Session Four: The Gospel & Work (Part Two)

This is the last of our four-session journey during which we have cast a biblical vision for work that far exceeds the narrow limits to which we often confine our work and dares to proclaim based upon the testimony of Scripture that our work within God’s world in a variety of vocations is both essential and necessary to God’s own work in the world. Where this vision of work perhaps landed uneasily and uncomfortably at the beginning of our exploration of these things, I pray that the Spirit of God has made you alive to this vision of work as it empowers and equips you to live and be at work in the whole of your life for the sake of Christ and the gospel of his kingdom.

Session four is a continuation of session three where we began to unpack the idea that your work will be different, changed and transformed because of the good news that Jesus is King over everything—not just your heart but the whole world and even your work within it. God has laid the good news of Jesus like a blanket over all of creation so that no square inch of it shall remain untouched and unchanged by Christ the King. Therefore, your work will be at some level distinctly Christian, marked and transformed by Christ. We unpacked this idea during session three by investigating how the truth of God’s gospel reshapes the why? (genesis) and what for? (telos) of our work. It is worth recapping briefly.

Regarding the genesis (or why?) of Christian work, we focused on three truths out of which arise a distinctly Christian motivation to work. First, work is innately good because God reveals himself as a worker. Second, we are created and commanded to work. Intrinsic to our humanity, to our identity as image bearers of God, is a command to work. As Christians, we do not work for an identity, but we work out of the identity God has given us in Christ. Third, God is redeeming all things. God is concerned with the whole scope of creation, and God will call us to work even in the age and world to come. Therefore, we can participate in that future now as we are at work in God’s world to offer a foretaste of the renewed world to come to those around us. Regarding the telos (or what for?) of Christian work, we determined that Christian work ought to have as its end purpose and goal loving God and loving neighbor. It was here the idea of common grace was introduced in order to differentiate between loving neighbor as the ultimate end of work and loving God as the ultimate end of work. Only Christian work can and should be aimed at loving God and loving neighbor. Session four will continue the conversation by looking at the where? (locus), how? (ethos) and when? (chronos) of our work.

REVISITING QUESTIONS NEEDING ANSWERS

As we mentioned in session three, these five categories—the genesis, telos, locus, ethos and chronos of work—are introduced to help give clarity to the three banner questions we introduced in session one: what is the creational aim of your occupation?; how has sin corrupted your occupation?; and how has Christ through his Spirit equipped you to renew/restore your occupation? As we gain answers to these questions, we will be equipped to join our work with Christ’s work to make all things new.

As in session three, we have designed time later this morning to discuss these things together in order to help one another bring the universal truth of the gospel to bear on the particulars of our work.

THE LOCUS OF CHRISTIAN WORK

We will turn first this morning to the locus or where? of Christian work. We will understand the locus of work as the “location” in which you connect your work with God’s work. There are three “places” or “locations” that we will examine—geographic location, vocational sphere and corporate association. For example, the math teacher at Parkview High School’s geographic location would be Lilburn, their vocational sphere education and their corporate association Parkview High School/Gwinnett County Public Schools. In each of these “places” we will examine how the Christian ought to reckon with the weight the gospel of Jesus bears upon it.

THE GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION OF WORK

The first “location” of our work is geographic in nature. The concern for the Christian regarding geographic location is not necessarily the geographic location of work in isolation but how the geographic location of occupational work intersects with the rest of our work in God’s world—in our neighborhoods, our families and our churches. In other words, when considering how Christ informs the geographic location of our occupational work, the question to ask is not simply, “Is Buckhead a good or bad place to work?” Instead, the question is: “How does my occupational work being geographically located in Buckhead help or hinder my work in my family, my church and my neighborhood?” Christ is Lord over the whole of our lives, not simply parts of it. Therefore, our consideration of geographic location must consider how we are to be faithful to Christ in all other areas of life as well.

Still, the question emerges: “What ought to take primacy as the Christian considers these things?” The ballast to steady our consideration of this question is this—the Christian is first a servant of Christ and his church. Christ demands that we forsake all things to follow him. Jesus offers piercing words in Luke 14.33: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” And in giving ourselves wholly to him, we belong first and supremely to him. But we also belong to his church. We cannot separate our belonging to Christ and our belonging to his church. Our belonging to Christ’s church is bound up in our belonging to Christ because Christ has called us to himself and equipped us to join with him in his work in the world through his church. We must remember that the church is God’s appointed means to accomplish his work in the world if we are to think rightly about the issues at hand. So to be at work with Christ is to be at work with his church.

