity, described as serving (Rev. 22:3) and reigning (Rev. 22:5). The tasks for which God assigns in eternity will not have the toilsome effects of the Fall as the curse will be removed (Rev. 22:3). Kirk believes work in eternity will be like it was prior to the Fall and illustrates this future work as being like a fun hobby that one enjoys doing (“Our Work”). According to Goosen, “There are no images in the Bible to suggest a heaven of glorious immobility,” an idea influenced by Greeks whose idea of a perfect state is “immobile, unchangeable, and static” (75). The most frequent image for heaven is that of a wedding feast, which is not a passive event but a joyous celebration (75). Heaven will have a perfect balance of contemplation and activity. Although Biblical descriptions of eternity are scarce, there are enough pictures “to excite anticipation for this glorious future” (Hoyt 241).
Because of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, a curse was placed upon the earth by God (Gen. 3:17-18), but in eternity there will “no longer be any curse” (Rev. 22:3). To remove the remnants of the curse, God will purge the existing heavens and earth (2 Pet. 3:10, 12; Rev. 21:1) and create a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13), which is the “final preparatory act anticipating the eternal kingdom of God” (Pentecost 561). “This passing of the present earth is anticipated in a number of passages (Matt. 24:35; Heb. 1:10-12; Rev. 20:11)” (Pentecost 552). Dave Hunt believes that endless life will reside not on earth but in heaven (305) which he describes as “a new universe of absolute perfection” (307) or of “bliss” (308). However, since Jesus Christ will be dwelling among His people in eternity (Rev. 21:2-3; John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:16-17), Pentecost concludes that “the eternal abode of the church” will be “in the new earth, in that heavenly city, New Jerusalem” (562).
Pentecost says, “Our occupation in the eternal state will not be with our position or glory but with God, Himself” (582). Just as work was part of paradise in Genesis—not idleness, Mahaney emphasizes, “Eternal life is not going to be eternal idleness. . . . It will not be boring, it will not be repetitious, and it will not involve idleness. There will be a work involved because it is part of the character and nature of God as a creator and because God works and because we are made in His image, we will want to work too!” According to Criswell, “Every indication points to our increasing responsibilities in a New Jerusalem” and gives an example of the parable of the pounds where the Lord blessed faithful men and placed them in authority over cities (132). Moreover, “In that celestial civilization each man shall have his place according to his faithfulness in this world and in this life” (132). Commenting on Jesus’ servants who serve Him in Rev. 22:3, Walvoord says “This is a picture of blessedness in service rather than of arduous toil” (331). Hoyt says that “the attitude of worship will permeate every aspect of activity and employment” (241). Hoyt mentions three areas of responsibility and development engaged in by the redeemed: “the area of administration requiring the exercise of wisdom” (Rev. 22:5), “the area of exploration requiring the gift of investigative curiosity (Rev. 21:24, 26),” and “the area of creative and productive” (242). Regardless of the kind of activities assigned, the tasks will surely bring great fulfillment and happiness to the worker.
Robert Barnett has identified several complementary models that summarize a theology of work. In the Lutheran Vocational Model, God providentially cares for humanity by placing people in a particular vocation throughout society to serve one another with their talents. In the Reformed Vocational Model, God is seen as providentially caring for creation through each person’s work, but work also involves a worshipful attitude and a context for sanctification where work transforms the worker. In the Trinitarian Model, the work of each person of the Trinity is used as an analogy of how human work should be done. For example, the Trinity engages in distinctive personal work, cooperative work, egalitarian work, and self-giving and loving work. In the Charismatic Model, emphasis is placed on work that uses one’s Charisma, or spiritual gifts, talents and abilities, to accomplish God’s purposes of transforming culture. In the Ontological Model, work is seen as an end in itself since it has value to a God who Himself is a worker, and work is also seen as an instrumental means to an end in providing money for the worker and services to society along with personal fulfillment. In the Roman Catholic Collaborative Model, all work is seen to have some measure of toil and difficulty and has an objective meaning in which ordinary activities and work contribute to God’s work and has a subjective meaning in which men and women can realize their humanity (1-7).
Ringma gives the three approaches to a theology of work identified by the French Jesuit, Joseph Thomas: the penitential, the creationist, and the eschatological. For the penitential, work is a curse for original sin and seen as suffering that must be endured. For the creationist, work is seen as the result of the Genesis mandate to subdue the earth (Gen 1:26-28) and to cultivate and care for it (Gen. 2:15). “Man’s work is thus seen as cooperation with God in the continuing act of creation and dominating matter” (Goosen 67). In the eschatological, work is seen as “the outpouring of human activity in the journey towards God's final kingdom” (Ringma). Moreover, people “see a direct link between this world and the world to come” and thus some work will have “an echo” in the world to come (Goosen 69).
A good Christian theology of work emphasizes key theological categories, according to Roseman, and must rest on a “three-legged stool”: the theology of creation, the theology of anthropology, and the theology of the Incarnation. In a theology of creation, God is seen as a worker in Gen. 1-2 and creates man to also work. Even before the Fall, God gave man work to do in having dominion over creation and in being a steward over the limited earthly resources to meet the needs of people. God continues to work by sustaining creation, and people participate through their own work in God’s continuing work. In the theology of anthropology, emphasis is placed on the Imago Dei, or the Image of God in man (Gen. 1:26-27) and the common nature to work. In the theology of the Incarnation, emphasis is on showing the significance of God taking on human form (John 1:14) and thus confirming again “the goodness and importance of His material creation.” This suggests that God will redeem all of creation and not just immaterial souls and thus people should work toward the transformation of creation (10-15).
