212) A Christian Understanding of Work

     To many people, work is a necessary evil.  The goal in life is to put in only enough time to retire and relax.  But that attitude and that goal are contrary to a Christian perspective on work.  Christians honor the fundamental dignity of workers, for we worship a God who labored to make the world, and, who created human beings in His image to be workers.  When God made Adam and Eve, He gave them work to do– cultivating and caring for the earth. 

     In the ancient world, the Greeks and Romans looked upon manual work as a curse, something for lower classes and slaves.  But Christianity changed all that.  Christians viewed work as a high calling– a calling to be co-workers with God in unfolding the rich potential of His creation.

     This high view of work can be traced throughout the history of the Church.  In the Middle Ages, the guild movement grew out of the Church.  It set standards for good workmanship and encouraged members to take satisfaction in the results of their labor.  Later, during the Reformation, Martin Luther preached that all work should be done to the glory of God.  Whether ministering the Gospel or scrubbing floors, any honest work is pleasing to the Lord.  Out of this conviction grew the Protestant work ethic.

     Christians were also active on behalf of workers in the early days of the industrial revolution, when factories were “dark satanic mills,” to borrow a phrase from Sir William Blake.  In those days, work in factories and coal mines was hard and dangerous.  Men, women, and children were practically slaves– sometimes even chained to machines.  Then John Wesley came preaching and teaching the Gospel throughout England.  He came not to the upper classes, but to the laboring classes– to men whose faces were black with coal dust, women whose dresses were patched and faded.  John Wesley preached to them, and in the process, he pricked the conscience of the whole nation.  Two of Wesley’s disciples, William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury, were inspired to work for legislation that would clean up abuses in the workplace.  At their urging, the British parliament passed child-labor laws, safety laws, and minimum-wage laws.

     Here in America we’ve lost the Christian view of labor.  Much of our culture has a distinctly Greek view of work:  We work out of necessity.  But, you see, we are made in the image of God, and as such we are made to work:  to create, to shape, to bring order out of disorder.  All labor derives its true dignity as a reflection of the Creator.  And whatever we do, in word or deed, we do it all to the glory of God.     –Chuck Colson, on Breakpoint, #030901

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     THE HANDS OF JESUS:  Will you notice, in the first place, that they were toil-worn hands?  The soldier would have noticed it– that soldier who nailed Him to the cross.  As he stretched His arm along the cross-beam, and pointed his nail into the palm, it struck the soldier– this was not the hand of some sedentary worker.  This was the toil worn hand of a working man.  Jesus was a working man.  You may not realize the wonder of that until you think yourself back into the Greek and Roman world and consider their attitude toward manual work.  They despised it.  It was the occupation of slaves.  Plato and Aristotle were both great and clever men, but to both of them manual work was a thing of near-contempt.  It was not an occupation for free men.  It was a task only for the slave.

     And this was God’s answer to that;  His reply to the ancient world’s contempt for manual work.  Peep into the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth and see the incarnate Son of God bending his back at a bench; see him working ankle-deep in the shavings and perspiring as he toils.  This is the answer of Almighty God to those who despise manual work. — Westminster Sermons, (vol. 1), page 90.

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     Work should be done to serve God by it, to avoid idleness, and to satisfy God’s commands.  Your work is a very sacred matter.  God delights in it and blesses you through it.  God could support you and feed you without work.  God could make a fried chicken fly into your mouth if he wanted.  He could make vegetables grow on your table.  But God will not do this.  He wants you to work and use your hands and your mind.   –Martin Luther

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Deuteronomy 5:13-14a  —  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

I Corinthians 3:9a  —  For we are God’s fellow workers…

Colossians 3:23-24  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

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God give me work
Till my life shall end
And life
Till my work is done.
–An old prayer

Seen on an old gravestone in Germany:  When Thou callest me, Lord Christ, I will arise. But first let me rest a little, for I am very weary.