Because we have such a low view of what it means to belong to the church of Christ, it may seem strange to hear that our service of and belonging to the church holds primacy even over our belonging to and service of our families. But this is God’s good design—and even his demand— for the life of his people. A few verses earlier in Luke 14.26, Jesus speaks these sharp words: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” By God’s design, being a servant first to Christ and his church will fit us to give ourselves in a Christ-honoring way to our families and our neighbors and co-workers.  Therefore, the geographic location of Christian work is determined by a supreme affection for Christ and a supreme desire to join with him and his church in his mission of making all things new.

THE VOCATIONAL SPHERE OF WORK

The second “location” or “place” of our occupational work is vocational sphere. In the example given earlier, the vocational sphere of the high school math teacher is education. The more technical label for this “location” of work might be industry. There are two truths the Christian should remember when contemplating the implications of Christ’s lordship over this location of work. These two truths seem to be in conflict and in tension with one another, but tension abounds as we live between the times, in the already-not-yet. Such tension is a gracious providence that teas down all pretenses of self-determination and leads us to lean into the sufficiency of God.  The first truth we must remember is that sin has corrupted and misdirected every fabric of the created order and every fiber of our being away from God and towards sin. Even our industries—whether education or manufacturing or homemaking—are subject to the corruption of sin. The Christian must be acutely aware of the brokenness of their industry and how it is disposed to work against the grain of God’s work in the world. But the Christian must not necessarily seek to retreat from their industry into a “less secular” or “less sinful” industry. When I moved out of the engineering and construction world into pastoral ministry, a common response was something to the effect of, “Good for you. Now you are doing the Lord’s work.” This again is indicative of the dualism that we have labored to deconstruct. We must remember that that vocation of the orphanage director is enslaved to the same curse of sin as the vocation of the lawyer.

But we would be remiss to say that there are not times when the Christian should and perhaps even must retreat from their current industry. The industry of adult film making is such a perversion of the film making industry and human sexuality that there it has no place in Christ’s kingdom. It hates God and hates people. It is not life-giving. It is death-producing. And the Christian must not work there. While this is an extreme example, the point to be made is that the Christian must be aware of the ways—whether few or numerous and to varying degrees—sin has corrupted one’s vocational sphere or industry.

The second truth that is presented in tension with the first truth the Christian must remember when contemplating what Christ’s lordship means for the vocational sphere of work is that Christ has called us to join with him in his work in the world and equipped us with his Spirit to do so. Christ’s redemption flows “as far as the curse (of sin) is found,” and it flows even into our vocational spheres of work. Therefore, we must prayerfully consider how to best employ the gifts, passions and talents which we have received from God in service of God and neighbor. If one has an immense passion and identifiable gift for teaching math to high school students, it will serve their neighbor well to be at work there. Their neighbor is not as well served by their working at Chick-fil-A. Certainly, as we seek to balance the tensions of the whole of life, there will be circumstances and perhaps even extend seasons that will require our working in vocational spheres outside of our passions and gifts. The aspiring novelist who is also a father of four should probably not quit his job that provisions his family with food and shelter and medical care to work on his self-published novel without pay. Wisdom would require as much. Nonetheless, for the sake of Christ and his mission to bring renewal to every square inch of his world, we should prayerfully discern where we can employ the passions and gifts the Spirit has given us for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

I think it’s worth offering a side note here to husbands. As much as possible, understanding there is a lot of tension and complexity in this issue, put your wife in positions to work in cadence with her passions and giftings. In The Meaning of Marriage, Kathy Keller offers a great illustration from the perspective of the wife. When asked how he was able to carve David with such human resemblance out of a slab of marble, Michelangelo responded, “I chipped away everything that didn’t look like David.” The point she is making is profound—that as husbands and wives we have a responsibility to one another to chip away those things that don’t belong, to put one another in positions that most resemble their new creation in Christ.

THE CORPORATE ASSOCIATION OF WORK

The third “location” or “place” of work is corporate association. This is where we work in the sense of employment—we are an employee of an employer. There is a lot of overlap between this location of work and the vocational sphere of our work. As such, the considerations of vocational sphere ought to remain when considering corporate association as well. For example, just as the whole of an industry is bent toward sin, so too are the companies and businesses that make up and support that industry. However, the corporate association of our work is a more personal location than an abstract, impersonal industry. Therefore, there are additional considerations the Christian would do well to bear in mind when attempting to bring the lordship of Christ to bear on their particular work.