David Miller found that there are four different ways to integrate faith and work, which he calls the “Integration Box” model or framework, consisting of the Four E’s: ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment (God at Work 126-42). Miller summarizes these: Ethics, where faith is used as a moral foundation and as a source of guidance for ethical issues; Experience, where work takes on intrinsic meaning and purpose as it is seen as a calling; Enrichment, where spiritual disciplines help ground a person in their stressful work situations using prayer or devotionals for encouragement; Evangelism, where witnessing to others in the workplace is emphasized in accordance with the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) (“Sunday-Monday Gap”). Miller’s four categories illustrate the main approaches taken by different individuals and groups within the Faith at Work movement (God at Work 11).
The Faith at Work movement is predominantly Christian-based and helps “people integrate the claims of their faith with the demands of their work” (Miller “Sunday-Monday Gap”). Different aspects of a theology of work are incorporated practically in the movement as a whole. Some leaders within the movement emphasize work as a divine calling to ministry, others emphasize the Great Commission of witnessing and making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), others emphasize the Creation Mandate to care for God’s creation (Gen. 1:26), others emphasize the intrinsic value of everyday work (Col. 3:12), and others emphasize economic justice for the oppressed (Deut. 24:14-15) (McLoughlin, “A New Way to Work”). From a broader perspective, the movement emphasizes “activity around the issue of every believer being a minister in every place all the time,” which includes witnessing and serving others in word and deed in the workplace as well as working with excellence unto Christ for the glory of God (Hammond, “Faith at Work”).
The Faith at Work movement is sometimes known by various other names such as Marketplace movement, Marketplace Ministry, Workplace Ministry, Ministry in Daily Life, Work-Life Ministry, and Faith and Work movement. Some other names emphasizing spirituality have been used such as Workplace Spirituality, Spirituality at Work, Spirituality of Work, and Spirituality in the Workplace; however, these terms are normally used by the Workplace Spirituality movement that has bloomed since the late 1990’s and it incorporates a broader faith perspective than just Christianity. Yet, even though Miller focuses only on Christianity in his book God at Work, he sees the Faith at Work movement as “highly diverse, comprising nearly all of the major religions” (4) and “those who reject organized religion altogether, preferring to pick and choose from various religious traditions” (123). Miller has this broad view by placing the Workplace Spirituality movement under a Faith at Work umbrella, yet other authors of both camps do not. Nancy Smith, author of Workplace Spirituality, agrees with the distinction of the two saying the Faith at Work movement is “focused on the Christian faith” (Introduction xvii) while the Workplace Spirituality movement values “spiritual diversity at work” (8) and “looks to the morality and ethics that are common to most of the world’s religions” (9). Smith describes an ideal vision of Workplace Spirituality as “a workplace where everyone feels safe and free to practice their own faith whether through prayer, meditation, dietary rules or clothing and where each person’s unique spirituality is honored as an asset to the workplace” (9).
In contrast, the Faith at Work movement focuses on integrating one’s Christian faith with one’s work, yet the movement is very diverse within the Christianity. The movement includes a “loose network of individuals and groups” of men and women of all corporate levels in all types of work, as well as conferences, e-newsletters, websites, books, magazines, and radio shows (Miller, “Sunday-Monday Gap”). According to Hammond, the activity of the movement “is very broad and diverse, cutting across the whole spectrum of God’s people in North America (and now internationally too), from Roman Catholics, to Orthodox, to Mainline Protestants, to Evangelicals, to Charismatics and in independent congregations” (“Faith at Work”).
The 2003 – 2004 International Faith and Work Directory is a resource for the Faith at Work movement that “provides a ‘snapshot’ of the movement with a comprehensive list of individuals, companies, agencies, organizations, groups and networks that are dedicated to serving God’s people in the workplace” (McLoughlin, et al. 6). At the time of its publication, it listed 1,200 organizations in the directory, the vast majority of which were non-profit workplace ministries. In 2004, the Directory grew to contain more than 1,400 listings, of which more than 900 were non-profit national or international workplace ministries (Hillman, The 9 to 5 Window 85). The movement’s growth is also seen by examining the number of books published on the “faith-workplace connection,” which according to a statement from Pete Hammond has grown from 350 titles to 2000 titles from the years 2000 to 2005, thus indicating a “move of God” and growth in the Faith at Work movement (Hillman, The 9 to 5 Window 84). Also, local churches are starting to be equipped to focus on faith at work issues, and there is a great need for this. As Hillman recognizes, “people are hungry to know how to effectively integrate their faith life with their work life, and they are energized by the call” (82).
Two organizations are credited as being pioneers in the Faith at Work movement. According to Wagner, the historical starting point should be in 1930 when Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC) was formed (76). While being a non-charismatic evangelical marketplace ministry, CBMC also attracted some Charismatics and Pentecostals, including Demos Shakarian in 1942, who then promptly founded the Downey, California group and served as its president for the first two years (Synan 38). Although Demos felt that CBMC had good men who “loved Jesus,” he desired to have more “spirit or fire in the meetings” (Synan 39). “Usually the Pentecostals, out of respect for the ecumenical nature of the organization were forced to mute their spirituality and refrain from praying for the sick or manifesting such gifts of the Spirit as prophecy and speaking in tongues” (39). Demos placed most of his efforts into organizing and funding crusades with Pentecostals evangelists, yet at the same time he was “a faithful member of the Downey CBMC chapter” where he “learned much about how to organize and run a local chapter of this type of organization” (Synan 39).
