This Christian understanding of work as good gift from God struggled to gain traction during Christianity’s first millennium and a half.  In part, this was due to the pervasive Greek view of work.  For the Greeks, work was a necessary evil.  The more important activity, the Greeks believed, was the contemplative life.  This Greek view of work lingered in early Christian thought, producing an interesting interpretation of the famous story of busy Martha and worshipful Mary.  In this story Jesus enters the home of sisters, Mary and Martha, and while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, Martha busily plays host by making the appropriate preparations.  Jesus corrects Martha by telling her to stop her activity and consider Mary’s choice to listen. 

This story was critical to medieval Christianity and monasticism because it became the starting point of a two-tiered system that distinguished between those that chose the contemplative life like Mary and those that chose the active life like Martha.  According to this view, the contemplative life was most honoring to God.  With such a view, the spiritually zealous felt compelled to retreat to the monastery and live the life of a monk.  

The Protestant Reformers disagreed with this medieval perspective on work.  John Calvin challenged the far-reaching interpretation of the Mary and Martha story by refuting its universal application.  Commenting on Calvin’s thought, Lee Hardy says, “In commending Mary over Martha Jesus was not commending a whole way of life over another—for certainly at times Mary also worked just as Martha also listened.  Rather, he was addressing himself to the relative merits of their responses to his presence and message at that particular time.” 

If work is good in and of itself, why is it deemed a worthy activity?  Martin Luther stressed work as a way that individuals serve neighbor and contribute to God’s means of provision.  For Luther, humans through their work actually sustain creation.  While the individual is thanking God for food, asking for good health, and safety from the severe weather that looms, there are other people that have devoted their working lives to making those things happen.  The food on the table arrives through a series of vocations, including farmers, delivery people, and grocers—all vocations drawing upon other work as well.  Good health typically arrives through the work of a variety of doctors.  These doctors, of course, received training from those that have devoted themselves to research and higher education.  Not only does good health need doctors but good health must be anticipated with diet and exercise, both issues relying on a number of vocations.  Finally, safety from severe weather might come from a well-built home—the work of a number of workers—and the warnings from the meteorologist. 

Certainly God could drop bread from heaven, miraculously heal the sick, and turn the storm to solace but this is not the way he has created the world, many of the Reformers and their followers believed.   Being created in the image of the Trinitarian God means, in part, that humans are social beings and humanity’s social nature is realized, in part, through work as one relates to and serves one’s neighbor.  Moreover, the individual Christian’s sanctification occurs through this service of neighbor.

But at an even more general level, Rudebock believes, the Christian worker’s purpose is to glorify God.  Glorifying God broadens the Christian’s task at work.  Evangelism becomes but one facet of the Christian’s goal at work.  Other ways the worker brings glory to God include doing work with excellence, honesty, and in a way that is ethical and humane.  It also means that a praise and worship accompanies the Christian at work as they lovingly serve God and his creation.