While the industry of home building is at some level by God’s common grace directed towards loving neighbor (by providing shelter), work can happen within the corporate association that works against loving others. Companies can build homes with the operating principle of maximizing profits at any expense. This can lead to relationships with suppliers that are one-sided and overly demanding because they are only concerned with lowering cost, relationships with employees that are autocratic because employees are diminished to pawns the game of profit and relationships with customers and clients that are shallow at best because they are simply a means to their own financial success. Such relationships are not neighbor-loving. And the Christian must resist the temptation to align and partner with those who work so destructively against the grain of God’s good design and oppose God’s plan for flourishing and provisioning his world.

This is not to say that Christians ought to seek employment only from Christian companies or Christian bosses. By God’s grace, there are non-Christians who aim work at loving neighbor with whom Christians can partner. There are, shamefully, non-Christian companies who love their neighbors better than professing Christians. While acknowledging the tensions of balancing the whole of life, it is beneficial for the Christian to seek to be at work in locations out of which neighbor love flows, to align with like-minded others for the sake of our working in rhythm with God’s design for our work.

It is apparent even from the short treatment of these things that there is a deep depth of complexity to these issues, and it is nearly unfair to offer such a short treatment, but prayerfully these thing will only continue to stir your additional prayerful consideration. For now we will turn to the ethos, or how? of Christian work.

THE ETHOS OF CHRISTIAN WORK

The ethos or how? of work is the habit or custom of work. It is the manner in which we work. The Greek work ethos is the root of ethikos from which we derive the English word ethics. The gospel of Jesus speaks both to personal ethics and organizational ethics of our work. The Christian must consider both in order to most fully be at work in a way that accords with the ethic of Christ’s kingdom. The ethic of Christ’s kingdom is governed by the law of love. It recognizes the intrinsic worth of people, seeks first the good of others and cares for creation. The Christian is constrained at both a personal and corporate level by the biblical testimony that all persons are made in the image of God and thus possess intrinsic worth and value. The ethic of Christ’s kingdom demands there be an equity with which the Christian treats others. The Christian’s personal interactions with others in the workplace should acknowledge that the worth of others is not determined by job title or salary level but by God whose image they bear. Relationships with others should be valued not simply for the utility they provide you or the company but because their Creator has dignified them. This prohibits the Christian from marginalizing or belittling others by turning them into a means for personal or corporate gain. At an organization level, the process of work must likewise recognize the dignity of people. The structure and process of work should be life-giving and edifying to God’s image bearers.

Additionally, the Christian operating in accordance with the ethic of Christ’s kingdom will be marked by a humility that considers the needs of others with primacy. The humble mind is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2.5), and we would do well to consider often the very humility of Christ himself whose humility we are called to demonstrate to those around us. Any self-serving ethic at a personal or organization level is a transgression of the law of love.

Further, the ethic of Christ’s kingdom demands faithful care of God’s creation. The creation itself awaits redemption in Christ (Romans 8.21). Therefore, as those who have been redeemed, we can put (although in part) the redemption we have received in Christ on display in creation. Depending on your particular work, this particular part of the ethic of Christ’s kingdom may be more evidenced at a personal level or organizational level. For the homemaker, the responsibility to care for God’s creation will bear weight at a personal level. How the food you prepare was grown, what chemicals are in the cleaning products you use and what environments you expose children to should all be considered as one implicated in the care of God’s creation. For the COO of a manufacturing company, how the raw materials you need are manufactured, how you dispose of waste and how the consumer uses your product must be considered as you aim to care for God’s creation.

Again, we are forced to leave a lot of unexplored material behind for the sake of turning to the chronos or when? of Christian work.