According to Hillman, “The faith at work movement has its early beginnings in the 1950s when the [interdenominational organization] Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International was birthed through Demos Shakarian. This was a group of enthusiastic and passionate business men birthed from the Charismatic renewal movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s” (Faith@Work 1). Both CBMC and FGBMFI used a similar format of a mealtime evangelistic meeting where a fellow businessman shares a testimony of the difference that Jesus has made in his life. According to Hillman, “These two organizations represent the focus of workplace ministries over the last fifty years. That focus has largely been on executives [and professionals], men, and evangelism. These ministries were also birthed outside the local church and have often been seen by church leaders as competition to the local church” (2). For example, although “many Assemblies of God adherents shared the excitement and vision that prompted efforts like the FGBMFI,” “some local pastors disliked the time and money their well-to-do business members devoted to the FGBMFI” (Blumhofer 89). Because Shakarian emphasized at every meeting that members should be active in their church and pay tithes to their home church, he states, “Those who attended our meetings invariably became the hardest workers and biggest givers of their home congregations. But still churches eyed the Fellowship with suspicion” (Shakarian, Sherrill, and Sherrill 122). “Both CBMC and FGBMFI acknowledged a high esteem for the local church. Most of the leaders were church members” (Wagner 78). Yet, both groups felt that businesspeople would be more effective in evangelizing the marketplace and initially following-up on its fruit than the pastors, thus CBMC and FGBMFI were often seen as “competitors of the local churches” (78-79). Initially, FGBMFI stimulated fellowship primarily among Pentecostals, but by the late 1950’s many non-Pentecostal church people were drawn to meetings and received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and FGBMFI became a catalyst to the worldwide Neo-Pentecostal, or Charismatic, movement (Menzies 338). “Although it was stressed that FGBMFI was not a replacement for the local church, many pastors felt threatened by this open ecumenical fellowship” (Zeigler 653) and “concerned over the ultimate threat of a possible new denomination issuing from the dynamically growing group” in spite of statements from FGFMFI leadership of their desire to work with “believing churches” and not be a substitute for them or any denomination or men’s group (Synan 61). FGBMFI has had phenomenal success worldwide and has effectively evangelized working people. During the past few decades, many other significant workplace ministries were springing up and reaching out, including FCCI and ICCC in the 1980s, but the Faith at Work movement “is largely a phenomenon of the 1990s” that began to soar in the late 1990’s, with a “tipping point” occurring “around 1997 or 1998” (Wagner 79).
The existence of the Faith at Work movement was “affirmed” by the July 9, 2001 issue of Fortune magazine, with their cover story titled “God and Business” that states that believers “want to bridge the traditional divide between spirituality and work” (Hillman, The 9 to 5 Window 80-81). Wagner says many Christian workplace leaders considered this a “watershed event,” coming across “as a de facto, cultural stamp of approval on [the] movement” (75). Many other stories describing this trend have been covered by “major secular media” and Christian media since 2004, including an article in the New York Times Magazine on October 31, 2004, that features a cover story on Christianity in the workplace entitled “With God at Our Desks” (Hillman, The 9 to 5 Window 81-82).
Multiple ministry organizations that specialize on the marketplace have formed and expanded over the years. Some of the most prominent of these ministries include CBMC founded in 1930, FGBMFI founded in 1951 by Demos Shakarian, Executive Ministries founded in the early 1960’s by Arthur DeMoss as a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, FCCI founded in 1977 and whose current president is Kent Humphreys, International Christian Chamber of Commerce founded in 1985 by Swedish businessman Gunnar Olson, The C12 Group founded in 1992 by Buck Jacobs, CMDL founded in 1991, Marketplace Leaders founded in 1996 by Os Hillman, and International Coalition of Workplace Ministries founded in 1997 by Os Hillman. While some of the smaller Faith at Work ministries may only sponsor events, each of these larger ministries listed are considered fellowships.
Connecting Business and Marketplace to Christ (CBMC) was formerly known as Christian Business Men’s Committee. It is an organization that ministers to all levels of business people through events such as luncheons and small-group Bible studies. Over the past 77 years, “CBMC has grown from a small group of men in Chicago to over 18,000 members in 700 teams across the United States. Worldwide, CBMC is active in over 70 countries with over 50,000 members total. Our methods continue to evolve to reflect the circumstances of modern men, but our purpose remains the same: to evangelize and disciple business and professional men for Christ” (“The History of CBMC”).
Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI) was founded by a successful California dairyman, Demos Shakarian, to reach men in all nations for Jesus Christ. After 56 years, FGBMFI is touching approximately 150 countries. Remarkably, the fellowship had a worldwide attendance at monthly meetings exceeding one million persons in the late 1980’s, reaching 117 nations with over 3,000 chapters, of which 1,700 chapters were in the United States with 45,000 members (Synan 11). The fellowship encountered three splits since then that formed International Fellowship of Christian Businessmen (IFCB) in 1989, Business Men's Fellowship USA (BMF USA) in 1996, and FGBMF America in 2006. With the passing away of Demos Shakarian in 1993, his son Richard assumed the leadership role.
FGBMFI chapters of men usually meet on a monthly or weekly basis to host dinner, lunch, or breakfast meetings for fellowship, ministry, and outreach, with a focus primarily on evangelization. Demos Shakarian considered each word in the name of the FGBMFI organization as important to describing its function and focus:
Full Gospel. That meant no subject would have to be avoided at our meetings. Healing. Tongues. Deliverance. Whatever the man’s experience, he could talk about it, just as it happened.
Business Men. Laymen. Ordinary people.
