As Christians, we can so easily compartmentalize our lives and divide things into categories like church, work, and family. Instead of our faith in Christ being sovereign over and seeping into those categories, we attempt to delegate them to their own category. This often results in our faith absent in our work lives. This compartmentalization does not follow the biblical model of the Christian life and it operates against the biblical truth that Christ is Lord of our lives. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” (Col. 1:17). So what then is the biblical model to follow as we approach our work as Christians? It is helpful to begin at the beginning in answering that question.
In Genesis chapter 2, when God made Adam, he also made a garden and put Adam there to work the garden. Adam was to work with what God had already created. God made the garden, God watered the garden with the river that flowed through Eden, and God made the plants to spring up in the garden. Adam’s job was essentially to cultivate and harvest what God had made. Soon after, the Fall occurred when Adam and Eve sinned and God pronounced a curse to Adam:
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen. 3:17-19).
This curse overturned the blessing that Adam experienced through God’s watering and bringing forth plants in the garden. From that point on, Adam’s cultivation and harvest was far more difficult outside the garden. We continue to feel the brunt of this curse. Work can be hard for all sorts of reasons. People can be difficult to work with, things break or break down, work takes a toll on our bodies, and so on. Although work is hard, we press on because life requires that we work, God equips us for work, and work can be enjoyable.
In Exodus 31, we read about Bezalel and Oholiab, whom God had equipped to carry out all the instructions of building the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant, and the rest of the furnishings. Of Bezalel God said, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Exod. 31:3-5). God said something similar of Oholiab and the point is that God had equipped them both not to perform what we might construe as more holy work, namely priestly ministry, but to use their hands and creativity to build. They were to take what God had created and do what Adam did, which was cultivate and harvest something that would bring glory to God. In the story of their work on the tent of meeting and furnishings, we do not hear about the difficulty of their work, though we can surmise it was. Instead, we see that God worked out His will through men that He equipped and called for a particular vocation.
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us and not for a specific task like building, but for conviction of sin and of righteousness, for illumination of God’s truth in the scriptures, to point us to Christ, and to make us increasingly like Him. We could say that Christ in us through the Holy Spirit is the way in which Christ assimilates the categories of our lives. It is how our separate categories are obliterated as he fills them all. It is also how we work amidst a fallen world. It is how we continue to take what God has created and cultivate and harvest something that brings glory to Him. Christ in us is how we work. He is the catalyst that makes our work God-honoring. The Apostle Paul said, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). In the same way that we are to work with what God has already made in creation to bring Him glory, we are to work with what God has made new in us through Christ, by His Spirit to bring Him glory.
Due to the way this works, namely that God brings glory to himself through our work, we cannot attribute to ourselves the success we may experience in work. It is similar to our salvation in that all we have is not from ourselves and, therefore, what we do with what is not ours cannot be ours to boast about. So, work should not lead us to the notion that we have accomplished something in our own strength, but it should lead us to thanksgiving and joy (Col. 3:17, 23). Conversely, work should not lead us to despair and disappointment as though our identity is wrapped up in what work we do. The call is still for our work to lead us to thanksgiving and joy. If work for us is about fulfilling our identity, then we will inevitably end up either sinfully boasting about or loathing ourselves. If our identity is in Christ, then we can be free to work giving thanks to Him and finding joy in all situations.
So as men, our response to the biblical model of work cannot be to simply read the books and listen to the podcasts. We need good resources and we need more of them, but when it comes to our faith at work the proof is in the pudding. We don’t take Jesus to work with us—He is already there. He’s not a cheeky slogan on a sticky note at our desks. Working in faith is active. We start being who we are in Christ at work. We seek to glorify him in every brick we lay and report we complete. We share the gospel. We pray. We work as children of our heavenly Father by pointing people to Christ our elder brother and relying on the Holy Spirit.
BIO: Nick Abraham (MDiv, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) lives in Navarre, OH with his wife and daughter. He currently serves as a Pastoral Intern at Alpine Bible Church in Sugarcreek, OH and works full-time at Smuckers. He is a contributor to Make, Mature, Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus and blogs at Like Living Stones.
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