CAREERS AND JOBS
Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a group of young people about careers, the choices surrounding them and the pressures that many people face as they deal with the many options available today that were not there a few decades ago, making life that much more complex. Dealing with this subject proved to be a revelation as one tried to balance biblical understandings and worldviews with secular understanding of careers and jobs.
In the course of discussions, I discovered that many Christians hold a very unbiblical view of work. Some see it as a curse, or at least as part of the curse of living in a fallen world. Others hold a false division between what they see as the holy—serving God—and the secular which would include everything else. And still others make it into an idol, hoping that a career will provide them with their identity and purpose in life as well as be a source of joy, fulfilment and wholeness that only the living God can really provide.
A Shaky Foundation
Those who hold a secular view of work would say that life is divided into two separate parts. God is in one (spiritual) dimension and work is in the other (‘actual’) dimension, and the two have nothing to do with each other. God stays in His heaven while we go to work and live our life, and these two different realms never interact. One problem with this particular view is that it sets us up for disappointment. If you leave God out of the picture, you'll have to get your sense of importance, fulfilment and reward from someplace else: work. Work is the answer to the question, "Who am I, and why am I important?" That is a very shaky foundation—because, what happens if we lose our job? We’re suddenly a ‘nobody,’ and we are not important because we are not employed.
A Biblical Worldview
The secular view of work tends to make an idol of career. Career becomes the number one priority in our life. Our relationship with God takes a back seat, family takes a back seat, and even our relationship with other people often takes a back seat unless it is helpful in furthering our career and prospects at the office. Everything gets filtered through the question, "What impact will this have on my career?" The secular view of work leaves God out of the system. This is particularly unacceptable for Christians, because God calls us to make Him the centre of our life. He wants us to have a biblical worldview that weaves Him into every aspect of our lives, including work. He wants to be invited into our work; He wants to be Lord of our work.
Some people implicitly or explicitly claim that the soul matters more than the body. We can wrongly believe that God only cares about our soul, and our bodies don't really matter. The body is not important, we can think: it is only temporal, and it will fade and die. But if that view were true, then why did God make a physical universe? Why did He put Adam and Eve in the garden to cultivate and keep it? He said, "Here's the garden, now cultivate it." He gave them a job to do that had nothing to do with evangelism or church work. There is something important about our bodies, and God is honoured by work that honours and cares for the body—which, after all, is His good creation.
Which One Is Real?
Another wrong way of thinking is to value the eternal over the temporal so much that we believe only eternal things matter. Some people believe that if you work for things that won't last into eternity—jobs like roofing and party planning and advertising—you're wasting your time. This wrong thinking needs to be countered by the truth that God created two sides to reality, the temporal and the eternal. The natural universe God made is very real, just as real as the supernatural universe. Asking which one is real and important is like asking which is real, our nine months in our mother's womb or life after birth? They are both real; they are both necessary. We have to go through one to get to the other.
Those things we do and make on earth do have value, given the category they were made for: time. It's okay for things to have simply temporal value, since God chose for us to live in time before we live in eternity. Our work counts in both time and eternity because God is looking for faithfulness now, and the only way to demonstrate faithfulness is within this physical world. Spiritual needs are important, of course, but first physical needs need to be met. Try sharing the gospel with someone who hasn't eaten in three days! Some needs are temporal, and those needs must be met. So God equips people with abilities to meet the needs of His creation. In meeting the legitimate physical, temporal needs of people, our work serves people, and people have eternal value because God loves us and made us in His image.
Sacred And Secular?
Another faulty view of work comes from believing that spiritual, sacred things are far more important than physical, secular things. Real work, people can think, is serving God in full-time Christian service, and then there's everything else running a very poor second. This can induce us to think either too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves. We can think, "Real work is serving God, and then there's what others do" (which sets us up for condescension), or "Real work is serving God, and then there's what I have to do" (which sets us up for false guilt and a sense of ‘missing it’).
