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.
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.”
If you look at this passage there are two main ideas in the creation of humanity. We were created in the image of God and we were given tasks and assignments to accomplish (work). What it means to be created in the image of God is a vast, complex and beautiful topic that we do not have the ability to expound on much here today, however; I want to make one significant point in some way being created in God’s image and being created to work are linked. The fact that the passage above alternates between image and assignment and again image and assignment makes me propose God’s image in us 1) allows us to complete our assignments and 2) we look like God as we complete those assignments. As I was pondering this several avenues of thought and questions occurred to me. How does God’s image equip us to work? Are our particular assignments given in Genesis 1 “God-like?” But the one that I probably spent the most time thinking about and studying and what I want to discuss with you here today is:
How do we look like God as we work? Can we work like God works? With that said we are going to organize our thoughts with several questions. Does God work? If God works then does that change our concept of work? If God works then what type of work does God do? And how does our work compare to God’s work?
God and Work
Sometimes our theological ideas about God are so grand that we have trouble thinking about God actually doing anything. Sometimes God’s transcendence, otherworldliness, holiness and unchanging nature are stressed so we cannot imagine God working. We think that real work would in some way diminish God’s perfection. However; throughout Scripture God is illustrated as extremely active and intimately involved in getting things done. A quick surface look at a couple verse in Genesis 1 and 2 will be sufficient for now. Genesis 1:1 God creates. Genesis 2:1 God finishes his work and rests. (God resting is another topic for another day.)Genesis 2:7 God forms man. The words used in the description of this event are very visceral and tactile. Genesis 2:8 God plants a garden. At the very beginning of Scripture we encounter a God who creates, makes, shapes, forms and plants. Then throughout the rest of Scripture God continuously describes himself by using occupational metaphors such as a shepherd, gardener, vine-dresser, businessman and even a metal-smith.
God is perfectly comfortable with working and being thought of as a worker. But we may still have questions about how could God actually work. Often when work is easy we do not consider it work. Our concept of work includes descriptors such as hard, toilsome, tiring, time-consuming, exhausting, frustrating, boring, necessary and required. With a concept of that necessarily includes those ideas it is not only hard to imagine God as working but it would be wrong. Nothing is hard for God. God never gets tired. God is never frustrated or bored. Nothing outside of God ever imposes requirements upon Him. God has unlimited amounts of time and energy so nothing can ever truly consume them. Work and God seem like mutually exclusive ideas. So if scripture reveals God to work and our concept of work seems to be something that God cannot do then we must change our concept of work. Allow me the opportunity to propose a basic definition of work.
Work is the intentional use of a person’s energy (mental, physical, emotional and/or spiritual) to accomplish a specific change.
There are four key ideas within that definition: Personal – By my definition, work is only done by persons. This does not mean that only humans can do work. The word person is broader than a synonym for the word human. God for example is a person. Angels would qualify as persons. Intentional – Work is done based on a previous decision of the will. Work cannot happen by accident or at random. This is why work must be done by a person. Only persons have the ability to use their will to intentionally decide to do work. Energy – Work requires that a person intentionally spend energy. We have to use some of the resources available to us. This energy may come in several different forms: mental, physical, emotional and/or spiritual energy. (However with God the difference is that He has infinite amounts of energy so no matter how much energy He spends there is never a change in the amount He has available.) Change – The person has to intend to make a change and the person has to accomplish a change. However, the accomplished and the intended changes do not necessarily have to be the same.
With a change in our concept of work we can now imagine that God is able to work. So let’s move to a different topic of conversation. Since God works, what type of work would God do? One of the things I’ve been trying to do in all my theological thinking is to be intentionally Trinitarian, so as we examine this question we are going to look at each person of the Trinity individually. As we look at these things keep in mind that a single member of the Trinity never works alone. The Father never does anything without the Son or the Spirit being involved. ( This is another fascinating point, if the Trinity works in community and we are made in the image of the Trinity then it would be right to assume that we are not designed to work alone this can be exemplified by the creation of Eve.) But for the sake of organization I’m going to take each of the persons of the Trinity and state two large categories that their work falls into.
God the Father
In Genesis 1:1 we see God creates. Genesis 2: 1 through 4, Hebrews 11:3 and Romans 4:17 are just some of the other passages that describe God creating. What skills does God need to be creative? He needs imagination to be able to see things that do not yet exist. He needs power to be able to make things exist. And he needs a will to be able to decide to do it and follow through with it. As you work, are you able to be creative? What part of your job is creative? We do not create things out of nothing like God. We are limited in our creativity and our power but we can still create things. When was the last time you imagined something at your job that didn’t exist before, that you had the power to put into place, and that you were able to follow through on and get done? I remember working in laboratory I created a database that kept our supplies and orders so much more organize than they had been before.