Fellowship. That’s what it should feel like. A bunch of people who love to get together—not a rules and committees and meeting-come-to-order kind of thing.
International . . . The whole world. All flesh. (Shakarian, Sherrill, and Sherrill 118-19)
Although “the first generation of leaders were upscale Pentecostal businessmen, much like the founder, Demos Shakarian,” and membership was “mostly made up of business or professional men, there were always thousands of men who were everyday farmers and laborers” (Synan 119). Furthermore, “Despite the words ‘Business Men’ in its name, the Fellowship accepted any man who desired to belong as long as he accepted the beliefs and practices of the organization” (130), which are based on the “Articles of Faith” of the “Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA)” (53). The mission of the FGBMFI is given on their website:
To reach men in all nations for Jesus Christ
To call men back to God.
To help believers to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and to grow spiritually.
To train and equip men to fulfill the Great Commission
To provide an opportunity for Christian fellowship
To bring greater unity among all people in the body of Christ. (“Let Us Introduce You To the FGBMFI”)
The Fellowship exhibits a strong emphasis upon evangelism and has a high regard for prophecy.
Executive Ministries is an interdenominational ministry that has been helping to fulfill the Great Commission for the past 45 years by “reaching out to the executive, professional, and leadership community.” Their mission is “to help influencers reach other influencers for Christ.” “The Outreach Dinner Party is an elegant social gathering in the non-threatening environment of a spacious home, country club or hotel.” A respectable speaker shares a concise message of their life after dinner to the 125 or more guests. The response at the conclusion of these dinner meetings is phenomenal, with over 30 percent of the guests indicating on comment cards “that they have prayed to receive Christ or would like to have more information about how to know Him personally” (Executive Ministries).
Fellowship of Companies for Christ International (FCCI) is a non-denominational “organization that equips and encourages Christian business owners, executives, and professionals who desire to use their companies as platforms for ministry” (Humphreys 183). FCCI is using the brand name of Christ@Work within the USA (Fellowship of Companies for Christ International).
International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) was founded by Gunnar Olson and has expanded over the past 22 years to have members in 105 countries. ICCC’s mission is “to serve as a vehicle in extending the operation and principles of wisdom, love and rule of God into the marketplace of the world.” ICCC is a non-denominational organization that has a long and close relationship with FGBMFI, though their focus is slightly different. “ICCC is an official Chamber of Commerce with a mandate to connect businesses and promote business activity among its members, while it also exists to provide practical, Biblical teaching and training for those engaged in the Marketplace. ICCC has a number of International projects underway at any given time and is regularly called upon to assist national governments on specific initiatives relating to commerce” (International Christian Chamber of Commerce).
The C12 Group, founded by Buck Jacobs, is a Christian leadership development organization that helps CEOs, owners, and presidents to best use their position to share the joy of serving Christ daily. “C12 began as three groups of 12 Christian business CEOs/Owners meeting once per month in central Florida with its primary focus in the Tampa Bay metro area.” After fifteen years, “C12 exists in numerous markets across America and has been a source of blessing and life-enhancement to several hundred CEOs/Owners and thousands of employees, customers and suppliers, many of whom have come to the Lord after having been touched by C12 member companies in ways which share a bit of God’s provision and purpose” (C12 Group).
The Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life (CMDL) was established in 1991 by Lutherans Bill Diehl and Sally Simmel. “CMDL provided a venue for Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Roman Catholics to connect and collaborate” (Hammond, “The Marketplace Movement”). “The Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life is an international network of Christians and their organizations committed to fostering the affirmation and practice of ministry in daily life by all followers of Christ” (Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life). The coalition endeavors to:
Support one another’s efforts to continue Christ’s ministry in daily life and become part of the Spirit’s movement in our time;
Provide opportunities for Christians from different traditions, places and occupations to learn from each other about their ministries in the workplace, the community and the family;
Commend to all our sisters and brothers in Christ the theological perspectives, institutional patterns and personal practices that are especially supportive of ministry in daily life. (Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life)
While CMDL connected mostly with Protestants and some Catholics and Evangelicals, Os Hillman was able to form two organizations that connected especially with “Independents and Charismatics,” though not limited to these groups, as he sponsored “annual national gatherings” (Hammond, “The Marketplace Movement”).
Marketplace Leaders, whose founder and president is Os Hillman, seeks to train people to see their work as a calling and a ministry. They have accomplished this for 11 years and continue to do so by building unity among marketplace ministries, publishing resources for workplace Christians, providing consultation for companies desiring to implement Biblical principles, and training new leaders through a one-day workshop “Called to the Workplace--From Esau to Joseph” (Hillman, Faith & Work 111). One of the ways the organization builds unity among marketplace ministries is through Hillman’s other ministry, ICWM.
International Coalition of Workplace Ministries (ICWM) functions as a coalition or a fellowship or an alliance of believers who are leaders of organizations or workplace ministries and “who want to encourage and unite leaders by inspiring, connecting, and equipping them for transformation of the workplace for Christ.” ICWM helps by providing “resources, information and networking to organizations that are also called to this mission” of transformation (International Coalition of Workplace Ministries).
Many of these earlier groups such as CBMC, FGBMFI, Executive Ministries, FCCI, and The C12, have focused on a particular segment of society, such as businessmen or executives. While these groups still have a desirable focus, many other groups and people aspire to reach out more broadly to all workers, including stay-at-home moms, students, vocational ministers, and the typical employee who reports to a boss. Hillman states:
One of the key differences in the modern-day movement is that the focus is no longer evangelism to male executives. The modern-day movement is focused on a more holistic approach to apply faith in the realm where so many people spend so much of their time—their work life. These include students, housewives, those in the military, executives, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and people in entertainment and government. Ministries are no longer just birthing outside the local church as para-church ministries, but local churches are now recognizing the need to equip their people and release them into their workplaces as extended missions of their churches. (Faith@Work 2)
For groups with a broader and more holistic approach, “Evangelism is not an end goal of workplace ministry; it is the fruit. It is about experiencing the fullness of God in all aspects of [their] work life” (37).