THE CHRONOS OF CHRISTIAN WORK

This is perhaps the most neglected and ignored aspect of work, even for the Christian. This is the area where most frequently our work fails to be distinctly Christian as we leave this aspect of work to be informed by cultural norms and expectations. Central to the when? of Christian work is the idea of Sabbath. The creation narrative of Genesis 1 is rhythmed with six days of God at work and at rest on the seventh day. In the command to Israel to pattern their work in the same way, Exodus 20.8-11 declares:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The work/rest cadence is grounded in creative activity of God who in infinite wisdom created the world. In this way, the work/rest cadence is a creational norm. It belongs to the original creation of God and is therefore good, indeed very good. Interestingly, in recounting the work of the Lord before entering into the Promised Land, Moses grounds the work/rest cadence to which God calls his people differently. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 declares:

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Where Exodus grounds the work/rest cadence in creation, Deuteronomy grounds it in redemption. The work/rest cadence is grounded in redemptive activity of God who worked for us when we could not work for ourselves. The rest of the Sabbath is opportunity to remember the Lord’s work of redemption, to call to mind that it is ultimately he who is at work in the world and that the completion of that work is ultimately the Lord’s.

The Christian has great reason, therefore, not only to work but to inject appropriate rest into work. Rest belongs to the goodness of God’s design for his world. And rest is an opportunity to remember how the Lord worked on our behalf. Rest slows us to enjoy the goodness of God and his creation. And rest forces us to reckon with the fact that we are not God. Therefore, a refusal to rest indicates we neither trust the goodness of God nor his faithfulness to finish the work he began. This pattern of work/rest is in stark contrast to the one put forward by American culture which views the refusal of rest as a badge of honor and a mark of commitment. For the Christian, commitment to Christ is not marked by a refusal of rest but by a humble embrace of rest. Christ himself said in Mark 2.27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

So in conclusion we return to the purpose of the FaithWork Initiative—to affirm the innate goodness of work and to aide in directing the telos of work to join in God’s cosmic program of redemption. Thus the FaithWork Initiative aims to be a Spirit-empowered tool to equip and empower the saints to do the work of gospel ministry in accordance with Ephesians 4.12. Four sessions under the banner of the FaithWork Initiative is insufficient to fulfill this purpose, but I do pray that it has been sufficient in the hands of the Spirit to begin moving in that direction—for the sake of his glory in his people that he has redeemed and in his world that he will also soon redeem.

FRAMING THE QUESTIONS NEEDING ANSWERS

To help aide in bringing all that we have laid before you to bear on the reality of your work. Prayerfully, the truths we have labored to discuss and unpack will prove a trustworthy foundation to build upon. And we want to build upon it by seeking answers to the “banner” questions we have presented from session one. As a reminder, those “banner” questions are:

What is the creational purpose of your work? Or, what part did God intend your work to play in His economy of all things?

How has sin corrupted your work? Or, what are the idols and lies of your work?

How does the redemption won in Christ bring renewal to your work? Or, how can you co-labor with Christ to bring renewal to the world through your work?

To help answer these questions we will ask some additional ones. The intent in seeking answers to these questions is that we might be more faithfully and more eagerly wield our work for the sake of joining God’s mission in the world. As has been said, such end is the underlying goal of the FaithWork Initiative—to equip you to join your work with God’s work, to faithfully do the work of the ministry in and through your work. The questions to which we will now turn are organized under the headings of locus, ethos and chronos. Before we begin discussing these within your groups, let me pray that the Spirit would give wisdom and insight and clarity.

Locus Questions

What place does the church have in the rhythm and pattern of your week (e.g., calendar out church to Sunday mornings)?

What is your role in the church (e.g., small group member, attender)?

Where is your occupational work located geographically? Does this help or hinder your work in your family, your church and your neighborhood?

What service does your industry provide? How does it promote the flourishing of God’s world?

Who are the decision makers and culture shapers in your industry and/or workplace (e.g., the county school board, board of directors)?

What (if any) influence can you exert there (e.g. visiting a board meeting, scheduling a meeting with your boss)?

Where do you see others working for the benefit of neighbor around you? How can you work with them?

What are you passions and gifts? How are you employing these currently in your work? Are there opportunities to put these in better service of God and neighbor elsewhere?

Ethos Questions

What is the law driving the ethics of your work (e.g., the law of profits)? How does this accord or contradict the law of love?

How do you view subordinates, assistants, part-timers, contract workers?

Do you know who cleans your office?

What opportunities are there to serve people at your work place? Through your work?

In what ways are you a steward of God’s creation in and through your work?

Chronos Questions

What is your typical work schedule?

How often are you expected to be “on call” or “online”?

How do you spend your time that is not work?

How quick (or not) are you to rest?

What do you dwell on when you are at rest?