It's an improper way to view life as divided between the sacred and the secular. All of life relates to God and is sacred, whether we're making a business presentation or changing soiled diapers or leading someone to faith in Christ. It's unwise to think there are sacred things we do and there are secular things we do. It all depends on what's going on in our hearts. You can engage in what looks like holy activity like prayer and Bible study with a dark, self-centred, unforgiving spirit. Remember the Pharisees? And on the other hand, you can work at a job in a very secular atmosphere where the conversation is littered with profanity, the work is slipshod, the politics are wearisome, and yet like Daniel or Joseph in the Old Testament you can keep your own conversation pure and your behaviour above reproach. You can bring honour and glory to God in a very worldly environment. God does not want us to do holy things, He wants us to be holy people.
A final faulty view of work sees it only as a platform for doing evangelism. If every interaction doesn't lead to an opportunity to share the gospel, one is a failure. Evangelism should be a priority, true, but not our only priority. Life is broader than evangelism. In Ephesians 1, Paul says three times that God made us, not for evangelism, but to live to the praise of His glory (v.5). Instead of concentrating only on evangelism, we need to concentrate on living a life that honours God and loves people. That is far more winsome than all the evangelistic strategies in the world. Besides, if work is only a platform for evangelism, it devalues the work itself, and this view of work is too narrow and unfulfilling.
Next we'll examine how God wants us to look at work. You might be quite surprised!
Working For God!
So far, we have discussed faulty views of work, but how does God want us to see it? Here's a startling thought: we actually work for God Himself! Consider Ephesians 6:5-8, which Paul writes to slaves but which we can apply to employees:
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”
It's helpful to envision that behind every employer stands the Lord Jesus. He sees everything we do, and He appreciates it and will reward us, regardless of the type of work we do. I learned this lesson one day when I was cleaning the grungy bathtub of a family that wouldn't notice and would never acknowledge or thank me even if they did. I was getting madder by the minute, throwing myself a pity party, when the Lord broke into my thoughts. He quietly said, "I see you. And I appreciate what you're doing." Whoa! In an instant, that totally changed everything. Suddenly, I was able to do a menial job—and later on, more important ones—as a labour of love and worship for Jesus. I know He sees and appreciates what I do. It forever changed my view of work.
God also wants us to see that work is His gift to us. It is not a result of the Fall. God gave Adam and Eve the job of cultivating the garden and exercising dominion over the world before sin entered the world. We were created to work, and for work. Work is God's good gift to us!
Listen to what Solomon wrote:
“After looking at the way things are on this earth, here's what I've decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that's about it. That's the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what's given and delighting in the work. It's God's gift!” (Eccl.3:9-12).
Being happy in our work doesn't depend on the work, it depends on our attitude. To make the most of our job and be happy in our work is a gift God wants to give us!
Why Work Is Good
Is all work equally valid? Well, no. All legitimate work is an extension of God's work of maintaining and providing for His creation. Legitimate work is work that contributes to what God wants done in the world and doesn't contribute to what He doesn't want done. So, non-legitimate work would include jobs that are illegal, such as prostitution, drug-dealing, and professional thieves. Then there are jobs that are legal, but still questionable in terms of ethics and morality, such as working in abortion clinics, pornography, and the gambling industry. These jobs are legal, but you have to ask, how are they cooperating with God to benefit His creation?
Work is God's gift to us. It is His provision in a number of ways. In Your Work Matters To God, the authors suggest five major reasons why work is valuable:
1. Through work we serve people. Most work is part of a huge network of interconnected jobs, industries, goods and services that work together to meet people's physical needs. Other jobs meet people's aesthetic and spiritual needs as well.
2. Through work we meet our own needs. Work allows us to exercise the gifts and abilities God gives each person, whether paid or unpaid. God expects adults to provide for themselves and not mooch off others. Scripture says, "If one will not work, neither let him eat" (2Thes.3:10).
3. Through work we meet our family's needs. God expects the heads of households to provide for their families. He says, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1Tim.5:8).
4. Through work we earn money to give to others. In both the Old and New Testaments, God tells us to be generous in meeting the needs of the poor and those who minister to us spiritually.
5. Through work we love God. One of God's love languages is obedience. When we work, we are obeying His two great commandments to love Him and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We love God by obeying Him from the heart. We love our neighbour as we serve other people through our work.
We bring glory to God by working industriously, demonstrating what He is like, and serving others by cooperating with God to meet their needs. In serving others, we serve God. And that's why our work matters to God.