Os Hillman, president of Marketplace Leaders, emphasizes in Faith & Work that there is no distinction in the eyes of God between sacred and secular work; all workers are called to “have an overriding ministry objective to reflect Christ’s love and power in [their] lives” (37). Thus, Hillman is in favor of replacing misunderstood terminology, which may carry a connotation of spiritual superiority that makes others feel like second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, with Biblical terminology. For example, it is common to hear that “only missionaries and preachers are in full time Christian work,” but Hillman insists, “we’re all in full time Christian work, however, some are called to vocational ministry” (37). Some may say “I’m called to the mission field,” but Hillman says, “We’re all called to the mission field. It is a matter of which mission field. There is no greater mission field than the marketplace. . . . God wants to reach these people just as much as those who have not heard in foreign lands” (37). Some may say “I’m in the ministry,” but all Christians are in the ministry as they walk out their faith (38). All Christians have as much a ministry as a pastor or priest, just a different mission field. Thus, Hillman prefers the phrase “vocational ministry” instead of “ministry” or “full-time ministry” or “full-time Christian work” (Faith@Work 53). In summary, “we need both a terminology and a mind-set that works to eliminate the ‘second-class citizen’ concept in the Kingdom of God” (R. Marshall 5).
One practical way to be prepared for ministry at the workplace is to put God and His Kingdom first in one’s thoughts and actions, thereby affecting the rest of the day. One of the means to accomplish this is to dedicate a little time each morning to prayer and a Biblical devotion. Os Hillman is famous for producing excellent daily devotionals on the Internet. Many of them are compiled into his book TGIF: Today God is First containing marketplace meditations grouped by themes such as adversity, calling, and decision-making. The largest number of meditations falls in the section “calling,” which is reflective of Hillman’s emphasis that work for a Christian is a calling to ministry (60-84). Some other devotionals that help one to focus on God and His relevant role at one’s work include Kroeker’s God’s Week has 7 Days that highlights some areas where faith and ethics intersect with real work (14); Hall’s The Walk at Work that helps one find “soul satisfaction” in the workplace (2); Smith-Moran’s Soul at Work that reflects on spirituality of everyday work (12); and Greube’s Coffee Break Meditations containing 260 meditations for the workplace. The following books are also devotional tools to focus on God and are geared toward leading an individual or group into a Bible Study of work related topics: Kunz and Schell’s Work--God’s Gift; Banks and Preece’s Getting the Job Done Right; Stevens and Schoberg’s Satisfying Work; and Thomas Nelson Publishers’ Making Your Work Count for God.
Many of the workplace ministries and leaders closely associated with Os Hillman have been emphasizing societal transformation. Peter Wagner, for example, says that he and other apostolic leaders are hearing a specific word or direction from the Spirit, namely “social transformation!” (8). Wagner further says that the church “is to aggressively seek to take dominion of the society in which we live” (8). In “Session 5” of Hillman’s workshop “Called to the Workplace,” Hillman emphasizes that God wants transformation in the workplace and not just evangelization, since God is interested in the kingdom and not just adding to the church:
Many times the local church focuses only on the Gospel of Salvation instead of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and Jesus spoke more about the Kingdom than he did of the Gospel of Salvation. . . . If [God] only wanted salvation, we’d all die and go to heaven right after we got saved, but He really wants to have His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven as he prayed in the Lord’s prayer. And so He leaves us here in order to usher in that [transformation] in the world we live in. (Hillman and Hillman)
Hillman adds in The 9 to 5 Window, “While salvation is part of bringing the kingdom of God on Earth, it includes much more” (64). Some of their teaching on social transformation and its implications come close to the controversial tenets of “Dominion Theology” or “Kingdom Now Theology,” such as “the belief that the church is to exercise rule over every area of society, people as well as institutions, before Christ returns” and that “this current age is the kingdom of God spoken of in the Bible, . . . [and therefore] Christians are currently responsible, by God’s power, to see that it is developed to maturity” (House and Ice 419). To hold these beliefs, one must espouse some kind of postmillennialism (Ice 9; Dager 179), and thus risk alienating a large portion of diverse workplace Christians who hold to premillennialism or amillennialism.
For years, Ice tried to blend a Reconstructionist view of social transformation with premillennialism but concluded that the two are incompatible (7). The former view teaches that the kingdom of God can be established during this era prior to Christ’s return whereas premillennialism teaches that Christ will come and destroy the established society in judgment prior to His millennial reign (9). Also, “dominionists do not believe in a literal catching up of the Church to be with the Lord”; instead, they believe that Jesus will return at the completion of the millennium or after the Church begins ruling society (Dager 45). According to Dager, “Many premillennialists are beginning to buy into the dominion concept,” though not completely, and thus “call themselves ‘premillennial dominionists’, who believe that the rapture will occur after the Church has taken dominion to some extent, but before the millennial reign of Jesus is established” (45-46). Premillennialists hold the “biblical truth that when Jesus return the nations will be allied against Him, not waiting to welcome Him with open arms (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Revelation 6-7; [Revelation 16:14, 19:19])” (Dager 180). Wagner, who acknowledges teaching a Dominion Theology, says, “For most of the twentieth century, the prevailing eschatology (doctrine of the end times) of evangelicals was premillennialism” (39). Thus, many in the body of Christ are apt to reject current aspects of teaching in segments of the Faith at Work movement that emphasizes Dominion Theology and Kingdom Now Theology unless they have a “paradigm shift toward social transformation” and its logical conclusion (39).
