Take Your Faith to Work
Do you ever wonder if what you do on weekdays counts for eternity?
As a new Christian, I sure did. That’s why I enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary, and after four years of rigorous study, I was ready to make a mark for the Lord. Then I met Bill Garrison—attorney, DTS trustee, and elder at a church in Fort Worth, where I had just signed on to do God’s work.
Garrison questioned me over lunch. “Bill, you know that God’s heroes don’t stand behind pulpits, don’t you?” I was stunned. I was convinced that anything short of ministry, in a church or on the mission field, ranked as God’s second best.
Although he ruined my lunch that day, my mentor’s evocative comment awakened me to the fact that people in what we traditionally call “the ministry” aren’t the only ones who do God’s work. As a DTS trustee, he certainly believed in training people for the pulpit, but he wanted me to recognize that God delights in all kinds of work, and He calls people to serve Him in all kinds of ways—pastoring and teaching, to be sure, but also banking, building, plumbing, and any kind of work that meets legitimate needs. And one of the jobs of those who stand behind pulpits is to prepare people in the pew to take their faith to work on Mondays.
God at Work
As I rolled these ideas around, I realized that God included a lot of instruction in the Bible about work. In Genesis God Himself is at work forming and planting. Then God puts Adam and Eve to work producing, governing, and developing creation into all He intended it to be. It’s hard to miss that work is God’s idea, not a result of the fall. And so the label we have at times used, “secular work,” creates a false dichotomy. All work is both significant and necessary for human flourishing and part of what it means to reflect God’s image.
Turning to the Gospels, we find that Jesus spent approximately 90 percent of His life growing up and working in a small business, compared to only 10 percent in His ministry. Forty-five of His fifty-two parables have a workplace context. Jesus wanted His audience to see that God’s interests include all of life—not just Sabbath activities. But today the imaginary chasm between faith and work is growing deeper and wider. And when we mentally limit God’s work to Sunday, it shouldn’t surprise us to see greed, deceit, and selfishness rule as the driving values on Monday.
What Faith Looks Like on Monday
In Paul’s letters he stresses that our work life is not a separate department from our spiritual life, and doing work is an important way we serve God. In Colossae and other cities where Paul ministered, he and his fellow workers conducted the bulk of their business in the oikos or household. The oikos was not just a family residence. It was the basic economic unit of the Greco-Roman economy. (Our English word “economy” comes from the Greek word for “stewardship,” oikonomos.) Business was transacted by the master of the oikos and his or her slaves, and in this context Paul addresses workplace Christians of his day.
After describing how new life in Christ should affect one’s personal and family life (Col 1:1–3:21), Paul proceeds to explain how faith should inform why God’s people work and transform how they work: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 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. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 3:22–4:1).
Just as faith in Christ transforms other areas of life, our faith should bring a new set of attitudes toward our work that contrasts sharply with the world’s perspective.
An attitude of service. The world says we must have power to be successful. But God says we go to work not to be served but to serve, no matter where we are on the corporate ladder. Paul commands both employers and employees to seek the welfare and success of others. We are to treat employees fairly and to empower them to do their work. As employees we are to give employers the excellent
effort they pay us for. Such a revolutionary view of work meant that Christian slaves and masters worshiped together, undermining class-based arrogance as well as the institution of slavery.
An attitude of worship. The world says we must have prestige. If we want to be successful, we have to make a name for ourselves, create an identity. But note the contrast: As people whose identity is defined by Christ, we go to work—God says—not to make a name for ourselves, but to honor Him. Work at its core is a means of worship, a way we ascribe worth to God. “It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:24), so we should do our work “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (v. 22).
Don’t miss how scandalous Paul’s viewpoint must have seemed to the Greeks who believed that any kind of labor was demeaning. No, Paul was clear: all work is significant, no matter how one’s culture sees it, and can be God-honoring. When we work to meet legitimate human needs, we are doing ministry. When we do our work well, as an act of worship to God and love for our neighbor (see also 1 Thess. 4:9–12), our work glorifies God.
An attitude of expectation. The world says we must have possessions to be successful. It’s all about the money. But God says we go to work not primarily to make a living, but to earn an eternal reward. Don’t misunderstand. The Bible encourages honest profit. But it calls us to remember that God will hold us accountable as stewards for how we make that profit. The ultimate reward for diligent labor is to stand before God and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Our daily work as physicians, electricians, coaches, or bus drivers matters in eternity.
The Bottom Line
To do work that counts before God and to experience the pleasure of His work, we may not need to change jobs. We may just need a change of attitude. And we can be sure that God will honor good work done well and done with an attitude of love, humility, and thanksgiving; our fellow workers will notice too. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).
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Bill Peel (ThM, 1976), Executive Director, Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University, served for seven years as director of a ministry he founded that focused on workplace discipleship, evangelism, and leadership development. He also served for seven years as director of the Paul Tournier Institute, the educational division of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, during which time he conducted educational conferences and created materials including a course to teach doctors how to share their faith in the workplace—a course now taught all over the world. Additionally, he has authored or coauthored several books, including Workplace Grace and Going Public with Your Faith: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work.
Bill observes, “It is critical for spiritual leaders to help people bridge the gap between Sunday worship and Monday reality. The workplace is not only important to an individual’s spiritual formation; it was the most strategic venue for spiritual influence for the early church—and this still holds true today. While significant relationships with neighbors are a rarity in more and more communities, people spend forty or more hours each week with co-workers, customers, and clients who need to know Christ. In many ways the workplace is ideal for spreading the gospel because it’s there that people can see faith being lived out firsthand.”