God, the believer and work (1)
Brian Griffiths, Ballylintagh, N. Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Lifestyle in the workplace
The question could be asked, ‘Do the truths of the gospel and Christ have any relevance in the world of work?’ For many believers the issue of faith and work is one that brings them face to face with how they view the value of work itself, and the practice of their faith on a daily basis in what is often a hostile and challenging environment, yet at the same time one that affords significant opportunities to witness for Christ. As believers, we may view our work as having little value and struggle with the cost of integrity. The cause of Christ and the gospel can be embarrassed by an inconsistent lifestyle in the workplace and the lack of an integrated lifepurpose that spans the public and private arenas. We may, in fact, struggle with how to put work into its proper perspective and to balance the different demands on our time.
As in every area of life, believers need to distinguish themselves in the workplace by living an ethically distinctive and Christ-like lifestyle; lives that honour the Lord Jesus by both our attitude and the manner in which we do our work. Invariably, there exists a tension between the world of work and our profession of faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord. This can cause a divide to grow between our faith and our daily work, a divide that God never intended. It is clear from the scriptures that our work matters to God.
If our Christianity is true and relevant, then it must make a difference to how we live, including the everyday world of work. Here, faith must prove its value; making a practical difference in the day-to-day issues we face doing our jobs. Issues like setting our priorities, relating to other people, coping with stressful situations, focusing our ambition, avoiding what is wrong and evil and fulfilling our legal and contractual obligations, are all involved here. The list is endless.
The sacred/secular divide – keeping the balance
We could view our work as purely secular and divorced from our spiritual life and simply a means to earn our living. Such a view is at odds with the scriptures and unfortunate. We will want to please God by how we live and since we spend a major part of our life at work to hold such a view of it will undermine our sincere intentions to be pleasing to God. Our faith and our under-standing of the scriptures should enable us to see our work as a divinely appointed way in which to bring glory to God, contribute to the good of society, and hence, meet the needs of others.
Many in society think that God is irrelevant when it comes to what they do at work. For them, the purpose of work is to achieve selffulfilment and the discovery of personal meaning. The pursuit of a career is what establishes their selfworth and the controlling centre of their lives. Success in life is gauged by positional status, professional recognition and the accumulation of material gain. But ‘careerism’ can lead to the loss of the sense of identity and value; a compromise of integrity and the career becoming an idol. This view of work is inadequate for the believer. However, it is not uncommon to find that in practice believers have adopted this attitude to work and their career.
Another view holds that the only part of life that counts for God is ‘the sacred activity’ such as evangelism, Bible study, prayer and attendance at meetings. Day to day work has no intrinsic value apart from meeting our material needs. Work is a consequence of sin, a punishment due to man’s guilt. This view divides life into the sacred and secular, but does this adequately represent God’s mind, the believer, and secular work?
How we live and what we do should be in view of our eternal destiny
If we take the view of a secular/sacred divide we will approach the scriptures with a number of unwarranted assumptions: God is more interested in the soul than in the body; the things of eternity are more important than the things of time; life can be divided into two categories; the sacred and the secular, and those who devote their whole time to sacred or spiritual work are more important to Him. However, the word of God teaches that there is a temporal reality and an eternal reality. Both are very real. We commence in time but end in eternity. What we do in the present should be in view of our eternal destiny. This makes evangelism important, but not all-important, in the sense that it would require us to give up our secular employment to become evangelists. Each of us must endeavour to please God by whatever means He presents to us and in our calling in life.
What is of ultimate value is our faithfulness right now in handling the resources and responsibilities God has given us. The architect who designs buildings for the glory of God, who works with integrity, diligence, fairness and excellence, who loves his wife as Christ loved the church, who nurtures his children in godly wisdom and instruction, who urges his non-Christian colleagues to heed the gospel message, is the man who will receive eternal praise from God.
All of life matters to God. There is no sacred/secular divide. At any moment, no matter what we are doing, we are relating to God either properly or improperly. We need therefore to distinguish between what is pleasing and not pleasing to Him, rather than what is sacred or secular. We are called upon to bring glory to God in whatever we do, including our daily work and the manner in which we do it.
Consider God and His work – the pattern of our endeavours
The subject of work in the Bible goes further back than the account of the fall or the work given to Adam prior even to the fall from his state of innocence for it begins with the narration of God’s work of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
The first reference to work in the Bible is found in Genesis chapter 2 verses 1- 2, ‘on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made’. God’s work is not ‘toil’. The creation is the result of the implementation of His pre-ordained design executed in accordance with His appointed time. The result is a creation that declares His glory, Ps. 19. 1. God was pleased with His work when it was finally complete for He ‘saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good’, Gen. 1. 31. There is no doubt that He derived perfect pleasure from what He had brought into existence, see Rev. 4. 8, 11.
The creative work of God has a two-fold purpose: firstly, it is created for His pleasure; secondly, through it He declares His glory and reveals Himself to men. His work continues in His creation for it is by and through His Son that all of it is held together, Col. 1. 16, 17. The range and extent of God’s continuing work in the creation is beautifully portrayed in Psalm 104. The psalmist declares, ‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom thou hast made them all’, v. 24. He announces that God continues to work in His creation through resurrection and renewal, for after the death of natural living things God sends forth His spirit to renew them on the earth, vv. 27, 30. God, speaking to Moses, reminds him that He is working out His purpose in the unfolding events of human history, Deut. 11. 1, 7. He does so in every generation. God’s greatest work is the work of redemption accomplished by Him through the incarnation, life and sacrificial death of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God is yet working and will work to His glorious end, typified when God rested from all His work on the seventh day, Gen. 2. 3.
The biblical image of God as a ‘Worker’ is foundational to our thinking about God and work. The fact that the scriptures use images of human work to describe God’s work shows us that there is an analogy between them.
To be continued
AUTHOR PROFILE: BRIAN GRIFFITHS fellowships in the Ballylintagh assembly, near Coleraine, Northern Ireland. He is married and has two grown-up children. He recently left employment in order to devote his time to Bible teaching and gospel work.