Another emphasis, among some leaders and workplace ministries closely associated with Os Hillman, has been the need to restore the offices of apostles and prophets and to recognize them within the workplace. This view is especially held by those who are members of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) whose Presiding Apostle has been Dr. Peter Wagner since its inception in 1999. Since many denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, do not recognize the titles or offices of apostles and prophets today (Where We Stand 298), such controversial teaching that is closely associated with a legitimate Faith at Work organization could cause some Christian leaders and their members to decline participation in the particular workplace organization.
Kent Humphreys, president of FCCI since 2002, provides a practical strategy and guide for pastors to equip workplace leaders to influence their workplaces in his book Lasting Investments. Humphreys encourages pastors to develop relationships with church members and meet with a small group of six to twelve workplace leaders—“people with a good heart and those that have influence at work and in the community… who are ‘change agents’ not really satisfied with the status quo” (36). “The goal of such a small-group meeting would be to help these leaders figure out how to have an effective ministry in their own spheres of influence” (24). As a further emphasis, Humphreys says, “Remember, you are not recruiting this group of leaders to the church’s activities or to your ministry, but you are asking them to allow you to help them be used by God where they are” (43). A pastor should ask the question, “How may I help you [to minister in the workplace where God has placed you]?” (44). As the group continues to meet, it is good for the pastor to slip back a bit and allow them to strategize with each other on how they could impact their particular workplaces for Christ. According to Humphreys, these leaders desire to make a lasting investment which can only happen by impacting the lives of people for eternity, using their workplace as a platform for ministry, which “must have as its long-term eternal focus either evangelism or discipleship as defined by Jesus in the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20)” (53). Thus, ministry does not include the meeting of temporal needs, such as feeding the hungry, unless its focus is on the eternal, according to Humphreys (54).
When needing to determine a career or a job to pursue, one must discern God’s leading or calling to a particular field along with one’s gifts and talents and desires. Rushdoony sees career counseling as disastrous when it advises a student to go into a work area that may be more profitable but not the area for which he has a calling, an interest, or a talent. Due to a surplus of engineers in the early 1970’s, Rushdoony saw many students of engineering steered “into businesses or types of work they were not geared to,” which produced many unhappy young people. Instead of looking at employment “purely in terms of economics,” Rushdoony says people should pursue their calling, for “a person can be very much underpaid and be happy if their work is their calling.” Bernbaum and Steer say that overemphasizing the Scriptural evidence that God calls people into Christian-service careers causes people to “mystify the call to Christian service” and “assign all other careers to a non-call, non-spiritual status,” yet God can guide people into other careers and both require prayer, self-examination, a thorough study of alternatives, and a careful and honest assessment of God-given abilities and talents (41-42). Higginson says that a sense of vocation must be accompanied by evidence of having the necessary attributes, such as a clergyperson having pastoral sensitivity or a craftsman having manual dexterity. If there is no evidence, then one must reassess their understanding of God’s vocational call on their life, for “ideally vocation and gift should be complementary concepts” (Higginson).
Christians desperately need to know that their work matters to God and that it is actually connected to what God wants done in this world. As a model, Jesus always did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19). Preece aptly says, “By seeing our work in the light of God’s work, we can see God’s hand in our everyday tasks” (1124-25). Those who minister in a church or to the spiritual needs of individuals have an easier time seeing the connection between this work and God’s work. Sherman and Hendricks have found that workers in secular occupations and especially those “who deal with data and things as opposed to people” are more likely to feel that their work does not contribute to God’s work. Those in caring professions such as psychologists, social workers, doctors, and nurses have an easier time seeing their work as related to God’s work (86). Alistair Mackenzie came to similar conclusions after conducting six months of in-depth interviews with over one hundred Christians about their faith and work. Mackenzie found:
There were certain categories of people who really struggled to see that their work mattered from God's perspective at all . . . [yet] people who are involved in more direct, person-to-person, service kind of jobs feel that their work counts from God's perspective. Social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, [and to some extent parents who are working at home devoting time to their families]--somehow the church affirms that their work is ministry. . . . [Others struggle to make a connection including] factory workers, manufacturers, many business people and those involved in commercial or industrial work--those who feel somewhat removed from meeting people at their particular point of need. . . . A similar struggle is experienced by people who are involved in primarily technical jobs, where they are [utilizing] practical skills rather than being in direct contact with other people. (qtd. in Walker)
From these results, people seem to feel disconnected from God when they cannot see that their particular work really serves people or serves people in a way that God wants them served. Yet practically all jobs have a part in serving people when seen from a broader perspective, and God wants to meet all kinds of human needs out of love for people. Though not exhaustive, God is seen in the Bible as working in many different capacities to meet human needs: Some Biblical metaphors describe God as a worker, builder, potter, shepherd, etc., which offer “a point of real connection with God and therefore a source of meaning and spirituality” (Stevens 113). God’s ongoing work on earth is seen in each person’s work, giving value to that work in God’s sight.
