Work: A Fundamental Purpose & Partnership with God
However, the Bible teaches that work is a fundamental good—a part of our fundamental purpose on earth. Work is a part of God's original design. God himself worked in creation and continues to work, both sustaining and redeeming his creation. Prior to the Fall—in paradise—man worked in partnership with God. This last point may be surprising to many, but consider what we are told in Scripture. First, what did God do in the beginning? He "created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). This was work. The Genesis narrative provides the order of God's creative work, culminating in the creation of man—the only beings in all of creation made in his image. Thus the first point is that if God works, then we—being made in his image—are also to work. In fact, the creation of man (male and female) in Genesis 1:27 is immediately followed by God's blessing and the assignment of responsibilities or work (see Genesis 1:28).
Second, in contrast to the idea that God created and then walked away (leaving creation in the hands of man) is the fact that Adam worked in partnership with God. At a philosophical level we are told God "planted a garden in Eden" (Genesis 2:8) and put Adam in the garden "to work it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). God created and sustains (see Colossians 1:17) and mankind stewards or gives care to God's creation. However, God also continued to partner with Adam at a practical level. In Genesis 2:19 we are told, "God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them" (emphasis mine). Adam walked and worked with God.
Of course, we know man severed this partnership through his disobedience and sin. Man's relationship to God and work would change as a result. Man would find himself alienated from God and work would become burdensome. Nonetheless, God did not abandon man nor did man's initial responsibilities change. Immediately following God's description of what life would now be like for Adam and Eve in their fallen state, God alluded to an added work, the work of redemption, in which he would make all things new (see Genesis 3:15).
God, in his mercy, has chosen to maintain his partnership with man. However this partnership—with those whom he has chosen—also includes the work of redemption, which is not exclusive to just a personal spiritual work. God's ongoing work in history (sustaining and redeeming) is all-encompassing, involving both the material and spiritual dimensions of his whole creation.
The Old Testament is filled with stories that testify to this fact beginning with the construction of a big boat by a real man named Noah. God didn't drop an ark from the sky; he chose Noah, gave him the specifications, and told him to build it, saving (physically and spiritually) a remnant of man and every type of animal. When Israel was in Egypt, God didn't deliver food from the heavens when famine came upon the land, he had chosen a man (Joseph), years earlier, to plan, prepare and store up food for the salvation of Israel and "all the earth" (see Genesis 41:57). In both instances, God partnered with men he chose (working as a shipbuilder and administrator, respectively), using material means, to accomplish his redemptive purpose in history.
In the Old Testament these redemptive purposes were oriented toward the preservation of a particular or "chosen" people through whom the Messiah, the promised King, would come. In the New Testament, the King finally comes, initiating his rule or kingdom—albeit in an unexpected way—and this kingdom begins the restoration of all things, including making alive those who were once dead. It is we, who have been made alive in Christ (the church), that God calls to partner with him in this ongoing work of redemption.
This work—the life and purpose of the church—bears witness to God's "kingdom come" into the world, which glorifies God (hallowed be Thy name) and serves as a foretaste of that which is to come when all that has been broken by sin is restored. Where there is injustice (including economic injustice), the church works to enact justice; where there is unrighteousness, the church works to establish righteousness; where there is conflict, the church works for peace. And all of this work, carried on through countless everyday initiatives, is done in love—love from God, for God, and for others.
Do these adverse conditions, resulting from sin, exist in the marketplace? Of course they do, they exist throughout the world! By directing our vocational activities away from profit-making as the principal purpose (or merely a means to an end) and toward the redemption of man and creation, we serve the kingdom purpose of making the in-breaking reign of God visible. This sets right what sin has set wrong and proclaims Christ as both the reason for our life and actions and the only means by which one may enter the kingdom and be saved. This is the broader gospel mission that gives authority to our message; it is in our everyday actions—including the work we do and how we do it—that the world will know who we follow and glorify the name of God (see John 13:35, 1 Peter 2:12).
So contrary to twentieth-century economist Milton Friedman, who said the purpose of business is to "maximize financial profits for shareholders," the Christian business should work in partnership with God to sustain creation, promote the kingdom and its virtues, and repair what sin has broken. Business is one of those loving structures provided by God in which we can join together, working with God, to accomplish these ends.
If you are a business owner or executive and would like to learn more about how you can more fully order your business in support of the kingdom, then I encourage you to apply for the Kingdom Project.
© 2010 by S. Michael CravenRespond to this article here
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org