Does Your Work Really Matter?
- Paul J. Dean Pastor, Counselor & Professor
- Published Jan 20, 2006
Does your work really matter? Alissa Clark of Relevant Magazine.com poses this question in essence with her provocative article titled "Seeing God's Hand." In wrestling with writer's block, Clark begins to share her heart a bit when it comes to the issue of, dare I say, relevance. No doubt she expresses what many of us often feel. She says her problem is not simply writer's block. She becomes transparent and reveals, "I am scared to fail. I am afraid that I will pour out my heart and thoughts to you, but it won't make an iota of difference to you. There's a blinding fear that what I write will not matter. And even worse, there's that nagging feeling that what I do in my life, ultimately, will not matter."
Now that's transparency and honesty. But, she gets even more honest. In her words, "To be honest, this goes far beyond my writing. My 'day job' is mundane--technology in the world of investment banking. I'm not likely to change anyone's life or make a real difference in the world by sitting behind a desk and answering e-mails all day. I struggle with knowing why I've been placed here, when there seem to be so many people out there doing interesting things that make a difference."
She notes that she cannot be the only one who harbors such feelings. And she is right. The question of whether or not we are or even can make a difference in this world plagues most of us. No doubt thoughtful Christians wonder just how they can make such a difference in the work-a-day world of their 9 to 5 lives (8 to 6, etc.). Of course, God does have something to say to us that ought to encourage our hearts.
Work is Worship
First, your work matters because its part of your relationship with God. Work is part of your relationship to God because it is an act of worship. We are given this counsel: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)." That command puts all of life in the context of worship. We glorify God, that is, we put His character on display when we work. He worked. He worked in creation and redemption to name the big two.
When we work, we reflect His glory and we further derive joy in doing what He's called us to do. To the extent that we enjoy being where God wants us to be, and sometimes that's in the mundane or difficult circumstances of work related drudgery as a result of the curse, we enjoy God by virtue of our redemption in Christ. We find satisfaction in work as we find satisfaction in God. As we find satisfaction in God, we glorify Him. "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (John Piper)."
Work is part of your relationship to God because God has given you the ability to work. "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave where you are going (Ecc. 9:10)." Among other things, this verse speaks to the fact that we have a limited time on this earth. God has given us certain things to do while we are here. Because they have been given to us by God, we need to pursue them with all of our might in the time allotted. In addition to giving us a sense of purpose and urgency, this commitment to diligence and excellence also glorifies God.
Work is part of your relationship to God because it reveals your character. "He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster (Prov. 18:9)." Part of who we are before God and man is revealed in the attitude we have toward work and the getting of that work done.
At the same time, work is part of your relationship to God because it is part of God's provision for you. "Prepare your work without, and make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterwards build your house (Prov. 24:27)." Diligent work pays off.
Work is Witness
Further, diligent work pays off as a means of witness when God provides. Our Christian ethic is on display as it were. Paul admonished, "Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that you may have lack of nothing (1 Thes. 4:11-12)." Negatively, Paul reminded: "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread (2 Thes. 3:10)."
If there were no other purpose for our work than for it to be a proving ground or a development ground or a place of obedience to God, it would still matter in an eternally significant way. And yet, there are other reasons your work matters.
Second, your work matters because it's a place of witness for Christ. We're all familiar with the Great Commission. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20)." Yet, there is some popular confusion regarding Christ's imperative command here.
It is a well known fact that while God calls missionaries to go to foreign fields, the imperative command here is "make disciples." The word translated "go" is a participle in the original language and would be better translated "as you go" or "as you are going." By inference, we could translate it thusly: "as you are going about the everyday business of your lives, make disciples." What this text means is that we are to make disciples wherever God has placed us, including our places of work. You are on mission with God at work. What an encouragement. Of course your work matters!
At the same time, let us not think that we must confront every one of our co-workers with the four spiritual laws. How about the issue of biblical counsel? Has anyone ever come to you with a problem? Can you give a biblical word that might lead into a discussion of the all-sufficiency of Christ in every area of life? Paul said, "Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another (Rom. 15:14)." Loving, gentle, biblical counsel leads us to speak of Christ to others.