A theology of work is crucial for workers—accountants to zoologists--to see their work as “more than a job” (McLaren). For the important Biblical principles of work to meaningfully relate to all people, the cultural definition of work as “paid employment” must be broadened to include home duties, voluntary workers, and unemployed people who are utilizing their gifts in service to others. By seeing work as cooperating with God in His work of serving the needs of people, both spiritual and physical needs, all Christians can participate and be seen as working in this manner. Instead of making people into gods or reducing them to the level of animals, work makes people “into God’s representatives on earth, his stewards, entrusted with the task of developing the rich resources of the earth for the benefit of the human community” (Hardy xvii).
Throughout the Bible, there is no indication that work is to be avoided in life; instead it is given as a divine command to Adam, a regulation in the Mosaic Law, an admonition in the Wisdom literature and in Paul’s letters, and as an example of Jesus’ early life as a carpenter (Stuart 5). Since work is the will of God, even one who is rich is required to work, to serve people and God.
Over the years, people have held various views toward work. The Greeks and the Romans primarily saw manual labor as a curse and degrading for humans. The Jews and first century Christians elevated work as they served a God who works and who desires all people to work too. Over the next 1400 years, the Christian church gradually made a distinction between secular work and sacred work and elevated the latter as being more spiritual and pleasing to God. The Reformation captured an important truth that all human work, as long as it serves a person’s neighbors, is pleasing to God. The Puritans emphasized diligent work unto Christ, but the concept of working unto God was lost during the Enlightenment Period and Industrial Revolution, thereby secularizing the Protestant work ethic. From the Industrial Revolution came a gradual exodus of women into the workforce to find meaningful work that had been taken from the home. During the past two centuries, churches have struggled to find balance between working for transformation of society in accordance with the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1-2) and working for evangelistic purposes in accordance with the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).
Individuals in society today also have various views toward work, some of which stem from previous eras. Workaholics are a phenomenon of modern society, yet many in society also hate their jobs and prefer to get by doing as little work as possible in order to maximize their leisure time. Both overworking and under-working are displeasing to God. Some people view work, with its stress and monotony, as a curse resulting from the Fall. In today’s industrial and informational society, people talk more about survival in one’s job than about fulfillment in one’s job. Sometimes people think spiritual work is done by the holy people for the Lord while secular work is done by those who don’t measure up and have to settle for making money to pay bills for essentials. Many Christians who desire to please God feel that their secular work is not as pleasing to God as full-time vocational ministry work and that their work is not as beneficial to God’s Kingdom. A proper theology of work must be discovered by Christians who feel their ordinary work doesn’t really matter to God--sometimes due to an overemphasis on the importance of evangelism and work associated with the church.
Work matters to God because it is His nature to work. He created the universe and keeps it going through work. Because God works and calls His work “good,” work is intrinsically good. He also created mankind in His image and thus they also have a nature to work. God then gave man a command to work with Him in cooperation—the Creation Mandate. Mankind worked prior to the Fall, which then caused a curse upon the ground, resulting in work becoming tougher for mankind. While work is not God’s punishment or curse for sin, sin has distorted work from its original intention. Yet, all people are given the opportunity to be co-workers with God, to bring about His purposes on earth, which includes personal redemption and societal transformation.
Work can be satisfying, for it is a virtue originating in creation, but “it can also be frustrating, pointless, and exhausting” because work has been “tainted by sin” from the Fall (Veith 63). Placher says work can be both a blessing that gives fulfillment and meaning in life and a curse that is burdensome and something to “endure” to pay for food and other necessities (4). A proper view of work embraces both perspectives—its affirmation and its reality.
The Bible provides several purposes for working. Through work, people can glorify God as they work unto Christ, their ultimate boss (Col. 3:23-24). Thus Christians should work with a different motive than non-Christians. Work enables one to meet personal and family needs. Work also enables one to help others in need. In God’s providence, one’s work enables others in society to have their needs met. Work can also assist the Great Commission as one earns and gives finances to people who spread the gospel; a good worker can also be a witness in deed and word, especially as one builds relationships that become opportunities for verbal witness. Another Biblical purpose for working is for personal fulfillment.
All legal and moral jobs, careers, and tasks have significance to God. Since there “truly is no division between sacred and secular,” Willard says “holy people must stop going into ‘church work’ as their natural course of action and take up holy orders in farming, industry, law, education, banking, and journalism with the same zeal previously given to evangelism or to pastoral and missionary work” (214). While a few ought to leave their secular employment for vocational ministry, most should remain where they are and “make their Christian witness in ordinary work rather than beyond it,” as Trueblood says (58). In remaining, a believer can allow Christ to transform oneself thereby transforming the workplace.
God calls people to believe in Christ and follow Him. While some may express that call by eventually leaving their everyday work-life to minister to the spiritual needs of people on a full-time basis, there is no call in the New Testament for all Christians to abandon their daily work, for all kinds of work preformed by a Christian is to be done unto Christ and for His glory (Col. 3:23-24) and will be rewarded accordingly. Having a full-time job does not make one a part-time Christian. All Christians are to be full-time Christians. Paul was a great model in that he worked as a tent-maker and often self-financed his ministry work. However, work does not just enable one to minister outside of work hours, but one’s work—performed unto the Lord and to serve people--is a ministry in itself even if religious discussion does not take place.
When a connection can be made between God’s work and one’s job, a person does not need to quit their job upon becoming a Christian or upon realizing one needs to work for the Lord, for a person’s job is already pleasing to the Lord as it serves other people and is done unto Christ. While some may sense God’s calling to minister to the spiritual needs of people, others may remain in the calling of the job God has currently given them.
Christians should recognize that all lawful work for a Christian should be considered a service of God, thus Christians should be the last people to look down on someone because of their job since God gave them that job. According to Rayburn, “the Lord is far more pleased with a devout [manual] laborer who serves him in his daily work than a proud professor or entrepreneur who does not” (“Series Introduction: No. 3”).
