Labour day is the perfect time to be reminded that our work–be it accounting, construction, writing, housekeeping, farming, customer service, banking–can have eternal significance.
In his book Every Good Endeavor, pastor Timothy Keller makes the following claim:
“Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught…unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”
When I first became a Christian, my understanding of the gospel was little more than, “Jesus died so you could be forgiven and go to heaven.” Inside of that definition there’s hardly a compelling vision for our work beyond perhaps a (re)commit to basic ethics such as “don’t steal.” But when we allow the full gospel to inform our understanding of life here and now; a gospel that holds together the key truths that God came to rescue us (incarnation), through a sacrificial death (atonement) and by his resurrection offers to empower us into a new kind of life, our everyday lives become massively interesting and unimaginably purposeful. We’ve been ask to join God’s mission to bring his redeeming, restoring love to bear on every sphere of life. This will mean seeing our jobs as arenas of influence through which we have the privilege to creatively, thoughtfully, prayerfully, purposefully seek to honor God and bless our neighbours through our work.
When the gospel transforms our understanding of work, we are no longer held hostage by the two great temptations we face regarding our approach to work.
1. Work as the foundation of identity and meaning. Many people in the modern world look to their jobs for supreme self-worth and significance. Work, functionally speaking, is their god; an idol that promises salvation from insignificance (as long as we can keep producing and achieving).
But the gospel gives us an entirely new foundation for our self-worth and significance. We are treasured by God, and immensely valuable to Him. Our worth and significance is revealed most strikingly at the cross: God self-sacrifices himself on our behalf in order to save us from the power and penalty of sin. This good news allows us to put our work into a larger perspective, one that liberates us from the need to wed our identity and value to what we do and how successfully we do it. Inside of God’s redeeming love, work can become a noble good without becoming a destructive idol.
2. Work as burdensome, pointless drudgery. For as many people who idolize their work, just as many fall into the opposite temptation: to see work simply a (burdensome) means to an (self-serving) end. This view sees work as something that must simply be endured. Our jobs are necessary evils, and the goal becomes to work as little as possible in order to get on with the life we want. Of course, for many people this means simply doing work in order to access more money in order to fulfill self-serving ends (more recreation, more stuff, etc.).
But the gospel compels us into a vision for our work that explodes the “working for the weekend” paradigm. In the resurrection God has revealed his intention to “reconcile to himself all things” (Colossians 1:20). Christianity boldly declares that part of the mission of the church is to equip people to go into their workplaces confident that God will use their efforts within his broader conspiracy to overthrow the world’s brokenness with his restorative grace and goodness. Yes, every job remains difficult at times. But no job is insufferably purposeless and burdensome when we go into it knowing God has placed us there in order to express love, grace, care, integrity, and excellence.
Labour Day marks a time of transition. Some of us are preparing to head back to school tomorrow. Many of us are preparing to go back to work (at least in earnest after a summer lull). As we move back into our workplaces, what posture will characterize our efforts?
Anxious striving? Apathy and resignation?
Another way is possible. But only through the hope and power found in Christianity.
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