Ever since Jim was a young boy, his singular passion was a career building bridges and highways. His goal was a degree in civil engineering. Then one day he heard a sermon on 2 Peter 3:10: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
Jim’s vision sharpened as he listened to the sermon. He pictured all the bridges he would build in his lifetime burning up. The point was clear: Temporal things are ultimately valueless. Suddenly a civil engineering degree sounded like not only a waste of time but a sinful waste of life. Jim decided to change his major and go to seminary. Today he spends his time administrating a church, but he still dreams of building things. Is he following God’s will or the misinterpretation of a Bible verse?
The implication is simple: spiritually committed people avoid the secular world altogether and do “God’s work” full time, because any job outside of work as a pastor, missionary or evangelist is a colossal waste of time. This isn’t a new idea. A friend told me he grew up in a church where your status was determined by your work. Missionaries were four-star Christians. Pastors, three-star. Bible college grads got two stars. If, however, you worked in a secular job you were stuck as a one-star Christian.
Like Jim, many people have strange ideas about God’s will and our work. Some of us got these strange ideas like Jim did, from well-meaning spiritual leaders who forgot to read Genesis 1 and Revelation 21. When determining the way we should view work, we need to understand God’s perspective and the big picture of His plan for the world.
1. Work is God’s idea. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Deuteronomy 5:13). This may come as a shock, but work was not invented by the devil and it is not in competition with our spiritual development. Work and labor existed before sin entered the world, and it will be around after sin’s exit--man was created to work according to Genesis 1 and the world we work in today is still here in Revelation 21, made new.
2. God is a worker. He even performs “worldly” sounding tasks: in Genesis 1-2 He superintends the earth, plants a garden, provides food, delegates responsibilities and monitors and disciplines subordinates. When we look at Christ’s life and ministry, a secular vs. sacred mindset would conclude that Jesus squandered His time on earth working on stuff that will burn up. With the world to save, how could He spend His limited time running a small business, selecting wood, sanding tables? And notice, even in Jesus' ministry He devoted a great deal of enegy meeting people's physical needs.
3. All work is God’s work. Paul stated it clearly: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything. . . . Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24). Note the inclusive words “everything” and “whatever.” If our work meets legitimate needs, we’re working for God. The only kinds of work that are inherently sinful are truly secular. Paul challenges us to work for the same reason we go to church: as an act of worship of God and service to our fellow human beings.
4. “Secular” work is invaluable. Consider Parliament member William Wilberforce, who almost single handedly halted the British slave trade. If he had abandoned politics for church work, would anyone have taken his place? When committed Christians leave the marketplace, bad things happen. Not only are future Wilberforces discouraged from the most strategic arenas of impact, but the marketplace, which drives American values today, is deprived of godly influence.
But it's not only the positive influence that godly men and women have on the workplace. The actual work people do is critical for human flourishing. Think about what the world would be like with out bridges and roads--or any of the thousands of kinds of products and service men and women provide to us every day. Plumbers, engineers, farmers, dental hygienists, artists, sanitation workers, scientists, welders, and Walmart greeters are all doing God's work and make the world a better place.
5. We work in partnership with God. This means two things: One, we work His way, that is, for His glory. We keep His standards of excellence, honesty and productivity. Two, we understand that we are not entirely responsible for our sustenance. If God is our partner, He cares not only for our spiritual welfare but for our physical well-being. Man does not live on bread alone--what we can produce--but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord--what He decrees and provides. We cannot sustain life on our own, even working 24/7. Psalm 127 reminds us
Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
R.G. LeTourneau believed that building bridges and highways was worth spending his life doing. He not only built the roads and bridges, he built the giant earth moving machines that built the highway infrastructure of America and considered it all God's work. He said ...
When God created the world and everything in it, He didn’t mean for us to stop there and say, "God, you’ve done it all. There’s nothing left for us to build." He wanted us to take off from there and really build for His greater glory.
Work is not something to be endured but something to be enjoyed--because God made it part of His perfect plan and invited us to join his work. In His eyes it’s all holy, and it’s all worthy of our time and His blessing. LeTourneau loved his machines, and he loved telling others about Christ.
Two things I like most to do: One is to design machines, turn on the power, and see them work. The other is to help turn on the power of the gospel and see it work in people’s lives.
The question of what we do when we go to work--building bridges or delivering sermons--is immaterial compared to why we do it. If we're going to work for a different reason than our pastor, one--of both--of us is going to work for the wrong reason and not serving God.