As the Campus Minister at Drexel, the number one thing I talk to students (and even faculty and staff) about is work. Work is the central theme of a Drexel education. Most students go to Drexel because of the job they will be able to get afterwards. While they are there the typical Drexel will have 3 different internships (co-ops). Students seem to spend their lives either at work or in the process of getting work. This context has forced me to think through how Christianity relates to the idea of work. First, I want to give acknowledgement David Bushman, the Baptist Campus Minister at Princeton, whose dissertation actually prompted many of these thoughts.
Allow me to start with a story. (I’ve completely fabricated while preparing for a sermon so if they bear any resemblance to you or anyone you know that is just the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The similarities are unintentional on my part.) The first brother is John. John works in stocks for a huge financial company in New York City. He and his family live in Bucks County near me. Every morning John wakes up at 4:30 AM and drives into the other city (NY) so that he can beat traffic. If everything goes right he can be at his desk by 7 AM. John works long hours. He never gets home before dark. Dinner is usually very cold by the time he eats it. John seems to be always working. He has to. That is the only way to succeed in stocks. He loves to work because his job is extremely fulfilling. John connects what he is doing directly to his clients. Every time he makes a good investment he feels satisfaction knowing that his client’s future/retirement/college plans/families are little bit more secure. Every time he makes a mistake he personally feels the loss. John works this way and this hard because he is a Christian. Yet, he feels like many Christians judge him because he never has time or energy for church or Bible Study or small groups or family picnics. John frequently whispers to himself, “God must understand because doesn’t the Bible say something about working diligently.” Why can’t these other Christians understand that God is okay with John’s schedule? They don’t seem to mind when John’s tithe check comes in.
Then there is John’s brother Jim. Jim is probably a genius. He can do anything and everything. Yet he really does nothing. Jim is working his third mediocre job in the last three years. He keeps looking for the job that doesn’t interfere with what is really important to him. He is looking for that job that doesn’t get in the way with his real life. Jim’s real life is at church. Jim is the volunteer youth leader at a small rural church in Bucks County as well. He works just hard enough to keep his job. He makes just enough to pay his bills and give to the church. But when Jim is working his mind is not there, his heart is not there and you can tell. He has so much talent but it never comes through at his job. He doesn’t want to waste his energy on something as trivial as working. The youth at his church are so much more important. Sunday nights, Wednesday nights he’s with them. Saturdays he usually tries to organize something fun. He has even been thinking about taking a longer lunch break and seeing if he can eat in the local school cafeteria. Jim feels like this is exactly what God has called him to do. His brother doesn’t understand. Jim is tired of his brother’s lectures on diligence and responsibility. He just doesn’t get it. If John was committed to God a little bit more he would understand why work is just not satisfying.
How would you summarize John’s attitude about work? Is it right or is it wrong? What are some things from his story do you find convincing? What parts of his attitude toward work would you try to adjust? How would you summarize Jim’s attitude about work? Is it right or is it wrong? What are some things from his story do you find convincing? What parts of his attitude toward work would you try to adjust? Which brother do you most identify with and why? Which brother would be most accepted by your church? Which brother would be most accepted by your parents? Which brother would be most accepted by your friends?
John’s and Jim’s theologies effected how they work. What we believe about God, creation, humanity, sin, right and wrong, etc. will deeply affect the way we think about work. Although, you may not have a well developed theological understanding about work, you do have one. Although, you may have never completely thought through how your beliefs affect how you work, they do. Allow me to further illustrate this point by taking us out of our Christian context.
The philosophical concept of dualism developed in ancient Greek thought. This was the idea that the spiritual was ultimately good and the physical world was necessarily evil. The mind was derived from the good Olympic Gods and the body was derived from the evil Titans. Salvation was available to those who could separate their minds from their physical bodies. As you consider these ideas it is not hard to imagine vast implications for the world of work. Physical work is downplayed and almost evil. Mental work is elevated. The nobility thought about things and had slaves to labor for them. What the Greeks believed philosophically and theologically directly influenced their view of work. In a Buddhist mindset attachment is the cause for suffering. We have ambitions, wants and desires. When our wants and desires are unfulfilled we experience pain, loss and suffering. The Buddhist tries to remove wants and desires becoming unattached from this world. In so doing they will avoid suffering. The theological removal of ambition has extraordinary implications in the work environment.