You may not have a very creative job. Maybe the next type of work God does is more like your job. In Acts 14:17 we see Paul describe a God who sustains the creation. Psalms 104: 10 -30 the Psalmist goes into great details about the sustentative nature of God. I’ll read verse 10 -15.
10 He causes the springs to gush into the valleys;
they flow between the mountains.
11 They supply water for every wild beast;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the sky live beside the springs;
they sing among the foliage.
13 He waters the mountains from His palace;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of Your labor.
14 He causes grass to grow for the livestock
and provides crops for man to cultivate,
producing food from the earth,
15 wine that makes man’s heart glad—
making his face shine with oil—
and bread that sustains man’s heart.
God never created the universe to function without his intimate presence within it. God is involved in the minutia of details it takes for the creation to be maintained day in and day out What skills does God need to sustain things? He needs compassion. He needs to know what those things need. He needs the wisdom to know how to best provide it. He needs to have the power to provide what is needed. He needs the perseverance to continue to provide as long as the sustenance is needed. Is your job sustaining in nature? Several times in my life I have been a janitor or custodian. I never connected my daily maintenance routine of kitchens or bathrooms as being anything like something God would do. But now that I think about it I was working in that kitchen at Messiah or Taco Bell taking care of things in a small way that was reminiscent of God taking care of the universe. (That is if you ignore the fact the Taco Bell food could kill you on the spot but the effects sin has had on work is a topic for another time.)
God the Son
Now let’s move on to God the Son. The two categories that I want to spend some time on are communicator and redeemer. God the Son is the Word of God. He is the communication of who God is to the entirety of creation. In reference to Jesus Christ, John refers to Him as the Word. And as John 1:14 and 18 says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Christ came to make God the Father known. Christ is the Word that communicates God the Father in a way that makes it possible for us to know and understand Him. In Colossians 1:15 Paul writes of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Christ is the exact likeness of God. I find it fascinating that both verbal and visual metaphors are used in describing how Christ communicates God the Father to humanity.
In order for Christ to be a good communicator He needs to intimately know the subject manner that He is trying to communicate and He needs to intimately know the audience to whom he is trying the communicate to. There is also a decision to reveal and an act of revelation. Do you have to communicate for your job? Are you in any way being Christ-like in the way you are trying to communicate? Now in our jobs the message we have to communicate is typically less important that trying to explain the God of the universe to a separated humanity but the process we use can actually connect us to that God if consciously realize that we are working like God.
Christ the redeemer is about the Son of God coming to us and taking our evil and sin and providing a way for us to eternally reconnect with the God of the universe. Christ saw that we were separated from God by our sins. This was unacceptable. Then He imagined, created, made a way for the situation to be changed and humanity to be reconciled to God. This took an investment by Christ. Christ sacrificed his resources, to the very point of himself to provide a way for our redemption. Nothing we do will come close to the redemption Christ provided for humanity on the cross. However; there are redemptive processes in our lives. We can be redemptive even though we have no power to redeem others from their sins. We can act redemptively. Our work can be redemptive. Redemption leads to change. There has to be an evaluation aspect to things. The redeemer has to be able to say things are not the way they should be. Then the redeemer needs to be able to see, remember or imagine a better way. A redeemer needs to be able to know what is broken and have a vision of how to fix it. Then the redeemer needs to invest some of their personal resources to actualize the necessary change.
I spent 4 months in Mexico, working with Baptist Campus Ministry in the city of Guadalajara. They owned a building in a central location in the city. On the side of that building was a dirt path that led to the basketball court. During the rainy season it was nothing but mud. All the water from the court would use the path as a gutter to run off. The situation was unacceptable and it was my job to fix the problem. The really cool part was that I was given creative freedom to imagine and design the solution. We created a brick sidewalk that was sloped in the middle so that during the rainy season it actually functioned like a gutter. Then we lined the sides of the sidewalk with plants and grasses to hold things in place. I was able to change things to the way things should be.
Now understand what I did in no way compares to what Christ did on the cross. Christ’s redemption of humanity was the greatest event in history, however; I can find some small meaning in my work knowing that I was using similar skills and attributes as God while I was working. I was in some small way being redemptive. The image of God was shining in me.