God gives gifts and abilities to people to work in serving the needs of society. Often one’s vocation or calling will involve utilizing these gifts and talents. Sometimes, due to circumstances beyond one’s control, a person may be underemployed with labor that is beneath his mental or physical abilities. According to the Reformers, in God’s providence, even this work is a calling from God and one should derive meaning and satisfaction in knowing that they have a ministry unto God and unto people. A person’s attitude and behaviors can transform work that initially seems boring, frustrating, or meaningless.
While the Bible does not say as much about the kind of work one should pursue, it does say much about the way in which work should be done. The Bible disapproves of laziness and idleness but highly regards the diligent worker who performs work with excellence. A Christian should be characterized by contentment and joy in working, as work is a gift from God. The Bible says that employees are to be respectful and faithful to their bosses, and likewise bosses are to be fair and just to their employees.
With such a high view of work in the Scriptures, one could mistakenly idolize work and become a workaholic to the neglect of other significant priorities, yet God wants to have people balancing their work with rest, with worship of Him, and with time spent with family and friends. Thus, a Sabbath rest was commanded in the days of Moses to regulate excessive work. Some leisure activities can be a means of rejuvenating one’s mind and body, yet other leisure activities do not provide such rest. While retirement may be a time for more rest due to one’s old age, it is really a time to redirect one’s means of serving other people and God.
God desires to redeem and transform all of creation, not just the souls of people, and He calls people to cooperate in these tasks. Whether or not the work people do will actually establish the final Kingdom prior to Christ’s return and whether work will have a direct connection with the new creation is dependent on a number of factors: one’s view of the goodness of the earth; one’s view of eschatology—pre-, post-, or a-millennialism; and one’s view of how the new heaven and new earth will appear—after the annihilation of the old creation or as a transformation of the materials and work of the old creation. If Goosen, Volf, and Cosden are correct in saying that the new creation will be a transformation of the old creation and that human work will be raised and purified to shape eternity, then each person’s work has eternal value and meaning in God’s sight and in the new earth. Regardless of one’s view of the end times, the Bible says there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Many believe there will be work in the form of serving and ruling in eternity, yet the work will be enjoyable with no curse.
As the subject of “theology of work” matures, more scholars will be discovering, developing, and expounding on different models for understanding work as given in the Bible. While the number of published books on the subject of “theology of work” and “faith at work” has grown considerably over the past few decades, experts have said there still needs to be more scholarly works produced in this area. One such book is by David Miller, who developed an “Integration Box” model to express ways that individuals and groups seek to integrate faith and work, via: ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment. Miller has also served as an expert on the Faith at Work movement.
The Faith at Work movement is “organized around a quest to integrate one’s personal faith teachings with one’s professional work responsibilities” (Miller, God at Work 6). More recently, some within the movement have expanded the definition of work to include all who work, and not just those who are paid for their work. Among the many organizations that serve people in integrating faith and work are CBMC, FGBMFI, Executive Ministries, FCCI, ICCC, The C12 Group, CMDL, Marketplace Leaders, and ICWM. In general, the earlier ministries focus on evangelism while the latter ministries incorporate a more holistic approach.
There should be a balance between the Creation Mandate and the Great Commission, whereas in the past few decades, for the most part, mainline denominations and European churches have emphasized the Creation Mandate while evangelical churches have emphasized evangelism (Stevens 89). When unbalanced, those who only focus on the Creation Mandate are reluctant to engage in evangelism or cross-cultural missionary service, and those who only focus on the Great Commission are reluctant to care for the earth’s resources or to place any intrinsic value in secular work itself. Church leadership is vital and the Great Commission is essential, but the Creation Mandate should also be balanced in importance.
Although a goal of social transformation may motivate believers to work hard unto the Lord in preparation for His return, many Christian denominations do not see social transformation as the ultimate goal or a realistic goal nor do they believe the kingdom of God can be ushered in by humankind prior to the dramatic return of Christ. Thus, such messages coming from a workplace ministry could cause pastors whose end-time views differ to discourage member participation in that group.
As Christians begin to see their work as participation with God’s ongoing work of creating, sustaining, redeeming, and transforming, then they will see their work as having meaning and spiritual value both to them and to God. Also, as Christians work whole-heartedly unto Christ their boss--offering one’s body in service to God--work then becomes a means of worship to God.
God’s work is a model for people; and one’s work should connect with God’s work. A Christian will have a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their work, in part, to the degree in which they see their work as a reflection of God’s work on the earth. The work of pastors, evangelists, and apologists seem to readily connect to God’s own work as Redeemer. Yet “the work God does is far broader than Christ’s work of reconciling people or helping them grow together in faith and obedience” (Bystrom). While redemption is central in God’s plan for man, “God is also Creator, Sustainer, Preserver, Provider, Revealer, and Lawgiver,” so when people perform some work that emulates God’s work, a connection can be felt. For example, a doctor reflects God’s desire and work to heal. In essence, whenever anyone is serving the real needs of people, they are reflecting God’s work of providentially meeting the needs of society. A person should then be able to say, “My work is God’s work” (Brystrom).
Impact of long hours (Greene, Thank God’s Its Monday 76)
No time for other interests: 77 87
Damaging health: 59 71
Affects relationship negatively
with children: 73 86
with partner: 72 79
Reduces productivity over time: 55 68
Source: The Quality of Working Life, 1999, Survey of Managers’ Changing Experiences, Les Worrall & Cary Cooper, Institute of Management.
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