So when we step outside of the Christian world view and examine examples from other philosophical frames it becomes quite clear that what we believe deeply affects how we work. However, many of us have never thoughtfully developed a consistent and coherent way to intimately connect what we believe directly to our work. Our goal will be to Biblically study what we believe as a Christian and directly apply it to our work.
Genesis 1:26 – 28
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
27 So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
This passage describes God creating humanity. As we look at it for our purposes it today you will notice that immediately following our creation, God gives us assignments. It is far broader than the scope of this sermon to examine what the commands of rule, be fruitful, fill and subdue actually mean. The nature of God’s assignments for us is very interesting but at this moment, I want point out that our creation involved tasks. We were created to do something and that something at its core nature was to work.
Secondly, we were not only are we created by God to work but we are also commanded by God to work. God told us to work. God said to them these commands. Keeping those two thought s in mind (1. that we were created to work and 2. that we were commanded to work) let’s move to Genesis chapter 2.
1 So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. 2 By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation.
4 These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. 5 No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. 6 But water would come out of the ground and water the entire surface of the land. 7 Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
8 The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed. 9 The LORD God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. …
15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. …
We work within the context God created. We work within the heavens and the earth that God made. We were placed within the garden that God planted. Our work is completely dependent upon God’s previous work. But also God created his universe and planted his garden with humanity as an integral part of the design. We are intended to be important, significant and vital in the proper functioning of God’s creation. Within God’s context our work is significant. Continuing on in chapter 2 we find another interesting thing about the way we work.
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.”
19 So the LORD God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found as his complement. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. 22 Then the LORD God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man.
We were created by God to work in a community. It is not good for us to be alone so God creates for us a “helper.” Man and woman’s initial relationship with each other is described in the context of work. Adam needed a helper. Adam being alone was the first thing in God’s creation labeled as “not good.” There are a couple points I want to bring up here.
1) Work was part of God’s good creation. Often we see work as a necessary evil however work was good and part of God’s plan.
2) God created a situation where Adam had more work than he could successfully accomplish. Adam needed a helper. Having a significant amount of work that is on a challenging level is not a bad thing.
3) We were not designed to work alone.
So allow me to summarize these ideas in two sentences. We were created by God to work in community. We were commanded by God to work in God’s context.
However; there is one last idea from this passage that I want to point out. This is the idea that got me thinking about all this in the first place and will be a good way to bring everything together. In Genesis 2:15 we see God place man in the garden to work it. That word work may be translated dress, cultivate, tend or take care of but it is just a very generic version of the word work. That word “work” is actually the Hebrew word “‛âbad.” It can mean many types of work. It is often translated into different words based on context of the sentence. The translation of the Bible sponsored by King James back in the 1600’s actually translated this word in this instance “to till” or “to dress” because that’s the type of work you do in a garden. This word ‛âbad is used often in the Hebrew Torah. In fact it is used 294 times. The vast majority of these are translated “serve” because the context that the word occurs. Many of them are in reference to the Israelites’ service to God. Look at these quotes just from the 5th book of the Hebrew Torah Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 6:13 Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.
Deuteronomy 10:12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
Deuteronomy 10:20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.
Deuteronomy 11:13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-
Deuteronomy 13:4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
This is used to point out the fact that there is no linguistic difference in the ancient Hebrew Torah between tending a garden and service to God. Taking that a step farther, work that is done because it is how God created us in obedience to God’s command for us acknowledging our dependence upon the context for which God has given us and an in community as we were designed to be, can be considered worship or a I like to call it Work-Ship.
I hope you have been able to see just a glimpse of how to look at work from a Christian perspective. There are many pieces that we didn’t have time to touch on this morning, however; I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about sin. In chapter 3 of Genesis we see sin enter the picture. Sin has a drastic effect on work. Sometimes sin on a large scale that prevents me from working where humanity’s greed has created economic situations that make work hard to find. Sometimes the curse affecting creation through droughts or disasters makes certain types of work impossible. Sometimes it is on a small scale where you personally are unable to work because of disability or disease or even your own sin. In these circumstances it can seem dehumanizing because work is so much a part of who we were created and designed to be. I don’t have all the answers for those times except that the God, who created an entire universe for us to work in and planted a garden for Adam to work in, is the God over your situation as well. He can both supply you grace to get through or find you significant tasks within any circumstance.