In your job do you ever have the responsibility to point out things that are not working properly? These can be physical, informational or social structures. Do you ever have to say “this is broken?” After you have identified something that is wrong and imagined how to fix, then you need to use some of your personal resources of time, energy, money etc. to fix it. When you do these things you are being redemptive. You are working like God the Son works.
God the Holy Spirit
Quite often the Holy Spirit is the forgotten member of the Trinity. This neglect of the Spirit is a result of the nature of the way the Holy Spirit works. The Father created out of nothing but when He created it existed. The Father’s work is within creation. We also can see Jesus’ work on the cross in the exterior world. He died for all eyes to see. Christ’s work is within history. But the Holy Spirit works within the confines of others. The Holy Spirit works on us and within us. The Holy Spirit’s sphere of influence is within the private realm. I can only know how the Holy Spirit is working on you by how you describe it too me. A moment of honesty; the skeptic in me is really dismissive of the work of the Holy Spirit because I can’t see, or hear, or taste, or smell or even touch it. I have to feel it inside of me. I am somewhat skeptical about my own encounter with the Holy Spirit, however; I am extremely skeptical about your experience with the Holy Spirit because you are not me and I don’t trust anyone who is not me. (Now I may have exaggerated those feelings a little but not that much.)
I have chosen to focus on two large categories for this study: The Holy Spirit as Convicter and as Enabler. In John 16 we see God the Holy Spirit as the convicter of sin.
John 16:7 – 11 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
In order for the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin He has to have certain attributes. First He has to know the difference between right and wrong. Then He has to be passionate/interested in what is right. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because the Holy Spirit cares about righteousness. Finally, the Holy Spirit has to be able to accurately communicate what does not match up to what ought to be. The Holy Spirit needs to be able to point out what is wrong and to point to what is right.
Our work can be convicting along the lines of the Holy Spirit’s work. We need to intimately know the laws, regulations and rules that govern our interactions at work. What should we be doing at our job? How should we be doing it? We not only need to know the rules but we also need to care about them. We need to care about doing things the right way. We need to want to follow the rules. Then we need to communicate what those rules mean and how to follow them to others in a way that is meaningful.
The second description of the work of the Holy Spirit is enabler. God the Holy Spirit is busy enabling us to act in such a way that is pleasing to God. Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In this passage we see that the Holy Spirit gives us power, however, that power can only be known through action. Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Again we see the Holy Spirit fill a person and the evidence of that filling was an action by the person.
Joel 2:28 – 29
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
We see the evidence of the work Holy Spirit as a secondary action of the person being enabled. How will we know the Holy Spirit is working? We only know the Holy Spirit is working because it has empowered the person to do some sort of action. This idea about the intangible work of the Holy Spirit may sound very familiar. Many of us have jobs that we feel are overlook, ignored or underappreciated. How many of us have jobs that solely and entirely facilitate the success of others? How many of you have taken the blame for a failure of someone else not doing what you seriously tried to get them to do?
I have worked with students as either a school teacher, youth pastor or campus minister for most of my professional career. How successful I am, is always measured by the change I produce in other individuals. I am a good teacher if my students learn what I teach them. I am a good minister if the students start to grasp lives as a Christian. My success is greatly dependent upon the interior world of other people. These are jobs that work through the power of influence instead of the power of force. My father repairs jewelry and watches for his career. At the end of the day he could tell you the exact number of watches he fixed. His work was much more concrete than mine. So many times I want to have a job that is more concrete. There is a sense of accomplishment when you can point to something physically present that you have done.
I believe that many of us have trouble seeing the immediate values in our jobs because they do not necessarily produce immediate tangible results. Our jobs as convictors and empowerers are measured in how much we are able to influence others to action. Jobs that are like this in nature can very easily relate to the work the Holy Spirit does. As you work to influence others and produce positive change in people know that who are working like God works.
Allow me to finish with this thought. 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. Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. …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: Deuteronomy 6:13, 10:12 and 20, 11:13 and 13:4 are some examples.
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, as we work we can look like God. We can in a small way be creative and sustentative. We can be redemptive and communicative. We can be enabling and convicting. Through our work we can remind ourselves about who God is and what God has done. This should produce a sense of worship in us. Through our work we put on display a little bit of what God is like for others. This may be able to bring other closer to worshipping the Almighty. Work can be considered worship or as I like to call it Work-Ship.