Salt & Light
Third, by way of extension, your work matters because there you can be salt and light. The Lord Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16)." As your co-workers see your good work and know why you do good work, they will glorify your Father in heaven. That's purpose. That's meaning. And again, that's worship.
Fourth, let's put it another way. Your work matters because it puts our Lord Jesus on display. "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time (Col. 4:5)." In other words, at work, be wise in front of your lost co-workers and make the most of every opportunity God gives you there for the sake of the gospel. How can you do that?
Do your work with excellence, for it shows the excellence of our God. "O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth (Ps. 8:9)!" Put God on display through your work ethic.
Put God on display in the product you produce whether it be a car, a magazine, or good investment advice. This dynamic will demonstrate the order and beauty of our God: not to mention the manifold benefits He bestows upon us. "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork." You reflect that revelatory aspect of God in your handiwork, for you are an ambassador of Christ in all that you do.
Work with Integrity
Do your work with integrity. Some people may not appreciate your commitment to Christ or your commitment to excellence. Yet, they will in some way at some point be moved to glorify God because of you. Peter commanded, "Have your conduct honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Pet. 2:12)."
Fifth, your work matters because it helps you fulfill the cultural mandate. In Gen 1:28, we read: "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Don't miss the commands to replenish, subdue, and have dominion over the earth. These dynamics relate to gospel influence in the world; in the culture; in the communities in which God has placed us.
Historically, Christians led the way in the development of hospitals, the university system, the arts, scientific endeavor, and technology. This reality is connected to God's general revelation of Himself as pointed out in Ps. 19:1 previously. Christians seek to discover all of that which God has revealed and put it on display to make a difference in this world that He might be praised among the nations. Cultures influenced by the gospel have always advanced in these key areas and more. Cultures in which gospel influence has waned also see a declining effect in those same areas.
In other words, with your work, while Christ and the other world is ultimate, we are commanded to impact this world for Christ. That means not only individual salvation but social and structural transformation, though again, not divorced from the gospel. But, that does in fact mean that with your work, you make the world a better place. We can see this cultural/dominion mandate in Paul's command to Titus: "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men (Titus. 3:8)." Paul says our good works/work is profitable to men. Here he means the world in general.
With your work, you provide an exemplary influence in society. Again, Paul exhorts, "Let no man despise your youth; but you be an example of the believers, in word, in conduct, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Tim. 4:12)." Yes, this command is in the context of Timoth's pastoral ministry, but the application is appropriate. Christians are examples for others to follow in general and in terms of work ethic. You will compel others to do well by your good example. You will not only influence the culture at large, but you will influence your own work culture.
Sixth, your work matters because you show people that Christians are different. We've already noted that we should do whatever we do with all of our might (Ecc. 9:10). That is certainly a different approach to work than most display.
Further, Paul says, "Do all things without complaining and disputing (Phil. 2:14)." That too is different.
How about this? "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand (Phil. 4:4-5)." Would people see you as being different form the average worker with an attitude like that?
And did I mention diligence? "And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, because of the great confidence which we have in you (2 Cor. 8:22)."
Can you be different in how you react to adversity at work and make an impact in so being? "For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content (Phil. 4:11)."
How about giving to others as a result of your work? Your work will be different if you engage in it with a view toward having extra to give to others. Paul encouraged, "Let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need." People will be grateful, and they will see Christ in you.
Of course, in your dialogue about work itself, you could speak of these things and then use them as an opportunity to segue into those things which are ultimate. This work is indeed temporary, but the work you do in the midst of it and behind it is eternal.
We could go on. This little sketch is but a cursory overview. Suffice it to say that we should be encouraged by these things, in these things, and to these things. May your heart be filled with love for Christ and others as you put Him on display in the work place. May you make a difference and see that difference for your own sense of purpose and joy in Christ. And remember:
Yes Alissa, your work matters.
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